Overview: A game that represents a good direction in the free to play market. A fun team-based shooter with an overall good community and a number of player-friendly features for getting into the fight and quickly teaming up with friends. Solid performance on mid-range PCs with only some lag issues during the game’s largest battles, fans of team-based shooters should definitely try this game out.
Free to play has always had something of a dubious reputation among gamers in the western world. The flood of “free” MMOGs funded by in-game transactions, spearheaded by Facebook and traditional games like Maplestory, has led to the birth of new terms like “freeium” and “pay wall” that serve to reinforce the old adage about fools and their money. Yet as developers continue to experiment with this form of revenue generation, invariably someone has to come up with a good game that doesn’t gouge players by the nickel and the dime.
Planetside 2, sequel to the original Planetside, is one of those games that is just that, an example of the concept done right or at least done fairly. Once again players are taken back to the sci-fi world of Auraxis, home of the first MMOG FPS, where the Terran Republic, New Conglomerate, and Vanu Sovereignty are locked in endless warfare. Lore-wise very little has changed, all three factions are portrayed with the same shades of gray and the setup for how they all ended up at each other’s throats is functionally the same. The Republic is still a militant police state, the Conglomerate is still a rag-tag band of mercenaries, freedom fighters, and dangerous anarchists, and the Vanu are still a slightly creepy transhumanist cult.
Mechanically the game plays similarly to the system of class-based warfare pioneered by the Battlefield series of games. Players log into the game world as one of six character classes, join a battle on behalf of their particular faction, and attempt to gradually cover the map in TR red, NC blue, or Vanu purple by capturing bases and pushing back the advancing forces of the other two armies. Despite a minor difference in whether their weapons emphasize rate of fire, damage per shot, or accuracy, the three empires are generally only cosmetically different. Regardless of which faction the player joins, they still have access to the same six classes; light assault (fast raider troops with jetpacks,) infiltrators (snipers and infiltrators with a cloaking ability,) medics and engineers (support troopers in medium armor that fix either infantry or mechanical assets,) heavy assault (standard heavy weapons specialist,) and MAX units (super heavy infantry clad in impressive suits of power armor dual-wielding heavy weapons.) To a fan of Battlefield or Team Fortress 2, there’s a lot that’s familiar here.
That being said, Planetside 2’s main selling point is not so much what it does differently compared to a tried-and-true formula but the scale it operates on. While Battlefield 4 boasts support for up to 64 players, some of Planetside 2’s more pitch battles can see easily that many players on a single side. Participating in a major battle, especially when fighting along side a clan that knows what they’re doing, is an experience that can only be described as epic. Infantrymen charging forward in as a unit, armor providing fire support, aircraft strafing enemy units from above; Planetside 2 is the dream game for anyone that fantasized about taking part in a grand sci-fi set piece battle from the position of a man on the ground. While the community doesn’t always come together execute these maneuvers perfectly, it does an excellent job at making the resulting chaos fun. The three continents available at the time of writing maintain a balance between vast open plains, craggy mountain ranges, and the relatively congested urban environments of tech factories, power plants, and research installations. If there were one complaint about the environments, it would have to be that they are almost too open. To that end however, SoE has planned on releasing the continent of Hossin, a new continent consisting of swampland and jungle. Originally scheduled for release on December of last year, it has since been pushed back to summer of 2014 to work on rebalancing and several necessary patches.
The community of Planetside 2 is, at the time of writing, is good but also a case of “your mileage may vary” comparable to most online team-based FPS games. Overall the atmosphere is friendly if competitive, the amount of enthusiasm for any given faction comparable to the sort of fanfare that surrounds a favorite sports team, but it can vary from server to server. While the game doesn’t penalize players for acting as lone-agents or staying behind the frontlines, the biggest rewards come from working in a group situated right in the thick of it. To that end, Planetside 2 earns fairly high marks for the ease which players can be thrust into the action (you can’t make it easier or more dramatic then arriving in the middle of a fight in a drop pod launched from high orbit) and form teams (in addition to the traditional clans and guilds, players can form ad hoc squads and platoons on the spot to generate bonus experience for working together as a proper unit.)
Finally, the question that always comes up when the words “free to play” are involved with a game, exactly how free is “free?” With Planetside 2, “free” is actually surprisingly free. PS2 has two “currencies” for unlocking new items and improving character attributes, Station Cash and certification points. Station Cash is a purchasable currency usable in all SoE games that can be used to unlock weapons, weapon mods, and cosmetic items in PS2. Certification points are earned with experience gained by playing the game and are used to unlock weapons, weapon mods, and develop character abilities. The main difference between the two is that items bought with Station Cash are linked to the account while items bought with certification points are tied to the character. A distinction that isn’t really all that important unless one plays the same empire across several servers.
Summery: Good, well-balanced game with an overall decent community and a grind that doesn't really feel like a grind. Definitely worth the look.