Eurogamer PlanetSide 2 Review

By Richard Cobbett Published Friday, 30 November 2012

War in PlanetSide 2 isn’t hell, though your first experience of it probably will be. You create your character and pick a faction. Then you’re unceremoniously dropped – literally, from space – right into the biggest battle the game can find, surrounded by enemies and tanks and anything else that happens to be around, with a life expectancy measured in milliseconds.Somehow beat the odds and things don’t get better. You stagger from death to death in a haze of confusion and unexplained icons, not as some elite soldier of legend, but simply one more fleck of gristle in a planet-sized meat grinder that never, ever stops churning. At some point, you will be run over by a tank. Probably driven by someone on your team.

It’s nothing personal, of course. PlanetSide 2 is far too busy for that. In most shooters, 16 players counts as a party. More advanced ones might push the limit to 32, or 64. In Sony Online Entertainment’s free-to-play massively multiplayer game, you’re dealing with 2000 players per continent – thankfully not all on screen at once – locked in a three-way tug of war that doesn’t simply take cues from the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield, but has a good go at stealing their thunder.

Those games ultimately win out in terms of feel, but PlanetSide 2 even being comparable is a stunning achievement when compared to the standards of your average action MMO. This is easily one of the most ambitious online games ever – and setting aside some launch issues, one that lives up to its impossible promises.

Fighting in an open world feels strange – not as intimidating as you’d expect, but far more than just a gimmick. For the most part, standard first-person shooter rules apply. Shooting is skill-based rather than reliant on arbitrary levels. If you don’t want to be shot, you get behind cover. Returning fire can be done from the hip, but you generally want to take advantage of iron sights and sniper scopes to deal out more accurate shots and hit distant enemies. It’s a shooter. You’ve played shooters before. The twist here is that, instead of existing as isolated maps, battlegrounds emerge organically as boundaries shift. Today, that bridge over a canyon is simply a handy route between outposts. Tomorrow, it might be a sea of tanks, with infantry crawling all over the scenery like ants.

Being in an open world, anyone who wants to take part can do exactly that. There are no lobbies, no queues, no arbitrary restrictions on numbers or how much you’re allowed to bring into battle – not overt ones, anyway. An Instant Action button will spirit over anyone who requests a teleport, but you can just as easily spot something happening and head over under your own steam.

The longer fights go on, the more people will be drawn to them. Sunderers (APCs) are brought in as mobile respawn points, planes strafe the ground and battle for air superiority, tanks take up positions and all hell breaks loose until one side seizes victory. If you’re outnumbered, too bad. Reinforcements may arrive, or not. War isn’t always fair.

The sheer scale of the battles is stunning – to the point that, while it makes sense for PlanetSide 2 to be a free-to-play game, it takes longer for that to fully sink in. Sony hasn’t so much embraced the model as given it a back-breaking bear-hug, almost to the point of creating a hidden mini-game called “What’s the Catch?” Without paying a single penny, you get – deep breath – all five soldier classes and access to mech suits, full access to all three continents, all of the vehicles, no equipment restrictions, as much fighting as you want and the ability to join and start your own guilds (Outfits).

Never are you made to feel like less of a player for not paying a subscription fee or for earning any equipment you need by saving up in-game currency. It’s a similar system to League of Legends and Tribes Ascend, only on an MMO scale and with less in the way of boobs/jetpacks.

The most important purchases are, as ever, boosts that speed up your in-game resource generation and guns with which to shoot people in the head for the crime of wearing the wrong colour armour. These are expensive, with new guns costing around £4 each (500-700 Sony funbucks) and each class having several slots to fill up with new weapons.

Your starting load-out is respectable though – and while I’m sure it’s not deliberate, any temptation to spend a fortune in the store is swiftly dampened by most of its gear being bland variations on stock themes like ‘assault rifle’ and ‘pistol’. There’s nothing as iconic as the Tribes spinfusor, and nothing particularly sexy if you’re not into efficiency. In a nice touch, you’re allowed to borrow any weapon for a half-hour field test before investing your cash/points.

In a straight fight between two players of equal skill and time played, it’s true that the one who’s paid will usually come out on top – if only because upgrades can only be bought with in-game credits, and outright buying a gun leaves many more of them to spend there. The sheer scale of PlanetSide 2′s battles does a lot to prevent any slide into pay-to-win territory though. Whatever your gear and however many upgrades you have, you’re only ever one soldier in a rock-paper-scissors throwdown – where paper and scissors are represented by the sniper over on that hill and his friend in a tank.

Whatever role you’re playing, the action is very solid – a touch floaty perhaps, and made a little stop-start by the way PlanetSide 2′s body armour usually makes tissue paper look like mithril dipped in adamantium, but more than adequate. Its only significant failings are in accessibility and readability. There’s no tutorial, for instance: just a link to an hour or so of YouTube videos in the launcher and a UI that comes across as a mess of unlabelled icons, blinking lights and labels apparently harbouring an active grudge against the colourblind. It’s a staggeringly bad new player experience for a game that does have a tricky learning curve, but whose raw basics really aren’t that complicated.

Similar confusion sneaks into the graphics. Textures are often very busy, which combined with the oddly muted faction colours can make it hard to spot enemies at even mid-range, or to react fast enough to sudden threats. The Vanu are particular offenders here, with their purple colours blending into much of the scenery, though the Terran Republic’s combination of powerful red with murky grey comes a close second. (If you play Terran, they also earn bonus confusion points for internally using red to flag up enemies. Cognitive dissonance can kill, people!) I’d like to have seen PlanetSide 2 take a few more cues from the likes of Tribes Ascend and even Team Fortress 2 in terms of its general readability, colour choice and silhouettes.

Back to the war itself. Out in the field, combat unsurprisingly varies dramatically depending on your class – which you can change at will, either at reload stations or between lives if you get bored or your team needs something. A Heavy Assault soldier’s life is one of explosives and endless streams of hot lead, while Infiltrators work the shadows with sniper rifles and Light Assault troopers bop around on jetpacks. The more points you put into each class and its gear, the more efficient you get with it, so it pays to focus.

Lone wolf players are likely out of luck, though not entirely. It’s certainly possible to play solo. You can join pick-up groups as you travel, be added to squads at the touch of a key, and contribute to base assaults and defence along with everyone else. PlanetSide 2′s epic-scale battles put tight limitations on what any individual can accomplish, though, and being a cog in a silent machine is rarely a rewarding career. To make the most of PlanetSide 2, you really have to gather some friends over voice-chat and set your own goals. When your group single-handedly kicks all kinds of arse by air, land and at least APC, you get more than just smug satisfaction from a base capture – you get a war story.

Long-term, of course, the novelty of PlanetSide 2′s scale will wear off, and it’s too early to guess how well it will adapt and evolve. Right now, players are still advancing their characters to the point of being able to take command, and it remains to be seen to what extent emerging leaders will get to to run their factions instead of simply fight for them. As the action moves away from simple massed battle, there will need to be a much more interesting metagame or progression system than the current feuding over hexagons in an inherently unwinnable campaign. There’s a limit to how often victories can be unceremoniously reset before they start feeling hollow.

PlanetSide 2 is much like Guild Wars 2 – a game that will live or die based on its ability to keep its server populations buzzing. For now though, give or take some nasty server problems, it’s worth putting those fears on the back burner. There’ll be time enough tomorrow to worry about the grand game and its future.

What matters today is that as a mix of shooter and MMO, PlanetSide 2 is nothing short of a triumph: not quite the best of both worlds, but certainly the best attempt anyone has ever made to fuse them together. Alone, it’s worth checking out just to witness its epic scale for yourself – and with the right friends by your side, PlanetSide 2 is an unforgettable experience.

Overall Score:
9 / 10


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Planetside 2 to incorporate live-playcasting from Twitch

By , Published: November 2

Twitch TV has been spreading the word about e-sports, predicting that the trend — broadcasting video gamers as they play — is one that’s ripe for takeoff.The idea is getting a big boost this week with the announcement that Sony Online Entertainment will bake the ability to broadcast gameplay over the Internet into its Planetside 2, a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter.

For Twitch, it’s the first step toward taking the trend mainstream.

“Our ambitions here are not small,” said Matthew DiPietro, Twitch’s VP of Marketing. “We really envision a future in which playing a game becomes the same thing as broadcasting a game.”

According to Twitch, it sees 23 million unique views per month and individual viewers watch an average of one and half hours of gameplay per day. The most popular games to watch are still the titles that set off the e-sports trend such as the space strategy game StarCraft. But fighting games, first-person shooters, and even more casual games are growing communities of their own.

Matt Higby, the creative director for Planetside 2 said that he thinks of video broadcasting as the next generation of blogging, and is particularly appealing to games with strong and varied communities.

“To me, any time that can get players to express their differences is a win,” he said. Planetside — known for its sweeping scale that often includes thousands of players in a single battle— is already a pretty fun game to watch, he said.

It seemed like a good fit for SOE to offer gamers a way to showcase their stuff without pulling resources away from their game performance by using a third-party broadcasting tool.

DiPietro said that it was a great opportunity to work with a developer from the very beginning of a game so that the community has access to streaming right away — something that Twitch hopes to do with future games as well.

The idea is certainly a great marketing tool in the age of YouTube and other video services that broadcast snippets of individual experiences to audiences around the world.

“For any given game, some portion [of viewers] are already playing the game, but there is a massive portion of those people who have never seen the game before,” he said. “It’s a very effective discovery mechanism to expose the gameplay, and becomes really, really effective for the publisher. And it grows the community.”

The Planetside 2 beta starts this weekend, and participants will see the one-click Twitch button right away, though it may not be fully functioning quite yet. The streaming option will, however, be fully operational by the time game launches on November 20,” DiPietro said.


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SOE Live 2012: PlanetSide 2 Interviews Emphasize Universal Appeal & Focus On Fun

by MJ Guthrie on Oct 22nd 2012

Watching Creative Director Matt Higby in a failed trailer attempt or with Senior Art Director Tramell Isaac on Command Center videos, you get the idea that PlanetSide 2 developers are having fun. And talking to them in-person in an unscripted environment, you know they do. Whether listening to a panel at SOE Live or catching them randomly in a hall, their passion and enthusiasm for the game is unmistakable… and contagious.

But fun wasn’t the only theme present. In fact, the focus throughout the weekend convention can be described in three F words. (And no, not a one of them is the one you are thinking!) If you wanted to sum up the PlanetSide 2 message, its fun, friends, and the future. I was able to catch both Higby and Isaac over the weekend to talk with them about the emphasis on players telling their own stories, plans for bringing new players into the game, and the future of PS2. Keep reading to see what they have to say, and enjoy some Amerish concept art along with the continent’s reveal trailer.


There is simply no denying that a major focus of the game’s development is on players having fun. That sentiment is not just hinted at, but repeated over and over again; both Isaac and Higby referred to the fun factor multiple times throughout presentations and the interviews. How will this be accomplished? Mainly by making sure the game is running smoothly, preventing griefing, and offering the tools for players to tell their own stories.

Of course, being able to actually play the game is a key to enjoying it. Isaac stated, “It will always be our first priority to make sure that the frame-rate is good, that the game is stable, and that we are actually implementing some of the changes that need to be implemented based on playstyles that we see people actually do.” This process is ongoing; as reported earlier, PlanetSide 2 will never be “finished” because it will always be in a state of improvement.

One very unfun aspect in gaming that drives people away is griefing. Isaac pointed out that addressing griefing is also a priority. He noted,

“Griefing, hacking, just outright cheating, things like that are things that we want to lock down on early because we know that it has a detrimental effect on the game as a whole. Because all it takes is a handful of people to ruin the play of one [player] or a handful of people and then those people spread the word… that the game is not fun. We want to hammer that real early and make sure that doesn’t happen so new people getting into the game have a good experience from day one.”

One way of doing that is with the grief-locking feature. This system will lock the gun of someone for a certain period of time if s/he hits too many friendly targets, thereby preventing people from going on team-killing sprees. But what happens when you accidentally hit friends instead of foes, like when your teammates just jump into your line of fire? Isaac answered by describing a system the devs are working on which involves a way for accidental occurrences to be forgiven while purposeful ones are still punished. One way is by offering a forgiveness system where folks can buy back their time through community service to the group, such as healing or giving away ammo.

Another ingredient in the PlanetSide 2 fun recipe is that the game is all about the players’ stories, not the devs stories. It’s about having epic personal experiences, ones that stay with you in your psyche. As Isaac put it, “I want to stain your brain!” He shared an experience where a handful of folks successfully defended a point against forces that seriously outnumbered them. Those involved — on both sides — still talk about that experience. It is also about sharing those stories with others, and different tools are implemented to facilitate this, such as the in-game Twitch function so players can stream and share their stories.

One key point devs noted is that this game is best experienced in a group. Higby had this to say about PlanetSide 2 gameplay:

“This is a game that is really, really fun to play with a group, and not as much fun to play by yourself. You can play as a lone wolf, as a sniper, and be really effective in the role, but the game shines in a way that very, very few other games do once you are in a big coordinated group and doing things that just aren’t possible otherwise.”

While it’s not a bad thing to just jump in and fight other players, the devs are working on adding a lot of extra competitive elements for group play, like features that allow empires to have control over areas and get benefits for it. The idea is to get people to play on a strategic level by making teamwork more seamless and more rewarding.

So how does PlanetSide 2 address the new player experience, those first few minutes that need to grab a player? A common complaint currently is that players get into the game and they just don’t know what to do. This will be fixed by the addition of a tutorial-type experience, which is the next part of the mission system. Trammel describes the tutorial this way:

“The mission system is going to be able to give you a small list of attack points or items that you can address… or not address. It’ll be an option. It’s not something where we’re saying, ‘Hey, you have to do this in the first 15 minutes,’ but it gives you a basic breakdown of certain things you can do to get more points (more experience points and more cert points) within that first 15 minutes.”

These missions are really simple and can include going to points on the map, taking out a generator in a particular base, or auto-joining a squad, etc. These missions are meant to teach the basics and gradually introduce players to what the game is about and will be in by launch on November 20th.

Of course, if the game is better played in groups with friends, you need to get your friends in-game!


Thanks to its predecessor PlanetSide, PlanetSide 2 has a built-in fan base. But the devs have made it clear that the game is intended to reach beyond that player base and grow to include a broader audience. I’d already noted that the enthusiasm for the game was contagious, but can non-elite FPS players get into this game and have enough fun to be hooked into staying? Sure the game sounds interesting, but what is going to keep the new folks from being driven away due to their lack of skill?

I posed those questions to both Higby and Isaac, and their answers gave hope that a variety of players will find a meaningful place in the game. Higby admitted that a skill gap will obviously exist between players who are really good at shooters and those who are not, and the good ones will have an advantage. However, having the game be fun for those who don’t possess the highest skills is a priority. He stated,

“One of our goals from the very beginning is we want to make the game so that people who are not necessarily shooter players can go in and fill a very meaningful role and help their team out. We have medics and engineers who don’t need to be good twitch shooter players to be a key, fundamental player in the game.”

The key is support roles. Higby described various positions that players can (and need) to fulfill that don’t rely on shooting ability, such as transport drivers. In short, “You can be a very important part of your team without ever firing a shot.”

That’s good news for a game that wants to have a large and diverse playerbase. Matt also emphasized that bringing friends and whole MMO communities together is a focus, stating:

“If you are not the greatest shooter player of all time, it doesn’t mean you can’t be one of the most important players in the outfit. That’s really, really important to us, specifically because we want to be able to get MMO communities [in game]. PS2 devs recognize that MMO communities are diverse, and want them to be able to play together in PlanetSide 2 even when some are not experienced or exceptionally skilled at FPS.”

When asked the same questions, Tramell Isaac mirrored the sentiment that the game has meaningful roles for non-twitch players. He emphasized, “There are a number of roles for people who don’t necessarily want to be on the front line obviously attacking and defending different points.”

And he noted that the additional roles give the game more substance, more strategy. He described how folks who chose non-lethal ways to play the game gain their experience to advance their skills. Basically, a driver or pilot gains experience from the kills made by the gunners in his/her vehicle. Medics gain a ton of experience by AoE healing, using the medic gun, and reviving fallen players. Among other things, Engineers will receive XP each time a player picks up any ammo that they toss out. All those points are used to advance each class’ individual skills.

Enjoyment is all about finding the right role for each player. To illustrate, Isaac shared an experience in-game where reporters were brought on-site in San Diego to try out the game, most of whom hadn’t played before. After noticing one struggling, he gave the reporter a medic role instead and directed him to go get a fallen comrade up. The player did and received XP. Suddenly feeling useful (and successful), the player got more into the game and was earning XP through supporting the team in a vital role. Isaac sums it up, “Once you get introduced to some of the support roles, you feel like you are contributing to a bigger picture.”


Of course, some naysayers out there had a field day with the launch announcement, and they used the occasion to opine that the game couldn’t possibly be ready in time. The developers answer to that is that they know what needs to be done, they know what needs to be added, and they have a plan in place for getting it done. For those complaining that the mission system isn’t in, the fact is that part of it is already in (dropping into hotspots) and another (the tutorial) will be in before launch. More aspects of the mission system will continue to be introduced.

The influx of more players will provide more data and help drive the future development of the game. On that note, devs want as much feedback as possible, so they ask that any and everyone sign up for the beta to participate and give them feedback even before launch.

What does the post-launch future hold? Isaac and Higby disclosed that the plan for the next year is to add more functionality for outfits including outfit logos to flags when conquering a base. New continents are already in the works including Searhus (a volcanic map), Oshi, and Hossin. Also on the docket are player-owned bases out in the world that can be attacked, defended, and destroyed.

To every skeptic who thinks the game can’t possibly be ready in time for launch, consider Higby’s outlook:

“I honestly believe that right now, in the beta, warts and all, [with] the bugs we have and the things that are missing, we have the best massive PvP game that’s ever existed. I think that we honestly have the best. And there’s so much more that we need to do to make it better and better.”

But that doesn’t mean the dev team is resting on their laurels! He continued, “Over the next couple of months we will be adding significantly to the meta game the things that make you want to play the game for weeks, months, years at a time.”

What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas, at least where SOE Live is concerned! Massively sent intrepid reporters MJ Guthrie and Karen Bryan to this year’s SOE Live, from which they’ll be transmitting all the best fan news on PlanetSide 2, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, and the other MMOs on SOE’s roster.


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