After originally debuting on the PC in 2012, and being delayed from its original 2013 console release date, Planetside 2 has finally arrived on the PS4 (check out the Trailer here if you haven’t seen it). Daybreak Game Company has set its sights on a very ambitious target: to bring the scale of an MMO to a First-Person Shooter. Does it achieve this lofty goal? Put it this way: despite a harsh beginning, Planetside 2 is an original, excellently-designed game whose sprawling environments and smart gameplay will make it not only a very enjoyable experience, but in time, one of the best online First-Person Shooter games you will ever play.
Planetside 2 starts off with the standard FPS tropes. First, you choose from one of the game’s three factions – Terran Republic, New Conglomerate and Vanu Sovereignty. As expected, each has its own characteristics, and you might want to research what each of them are before you choose for the first time. I chose Terran Republic, because they have a faster rate of fire and larger ammo capacity, which I felt would benefit me as a newcomer to the game. You also must choose which of the six classes you would like to be. I recommend Medic for the first-timer, and stick with your squad, as you can get a lot of experience points by healing your squadmates on the battlefield, which can come in very handy in those early days when kills are few and deaths are many.
“Team uniforms and colors look similar enough that distinguishing the factions takes some practice. I started off most unceremoniously, by gunning-down a member of my own team (‘My first kill! Yes! Oh, oops…’).”
Weapons, as expected, are upgradable in the same ways as in Battlefield or Call of Duty. You can spend “certification” points you win with your service on the battlefield. Better weapon capacities, stronger armor, larger ammo magazines, and upgraded accessories can be purchased over time, and experience points level you up and unlock access to better toys, like flying vehicles for example.
So far, Planetside 2 might sound a lot like all the other multiplayer First-Person Shooters you have played. But a few things set this particular game apart from most. For one thing, there is almost no tutorial, or even instructions on basic things like how to move, shoot, equip weapons – anything. It is almost comical how little regard this game has for you as a newcomer. You are just thrown into the battlefield, and like some shaky newborn foal, you stumble around in the first little while of gameplay, having no idea what to do. I will admit that I kind of hated Planetside 2 in these initial moments. It doesn’t help that it is really hard – much harder than other FPS titles I have played – to see visually who your foes and who your friends are. Team uniforms and colors look similar enough that distinguishing the factions takes some practice. I started off most unceremoniously, by gunning-down a member of my own team (“My first kill! Yes! Oh, oops…”). Then, as you can predict, the opposite happened a lot too, as enemies I thought were my friends (“frenemies”?) walked right up to me and shot me to pieces before I realized what was happening.
Some might call Planetside 2’s steep learning curve a negative – and I would have agreed with them at first. But I have to say that, after a while, I actually liked it. I am a fan of the recent general trend towards less hand-holding and more self-directed learning in games. Yes, I found it very frustrating in the beginning, much like, I am sure, I found it very frustrating back on my first day of school, when I turned around and saw that my parents had left me to fend for myself. At least in Planetside 2, I didn’t cry. Ok, maybe I cried once, but that’s it. My point is, in both cases, adversity breeds character, and in Planetside 2, I became more confident as I learned, out of the necessity of self-preservation, how to play the game better. To put it simply, the accomplishment of learning the game on my own, without much help, made me feel like a Boss.
“Some might call Planetside 2’s steep learning curve a negative – and I would have agreed with them at first. But I have to say that, after a while, I actually liked it.”
That doesn’t mean that Planetside couldn’t use a bit more backstory. You are not told, as a player, why you are here fighting this massive war, why on this planet – nothing. Just like the sink-or-swim start to the game, the attitude of Daybreak to storytelling seems to be curiously nonchalant. While granted, we do not come to a game like Planetside 2 looking for Shakespeare, it might have been nice to have a little more to help us get invested in the experience. No biggie though – as with any First-Person Shooter, Planetside 2’s best stories will be the ones you create and share with your comrades in intense firefights on the battlefield.
But the most dramatic quality that makes Planetside 2 special (much like its predecessor, from what I have heard) is its sheer gargantuan size. The battle environments are frickin’ massive – hence the “MMO” in its MMOFPS designation. Imagine a FPS mode where you and hundreds of other players capture and defend control points, on a huge alien planet, with crazy futuristic technology. As a beginner, you will be placed on Koltyr, the smallest continent of the planet Auraxis. Think of Koltyr as the “kiddie pool” of Planetside 2, where players level 1-15 are fitted with metaphorical water-wings and given the chance to learn the game in a smaller, safer environment that higher-level players are barred from. Maybe this could be called the game’s Tutorial. What amazed me, though, is how large even Koltyr is – the battle terrain is expansive enough that I wandered aimlessly through it in my first visit, jogging through vast, empty territory without seeing any other human players. Later, when I learned where to spawn to get directly into the thick of Koltyr’s battles, I saw (and fought) plenty of enemies – but again, the physical space you have to work with is a major difference that I felt from other FPS multiplayers. And that’s just on Koltyr. Once you reach level 15, you get access to the other continents on Auraxis, which are much larger.
The large battlefields of Planetside 2 change the FPS experience completely – and in a very good way, in my opinion. Because you have to cover so much ground to get to the enemy, and everyone can see each other coming from a long ways off, Planetside 2 requires much more teamwork and strategy than other shooters. This kind of teamwork was something I experienced a lot playing Planetside 2, and it made for a very rewarding and fun experience that I have not seen much in other shooters. As much as I love Battlefield Hardline, for example, I have found that the smaller, more confined maps – Growhouse in particular – can make strategy difficult, and gameplay seems to degenerate into a frantic meatgrinder of constant spawn-kill-die-spawn-repeat. In Planetside 2, I found I had room and time to think, even if for a brief moment, and I could actually act in a way that best helped my team win, rather than flying around killing everything that moves until the game declares a winner. Planetside 2 is also different from other FPS titles because experience points come from defending control points as well as capturing them. The game requires you to know and keep in mind the current team objective, which changes regularly, and not just mindlessly run around.
“Think of Koltyr as the “kiddie pool” of Planetside 2, where players level 1-15 are fitted with metaphorical water-wings and given the chance to learn the game in a smaller, safer environment.”
To further emphasize teamwork, the game also employs a “Lattice Link” system, which dictates what structures can be attacked at any given time. In Planetside 2, you cannot just attack any building you want. Touching the TouchPad on the DualShock 4 shows you which points can be attacked, as indicated by a yellow link. This further encourages teamwork, since you must focus your resources on a single target. I found this system really helped me to know what objective I should be working towards, and how I could best help my team. It also streamlines all those hundreds of individual players into a coherent and focused battle, so that the sheer number of participants in Planetside 2’s battles never breaks down into chaos.
And that brings us to a key aspect of the game. Lest you suggest that the environments’ size might make for empty and boring battles, let me remind you of another thing that sets Planetside 2 apart: it allows for as many as 2,000 participants at one time. Yes, you read that correctly. So, although battlefields are huge, they never feel deserted because there are so many people fighting. And those who like to play in a more solitary manner, say, as a Sniper, will love the size and scope of Planetside 2 as much as teamwork-players. In fact, one of my most enjoyable experiences was laying on top of a high platform, taking out enemies from a distance as they scurried across the vast field leading up to my base.
With so much distance around you, you are always within sight of tons of enemies, but you are far enough away that they may not see you until you fire at them. You are one tiny person on a giant continent, and yet you still feel powerful enough to contribute to the battle’s outcome. In Planetside 2, Daybreak Games has really hit on a “sweet spot” in First-Person Shooters – the ability to have fun no matter how or with what style you like to play. There is something for every player in this huge game, and that is a real achievement. And that’s not even all – if you somehow get tired of everything daytime fighting in Planetside 2 has to offer, there is a day/night cycle as well. Fighting at night is a whole new experience in itself – because I couldn’t see very well, I had to rely more than ever on fellow teammates. And the environment at night, with lights and lasers that lit up the night, was dazzling to look at.
“There is literally a world of fun in Planetside 2, and its persistent, epic battles will, I know, keep me coming back for a long time.”
Speaking of visuals, the graphics in Planetside 2 are probably not its strength overall, but there are some positives. Textures are not really as high-res as many of the latest-gen standard setters, and surfaces and textures have a relatively low polygon count. Character movement is a bit choppy, and the game suffers from rare instances of frame-rate drop when your immediate environment gets crowded – considering how many players are involved, though, Daybreak Game Company and its Forgelight Engine should be lauded for just how smoothly this game runs. None of these technical issues was ever a real problem, I found, and whatever graphical limitations the game had were more than made up for by the gorgeous art direction. The environments in Planetside 2 – the planets, the continents – were truly beautiful, and really made me feel immersed in a strange, alien world complete with moons in the sky and sci-fi inspired structures like shield generators. You could, I think, play this game for exploration alone, and just travel around admiring Auraxis’s beauty if you so chose – but don’t. Planetside 2 is a shooter. It’s just nice that you can enjoy its pretty surroundings while you kill stuff.
Planetside 2 gives you a massive and fun online shooting experience, and it’s completely free. Yes, there are microtransactions, but they are very unobtrusive and do not give nearly enough of an advantage to be labelled “pay to win.” Despite the harsh welcome to the game, you will soon get acclimated and feel like a badass helping your team win objectives. There is literally a world of fun in Planetside 2, and its persistent, epic battles will, I know, keep me coming back for a long time. As with any MMO game, it remains to be seen whether there will be enough persistent players on the online servers to keep Planetside 2 interesting, but only time will tell that. It is a game that successfully merges the scale of an MMO with the action and excitement of a First-Person Shooter, and is a hell of a lot of fun. Daybreak Game Company has not only accomplished a very ambitious goal with Planetside 2, they have hit it out of the park.
**Reviewed on PS4**