Sony Online Entertainment

PlanetSide 2 is a dream for the social soldier, a chore for the solo casual

PlanetSide 2 is a dream for the social soldier, a chore for the solo casual

Back in early October, I tried my hand at the PlanetSide 2 beta, and I wasn’t impressed. It was clear however that PlanetSide 2 was evolving, and that I needed to give it another try. Now that the game has launched I’ve suited up again, and I’m back with updated impressions.

The good news is that it’s clear the game has made some improvements since just over a month ago. The bad news is that there are some technical kinks to be ironed out, the game is very power-hungry, and it’s still not something recommended for the casual gamer. Here’s why.

I need more power!

PlanetSide 2’s minimum system requirements are as follows: Intel Core 2 Duo E6850/AMD Phenom II X2 or higher processor, 4 GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce 8600 series/AMD 4850 series or higher graphics card. Its recommended system requirements are an Intel i5/AMD Phenom II X6 or higher processor, 8 GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce 500 series/AMD HD 6870 series or higher graphics card.

My laptop falls relatively closer to the recommended system requirements, with an i5-2410M processor, 6 GB of RAM, and an AMD HD 6770M graphics card. Still, I had to turn all of my settings to low to prevent the freezes, lag spikes, and crashes I experienced if I had anything set to medium or higher, and I’m not the only one having trouble. The game’s forums are full of complaints and supposed fixes, but what this translates to for the gamer interested in PlanetSide 2 is that you should be prepared for the game to put your machine through its paces.

Speaking of power, your soldier in PlanetSide 2 will level up with a free-form class system, which is quite similar to the create-a-class function found in Call of Duty titles. You’ll earn XP by participating in battles and capturing bases, which you then use to fuel your advancement, purchasing certifications. Certifications grant you new abilities, improve old ones, and unlock equipment. The system has its ups and downs.

On the upside, players can now do whatever they want, whenever they want. Tired of waiting around for a medic to come support your squad? Just re-deploy yourself, selecting the medic class and, provided you’ve spent the necessary certification points, you’ll be able to take matters into your own hands. This means players can be much more flexible, and it allows for greater experimentation. I thought for sure that I would like the Sniper class due to its cool look and cloaking ability, but the more I messed around with my character advancement, the more I was drawn to the Light Infantry option.

The downside to this is that it decreases the reliance on other players. If I can do everything, why wait or depend on my team? Why coordinate a balanced offensive when we can charge forward with brute force and meet our strategic needs on the fly? The classes are almost too interchangeable, as the battles I experienced felt like little more than infantry and vehicles slamming into each other at full speed. The most my squad asked of me was to flank or come support a particular area of the base. No one ever said, “Spawn in as an engineer, we need one!”

Thankfully, now that PlanetSide 2 has a significantly larger player base, battles were infinitely more exciting than they were in the beta. More players means more stuff happening, and PlanetSide 2 offers an unrivaled sense of scale. A couple hundred soldiers duking it out is a sight to behold.

There is also a definite sense of increased firepower from weapons since my time with the beta. Before, guns felt wimpy and rattled off like the sound of rain falling onto a car windshield, plink-plink-plink! Now, they sound more like powerful, heavy guns that can do some damage. The appearance and feel of firing a gun also feels tighter, which makes combat a whole lot more enjoyable. The same can be said of vehicles, which no longer feel floaty and soft, but heavy and powerful.

No winners in war

PlanetSide 2 is a sandbox of bullets, vehicles, and player interaction. Outfits – the game’s equivalent to guilds – provide some of the most interesting narratives to be found. In these social gatherings, old war stories are often told and re-told, or even created. Maybe a small portion of your group rolled up on an enemy scouting party as you crossed over a hill and sent a distress call to your fellow soldiers. Some players take their role within the outfit incredibly serious, to the point of barking “Sir, yes sir!” over voice chat. Players create the story here, which is good because the game itself doesn’t provide much.

There is some lore to be dug up, but it’s not fleshed out enough to entice newcomers, and some explanations seem wholly absent. Where do these people sleep? Where do they eat? Where are their supplies? Where are their cities? Is everyone a soldier? What goes on in these bases? Who operates them? PlanetSide 2’s continents are a playground for soldiers first and a living world second; that’s fine for those looking for the next battle to be won, the next base to be captured, but if you want the game itself to provide motivation beyond credits, XP, and the thrill of the fight, it’s either not here or it’s buried so deep that it’ll take considerable effort to unearth. The game’s social aspect serves as an alternative motivation, just make sure you join up with a good outfit if that’s what you’re looking for.

In some ways, the persistence of the world only exacerbates this feeling that the world exists for the player’s benefit and not for its own sake. In my beta coverage, I noted that battles often felt pointless, and I maintain that will still hold true for some players. Video games can be pointless and still be fun, mind you. While there is no greater story behind or point to be made with a Team Deathmatch game of Call of Duty for example, there is an end, with a clear victor and loser. PlanetSide 2, however, never ends. There are no winners, no losers, only temporary dominance of a map.

You could launch a coordinated offensive that takes hours to organize and deploy, take control of a part of the map, and log on the next day to find all your work erased. To be fair, some players loved the constant back-and-forth PlanetSide 2 provides. One squad member compared it to a game of chess where pawns constantly re-entered the game, forcing players to adopt new strategies on the fly. While I can see that point and objectively understand it, I found the game’s lack of endgame stressful and unfulfilling. Take that how you will.

Like a clubhouse, with laser tanks

All in all, I’m impressed with how far PlanetSide 2 has come since my time with the beta. It feels as polished, tight, and responsive as a AAA game, which is remarkable given that the game can be downloaded and played entirely for free, should you so choose. The business model mirrors League of Legends, where the only things money buy are XP boosts and cosmetic options.

There is a steep learning curve and for some reason tutorials are hosted outside of the game, but these are manageable frustrations. What’s really going to sell you on the PlanetSide 2 experience is the community and the organic nature of the game. Some people will love the fact that the only story is the one you create with your fellow soldiers, and the sense of camaraderie in squads and outfits is tight – sometimes frighteningly so.

But to become a respected player and member of the PlanetSide 2 community takes time and commitment, something not every gamer has. For the solo players who only so often have half an hour to dedicate, the game might feel like a chore. It’s all about where you choose to focus: Can you get lost in the moment once you enter the heat of battle and enjoy a good fight for being a good fight, or will you be looking for the next goal to complete, the next objective to be taken? If it’s the former, you will find much to love. If it’s the latter, you risk chasing your own tail.

In either case, the game is worth a try. After all, it’s free; what’ve you got to lose?