Welcome to Slashdot TV. Today we're reviewing Planetside 2, a massively multiplayer online first-person shooter from Sony Online Entertainment.
First, it's important to gain an understand of what this game really is. The MMOFPS genre is still a relatively unexplored one, and the games that have been called such in the past haven’t all been alike. Plus, when you call something an MMO, people tend to get certain expectations. Put simply, Planetside 2 is a first-person shooter set in a persistent world. When you fight, you do so to capture enemy bases or defend your own, and you do so against other players. That’s it. There are no quests, no dungeons, no resource farming — there aren't even any NPCs. You’re dropped into a firefight, you try to kill other players, and that’s it. Don’t go into this game expecting it to be World of Warcraft with guns.
Planetside 2 is based on relatively realistic warfare — the Counterstrike school, rather than Quake. You have limited ammo, long reload times, and falling damage that can easily kill you. Your enemies aren’t dumb enough to paint themselves in bright, fluorescent colors, so it’ll take some practice before you can reliably pick them out from your teammates. It can be frustrating at first, before you've trained yourself to see the icon above allies’ heads. You’ll squint and wonder, “Is that a bad guy?” It becomes much clearer when they open fire on you. There’s good reason to make sure you’re lining up your shots correctly, though: friendly fire is enabled. You will accidentally shoot teammates, teammates will shoot you (accidentally or otherwise), and you will be killed by teammates running over you with tanks. It can be an annoyance. In fact, if you’re more a fan of unrealistic shooters, the whole experience will probably be frustrating, and Planetside 2 probably isn't for you.
So, does Planetside 2 have different classes? Yes. How many? Well.. that’s a tough question to answer. You could say five, you could say six, you could say over a dozen. But let's keep it simple for now and say five. I’ll give a brief description of how each of the classes play.
The first, Light Assault, does well at short to mid-range combat. It's fairly weak, defensively, but it has an advantage over the other classes in mobility. Where the rest are confined to running around the ground, Light Assault gets jump jets. Their range is short, but it allows players to get on top of buildings or big rocks, and to sneak into positions the enemy doesn't expect.
Heavy Assault is just what you would expect from the name. They're tough to kill, they have good short range damage, and they're the best at taking out tanks and other vehicles. The downside to Heavies is that they're weak against long range targets and often find themselves the target of many enemies close up, and they're dangerously vulnerable whenever they need to reload.
Infiltrators are snipers. They get a cloaking device and a rifle with a powerful scope, and they can do very high damage if they land headshots. They can one-shot some of the other classes, with good aim and good luck. As I mentioned earlier, it can be tough to distinguish friend from foe in this game, and a well hidden Infiltrator can be a real pain to deal with.
Engineers are a very non-standard class. They can drop turrets that can put out a lot of damage, they can repair machinery that’s taken damage, and they can drop ammo packs for other people -- a useful thing to have around, since if you survive for more than a little while, you can quite easily run out of bullets.
Combat Medics can heal injured players and revive dead ones, but those of you coming from an MMORPG background should hesitate to think of them as healers. Your heals don’t match incoming damage -- not even close. The Medics carry powerful assault rifles, and can definitely hold their own in short and medium-range combat, so it's better to think of them as a combat class that brings utility.
All of these classes are useful, and all have strengths on the battlefield. That said, they all have significant weaknesses, too. A Combat Medic can't do much against a sniping Infiltrator at long range, and the Infiltrator doesn't have much hope against a Medic at short range. Light Assault are great at sneaking up behind people who aren't expecting it and scoring some easy kills, but they aren't worth much without the element of surprise. Heavies can be alternately monsters or completely useless, depending on how an enemy faction’s class and vehicle balance is. On one hand, this is good, because nothing is overpowered. On the other hand, combat frequently felt to me like Rock, Paper, Scissors. Given roughly equal skill levels, your chances in a 1-on-1 encounter have more to do with what classes are involved than on how you play. That may or may not be to your preference, but the game was also designed to be more about large battles than 1-on-1s.
The nice thing about classes in Planetside 2 is that you aren't locked into any particular one. Every time you spawn, you get a choice: which of the five classes do you want to respawn as? So, if you keep getting torn up by Infiltrators who are camping hundreds of yards away, you can spawn as a Light Assault, then bring death from above. If your base is getting rocked by tanks, switch to a Heavy Assault and take them out. To put it simply: this game is much more about strategy than it is about tactics.
Switching between classes is easy, but not entirely without a price. This game’s specialization system is based on earning "Certifications." You gain these at a linear rate as you rack up experience points, and you also accumulate them slowly for just having a character, which is nice. You spend these Certifications on things like new weapons, upgrades to your existing weapons and armor, and also for upgrades to your special abilities. So, if you put a bunch of Certifications into upgrading your Infiltrator’s sniper rifle, you’ll lose out on that when you switch to another class. Fortunately, you never stop gaining Certifications, and your upgrades are much more cost efficient at the beginning, so it's entirely reasonable to be effective on multiple classes without dumping huge amounts of time into it. All-in-all, the ease with which you change your character around is light-years better than in most MMO games.
I mentioned earlier that you could consider the game to have over a dozen classes, and here’s how: vehicles. Scattered throughout the game are terminals which your character can use to jump into different kinds of mechanized transport units. On the ground there are 4-wheelers, Mech suits, tanks, and troop transports that are both armored and armed. In the air there are various gunships and fighters. Many of these craft are designed for multiple players. One person will drive, and another player or two will man the guns. The weaponry is powerful, but there are often aiming restrictions and reload requirements — again, it's an attempt to be relatively realistic as well as balanced. The reason I say these can be considered classes is that you can upgrade them just as you can your normal gear. Weapon capacity, optics, stealth systems, mine guards — if you want, you can focus your certifications entirely on vehicles and play the game that way.
Most of the vehicles are awkward to drive to fly — more pseudo-realism in action. It’ll take some practice before you can make it do what you want, and even then there are limits. But somebody who’s taken the time to master flying, or the positioning of a tank, can be quite a threat. At the least, it's an entertaining break from typical FPS combat every once in awhile. It's also a lot of fun to round up some buddies and load into a vehicle. By myself, I can take vehicle combat or leave it. With friends, I won't pass it up.
The combat in this game is fast-paced. In some cases, too fast-paced, at least for me. You’ll go through stretches where you can't even put your crosshairs on an enemy while you die over and over, just because the sneakier enemy troops all happen to see you first. It's balanced by the times you find yourself behind enemy lines with nobody aware of you, or shooting into a doorway that enemies keep popping out of. It's not hard to kill or be killed, to capture bases or lose them. But one thing Planetside 2 struggles with is giving you the feeling that you can make a difference by yourself. In my experience with the game, very few fights or battles are decided by the skill of the participants. Numbers always seem to count for more. That’s not unexpected — the design that allows for huge battles must necessarily reduce the impact of particular players. Still, it’s something you should be aware of before jumping into the game.
It's worth pointing out that the game is free to play. It's supported by microtransactions, which will let you acquire certain things sooner, but it doesn't provide a big advantage. By the time you acquire them through normal means, the increase in your skill level will outweigh the upgrades. It's also worth noting that the term "upgrades" applies loosely. Many are trade-offs. There isn't one clear best weapon, and your default weapon isn't lacking at all. Spending certifications and/or cash will go toward focusing on the way you want to play — for example, spraying from the hip with a machine gun versus firing short bursts while looking down the barrel. Of my friends who have played, one has spent money, and it was for a single weapon. The others have felt no need to do so. That Planetside 2 is free doesn't have any bearing on the overall quality of the game, but it does affect the game’s value. I personally wouldn't subscribe to it, but playing for free with some friends? Sure. And I certainly don’t feel bad telling somebody to pick it up if they want to play with us. If they dislike it, they can uninstall while their bank account remains untouched.
Several facets of Planetside 2 are not to my preference, but I can't say they're poorly designed. If gigantic FPS battles in a permanent world sound appealing to you, give it a shot. (Technically permanent, anyway — with no reason to say in any one place, and with bases constantly switching sides, you don’t form any attachment to the world as it stands, and thus don’t care a whole lot when you lose part of it.) If you are thinking about trying it, I highly recommend getting some friends to play it with you.
Planetside 2 is not going to contend for Game-Of-The-Year for me, and I don’t know that I’d even play it if I didn't have friends interested in playing with me. Nevertheless, it ranks very highly on my list of games out of which I've gotten the most value.
That’s it for our review of Planetside 2. We hope you've found it useful. Thanks for watching.