"Massive" is the first word that popped into my mind when we were shown PlanetSide 2 at Sony Online Entertainment's special preview event at Game Developer's Conference 2012. SOE has been particularly mum about their upcoming MMOFPS, and we were unquestionably excited to be invited to their first big showing of the game. In our 45-minute preview, we were given a glimpse of the scope of what SOE is attempting with PlanetSide 2, and it is huge.
We were first treated to an overview of the game's features by Executive Producer Josh Hackney, followed by a gameplay demo led by Creative Director Matt Higby. In their words, PS2 is a re-envisioning of their original scifi MMOFPS, PlanetSide. At its core, it's a shooter, but comes with the persistence, community and features that you'd expect from an MMO, and combat on a massive scale between the game's three factions.
Matt started the gameplay demo by showing us a fly-through of a contested zone on one of PlanetSide 2's gigantic maps with his flying Reaver, one of the game's many customizable vehicles. Attempting to take control of a disputed capture point which was contested in a large tank battle, he explained that his Reaver had been specced as a close air-to-ground support gunship, but could also be customized for air-to-air dogfights. Winning capture points is crucial and persistent in PlanetSide 2, as a faction in control will gain resources to unlock weapons, upgrades and other equipment, and will stay in control of the capture point until another faction contests it again. Matt shot a few missiles at the tank battle below before jumping out of his Reaver to show the infantry's perspective of the melee, and let me tell you, the scale of the skirmish with tanks, foot soldiers, air vehicles, missiles, and lasers all flying around the capture point was positively epic. Even with the small number of players involved in the demo, it was easy to see how hectic and fast-paced a large encounter could be, knowing that PS2 will support hundreds of players in battles.
Matt then commandeered a tank and showed us the game's vehicle certification trees, which allow you to customize your playstyle and desired role in combat without necessarily giving an advantage to one style over the other. You can earn certification points through engaging in combat objectives in the game, while there will also be an offline advancement system in place. Additionally, Matt mentioned that the devs are very interested in making the MMO features of PlanetSide 2 accessible for FPS players, so grouping - even with tanks - and guild features will be very easy to get into.
Logistics will play a big role in PlanetSide 2, so expect to protect your supply lines and fight for respawn points for your troops. Support roles will likewise be important, and the game's diverse classes will allow for medic and engineer archetypes as well as combat-oriented characters. PlanetSide 2 will also offer infantry customization, about which we've heard two important words: jump jets.
Matt proceeded to show us a ground-level fight over a capture point and illustrated how the devs have created PlanetSide 2's maps with modern FPS level design in mind. Their intention to texture battles in PS2 by offering a variety of gameplay approaches was readily apparent in the layout of different terrain obstacles that we saw in the demo. Matt also mentioned that you can gain weapon proficiencies by using specific weapons over time, in a reward system popularized by shooters like Call of Duty.
PlanetSide 2 will launch as a free-to-play title with microtransactions, and we were assured the game won't have a "pay to win" scenario. You'll be able to purchase optional items like skins for your weapons, while anything in the store that would confer a gameplay advantage can also be earned in-game. There will also be a membership or subscription service available, although SOE isn't yet discussing the potential benefits for subscribing.
We were shown a pretty neat profile screen, which displays cool stats about your character and play style, and which will correlate to a larger PlanetSide 2 player site that will act similarly to Battlefield 3's "Battle Log." The difference between the player site and the Battle Log will be PlanetSide 2's persistence, which will lend itself to stats showing the status of contested in-game areas.
SOE was clear that they're only talking about a PC version of the game right now, and they haven't announced any beta dates yet. Even in its alpha stage, the MMOFPS is looking very, very sleek, and its stability in the demo, effective use of lighting in its day/night cycles, and overall polished design gave me the impression that the folks at SOE are on the right track with the development of the game. We didn't get to see much more than a few battles around a couple of control points, or learn much about PS2's three factions, which we were told have unique gameplay features and vehicles. Still, if the demo content was any indication of the larger game, the scale of PlanetSide 2's combat, maps, and persistent battles for territory control will be massive. Matt explained that they are actively looking for community feedback as the game becomes more public, and I expect that if SOE can focus test and polish the rest of the game to the level of the small amount of content that we were shown, they'll have an epic, triple-A MMOFPS on their hands.