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PlanetSide 2 Editorial: A Veteran's Comparison - Part One

By Derek Czerkaski on October 08, 2012

Introduction

Being a veteran of Planetside, I felt the need to compare its in-development sequel to the original, and see where they stack up. The following will be an overview highlighting various different developmental and conceptual philosophies, executions, and implementations of ideas for the game Planetside in its two different installments. I'm going to start off with a basic comparative chart, essentially a TLDR version for the quick readers, and then I'm going to expand on these points in more detail as the article goes along.

I'm hopeful that, by utilizing this format, veterans and new players alike will gain some insight into the thought processes behind the in-game mechanics, as well as helping the reader determine whether they are for or against the changes. Since the game is still in a beta phase, nothing posted in this review is final, and based on feedback posted for this article, there is a chance that revisions and adjustments will be made for the product. Please keep this in mind when commenting.

A Quick Comparison Table:

Class System vs. No Class System

Whilst in the original Planetside there was no class system, Planetside 2 opted to switch to it. There were multiple reasons that were able to justify a switch to the class system

  1. It's easier to balance a class than it is to balance 40+ combinations of builds for a person
  2. Planetside was riddled with "Super-soldiers"; builds that allowed a character to do everything to a degree (anti infantry, anti-aircraft, anti-vehicle, long range, short range, healing, etc.)
  3. Everyone, essentially, played the same thing after a while: a heavy infantry equipped with their faction's unique weapon, med packs, and an anti-vehicle/anti-aircraft gun.

In a logistical sense, the move was inevitable. However, the way Planetside 2 has done it has upset the seemingly simple transition from a classless-to a class-oriented game. Classes, in my mind, should be there to supplement a player's play style, by adding additional perks to playing the way you like to play the game. PS2 has it implemented in such a way that players a pigeon-holed into very specific roles. If you want to heal, you're going to be a Medic. If you want to supply ammo or repair vehicles, you're going to be an engineer. Jetpack? Light infantry.

On the one hand, you could argue "But if that's your play style, than you should play that class!" Yes, that's true. However, your load-outs and weapon selections are also limited, in a manner similar to that of the Battlefield series. Perhaps I want to play a Medic who runs around with a shotgun? What if I want to play a pure support character, and just focus on repairing armor for vehicles and healing players? What if I want to be a stealther who deploys traps and excels with a knife? These are questions you might not have thought of, but you WILL the more you play. The problem is you can't. Medics will be using assault rifles, Engineers will be using Carbines. While there are various versions of the Carbines, Rifles, etc., it's still the same weapon type.

This is further hampered by the restructuring of certification points. In the original Planetside, you didn't have instant access to all the classes. You used your cert points to gain access to the layout you wanted. For example: To get to the Heavy Infantry layout equivalent, you had to use 2 cert points for "Medium assault" armor, and then an additional 3 cert points for th "Heavy Assault" armor". This prevented someone from playing as a stealther/hacker, getting killed, and then coming back as a MAX, dying, and then coming back with heavy armor, a medic's gun, and an engineering pack.

While you still had access to many of the weapons and armor layout, in a sense, you still couldn't do everything. In Planetside 2, they've enabled the very problem they sought to remedy, by auto-granting all players access to every class at the click of a button. However, instead of actually allowing access to your desired play-style, you're forced down a very specific, linear path, just like everyone else playing your class. And so what initially seems like a good balancing technique ends up turning into a very limited, linear play style, rife with harsh ceilings and limitations until you respawn. The lack of variety can be underwhelming.

Furthermore, by allowing all players to play as all classes, cert points appear meaningless. Yes, you can certainly "buff" your preferred class to a degree, but you'll always be hampered by the limitations of your class. A large point of the certs in PS1 was to ensure a player wasn't using MAX's, stealth-ing, Sniping, and running around with mini-guns and a rocket launcher. Due to the class system, your character essentially can switch to whatever is needed at any given second, effectively eliminating the concept of specialization. While players certainly won't START as "super soldiers", if you've played long enough and upgraded enough of your class kits, you'll be able to instant-switch to whatever role is necessary at the time, and do it better than a new player across the board.

In my personal opinion, and from what I've seen over the last few weeks, the class system doesn't work. On the contrary, the implementation of the class system feels like a step in the wrong direction. Part of the beauty of Planetside is playing the game exactly the way you wanted to play it. While that's still here to a degree, it just doesn't separate itself in a way that gave the original game a unique feel, and screams "BATTLEFIELD" at you. It also feels like the classes are too general and condensed. Why, for example, does the Infiltrator get stealth, a sniper rifle, the fastest move speed in the game, the best hacking, and the best traps in the game? Shouldn't that class be split into a Ranger (Sniping, Traps), a Commando (explosives, knifing, move speed), and a Hacker (emp emphasis, stealth, bonus to hacking/disabling enemy stuff)? Why is a light infantry essentially given just a Jetpack, when the Jetpack could simply be a certification for all the classes? These sorts of oversight make the class system in this game feel particularly rushed and painful. I am hopeful that over the next few months, we might see the class system split up and specialized a bit more than it is now.

Base Capture & Defense and Capture Routes

The big calling card of the Planetside franchise has always been "Big, HUGE fights." In my mind, it was the godfather of the genre; the MMOFPS. While there are and certainly have been a few other MMOFPS out there, to me, Planetside was the original one who set the standard. I fondly reflect on my days of playing the original Planetside, as no other game to date has captured the intensity of warfare quite like it did.

Capturing bases in PS1 involved a lot of things. You needed: 

  1. Vehicle support, notably an AMS (mobile spawn station)
  2. Outfit coordination (who was going where, when, how, etc.)
  3. A general plan of attack.
  4. A base that gave you access to said route. An example is below.

In the directed model listed above, it's impossible for players to "backhack" base 5 without having base 4, just as it's impossible to take base 4 without having base 2 or base 3. This structure was put in place to help guide players into fights by cultivating fights. While many bases tended to be connected to multiple other bases, it would take what could initially start out as some small skirmishing over a tower, and grow these fights by shuffling squads together towards bigger targets.

The end result would often involve multiple groups of 2-5 players compiling, starting at base 1, and end up with 50-100 players by the time it got to base 5. With the "anything goes" problem, there isn't any real direction. Players are zipping across the map, trying to find battles they can win quickly in order to capitalize on large exp gains and momentum pushes. It is possible for players to fly a mosquito across the map, jump out, and steal up a random tower, and effectively start "backhacking". This has, for me anyway, led to a map that looks distorted in terms of team positioning, much like the skilled drawing above portrays.

A key difference in Planetside was the notion of facilities having "power". Power was the only essential artificial resource in PS1, and it was fuel provided by the warp gates, transported by the ants, and used to power your turrets, vehicle pads, and inventory stations. It diminished VERY SLOWLY over time, though players could sap all of a base's defenses (blow up the turrets, the respawn tubes, the inventory stations and vehicle pads) in order to rapidly accelerate the drain. If gone unchecked, the base would go neutral, and any faction could opt to resupply + hack it for capture. It was a very valid way to effectively limit backhacking, while still making it a possibility. However, without this "power" system in place, I suspect that PS2 will go in 2 directions:

  1. It will continue to allow "anything goes" style base-capping, placing no limitations on your base-capturing ability
  2. It will limit base capturing to require one of your faction's owned bases being adjacent to the other facility in question.

I think that PS1 had the right idea on how to control fighting: enable backhacking, but within limits. Thus far in PS2, it feels like they're still trying to determine the direction they want to move in related to this section. There have been some neat additions to the base-capture method thus far; making the Galaxy an air-based spawn station is a cool idea, and I think it'd be even cooler if it was able to act similar to a HART, flying high above the sky, allowing players to spawn and airdrop out of it. I'm also really eager to see how high-level commanders are able to interact both with their faction and on the map (in terms of drawing up Battle plans).

Later this week, we'll dive into Capture and Hold mechanics and wrap up my thoughts on the game so far.  Are there any other Planetside vets here? What are your thoughts on SOE's sequel so far? Leave us your thoughts below.

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