Last week, we kicked off our review-in-progress for SOE’s ambitious free-to-play MMOFPS, PlanetSide 2, with our first impressions of the game and a focus on the overall starting experience. This week, we’ll offer our analysis of PlanetSide 2 as it stands from the infantry gameplay experience.
THE SHINY PARTS (Week 2)
Playing as one of PlanetSide 2’s six infantry classes is often a rewarding and varied experience. I spent most of my last week playing the Heavy Assault and Combat Medic classes in particular and found the enjoyment of playing these sorts of support roles pretty satisfying.
The Heavy Assault brings a ton of firepower to bear on the battlefield, lugging around a light machine gun, anti-tank or anti-vehicle rocket launcher. Heavies can even utilize a variety of shields to mitigate damage in combat. As an NC player, the GD-22S is an amazing weapon for the Heavy Assault that can really rack up quite a kill streak in the right hands. If you’re looking to go headfirst into combat and bring along a versatile toolset that allows you to deal with most situations on the battlefield, the Heavy Assault is your class.
The Combat Medic is interesting, too. It sort of reminds me of the Assault class in some of the later Battlefield games. Normally, you’d think of a medic in an MMO as a sort of healbot with little in the way of offensive capability, but PlanetSide 2’s Combat Medic couldn’t be further from that description. If you want, you can certainly play the Combat Medic by hanging back and resurrecting and healing other players with your medic tool, but you’re also going to be bringing a powerful assault rifle into battle, and these guns are really no slouch.
The Combat Medic also has an area heal ability that also heals himself over time and can combine this with his powerful assault rifle to cast aside his ‘support role’ and wade into combat with surprising longevity. What’s neat about Combat Medics who decide to forego the fully support role and opt for this playstyle is that even this ‘selfish’ playstyle is designed such that it still manages to help other players near the Combat Medic due to the heal ability’s large AOE radius. This is similar to the Battlefield Assault class types who would only throw their medpacks down to heal themselves but would end up healing other players who found the medpacks on the ground afterwards.
Aside from the well-defined (yet flexible) infantry classes, probably the most crucial positive to the infantry experience is the fact the combined arms aspect of PlanetSide 2 is done so well. You rarely, if ever, feel useless as an infantry player faced with armor or air power. There are so many ways to deal with both vehicle types as infantry, whether you’re an anti-air Dual Burster MAX suit, or the aforementioned Heavy Assault, or really any of the other classes (if you’ve got C4 unlocked, especially) and getting this right has been the most encouraging bit so far. Heck, air vehicles even take damage from small arms fire unless they invest in Composite Armor, so it’s quite possible to deter enemy aircraft no matter what class or specialization you’re currently set up as.
This is one of those things you really only notice if it’s not done right. Anyone who has played Battlefield is familiar with that palpable sense of dread once they’ve noticed an enemy tank coming into the area. If it just so happens you’re not equipped to deal with the situation, well, you pretty much have to turn tail and run. In PlanetSide 2, you’ve got a wealth of options and many times a nearby class terminal that can be used to switch to a class appropriate to the situation.
Infantry are also essential to capturing enemy territory. You can bring all the airpower in the world but you’re not going to be able to bomb an enemy base over to your side’s control. You need boots on the ground to capture points and disable power generators that power the base’s various shields. In fact, the shields on the outer edge of an enemy base block vehicles (but not infantry) from entry, so if you even want ground vehicles to participate in the inner-base battle you’re going to need some grunts to take out the power generators in order to allow the armor to roll in.
THE ROUGH SPOTS (Week 2)
All that said, the infantry experience certainly isn’t perfect. The most glaring issue is that progression rates are so lopsided across the different classes. For example, an Infiltrator who focuses on sneaking into the enemy base and hacking terminals and blowing up base objectives isn’t going to rake in the sort of experience that a Combat Medic sitting on a landing pad resurrecting friendly players will. You will get small bits of experience for assisting on kills and spotting other players, but if you’re not racking up major killstreaks, repairing MAX suits or vehicles, or resurrecting and healing other players, you aren’t going to be earning nearly as many points.
The latter two examples are far easier to accomplish than getting enough kills, by the way. It doesn’t really take much player skill to sit there and almost hope for your teammates to die so you can resurrect them for the big points. In fact, the more points you put into the medic tool, the faster you heal and the more health your allies resurrect with. This means you actually get fewer points for actively healing players (since you are rewarded heal experience for the amount of time you’re healing a particular player) than you would if you just let them die, resurrected them, and healed up whatever damage is left over. I’ve done this by the way; it’s a pretty cynical way to play, but unfortunately it works.
I also feel that PlanetSide 2 could have benefited from the suppression system found in Battlefield 3. I tend to focus on LMG or HMG wielding classes in these sorts of games, mostly because I really enjoy the concept of laying covering or suppressing fire down in an FPS so that other players can flank the enemy or get to a certain point. Generally, just shooting at a bunch of players can sort of accomplish this and this is more likely if you’ve set up a turret as an Engineer in PlanetSide 2, but a true suppression system would have gone a long way. Reducing players’ accuracy and visibility while under fire (and rewarding the player who suppressed enemies that are then killed with bonus experience) was genius in Battlefield 3 and I just don’t feel as effective as a Heavy Assault or even an Engineer when trying to accomplish the same goals in PlanetSide 2. Also, no bipods? What gives?!
Finally, I’m not really happy with the weapon variety whatsoever. Functionally, it’s pretty easy to find clear upgrades for whatever class you’re playing and stick with them. For example, as an NC Heavy Assault there really isn’t a better gun to bring into battle than the GD-22S. For the Light Assault, it’s the GD-7. There are many guns that are supposedly better suited for different situations or playstyles, but it’s pretty easy to find and all around “best in slot” gun for your class and stick with it. Stylistically, PlanetSide 2 is extremely disappointing. Not because the guns on offer don’t sound or look great – but because they almost all look the same. Seriously. You’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference between different guns of the same type. This even comes down to the pistols, of which there are currently only two available per faction. I don’t really get excited to get a cool looking new gun in PlanetSide 2. Oftentimes, the difference is some minor change to the weapon’s stock or something equally mundane.
THE WAIT AND SEE (Week 2)
Fortunately, the game has just launched and SOE has been pretty agile on changing things up in PlanetSide 2, so we’ll really have to wait and see on most of the issues raised above. Will Infiltrators end up as more than glorified snipers over the next couple of weeks? Will weapon balance change enough to encourage real choice in selecting different weapons for different situations? These are all things we’ll keep an eye on over the next couple of weeks.
What do you think of the infantry experience in PlanetSide 2? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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