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Review in Progress - Part 3: Air

Michael Bitton Posted:
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Last week, we continued our review-in-progress for SOE’s ambitious free-to-play MMOFPS, PlanetSide 2, with our take on the game’s infantry role. This week, we’ll offer our analysis of PlanetSide 2 as it stands from the air vehicle gameplay experience.


PlanetSide 2 takes the possibilities imagined for air combat in other big war shooters like Battlefield to a whole other level. Forget a chopper or two and a pair of jets, in PlanetSide 2, players can have their own air vehicles. There are a decent variety to choose from, each with extremely important roles on the battlefield.

The workhorse of each faction’s army has to be the Galaxy. Being a Galaxy pilot is sometimes a thankless job, but it can be both thrilling and daunting at the same time. The Galaxy is basically PlanetSide 2’s air troop transport. It’s a big hunk of metal armed to the teeth with four gun mounts (which can be configured for anti vehicle, air, or infantry) and it can seat up to twelve players total. As a Galaxy pilot, the lives of those eleven other souls are your responsibility and it can be pretty embarrassing to give another a dozen kills if you’re shot down with all onboard. Fortunately, if you’re up to the task, the thrill of making hard-and-fast infantry drops while taking hails of gunfire from all sides is hard to match.

Let’s face it though, there isn’t as much direct action to be had flying what is a basically an air taxi (even if it is armed to the teeth). That’s where the Liberator and ESF (Empire-specific Fighters) come in.


The Liberator is the bomber of PlanetSide 2. It only seats three players (pilot, belly gunner, tail gunner), but there are few vehicles (ground or air) capable of wreaking as much havoc on the battlefield. If you manage to fly with a competent pilot and get yourself into the belly gun, you’re likely to rack up a serious kill count and the commensurate experience and cert points to boot. The Liberator’s guns can be fitted for all manner of targets, but by far the most popular gun is the anti-infantry belly gun. Equip night vision optics on this baby and go to town. I’ve personally racked up killstreaks in the 50s or more on a good Liberator run. It’s absolutely ridiculous – but tons of fun, especially if you’re the gunner.

Finally, we have the Empire-specific fighters: the Scythe for the Vanu Sovereignty, the Reaver for the New Conglomerate, and the Mosquito for the Terran Republic. Each of these fighters is unique in its own way. For example, the Scythe is particularly agile, while the Reaver is heavily armored. These fighters are single seaters, so if you want to hound all the glory and not worry about feeding kill opportunities to your copilot or safely dropping off your occupants, this is the air vehicle for you. ESFs can be equipped with rotary cannons perfect for chewing up other aircraft, dumbfire rocket pods that will pound enemy armor and infantry alike, or even lock-on air-to-air missiles for dogfights. 

Of the three air vehicle types available, I’ve had the most fun gunning in the Liberator so far. This is likely due to the fact I haven’t been able to fully get the hang of the ESF controls just yet (more on that later), but there really is something awesome about lighting up a mass of hapless infantry with your belly gun.


The most frustrating aspect of flying in PlanetSide 2 is easily the controls, specifically when flying the ESFs. ESFs aren’t quite jets and they aren’t quite choppers. They’re similar to the gunships found in Battlefield 2142. At a certain speed, they use their forward thrusters, and below a certain speed, they will switch to hover mode. This can be a bit confusing at first, but it’s not the worst issue.

The controls for flying just aren’t intuitive at a basic level and you’ll also have to practice a number of maneuvers just to be competitive with other pilots on the field. For example, tricks like the “Power Reverse” or “Reverse Maneuver” can be lifesaving when trying to get back in the air after a repair or even in a dogfight. The same goes for the “Banking Turn” and a number of other maneuvers. Practice makes perfect, but it often feels like there’s a lot more practice needed than really should be necessary.


Making matters worse, spawning a vehicle takes a certain amount of Aerospace resources and also comes with a hefty 15 minute cooldown at base. The cooldown can be reduced via certification points, but the resource cost can be quite limiting. Sure, if you’re already a great pilot, you’re likely to make the resource cost back and have rundown the respawn timer on your fighter before you ever go down, but when you’re just a rookie trying to get acclimated, this can be a significant source of frustration.

This issue is compounded further by the fact there aren’t always safe areas to practice flying. You can do whatever you want within the confines of your faction’s Warpgate (your vehicle won’t take damage), but this is an incredibly small space. SOE really could stand to implement some sort of virtual reality area where players can test things out and practice with vehicles.


Outside of the controls, there aren’t too many issues that fall into the gray area with air combat. Similar to the issues with infantry, the biggest wait-and-see concern is the disparity of rewards offered to pilots fulfilling different roles. For example, a Galaxy or Liberator pilot isn’t going to get nearly as much experience as his gunners are for racking up kills, and the same is true for the Liberator’s tail gunner. This poor sap rarely gets any action unless you’ve got an ESF flying up your rear and so it really isn’t worth it for someone to get into your Liberator in this particular role.

In short, I’d like to see SOE balance out the rewards for all members of a vehicle, regardless of which seat they are in. This is especially concerning since the pilot is the one who has to earn the certification points to load the vehicle out with cool and effective toys. Hopefully SOE will address this in the coming weeks.

What do you think of the air vehicle experience in PlanetSide 2? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Check out more of our PlanetSide 2 coverage!


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB