PlanetSide 2 is ramping up to its latest expansion, Escalation, on PC here soon, and the venerable MMOFPS has a lot to celebrate right now. The franchise as a whole is about to celebrate its 17 year anniversary, originating with Planetside in 2003, while the sequel is coming up on 8 years in operation later this year in November. That’s huge, especially in the MMORPG world where games can come and go as the trends and forces of this industry shift.
The team at Rogue Planet Games, the new studio created last month to focus solely on Planetside development, is eager to show off their vision not just for the current release, but also set up for future releases with Escalation. Planetside’s longevity can be attributed to a few things according to Executive Producer of the Planetside franchise, Andy Sites,
“I mean, the two most obvious things that come to mind are what we always say,” Andy told MMORPG via a phone interview last week. “Literally there’s no other shooter out there like this, just the scale and the depth of play with all the classes and combined arms options. But it’s also the community. Wrel, lead designer of Planetside 2, likes to point out that the community thinks of this as a “home game.” So no matter when annually all the shooters update and expansions or new versions come out, we see people go and play them and the vast majority end up coming back because it doesn’t scratch the itch that Planetside does.”
The last few months haven’t been the best for the Planetside franchise, with the release and subsequent cancellation of their short-lived Planetside Arena. Released in September and cancelled in January, the team behind the game has learned a lot from the experience, particularly reinforcing what makes Planetside itself great among its playerbase.
“Planetside, in general, is a trailblazing game and we had a lot of great ideas for Planetside Arena,” Andy says. “Foundationally, we wanted to be able to deliver the most amazing Planetside 2 experiences, which as you know, you encounter them maybe every couple of hours, maybe once every couple of days depending on how often you’re playing. We wanted to be able to do that in a match-based play and guarantee you could get the epic, large-scale battles you would get less frequently in Planetside 2. That was the big plan for the game, right?
“If we’re looking back and talking about what we would have done differently, not rolling it out with a battle-royale rule set as the first mode. The intent was to roll out a variety of match types and cycle them out and introduce ones very frequently. “
Andy also mentions the community itself and their passion for Planetside’s unique gameplay as a reason why Arena might have fallen flat, especially as a battle royale mode. As a result, the team at Rogue Planet Games has learned a lot of lessons from Arena, and some of the development from the short-lived game haven’t gone to waste, as the team has been able to implement some of the work done to the code base into the main game, as well as assets being introduced where they make sense.
Planetside Arena also helped Andy and his team find their path moving forward with their mainline game. For the team, the feedback from Arena helped to truly reinforce the community’s passion for Planetside and what makes it truly special among other MMOs on the market.
Thus, Planetside 2 is moving forward with its latest expansion, Escalation. This expansion heavily focuses on Outfits, which are essentially the guilds or clans of the MMOFPS, introducing many new additions to really hone in on Outfit gameplay, such as the new War Assets system, the Outfit Wars tournament, and the ability to call in a giant Operational Bastion Fleet Carriers.
You could hear the excitement in Andy and Wrel’s voice as they describe the new features - Planetside 2’s development is gearing up to not just bring home those players who go away every few months when a new shooter gets updated, is also getting interest from those players like myself who used to play and stopped.
“We just celebrated our 7 year anniversary last November,” Andy tells me when talking about the Escalation expansion and what it could mean for the longevity of the experience. “Part of why we are doing this update is not only because we’re confident in this franchise having still years to go, but we know that there’s a very large audience that is currently playing the game, and that there is an audience that wants a reason to come back.”
Outfits are a major, major part of the Escalation expansion in Planetside 2. The likelihood of sticking with Planetside 2 increases when you’re in an Outfit, so focusing on that type of cooperative gameplay is key for Escalation, according to Andy:
“So one of the reasons why we’re so heavily focused on Outfits is tying back into winning people back that might have left months or even years ago. A lot of people left that were highly engaged in Outfits felt that that aside from just being a tool for social to coordinate going into battle and stuff, there was really nothing else that could be done. It was kind of underserved.”
As a result, many of the elements of the new Escalation expansion, as mentioned previously, hone in on Outfit gameplay.
One of those elements is the massive Bastion Fleet Carriers that players can now call to the battlefield assuming their Outfit has the resources to do so. These carrier ships are a force to be reckoned with, demanding an immediate response from the rest of the players on the continent or risk being overwhelmed. Your outfit will defend these carriers, resulting in some pretty hectic moments in Escalation.
This type of gameplay requires the coordination of an entire Outfit. You need to pull the resources to build this monster asset for your Outfit, but then you need to protect it. The Bastion is a way to project power for your Outfit across the map. And currently on the PTS server, players are seeing first hand how dominating and explosive Bastion gameplay can be and how it can change the landscape of a Planetside encounter.
“An Outfit might pull a Bastion Fleet Carrier onto the map, but everyone that is part of that continent in this part of the battle is going to experience what’s going to happen, whether they are defending it or attacking it,” according to Andy.
These massive carriers will house dozens of aircraft with multiple turrets you can man while defending. According to Andy, you can also deploy at the Bastion. When you do you’ll deploy in a Strike Fighter, read to defend the massive ship from the air. As an attacker, if the Bastion stops, you can actually drop down onto it - it’s a game changer if the multiple videos the team has tweeted out from the PTS are any indication.
At the foundation level of this, Escalation brings with it a new War Asset system which is designed to give your Outfit goals to work towards and bring new weapons and assets to the battlefield for your Outfit.
“So Outfits are able to now gather resources from just playing the game in the way that they played it in the past: they capture bases, they defend bases that claim basis for their Outfit,” Wrel tells me on the call. “And in doing so they'll gather these resources which are used through the armory to create war assets. And the Bastion is one of them. But there's numerous other little odds and ends that you can craft and then deploy on the battlefield. Like there's a big shield that you can bring down to the surface of the planet that protects everybody in this large area. And then there's a deployable vehicle that you can pull in from orbit.”
Players can also call in something called Steel Rain, which allows you to essentially redeploy a squad of 12 players to a specific location on the continent, allowing you to shape the tactical situation in the battle to your advantage at a given moment.
Wrel continued on the War Asset system, explaining that this allows players to interact with Planetside 2 in a new way.
“It's allowing players to interact with the battlefield in a way that they haven't been able to before. And at the same time, just by virtue of creating these, these assets and then the resources to get them or to make them we are giving outfits a communal goal to work toward.”
All of this can be used as bragging rights too in the expansion, as when your Outfit is able to summon a Bastion Fleet Carrier, you’ll be the only one of your faction that can until it’s destroyed. Also, the team has it set up to where your faction decal shows up on the map so everyone playing knows exactly who summoned the Fleet Carrier. It’s a massive undertaking to do so, and the payoff can potentially be huge for those able to do this successfully.
In addition to the War Asset system and the inclusion of the Bastion Fleet Carrier, the team is adding a new competitive element to Planetside 2 with the introduction of Outfit Wars. This is a GvGvG tournament that you qualify for by simply playing the base game according to Wrel. Outfits will gather resources, capture and defend bases and by doing so you’ll be contributing to your qualification score.
“It’s important to note that they’re just playing the game the way that you’ve always kind of played it, except with a bit more strategy involved,” says Wrel. “At the end of a cycle, and right now it’s scheduled for once a month, players who end up in the top brackets can partake in the actual Outfit War.
You’ll have the most elite, the most competitive outfits there going at it in a special zone we’re calling Desolation. That lasts for two hours. So you’re talking less than two hours out of a month of time.”
Andy added, “And to reiterate, all the qualification leading up to that is just playing the regular game.”
Wrel tells us that the rewards aren’t set in stone right now, but the team is thinking about the rewards being a fair amount of the rarest resource - which just means that these Outfits can then funnel those back into the War Assets system and work towards that Bastion. But a lot of this too is again, bragging rights. Being the top Outfit in the War, and knowing that these events only take place for a month can bring your Outfit a fair bit of notoriety over that next cycle.
Planetside 2 is also introducing a new social hub to the MMOFPS experience, called Sanctuary, giving players from all Factions the ability to socialize, trade with vendors, and set up a space where the community can gather for the future. Other MMOs and shared experiences like Neverwinter or Destiny have these social hubs as a feature, and Planetside 2 is trying to bring that atmosphere to their game as well.
“We’re adding a hub to the game to invite more of an MMO-style atmosphere to the game. Destiny is a good example with the Tower, people go back to that and they give you enough reasons to go back,” Wrel mentioned when asked why they were going the hub route in PS2.
“[With] community being a big part of Planetside 2’s past, present and future, we wanted to give [the community] more ways to interact, not just by shooting bullets at the enemy, but also be able to converse and that sort of thing. So creating a social space is kind of something that’s been talked [about] a lot throughout the game’s history, but it’s always been a little difficult to justify the implementation. But with the Escalation update, we really needed something to tie everything together, and especially as we enter a new phase of Planetside 2’s future. It’s a good foundation from which to build.”
At this new hub will be social possibilities, but also new NPC vendors from whom you can only receive certain items, and according to Wrel, Sanctuary is really meant to be a foundational hub for offshoots being added to the game in the future.
And the future does look bright for the team working on Planetside 2, especially after the recent shake up of the studios at Daybreak Games, the MMOFPS’ publisher recently. The team handling the development of Planetside 2 is now its own studio, Rogue Planet Games, and as a result this means a more focused dev team doing what they were meant to do: building Planetside’s future.
“What this allows us to do is be completely focused on Planetside games in general,” Andy - who is not only the EP on Planetside 2 but also the Head of the new studio - mentioned. “We have a lot more ownership over the vision and the design and feature changes that we’re making. And frankly, it’s been great since we rolled it out. And there were a lot of players who were skeptical of what it actually meant. And I think after we announced this update, and we’ve shown just a lot more interaction with the community and a lot more transparency that how beneficial it’s actually been and how it’s going to continue to be.”
While the Escalation update is still in the works - the team posted an update on the official Planetside 2 account that there will be a delay to ensure that they give this update the time and polish it needs in order to get it right for the community.
Planetside 2’s Escalation update will launch on PC on Wednesday, February 26th.