PlanetSide 2 is SOE’s second crack at properly tackling a large scale MMOFPS since the release of the original PlanetSide back in 2003. Like its predecessor, PlanetSide 2 pits players in a three-way conflict over the resources and territory of the planet Auraxis. The three factions of the Terran Republic, New Conglomerate, and Vanu Sovereignty make their return and players can choose to align themselves with any of the three in their efforts for global dominance. If you’re a fan of the original PlanetSide or a long time veteran of the Battlefield series, you’re sure to be excited by what’s in store for you in SOE’s sophomore MMOFPS effort.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve broken down PlanetSide 2’s various gameplay types and given our first impressions, but today we’re ready to give our full official review, so let’s get to it.
I suppose it’s fitting that we begin our official review discussing the visuals of PlanetSide 2. If you’ve got a decent enough rig powering your games, the exceptional visual quality of SOE’s proprietary ForgeLight engine will easily be the first thing you notice once dropping (literally) into the game. Unfortunately, a powerful system is necessary to really enjoy what ForgeLight has to offer, but the game is no slouch even on the lower settings.
Fitting its name, the ForgeLight engine really delivers a spectacular visual experience with significant emphasis on the game’s lighting and shadow effects. For example, shafts of light pierce through the clouds during the day and tracer fire beautifully illuminates the sky at night. Even something as simple as the headlights cast by a tank at night can be an impressive sight in PlanetSide 2. I could probably prattle on for quite a while on the game’s astounding technical quality, but seeing really is believing in PlanetSide 2, so I’ll let the video below showcase it all:
PlanetSide 2 also features three distinct continents in the form of the desert-like Indar, the frozen tundra of Esamir, and the jungle-filled Amerish. Each of these areas is beautifully crafted and serves a number of gameplay roles. The gorgeous environments coupled with the game’s lengthy view distances frequently deliver breathtaking sights to take in.
Of course, you don’t have much time to stand around and appreciate it all – as there’s often a war exploding on all sides at any given moment. Fortunately, even the destruction of war is impressive in PlanetSide 2. The aforementioned tracer fire in the night sky, the illuminating effects of the Vanu Sovereignty’s alien weaponry, and even the fiery explosion of a Galaxy being taken out go a long way towards making you feel like you’re part of something larger than your typical Call of Duty shoebox shooter experience.
It’s not all peaches though. Customization of your individual soldier can be hit or miss, with many of the camo patterns available for purchase in the cash shop not displaying on your character in a visually pleasing way. The diversity (or lack thereof) in weapon models is also particularly disappointing. Each faction has its own distinct look and feel to both weapons and vehicles, but once you’ve seen one Vanu carbine or sniper rifle, you’ve basically seen them all. This is something SOE really needs to address going forward as players want to look forward to more than different statistics and fire modes when purchasing a new weapon.
PlanetSide 2’s sound effects and music are a bit of a miss, too. Each faction has its own cool distinctive theme, ranging from the bluesy rock of the New Conglomerate to the synthesized notes of the Vanu Sovereignty. You’ll hear these themes when creating a new character and when taking over a base, but otherwise there really isn’t much music in the game. Depending on your preferences, this could be a plus, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. What’s there is good, but there just isn’t a whole lot of it going on.
While weapons can definitely sound punchy, especially on the New Conglomerate end of things, many of them are just as aurally monotonous as they are visually so. Most guns of the same type sound alike.
Vehicles fare a bit better, however. Each vehicle has distinctive sounds and it’s easy to appreciate the attention to detail when hearing the metal plating of your Vanguard tank flex as you navigate rough terrain, for example.
While the game looks and (mostly) sounds good, it’s the gameplay that really matters. Despite being ahead of its time in many ways, SOE didn’t really deliver a solid shooter in the original PlanetSide, but this is definitely not the case with PlanetSide 2.
Can an MMOFPS with tight shooter mechanics actually work? If playing PlanetSide 2 is any indication, then the answer is a resounding yes.
In PlanetSide 2, you’re literally dropped right into the battlefield following a brief intro movie, which can be jarring for some, but if you’re a longtime shooter player, you’ll find that all your natural instincts are immediately well served by the game’s familiar mechanics. Additionally, the game’s hitboxes are solid, and the server infrastructure doesn’t often succumb to latency issues, even with tons of players on the field. Both of these were crucial for SOE to get right. When you’ve got a game with tons of players running around shooting at each other at the same time, being able to consistently make a shot count at long or even short range is paramount and having a lag-free experience with predictable hitboxes is important.
On the weapons front, each of the game’s guns has a distinct and consistent recoil pattern to learn, and the weapon balance is generally good. With that said, it’s pretty easy to find a weapon in each weapon class that will serve your needs in most situations, but there are a few weapons (like the Lasher), that cut out their own niches.
Vehicles, both air and ground, are also fun as hell to use in PlanetSide 2. Each vehicle can be configured for a variety of situations, whether it’s anti-air, anti-vehicle, anti-infantry, or even a mix of all of the above for vehicles with multiple weapon slots. If you’d rather roll with an armor column, dogfight in the skies, or even drive around a troop transport, PlanetSide 2 has you covered.
There are many ways to enjoy the game, too. While SOE bills the game on its capacity to handle large scale warfare, that isn’t to say that there aren’t smaller skirmishes to be had for lone wolves or smaller groups of players. Each continent’s map is comprised of hexes with territory available for capture, but not all of this territory features massive structures such as a Tech Plant or BioLab. Instead, you’ll find a number of smaller objectives that a single squad could conceivably capture and yet each of these points, large and small, are crucial for your faction to control.
Bonuses are conferred to your faction for owning certain territory types, but only if the territory is connected to other locations under your faction's control. Capturing territory also requires influence generated by adjacent hexes in order to move things along at a decent pace. If you want to capture a Tech Plant deep behind enemy lines, you’re welcome to try, but you may be waiting upwards of an hour to get the base to flip even uncontested unless you own the surrounding territory.
The ultimate goal is to secure as much territory for your faction as possible and maintain dominance over the other two factions. Given the three faction gameplay and the number of things going on in the game at once, this can be a pretty tall order, so you’ll find that there are many areas of each continent that are being hotly contested at any given moment. It really doesn’t take much effort to find a place to fight and make a difference and you feel like you’re contributing just about all the time when doing so.
Speaking of contribution, players also earn experience for all the enemies vanquished and territory captured. Experience goes towards leveling up your Battle Rank, which is mostly cosmetic beyond level 10 or so, and will reward you with new rank titles and decals to place on your character. Experience also earns you Certification Points, and this is where PlanetSide 2’s persistent progression comes in. Each class, weapon, and vehicle in the game features its own progression tree, and players can invest their valuable Certification Points to specialize their characters in certain areas or even be a jack-of-all-trades if they want. This isn’t completely new to the FPS genre, but the granular level of progression offered in PlanetSide 2 will keep you coming back (and fighting!) for quite a while.
Can you think of another MMOFPS that offers three-way PvP on this level and scale? I can’t! PlanetSide 2 takes us into a new era of MMOs beyond the advances from ‘sandwich combat’ to ‘action combat’ with full-throated FPS and vehicle gameplay. There are few concessions made here in the name of dealing with MMO limitations (render distance, anyone?). PlanetSide 2 is the real deal manifestation of a massively multiplayer FPS game. There are still performance issues to squash, but it all holds together solidly and that’s an innovation in of itself.
PlanetSide 2 launched a pretty polished game, but there were still quite a few bugs hanging around since the game’s beta test phase. Fortunately, SOE has been aggressive about dealing with these issues over the last couple of weeks and I can be thankful that I haven’t seen some of the more absurd anomalies such as drop pods, destroyed vehicle husks, and seemingly armed phantom grenades lying around everywhere, in some time now. You’ll still run into a myriad of other small bugs in the game, but I’d hardly call any of them deal breakers.
This is admittedly a harder area to tackle. In a game designed solely around PvP, the potential for fun relies squarely on the actions and presence of other players. Server populations have seemingly slid downward over the last couple of weeks, and it can sometimes be difficult to find some of the larger battles normally found around the clock earlier in the game’s release when playing during off-peak hours. If this trend continues without some sort of solution on SOE’s part, I can see this becoming a serious issue for the game.
That said, there’s a lot to love in PlanetSide 2, and if you’re not seeking some holy grail of a ‘meta game’ from the game, the gameplay is certainly compelling enough to keep you coming back day in and day out. This coupled with the additions SOE has been making to the game in the form of new weapons and customizations should bode well for the game’s future.
PlanetSide 2 is really as social as you want it to be. That said, PlanetSide 2 is truly at its best with many people in a coordinated assault. Thankfully, the game features a robust squad management and communications system with fully integrated voice chat (private and proximity based) to facilitate this. You can easily jump into a random squad or platoon by pressing F11 and there are many Outfits (guilds) available to play with. The game does a good job of getting you into the action and some of the more leadership-inclined players on the server will often communicate additional direction for your faction over the game’s chat channels.
Additionally, SOE has fully integrated YouTube and Twitch.TV functionality into the game. So if you’re an avid streamer or just want to upload some cool ‘PlanetSide moments’ there are some handy in-game tools to let you do that with little fuss.
PlanetSide 2 is free, sure, but what do you get as a free player? Honestly, just about everything. There aren’t any gameplay activities or equipment that must be purchased or unlocked with Station Cash or available exclusively to subscribers. Still, customizations such as camo patterns, experience or resource boosters, are available for Station Cash if you want them.
Weapons can also be unlocked via Station Cash, bypassing the often hefty Certification Point requirement in order to unlock them. Certification Point gain rates are a bit stingy unless you play strictly to farm them, so I can see it being frustrating for a fully free-to-play player without any sort of experience boosts when it comes to saving up points for a new weapon.
As a subscriber even with an experience boost, it can often feel like it’s taking forever to gain Certification Points towards progressing my character, so if you don’t have the stomach for a bit of a grind, you may want to consider this.
Even considering all this, there certainly isn’t anything ‘Pay-to-Win’ about PlanetSide 2. All players are essentially on an even footing and none of the friends I played with that weren’t subscribing ever felt like dead weight or were blocked off from taking part in any of the fun the game offers.
I’ve long wondered at the possibilities of merging the large scale FPS warfare of games like Battlefield with the potential for an even larger scale and persistence that only the MMO genre offers. To that end, SOE has done an admirable job in realizing this potential with PlanetSide 2. Like any MMO, there are many ways in which PlanetSide 2 can grow, ranging from adding more vehicles, weapons, and equipment, to new gameplay types, or altogether new continents to do battle on. But what we have here at launch is a spectacularly solid foundation for which SOE to build on and an awesome game in its own right.
If you’re like me and you’ve been wishing to see what a game along the lines of Battlefield could be like with the scale of an MMO this is definitely a title you won’t want to miss. And at the low price of free, why would you?
Check out more of our PlanetSide 2 coverage!