The Vanu forces are assaulting a heavily defended Terran Bio Lab. Bullets are flying everywhere, explosions sounding across every corridor. Meanwhile, I’m just getting into the fray as a Heavy Assault, having used the launch pads to catapult myself onto the upper level where the main battle is being fought at. I quickly notice the medics hunkering down behind a stack of crates with other Heavies and a couple Lights. Popping my shield to absorb some of the enemy fire, I make my way over in an attempt to provide assistance in the assault, readying my rocket launcher in preparation to deal with a Max unit that I knew was going to be just around the corner.
Before I even do anything, I find myself suddenly dead. After a shout of, “What the fuck happened!?” no doubt alerting my cat that was nearby, the death prompt popped up, showing that someone on my team had apparently planted their aircraft right on top of my skull.
Thus essentially describes my time spent on Planetside 2, the sequel to the popular, albeit fairly niche, war-based FPS title from 2003.
Planetside 2, developed by Sony Online Entertaintment, brings back war-based MMOFPS action in a time where developers are focusing more on arena style games, trying to make a break into the growing e-sports scene. Battles are fought not by teams of a dozen or so players, but by hundreds, each trying to take control of three separate continents. Wars go on for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the tide of battle constantly changing in favor of one side or another.
Players can join one of three different factions, and jump right into the fray. There’s the Terran Republic, a militaristic, ultra conservative nation that strives for universal peace through any means necessary (think if Fox News decided to start an army). The New Conglomerate is a rebel faction that strives to create their own government, away from the strict rules of their domineering foes. The Vanu Sovereignty, meanwhile, is a faction that believes in the use of evolving technology as the means to advance humanity forward. Each side has their own history, as well as a faction specific aircraft and ground vehicle that can be deployed to assist in the battle.
Despite the fact that each of the three continents are humongous, traveling across them is actually a fairly easy endeavor with multiple options. For example, you can simply spawn a Flash, a speedy ground vehicle, or one of several aircraft (all of which cost resources that you accrue during battle) and ride your way over to your destination. The fastest method, however, is to deploy, which is done by going to the map and looking for the appropriate icon. Once you find your destination, you’ll be sent in a semi-controllable drop pod right in the thick of battle. However, the system is finicky, and most times you’ll end up dropping yourself in a spot where the enemy can just unload on you as soon as you step out.
There are six classes to choose from, though the balance between them is pretty sketchy at the moment. For combat infantry, you have Light Assault, who use jetpacks to gain a positional advantage, and Heavy Assault, who are meant to take the brunt of the punishment on the front lines. A Max suit, a bulky mech with some extreme stopping power, can also be chosen, but its incredibly slow movement speed often relegates it largely to defensive positions and combat in small rooms. Medics and Engineers fill the support roles, the former healing and reviving teammates on the field, and the latter being in charge of repairing vehicles and Maxes, whilst erecting turrets in defensive positions.
The Infiltrator, however, is definitely the weakest of the lot. It has access to several mechanics that make it unique in the roster, including cloaking, and use of sniper rifles. The cloak, unfortunately, is useless, as enemies can still see you quite clearly while it’s activated, with you unable to defend yourself while it’s on. Sniping, meanwhile, uses an arbitrary and unnecessary “breath holding” mechanic that modern FPS titles apparently love to use to add some semblance of realism (protip: it doesn’t) just to be able to aim semi-accurately. To top things off, their only close combat tool is a dinky pistol that doesn’t exactly do much when everyone else has an automatic they can simply spray and pray with to do heavy damage to you. Infiltrators also have the ability to hack enemy terminals and turrets, converting them for use by your comrades, however, your teammates aren’t likely going to ask for such things, opting to flat out destroy them instead.
Mechanically, the Infiltrator is the coolest class out of the entire lineup. However, said mechanics don’t even work properly compared to the way other games utilize them, and you’ll find that most cases are better solved by just going Heavy and bull rushing through enemy territory, with a couple tanks for good measure. Meanwhile, the Infiltrator is more of a troll class, doing things specifically to piss other players off, such as hacking active turrets and killing the pilot before they realize what’s happening. If you want to actually get stuff done, though, you’ll need to switch to one of the other offensive classes.
Battles themselves depend on your playstyle and how many friends you have working with you. A cohesive unit can create big plays, plan out attacks, call out the appearance of enemy vehicles, and request backup, creating a true wartime experience. If you’re playing by yourself, however, you’ll find the experience less than adequate, as communication outside of outfits is rare except for the occasional trash talk initiated by children and adults with very poor grammar, and actual planned teamwork isn’t exactly a common occurrence. It is possible to go lone wolf depending on your class, though if you’re trying to do so as an Infiltrator to ninja cap an undefended base, you’ll find you’ll get stomped as soon as any other class rounds the corner.
The frustration only amplifies when you look at how information is presented to you, or in this case, the lack of. The interface is incredibly confusing to look at, bombarding the player with an endless stream of flashing icons and HUD markers, with no way of telling which portrays what. Meanwhile, the menus are even more confusing to navigate, and provide even less information on what you’re looking at, or what you need to do. It’ll take some time to truly understand what everything does, and while SoE has provided some youtube video tutorials, these only scratch the surface of all there is to know about the game and its mechanics. Even identifying hostile targets has its own learning curve, as character models don’t stand out the from each other like they should, and the icon that designates enemy units doesn’t show up all the time, which results in a lot of preventable friendly fire.
Speaking of friendly fire, implementing such a thing in a video game where bullets and rockets are flying everywhere is not a very good idea to begin with. Not only do other players love getting in front of you while you’re firing, causing you to inadvertently shoot them in the back, but this also opens itself up to griefing. Sure, enough excessive fire on your teammates locks your gun for a bit, but there’s also nothing stopping them from just grabbing a tank or aircraft and running people over instead, much like what was detailed at the start of this review. One can argue that it helps to create a feeling of being in a battlefield, but if I wanted that kind of experience, I’d enlist in the military instead of being a video game journalist.
A lot of the other grievances are small in detail, but everything adds up to one small pile of “Why would you do that?” Optimization, for example, is really poor, with many reports coming in about framerate issues. The game does look spectacular, and SoE did an awesome job creating these detailed worlds and environments, however, this comes at the cost of having some incredibly high system requirements. Combined with numerous cases of server and game crashes, it presents a very poorly optimized game, though things have been slowly getting better since release with subsequent patches.
The cash shop is also implemented very poorly, and this is immediately seen when you notice the prices for various items. Weapons are unlocked by acquiring certs during regular play, however, certs accrue very slowly. When you consider that some of the better weaponry costs 1000 certs just to unlock, or $7 in real currency, you’ll realize that you’re going to be spending a lot of time grinding just to be able to have options for your three loadouts unless you have some spare cash to drop. It’s borderline pay-to-win, though the more accurate description would be pay-to-not-grind, especially when you notice all the upgrade options you have. Despite SoE citing League of Legends as their inspiration for the cash shop, the actual presentation lacks the accessibility and options available in the popular MOBA title. What works for one genre, doesn’t exactly work the same for another.
The cert problem is also related to the class balance issue. If you try playing as Infiltrator, you’ll more than likely notice you accrue certs at a very slow rate, as sniping is unreliable, and hacking doesn’t net you as much exp as it should. Meanwhile, the person herp derping around as Heavy is going to be getting more kills more often, even if he doesn’t get as long of a streak as you, and is able to take out a tank or two as well, for faster exp gain, which results in faster cert gain. The end result is that if you’re looking to cut the cert grind as much as possible, just go Heavy and shoot anything that moves. Maybe grab your faction tank or an aircraft as well for extra killing power.
These are really just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the numerous problems that exist in the game. Other things include the ridiculously slow cap times, poor handling of vehicles, various bugs, glitches, game crashes, and other things. (Though having a flying ATV is pretty damn hilarious). As much hype as this game was getting, the actual release so far has been very shoddy, so much so that I was actually questioning writing this review before the majority of these issues were addressed.
A lot of the problems may stem from the fact that SoE is trying to make a game for the truly hardcore crowd; the people that actually do have time to sit and study every single miniscule detail that the game has. Though the F2P tag does encourage people to at least give it a quick spin, it’s far from the most accessible game around. Some of the attempts at creating realism also just end up being an annoyance. Bullet drop and velocity are creative ideas that can take time to master, however, unnecessary breath-holding and friendly fire just remind us that video games are supposed to take us away from reality, not remind us of how much it sucks. And besides, it’s a game about space armies with futuristic weapons that don’t even exist in our time for crying out loud. Realism should be thrown out the window from the get-go in this situation.
For what it’s worth, there is some fun to be had here. When everything works the way it’s supposed to, it can be an enjoyable experience, with battles taking place on a massive scale, accompanied by a great feeling of accomplishment when you manage to finally take over a heavily defended base. It’s just best done with a group of friends that you know and trust, where you can either plan a huge assault, or just do silly things together like riding across the countryside. Trying to tackle this behemoth solo will just make the faults that much more evident, and lead to overall frustration.
Also, hope that your computer is fortunate enough to run the game without any problems whatsoever. Otherwise, enjoy playing at well below 30 FPS and/or experiencing a multitude of crashes.
Final grade: B-