After years of waiting, Planetside 2 (Sony Online Entertainment's sequel to the world's first MMOFPS) was released Tuesday morning at 10 AM Pacific time. While the game certainly is not “feature complete” insofar as the term applies to an F2P online game which exclusively focuses on player-versus-player content, it is certainly in a playable condition. With the servers now up and hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have battled through the inevitable Launch Day circus of errors and server issues, what have they found awaiting them on the battlefields of Auraxis?
Some Auraxian Exposition
For those of you who have never heard of Planetside 2 before, the game is essentially a persistent, massive, science-fiction groundwar. Three factions - the Terran Republic, the New Conglomerate, and the Vanu Sovereignty - are cut off from Earth by a collapsed wormhole and now battle for supremacy over the colony world of Auraxis. The Terran Republic forces are the jackbooted loyalists in red and black, fighting to reunite the colony under their draconian rule. The New Conglomerate is an amalgamation of cranks, idealists, and private security forces sponsored by a shadowy cartel of corporate interests with their own ideas about how the world should be run. The Vanu Sovereignty, the unorthodox third faction to this civil war, are wild-eyed xenophiles and techno-fetishists who want to go full-throttle on all this wacky alien tech from the vanished previous occupants of Auraxis and have no interest in letting the Terran Republic bureaucrats or the New Conglomerate jugheads get in the way of unlocking their transhuman potential.
These three factions, all of whom are pretty loathsome in keeping with the idea that there are no good guys (or aliens) on Auraxis, are waging a full-spectrum ground war for control of the planet. Players take the role of the infinitely-cloned troopers all the factions have settled on using for their forces and engage in infantry, vehicular, or air-based combat to sieze control of bases scattered across the various continents of Auraxis. Combat plays out much as it does in more traditional multiplayer FPSes, with players picking a class and loadout that can be changed during respawning or at various terminals scattered throughout the gameworld. There is no 'next map'; the map is static and (like EVE) territorial control is persistent. Hundreds of players in tanks, planes, powered armor, mobile-spawn- point armored personnel carriers, and even four-wheelers engage in battle to win control of these planetary fortresses. There is no real end point to this conflict. The battle for Auraxis has no ultimate victor or celebratory V-Day, only brief periods of exhilaration or disappointment before the next attack rolls in. Truly, in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.
Only War...And Capitalism
There are going to be a lot of articles coming out about the different classes and vehicles and so forth in Planetside 2, so I'd rather get to something both boring and controversial: cash shop unlocks. Over the course of the beta there were a lot of changes to the game design as originally envisioned by the Sony dev team. The original plan of RTS-inspired resource systems and experience-based unlock certificates existing side by side - one to buy new weapons and the other to unlock new abilities - was largely scrapped; the remnants still exists in a deprecated form as a limiting factor to prevent players from pulling endless streams of tanks and aircraft. Certificates became the only in-game currency used to unlock weapons, vehicle abilities, and class customizations. Until the end of the beta, both certificate gain rates and certificate costs were being adjusted, with adjustments generally nerfing certificate gain rates and increasing the cost of items. There is obviously a method to Sony's madness here, since the success of Planetside 2 as a commercial product will hinge on making the purchase and usage of station cash to unlock a new weapon an attractive alternative to trudging through the certificate grind. And that's a good thing.
Despite inevitable Chicken Littles lamenting about the Pay2Win One Percenters riding roughshod over the free-playing masses like medieval Frankish knights, the default classes in Planetside 2 are perfectly fine even if you never use Station Cash. Players can feel confident engaging any class, armed with any unlockable weapon, as any default class without a single certificate to their name. The classes themselves start in pretty good shape: Medics can heal and revive, Engineers can repair, Light Assaults can jetpack and Heavy Assaults can spurt out rockets and raise their emergency shields right out of the box. That is not to say that unlockable weapons aren't game changing: without the unlockable lock-on SAM rocket launcher to replace his unguided RPG, it is supremely difficult for a Heavy Assault trooper to take down an aircraft. Vehicle weapon unlocks are especially pivotal, with the Magrider's Saron railgun being virtually mandatory for tank battles, but for the most common kind of combat, the infantry-vs-infantry combat the Planetside has always held at its core, I'd put player skill or even plain luck over cash-bought weapons any day.
In Which I Struggle For an Insightful Conclusion
Of course, despite Planetside 2 being released yesterday, it still isn't really “finished.” The shift to F2P gaming has ensured that the distinction between beta and release has become academic. Developers are likely to continue making changes, especially regarding the cash shop and certificate gain, well into the future. Gamers are more willing to live with an obviously work-in-progress game as long as they haven't shelled out real money for it and game companies have cut themselves some slack on their development schedules in turn. So long as the game is fun and largely playable, people will continue to play it regardless of what is or isn't implemented; a luxury that subscription-based games don't have. With the servers up and people flooding on to servers to play Planetside 2, it is plainly a fun game - and that is all that matters.