On Saturday, Planetside 2 released a 3.5 gigabyte patch with a whole passel of content and gameplay changes including the continent of Amerish. Buried in these notes were a series of buffs and nerfs that will have an enormous, and possibly unwelcome, effect on how the Planetside 2 metagame will unfold in the weeks to come. The changes I'm so coyly dancing around for dramatic effect, of course, are the anti-aircraft nerfs and the corresponding aircraft buffs.
PATCH NOTES REVISITED
While my tank-buddy Magere has already published an overview of the patch itself (and did a fine job), practical constraints meant that she couldn't give the aircraft combat changes the attention they warranted. Fortunately for both you and I, there are only a few specific patch notes I want to examine:
- 30mm AA: COF increased. Projectile speed increased. Changed reticule.
- Flak damage has been reduced and direct hits with projectiles now do less damage over range.
- Aircraft Rocket pod direct damage increased slightly. Rockets no longer accelerate over time and move at a flat rate.
- Increased Light aircraft resistance to 20mm Basilisk and 30mm Shredder.
The 30mm AA and flak changes are a comprehensive nerf for the “Skyguard” AA tank and the dedicated AA “Walker” secondary vehicle weapon. The weapons are not only less accurate due to the increase in the size of the cone-of-fire, but hits that are registered will do less damage. “Burster” AA MAX suits are likewise affected by the flak changes, though there is an argument to be made that Burster MAXes needed some sort of change due to the technical issue that made infantry models (like the MAX) be rendered out to a shorter distance distance than vehicles were. This led to situations where pilots were being shot down by literally invisible MAX suits, and I can appreciate the frustration they must have experienced.
Not explicitly listed in the patchnotes is the massive deturretification of major bases. Most of the fixed anti-aircraft turrets defending amp stations and so forth were removed; the example Higby gave during a livestream is Zurvan Amp Station going from 18 AA turrets to four, which is obviously a huge cut in a defensive firepower. The existing turrets were hit with the same AA nerfs as the vehicles, so existing turrets are weaker both in numbers and in individual potency — a devastating combination. Lesser bases, such as freestanding tower bases like The Crown and so forth, seem to have maintained their AA turret numbers (two) but will still suffer from the nerfs... and since they are situated on opposite sides of the tower structure, they incapable of properly supporting each other in the event of an attack. The end result of all this is that turrets are almost certainly the worst-off of the aircraft counters, given their fixed location and mediocre protection, and will most likely end up as a coffin for anyone foolish enough to climb inside during the opening minute of a base attack.
The big winner in these changes is undoubtedly the air superiority fighters (or the ESF's as Planetside 2 players persist in calling them.) Fighters were in pretty good shape before the patch and undoubtedly the most popular aircraft. Now they have been effectively buffed across the board while their “hard” counters have been comprehensively nerfed. The rocket damage buff is especially gratuitous since the majority of secondary-armed fighters mounted the rockets; they were already the most effective and damaging weapon in virtually any situation. With the AA nerfs, the increased rocket damage, and the increased survivability against practically every other weapon that could be levelled against them I cannot imagine a better time to be a fighter pilot, or conversely a worse time to be not a fighter pilot.
"...AND THEN WE NERFED THE BASILISK" *rimshot*
The nerf to Basilisk damage against aircraft, however, is absolutely perplexing. Basilisks are the default defensive weapon on multi-crew vehicles, ranging from tanks and Sunderers to Galaxy dropships. It is described as a “general purpose” weapon, a 25MM automatic cannon capable of damaging infantry, armor, and aircraft. Speaking from experience, it is also perhaps the worst vehicular weapon I've ever had the misfortune to use (and since it is the default weapon, I've suffered a lot of that specific misfortune). The Basilisk is remarkably inaccurate when fired in its automatic fire mode, to the point that I've had more successful hits squeezing off single shots at infantrymen like an oversized sniper than emptying fifty round clips at them. The damage against vehicles is not especially good either, and coupled with the inaccuracy and the limited ammunition capacity it is decidedly ineffective in general. The Basilisk has even less to recommend it as an anti-aircraft weapon. In addition to the poor accuracy, lousy rate of fire, limited ammunition, and average damage, the Basilisk weapon's mount has a very limited maximum elevation. It is completely possible for a fighter to destroy a fully-gunned Main Battle Tank by diving in on it with cannon and rocketfire at a dive too steep for the Basilisk to elevate against and not take a single point of damage. So for the Basilisk, on top of its long list of failings, to be further neutered versus the enemy it has the most trouble attempting to counter already brings an element of dark hilarity into the proceedings. Why not nerf the Basilisk? Who would notice anyway?
ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE, ALL THIS WILL HAPPEN AGAIN
From a personal standpoint I feel that in a game like Planetside 2, given a choice between overpowered aircraft and underpowered aircraft, it is vital to err on the side of underpowered air. The simple fact is that in a game as open and free of restrictions as Planetside 2, giving aircraft a power edge is inviting a situation in which hordes of fighters and bombers usurp what is fundamentally a game centered around infantry combat. Several weeks ago, my view was validated when AA was nerfed to the cheers of pilots who had incessantly complained about how “useless” aircraft were. The subsequent weeks showed that, in a land with ineffective anti-aircraft weapons, a dozen guys in Liberator bombers and rocket-armed fighters reigned supreme. Fighters would “facetank” anti-aircraft turrets by hovering directly in front of them and trade cannon fire until the turret exploded; Liberators would hover over spawn rooms and unleash so many howitzer rounds on the camped-in defenders that the players at ground zero would experience audio tearing as their sound drivers couldn't keep up with the explosions. It was apparent very quickly that the AA nerfs were way overdone and the next patch boosted them back up and Planetside 2 was playable outside of a cockpit again.
THE PARAGRAPH IN WHICH I ENGAGE IN VERY LITTLE IF ANY HYPERBOLE
Since the patch we are once again in a world where aircraft once again reign as undisputed kings of the food chain. The Skyguards, which have traded all anti-armor capability for a specialized anti-aircraft role, are being annihilated by rocket-armed fighters who give up nothing for the ability to win a fight against any vehicle that is not a similarly armed fighter. The pilots themselves have been weighing in on the subject, suggesting that of course AA has been nerfed, it was too easy for a Skyguard to guard the sky against aircraft. Now, the pilots maintain, Skyguards will have to work together in packs and use teamwork to take down aircraft. However, these pilots have not really considered the argument turned against them. If specialized anti-aircraft tanks like Skyguards have to work together to kill the enemy type it is specifically designed to counter, why should a rocket-armed fighter, the Skyguard's natural prey, be allowed to kill them one-on-one? Shouldn't they, with their superior mobility and escape options, be the ones who should be required to work together as a team and use strategems to defeat a slower and more constrained Skyguard?
THE HOME STRETCH
In and of themselves the nerfs leveled at anti-aircraft weapons probably aren't crippling. Likewise the aircraft buffs, taken alone, aren't necessarily outrageous... but the synergy between the anti-air nerfs and the aircraft buffs have created a massive change in the dynamics of air combat and ground combat that probably merit a closer look by the development team. The investment in certificates and actual weapon tradeoffs to turn a Skyguard into an effective anti-aircraft platform dwarfs the certificate investment to make a fighter a lethal, all-aspect murder machine. The Walker anti-aircraft secondary weapon, which likewise ate several nerfs, is itself twice the certificate cost of the fighters' rockets. As a rule, I try to maintain a positive outlook on life, and that goes double for video games. When confronted by patch notes I feel are detrimental to the game, I tell myself that the bad changes will almost certainly be reverted in a near-future patch. As a result, I won't wail and gnash my teeth about how Planetside 2 is ruined forever by these changes in an open beta patch, but I will say that I'm a little disappointed that the dev team has demonstrated that, yes, it will make the same mistake twice.