Game Update #4 (GU04) was released on Wednesday (3/13) after a week's delay, and it's a hell of a patch. Several of the major features for GU04 have been delayed for later patches, most notably account-wide unlocks and Empire-specific rocket launchers. There've been the usual reports of framerate issues and tweeted promises from SOE to investigate/fix them; that said, forum chatter about the patch so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and my own experience has backed that up.
Virtual Reality Training vs 'Buy Before You Try' F2P Models
However, rather than just listing the patch changes, I want to discuss the Virtual Reality Training feature, which is a huge addition both for PS2 and for Free To Play (F2P) games in general. Before GU04, you could trial a weapon temporarily, but you couldn't test out the various attachments which often turn guns from duds into winners. Now you can go to the VR zone and test out any weapon with any attachment, or any vehicle with any kind of gun or upgrade, as if you had a god-mode character with infinte certs. This means that 'buyer beware' is a thing of the past in PlanetSide 2; you will be able to test out any kind of vehicle or infantry build in advance before spending your cert or Smedbucks.
This is excellent for players, but it is also a major gamble on SOE's part. If we look to the business models of comparative F2P games such as World of Tanks or Star Conflict, 'Buy before you Try' is the watchword. The forums of World of Tanks are full of players nervously asking for trip reports on various tanks before investing time and money into a dud tank; mentioning the VK 3001(P) still makes tankers who suffered through it shudder with revulsion. One could reasonably argue that there are a whole host of guns/items that PlanetSide 2 or World of Tanks players would ordinarily not buy except by accident.
What is interesting about this move is that it puts metrics-based pressure on SOE to improve the quality and balance of the weaponry in PS2. It means that good items will sell like hotcakes because players can test them, go 'ooh' and buy them - my experience in VR Training this afternoon with the new SMG and pump-action shotgun made me vow to pick up both of them. It also means that bad items will be immediately obvious and go unpurchased, without the most informed players needing to rely on forum research or spreadsheets to guide them away from duds. I'm hoping that more F2P games with cash shops follow the SOE model, as nothing rankles a customer quite like a purchase that in hindsight turns out to have been a mistake.
In sum, VR is a risky move in terms of the F2P business model, but if the guns and items in PS2 are continually balanced it should actually help SOE sell rather than the opposite.
Certs, Ammo, Magriders, and Shrinking Explosions
The rest of the patch is hard-hitting. One of the biggest changes is rewards for subscribers, which both massively increase passive cert gain and provide a nifty message upon logging on showing exactly how many passive certs you've been given. This is particularly handy for alts in other factions; log in your alts daily to get the maximum passives and specialize them.
The Magrider is no longer ruined. While I still worry about Vanu population issues (which have been variously ascribed to either warpgate location or Magrider nerfs) the Magrider now hovers at an acceptable level (ie: it doesn't get stuck in gullies constantly or blow up on pebbles). Torque for vehicles in general is up, making hills less miserable.
Explosion size has decreased across the board, which might actually make 'taking off flak armor' a viable option beyond the resist-shield/nanoweave Heavy Assaults. Vehicle XP rewards have received a massive buff (from 100 xp to 500 for a Lib, yikes) which, combined with the explosion radius nerf, leaves me predicting that tanks will be dropping their HE guns in favor of HEAT so they can better kill other vehicles and cash in on the xp benefits. We'll have to see how this affects the build metagame after a week or two.
Everyone but TR gets more reserve ammo. Light Assaults everywhere cheer as they can finally use non-ammo suit slots! Bunnyhopping got nerfed with hitbox fixes, and the Flash now has a Rumble Seat, an invisibility mode, and a shotgun.
6-month and 3-month XP Boosts are going on sale soon, for 5000 and 3000 SC respectively. Between this and a 6-month premium, you can effectively be at double XP nonstop.