Sit back and grab a cup of your favorite coffee, because this is going to be a long one.
When I saw the latest patch notes, I was as surprised as anyone. We knew Harassers were coming, and the tank armor changes had been mentioned by Higby on Twitter, but the new helmets, Loyalty Bundle and weapon changes have created a more enjoyable feel to Planetside 2. Tank armor changes mean they're less like paper tigers and more like tigers, and the MAX armor changes have improved the game in every aspect they've touched - perhaps a little too strongly. And just when you thought it couldn't get any better after the flinch mechanic changes, SOE re-evaluated and changed the properties of a lot of weapons, creating a different infantry versus infantry dynamic, and giving people more options befitting their current situation.
The only black smear on these changes is that one-hit-kill pump-action shotguns still rule close-quarters combat. I'd go so far as to say that pump-action shotguns need to be toned down, to maybe deal 90% of a non-Nanoweave person's life. In their current form, you can round a corner at full health and shields and be taken down before you have time to properly respond. Compounded by the idea that SOE wants to take Planetside 2 into Major League Gaming competition, this situation is a huge negative for Planetside 2's competitive credibility. Who wants to bet Nanite Systems weapons will be the only weapons allowed for MLG?
The Harasser: Now we know why Mad Max had so much fun
What can I say about the Harasser? You need to get in one with a solid crew and some vehicle certs before you can really describe it to anyone. I streamed some Harasser gameplay earlier this week on TheMittani.com's newly partnered Twitch.tv channel and one person watching said that watching the Harasser roll, bump, and speed across the landscape was "mesmerizing to watch." The Harasser is fun as hell to drive, and I personally went for Racer 3 with Turbo because of my addiction to fast things. After some wise advice from an outfit mate, I went instead with Composite, Scrapper 3, Turbo and the Halberd on top. The wonderful thing about the speed and agility of the Harasser is you can equip a Basilisk for all-around damage, a Fury for anti-infantry work and a Halberd for anti-tank work. Each of these turrets can contribute good damage on the battlefield with a smart driver and gunner combo. Throw in a MAX on the back and it adds even more fun to the adventure.
The Harasser fills a much-needed gap between the Flash and Lightning that most of us (me included) didn't even know existed. Now we have a fast, fun, 3-person transport vehicle that can do damage and soak some damage with max composite armor. It's a boon to black ops crews everywhere, especially with a Gate Diffuser on top. The shenanigans people will be able to get into once they tool around with the Harasser some more will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks. Even if the patch had been this vehicle alone, I'd have called it a good patch.
Tanks are no longer paper mache tigers
I threw together a few numbers for the Vanguard's new armor mitigation versus Hellfire Pods, Photon Pods, and (for giggles) Breaker Rockets. The new numbers are as follows:
- 20 Photon Pod hits to the rear to secure a kill.
- 23 Hellfire Rocket Pod hits to the rear to secure a kill.
- 17 Breaker Rockets to the rear to secure a kill.
What these numbers mean is that tanks can actually tank some damage and keep on truckin'. No longer are tanks fodder for your run-of-the-mill Rocket ESF pilot. Throw on the AP turret in the main gun, a Walker (to kill) and a Ranger (to deter), and you have a viable platform that can survive on its own two treads out in the open. I for one am glad that tanks are no longer too vulnerable to ESF Rocket Pod fire, because it took tanks completely out of the picture when it came to combined arms. As soon as that first rocket hit your rear, you knew you were done, even with the Vanguard shield ability. ESF Rocket Pods were armor's primary threat, and that was remedied in this patch. Good on SOE's part to hear the tank driver's plight!
The new infantry weapon changes are far too many to list here, but I will say this for the changes - they've created a tighter, more skill-oriented aspect to infantry-focused fights. As I stated in my previous article, the incoming changes would be putting guns into niche roles, which creates a very specific dynamic when it comes to infantry versus infantry. The only guns that transcend these roles are the pump-action shotguns, which need to be toned down from their current one-hit-kill incarnation. The NC saw the Gauss NC6 and EM6 lose a bit of their power in the LMG arsenal, but saw a revival in usage of the Anchor and GD22-S, both of which are solid guns now with their lower first shot multipliers, reload speed and overall recoil pattern. The only element of Planetside 2's infantry combat that I'm still iffy on is the cone of fire (COF) bloom, because it adds a randomness to even burst firing that can't always be accounted for. There was a short lived bug on the test server that gave all guns, regardless of attachments, absolutely no recoil. I spent the better part of an hour shooting guns full auto into a wall to watch the COF bloom take effect. It's a little disheartening to have COF bloom as a mechanic in the game, but I somewhat understand.
Beyond that, the changes to the infantry weapons have all been for the better, allowing people a wider variety of choices when it comes to choosing their gun. Do I want to stick to long range? Will I be assaulting a tower? Will I be inside the tower? Will I be defending a generator? All these questions have answers in the form of a gun, and it's all up to personal choice (outside of the ubiquitous pump-action shotguns). The gunplay is getting tighter which makes mobility, position and elevation more important in infantry fights. Smarter players will be doing much better after the patch, and rewarding smart play is good for game mechanics.
MAX Armor and Cosmetics
MAX Flak Armor got buffed, and now reduces 50% explosion damage. MAX Kinetic Armor now reduces 87.5% of weapon damage, and Nanite Auto Repair kicks in after 8 seconds and heals 1.5% of your max health per second. Not only are all 3 MAX Armor choices viable, but each is strong in its own right. You can easily infer that these changes were part of the MAX class balance pass this month, and it makes the prospect of the upcoming faction-specific abilities that much more exciting. You'll be able to spec into a defensive juggernaut, a solid rocket-chugging burster MAX, or an auto repairing mobile MAX. This is a large improvement over the system prior to GU08, and it gets the creative juices flowing when thinking about the changing coming to MAX roles in GU09 and GU10.
The only slight irritation that the new changes to MAXes might have is in the new weapons: the Raven, Fracture and Vortex. From simple gameplay observations, it feels like the Fracture is too strong for its intended anti-vehicle role, as it dishes out the pain to infantry and vehicles alike. However, this is just from my observations and playing the game, and is not backed by any hard data, so take what I say with a grain of salt if that pleases you.
The new helmets have given our online avatars a much needed faction-specific flavor that was missing with the previous helmets. The only helmet I'm still sporting that isn't the Nighthawk is the welding mask on my Engineer, because it just makes sense. Add on some composite armor and our avatars are looking burly, like the lean, mean, respawning machines that they are. I'm one of those people that enjoys cosmetic items, and I shake my fist every time SOE comes up with something new and interesting in that department, because I know they'll be getting more of my money. But, I'm happy to spend it on a hobby I enjoy and feel no shame in supporting SOE. The more money they make, the more support we get, and the better quality game PS2 becomes. That's a cycle I'll willingly buy into.
With the long-awaited arrival of the Harasser (and the fact that the Harasser is actually amazing), the MAX armor changes that allow more flexibility for their intended role, infantry gunplay being much tighter, and some cool cosmetics to boot, Game Update 8 gets a solid "bravo!" from me.
Now to wait and see what happens when MAX faction-specific abilities get released on live servers. I'm also looking forward to the Player Generated Mission system, Sunderer changes, and last but not least, the Battle Flow changes. With the current system in place and with the upcoming changes down the line, Planetside 2 will improve from almost any gamer's perspective. Whether you're wet behind the ears or a grizzled Plantside 1 vet, these changes are adding spice to Planetside 2 life.