Planetside 2’s most expansive firefights might be among the most intense you’ve ever had. The massive first-person battles make you fear every step and celebrate every kill, knowing that one small victory contributes to the greater cause. A number of quality online shooters think big, but none think bigger; you are a small but vital cog in a restless war machine seeking to steamroll the opposition with a few dozen rumbling tanks and a vast swarm of armored soldiers.
There’s no doubting the ambition and scope of this free-to-play massively multiplayer shooter, in which thousands of players vie for dominance across three spacious, persistent continents. Before entering the fray, you choose one of three empires: the authoritarian Terran Republic; the rebellious New Conglomerate; or the techno-cultist Vanu Sovereignty. All three boast faction-specific weaponry but share the same six classes, so whether you prefer playing a supportive role as a turret-repairing engineer or blowing up tanks as a heavy assault soldier, each faction has a place for you. There are no class-based vehicle restrictions: you can drive ground vehicles and pilot aircraft, or hop in the gunner's seat and harass the enemy on the go.
Discovering the ways you can contribute to your faction’s cause isn’t easy at first: Planetside 2 is daunting. There are numerous official videos that describe the game’s ins and outs, but they’re not a proper substitute for an interactive tutorial. When you first emerge from your landing pod, you are both awe-stricken and dumbfounded. Dozens of fellow soldiers rush about your faction’s primary base, armored vehicles ramble across the distant landscape, and the hum of nearby aircraft has you peering into the skies. If you’ve played a shooter before, you know how to aim and shoot; Planetside 2’s structural details, however, are initially elusive.
The learning curve isn’t as steep as first impressions lead you to believe, however. Once you click through the menus and peruse the map, you have a rough idea of what the game expects of you. And then you take the plunge and engage the enemy for the first time, and begin to understand what your faction expects of you. Planetside 2 makes it easy to join others: with the press of a button, you can join a squad, and multiple squads may join forces and create a platoon. You may also join an outfit--the game’s version of a guild--if you seek even more camaraderie. Text chat and voice chat both work nicely, and while you’ll encounter a certain amount of trash talk, the community is helpful. Your fellow combatants want you to succeed, and they understand a newcomer’s wide-eyed wonder and confusion.
And so you roll out with a squad, seeking to gain control of hotspots like laboratories and tech plants in order to receive factionwide bonuses like reduced vehicle costs. Such bonuses, in turn, relate to resource generation and management. These resources allow you to spawn vehicles at specific terminals, or purchase sundries like grenades. While there are timers that limit how often you can summon a vehicle, there’s no waiting around for jets to spawn, and there’s no fighting over who gets to fly them: once youpurchase a vehicle, you teleport to the driver's seat.
At the original Planetside’s launch, you could spend more time getting to the action than you could participating in it. That issue was corrected in time, however, and developer Sony Online Entertainment has learned from that game’s initial growing pains. There is downtime in Planetside 2, of course, as you travel across the landscape to a hotspot identified on the minimap. But you can also deploy immediately to a raging battlefield using the instant action button, though this option, too, is on a timer. There are occasional lulls that will have you wishing for a gunfight to keep your energy levels high, but a few minutes of travel generally rewards you with some proper shooting. Thankfully, you can sprint indefinitely if you don’t have a ride, which eases the journey.
Once you’re pulled into a frenzied battle, however, you may be overwhelmed by its intensity. And when the singular thrills are over, you’ll be left craving even more.