Players will find themselves engaged in a 6000 player conflict which, despite some flaws, does truly feel epic at times
Players again find themselves drawn into a conflict being fought out many years in the future on the distant planet of Auraxis by three different empires: The authoritarian Terran Republic, attempting to maintain order and peace through rule of authority; the New Conglomerate, a separatist faction of freedom fighters attempting to live by no man's law; and the Vanu Sovereignty, a fanatical, trans-human group who believe the only way into the future is through discovered alien technology. While the lore of Planetside 2 is not thoroughly flushed out in the game itself (one which lacks a singleplayer campaign), it can be relatively easy to jump into the role of your empire and boast team spirit over the others in a manner similar to a sports team. Each empire differs in color and play type, in addition to having a unique fighter aircraft and main battle tank. In the end, though, the actual differences by means of gameplay are minor.
When jumping into the game for the first time, players choose one of the three empires to play for and go through an incredibly-basic character creation screen. Following this, the game places the character smack-dab in the middle of a battle with no in-game tutorial or instructions. It can be incredibly difficult to understand the objectives and general interface of the game right from the get-go, and this sort of introduction may be a turn-off to some players, giving up before they understand what to do. After re-grouping to the nearest safe-zone, however, one can begin to achieve a feel and understanding for the game.
Matches take place on multiple levels, with the lowest being the role of a basic foot soldier and the highest being a Risk-esk game of conquering territories. Each area of the map has its own installation or outpost, ranging from simple shacks to massive industrial complexes with multiple layers of defense. When a team takes control of an area and it is connected to the rest of their territories, they gain various various resources and, depending on the territory, certain team buffs, various vehicle spawns, and vehicle support structures. Resources gained from controlled facilities can then be used to purchase vehicles and infantry support items such as grenades and explosives. Combat within the territories is fluid, with different styles of gameplay being employed for different structures. The towering bio labs, for example, usually require armor with air support to capture the ground facilities which is then followed by an exclusively-infantry invasion of the interior. This sort of layout makes each territory feel almost like its own little map and allows for varying and dynamic strategies of attack and defense. All in all, the territory control system is not perfect, but is an incredibly refreshing change from the average conquest-style "control one of five set points simply to spawn there." If anything, this feels like the natural progression of a system made famous by the battlefield series almost a decade ago.
Actual combat takes place in one of three ways, on foot, in the air, or in a ground-based vehicle. Unlike other, similar games, there is no set number of vehicles per team or spawn area. Theoretically, every one of the 2000 players could be fighting it out in a heavy gunship. While this initially seems overwhelming and potentially overpowered, it eventually becomes clear that the system balances itself out and lends itself fantastically to the overall feel of the game. Indeed, some of my very best moments in Planetside 2 were due to large armored columns of 20+ tanks traveling to a point for attack and meeting heavy opposition or flying in a fighter escort for a large number of dropships all loaded with dozens of troops. This large amount of vehicles in play at the same time is one of the things that truly makes the game feel epic in ways that other vehicle shooters cannot. Infantry combat is relatively solid, although there is nothing really new here. It follows a simple class system which can be swapped easily, with each class having multiple customizations as will be touched on later. There are definitely other games out there which have done infantry combat better, although they cannot touch the large-scale and epic feeling which is found in Planetside. Never before have I felt the feeling of running across an open field with well over 60 other foot soldiers, charging a fortified objective. The gunplay here is definitely fun, but it does not necessarily go above and beyond.
Within gameplay, Planetside 2 boasts an incredible number of customizations for, well, just about everything. There are a sizable number of small arms, all of which can be outfitted with multiple upgrades and attachments. While this may seem fairly standard, it is worth noting that the vehicles of the game have the same, if not more potential upgrades than the small arms, in addition to command upgrades and player upgrades. The vast majority of these enhancements and attachments can be considered "sidegrades," in that they do not necessarily give and advantage but offer a different way to play. A gunship pilot may, for example, elect to equip his or her aircraft with anti-tank, armor-piercing weapons which are highly-effective against tanks but do zero splash damage, instead of the high-explosive rounds which do a large area of attack for less damage. These upgrades, called certifications in game, are purchased with "certs," earned by killing enemies or completing objectives. In-game items may also be purchased with real currency, although items which can be purchased exclusively with real money are entirely cosmetic in purpose, and offer no advantage in-game.
Overall, the general gameplay of Planetside 2 is solid and works well together. While the overlaying command structure is relatively-weak, it is easy to find conflicts ranging from a couple of people all the way to company-sized battles on multiple fronts. There are in-game squads with large player limits which can form together to make platoons for better team-cohesion. Additionally, there are in-game groups called outfits, which act fundamentally as guilds and clans. With a chat box and included VOIP, it is easy to coordinate with a squad or outfit and make the game exponentially-more enjoyable. Planetside 2 is a game of logistics as much as it is one of combat, and the team with better tactics and communication will easily steam roll any team of primarily lone-wolfs any day.
GRAPHICS & PERFORMANCE
Planetside 2, running on even medium settings, is good-looking, not only for a free-to-play game, but even for a big-budget title. The graphics are by no means ground-breaking, but the incredibly detailed environments, beautiful lighting, and dynamic effects all come together to make for some great views. I will never forget driving a main battle tank across a frozen lake, watching the sun rise and cast beautiful refractions off the ice and snow, thikning how ironically peacefully it was while listening to the sounds of a heavy battle and gunfire in the near-distance. This is definitely a game which can be rewarding on higher-settings, but, again it is by no means the jewel that some newer titles are.
Possibly the greatest flaw with Planetside 2 is exactly what makes it great. With thousands of players fighting side-by-side on one server in a pleasingly-graphical environment, a great number of glitches and technical bugs plague the title. It is common to see players hovering above the ground as they walk, seeing landing gear stuck down in aircraft, enemy players disappearing as you shoot at them, animations going missing, etc. Game crashes and server resets also happen occasionally, but are not an overbearing issue. Many, though, will find Planetside 2 to be incredibly stressful on even good computers, with very bad framerate problems amplifying in large-scale combat. For those with expensive and upgraded rigs, the framerate issue will rarely be an issue, but for the average gamer, it can manifest itself into a persistent problem which can make infantry combat almost unplayable. Still, the game was released less than two weeks ago and there are a few hotfixes every now and again to address most issues.
When attempting to describe Planetside 2 to a group of friends, one might find his or herself using words such as, "immersive," "ambitious," "addicting," or even "aggravating," however, this is the type of game that cannot be done justice simply by second-hand accounts. Planetside 2 is game people must experience themselves to truly be able to draw a conclusion and there's no getting around that. In the beginning it may seem frustrating and overwhelming, but players who take the time to explore the word and deal with the game's learning curve will discover one of the best shooters and MMOs to recent date.
Graphics - 8.0
Sound - 7.0
Performance - 5.5
Gameplay - 9.5
Curve - 8.5
Final Verdict - 8.0
You really do need to try this game