War is hell. Unless it’s Planetside 2, in which case it’s totally rad. The battlefield is teaming with tanks rolling about, aircraft zipping through the air, foot soldiers hiding behind rocks, the occasional person shot in the back of the head by a friendly, or run over by an allied vehicle. See? Fun. Few games offer battles as large-scale as Planetside 2, and even fewer of those games are free to play. Sure, sometimes you’ll be reenacting the Alamo. But even those moments are thrilling.
In Planetside 2, three empires are vying for control on the alien world Auraxis, each with their own slightly different take on weapons and vehicles. Two of the empires, the Terran Republic and New Conglomerate, utilize traditional technology, such as bullets and tank treads. The Vanu Sovereignty, alternatively, has tapped alien technology. As such, their weapons shoot lasers, and their tanks float. Aside from slightly different flavors, no single empire offers a vastly different experience than the others. But hey, that’s balance for you.
At any given time, the battlefield may be shared with dozens if not hundreds of other players. Engagements range from getting steamrolled, to being steamrolled, to a somewhat fair fight, to an all-out fustercluck. These battles occur on one of three continents: Indar, Amerish, and Esamir. Indar is easily the most popular, by leagues, but the other two see occasional skirmishes, but nothing like Indar. And really, the main difference between the continents is purely visual, whether you want to fight on the desert wastelands of Indar, Esamir’s icy tundra, or upon the lush grasslands of Amerish.
Regardless of the continent, you’ll be defending and capturing facilities and subsequently territory. The more territory held, the greater the acquisition of resources, which are used to purchase infantry ordinance such as grenades, vehicles, and aircraft. Resources are also granted by killing respective enemies. So if you’re running low on aircraft resources, blow up some aircraft. Your empire’s territorial control still grants the bulk of resources, but at least you’re not totally dependent on that.
This capturing and defending of territory creates the bulk of Planetside 2’s gameplay. One would think that a large-scale war such as the one happening on Auraxis would at some point have to end. But truces and peace would not make for a very enjoyable multiplayer shooter. Thus, to capture the sense of a never-ending war, Planetside 2 must itself be never-ending. Strictly speaking, it never really goes anywhere. Territory tends to change hands quickly, often multiple times during the course of a day. One empire takes over a part of the map, then it’s ripped from them, then they retake it. Over and over. So while at its core, Planetside 2 a competent shooter sitting on the back of thrilling, large-scale battles, anyone looking for more will find the game somewhat lacking.
In regards to the presentation of huge battles, Planetside 2 excels. Obviously, the game looks great graphically, night battles being especially thrilling. Though the game graphical prowess comes at the cost of performance, and Planetside 2 can be quite the demanding game. Sound design, too, is quite excellent, and helps to intensify the huge firefights. In the shooter department, Planetside 2 gets the job done. Guns feel good, but not great, seeming to lack certain punch, or meatiness. Animations, too, are a little stiff, and oftentimes the death animations—which happen quite frequently—can feel a little jarring or abrupt. But you’re usually too busy dodging tank bombardments and enemy fire to hang on these issues for long.
Classes here are of standard shooter fare. You have the one that snipes, the one that heals, the one that carries around a big gun, the one that repairs vehicles, and the one that flies around with a jetpack. So nothing too outlandish or new here, but these classes are staple for a reason, and there’s a good bit of synergy between them. Also available are MAX exosuits, which are of limitedly available. For a bit of resources, you can stomp around in a robotic suit. Dying prevents you from being able to equip one again for another few minutes.
All classes and vehicles have progression in the form of certification points, which unlock new weapons, abilities, and upgrades. As players earn experience through kills and facilities capturing, they in turn earn certification points. And the cost of some items can become quite expensive. Fortunately, as is the case with most shooters, weapons are mostly on par with each other, and Planetside 2 allows you to try them out for an hour before deciding whether you want to drop your hard-earned certs on them. Still, for anyone who likes unlocking everything in a game, prepare for a long haul.
That is, unless you want to put some money into the game. Planetside 2 costs nothing to download and play, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff to buy. Experience boosts grant more experience, and thus, more cert points. And weapons can be purchased for real cash. On the cosmetic side, for a nominal fee a soldier can look like an absolute clown. Skull helmet, outlandish camouflage. The works. If that’s not your thing, then there are more reasonable customization options available, like new armor. These don’t affect gameplay, but do look rather stylish. Those especially fond of Planetside 2 can subscribe. This grants increased experience and resource gain, as well as some other bonuses, including 500 Station Cash per month. Still, aside from cosmetic items, there’s nothing here freeloaders can’t unlock given enough time.
The future of Planetside 2 is wide open. Sony Online Entertainment is fully committed to the continued development of the game, going as far as to allow players to vote and discuss upcoming features and changes at the online roadmap. Not only does this give players a taste of what’s to come, but they can also voice their opinions as to whether what’s to come is worth coming at all. Because the internet is always a rational place.
Planetside 2 sets out to accomplish one goal: massive combat on an epic scale (that’s even their slogan!), and in that regard, I’d say it succeeds, although that taglines might be just a tad bit redundant and ere on the side of buzzwords. Still, few games exist with as many people battling it out as there are here. The overall longevity of Planetside 2 resides solely on whether that gets your noodle going. For humble old me, it does, in moderation.