Going to War: Our Preview of Planetside 2

Looking for a high-quality free to play shooter? Then keep your eyes on PlanetSide 2 from SOE. Graphics, sound and gameplay are all top notch. You can wait for it's upcoming release, or join the beta today. Either way, this one is definitely worth your while.

I’m awful at shooters.

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Not “so-awful-I-forget-to-reload,” but my inability to hit a moving target is rivaled only by my ineptness at remembering my passwords to all the games I play. My kill-to-death ratio reads like a drunk driver’s blood alcohol level.

“0.14? I think you’d better come with me, son. No, not because you’re intoxicated, but because you’re getting headshotted by noobs.”

So what’s different about Sony Online Entertainment’s PlanetSide 2? It is a shooter, first and foremost, and being better at shooters will definitely make you better at the game.

But it’s also clear that SOE had the non-leet player in mind when designing the game. I’ve been playing in the beta for over a month and have been having a blast, even when I’m on the wrong end of an machine gun.


Territorial wars

PlanetSide 2 is a three-faction base-control PvP game situated on the planet Auraxis. SOE plans to launch with three continents, each of which is truly massive – about eight kilometers square.

On these continents, titanic battles rage between the Terran Republic, the New Conglomerate, and the Vanu Sovereignity. Each continent is divided up into regions, which have at their heart vast and sprawling bases with control points that must be captured to switch the region to your faction’s colors.

There are no timers, no lobby, no “matches” – the battles rage 24/7. If you like the three-way PvP of older MMOs like Dark Age of Camelot or newer games like Guild Wars 2, you’ll already be in love with this style of play.

The three factions have only minor, mostly aesthetic differences, so what you’ll really want to do is make sure you have a few friends of the same faction to team up with in a squad. If that fails, you can auto-join an existing squad or just tag along when you spot a group of friendlies making their way to the next battle.

To me, this makes all the difference. Soloing is fun for a while, but when you can coordinate assaults with friends via the game’s built-in voice chat, it adds a new layer of strategy that almost make you feel like General Patton.

Or, in my case, the guy General Patton orders to go do his dirty work. Hey, some of us are leaders and some of us…


Class struggle

There are six classes in PlanetSide 2: light infantry, heavy infantry, infiltrator, combat medic, engineer, and MAX. The last puts the soldier in a kind of mechanized suit with heavy weaponry, though he’s very slow and doesn’t regenerate shields like other classes.

Each class has its own unique abilities, like invisibility for infiltrators and extra shielding for heavy infantry. I mostly play medic or engineer, fixing up people or vehicles while (mostly) letting others do the shooting.

Infantry forces are needed to control a base, but to get past the defenses, you’ll probably want a little heavy firepower.

PlanetSide 2 has a wide variety of ground and air vehicles to choose from, from lightly armored one-man tanks to huge 12-man flying troop transports. As big as the maps are, vehicles are essential for getting from one place to another in a reasonable amount of time.

This is another way in which PlanetSide 2 is geared for the shooter-impaired. To quote Rain Man, “I’m an excellent driver,” and “I’m deadly from the safety of a turret-mounted machine gun.”

OK, Dustin Hoffman didn’t say that second part. But wouldn’t it have been cool if he had?

Flying is another matter entirely. I haven’t really gotten the hang of it yet, though I’ve seen some truly breathtaking maneuvers. Just stick me at the bomb controls and I’ll be fine.

And in case you’re wondering, vehicles aren’t just for elite players or those with a ton of in-game resources. You do need resources to spawn a vehicle, but you accumulate them at a decent enough clip, so unless you’re getting blown up every five minutes – which does happen, mind you – you’ll be able to ride around in style most of the time.


The sound and the fury

While many people have rightly lauded the graphics in PlanetSide 2, to me it’s the sound and other effects that truly make the game feel right.

Bullets whiz by your head, nearby explosions shake the screen, and when you’re zigzagging back and forth on your Flash – a kind of ATV-like four-wheeler – as some airship screams by overhead peppering you with hot lead, you’ll feel like you’re in an action movie.

But yeah – it’s really pretty, too. The frozen continent of Esamir only recently hit beta servers, so I’ve spent most of my time on the arid continent of Indar. Both look gorgeous, to the point where I can almost pick the blowing dust or snow out of my hair.

Now if the wind would just settle down a bit so I could get a clear shot with my sniper rifle…


The price of war

PlanetSide 2 is set to be released as a free-to-play game, so you’re probably right to wonder where the money will come from.

As with other SOE games, players can buy Station Cash (SC) and that can be spent on the usual cosmetic upgrades, as well as on XP boosts and new guns for either your soldier or his vehicles.

The guns can also be purchased with in-game currency, and I’ve played enough to see that the rate of accumulation is reasonable – in other words, you won’t play for 100 hours to afford a gun that someone can plop down $5 for.

While the game is in beta, SOE also offers an Alpha Squad package for $39.99 that gives you 4000 SC, 12 weapons, a six-month 10% XP boost, and cosmetic perks. A monthly membership package is also available; benefits are still in flux, but they appear to be a regular SC stipend and XP and certification boosts.

Certifications are how characters advance their power vertically and, apart from the aforementioned boost, cannot be purchased directly. With the right “certs,” players can be better armored or have attachments on their weapons, medics can heal faster, vehicles can spawn quicker, and so on.

But the great thing about PlanetSide 2 is that you’re rarely fighting anyone in a 1v1 situation where his advanced character will make pudding out of your raw recruit. Skill is important, but the ability to work as a team to achieve objectives is paramount.

When a base is under assault, with tanks rolling up, bombs being dropped from above, and automatic weapons fire scattered in all directions, one soldier is pretty much like any other – even a noob who can’t hit the broad side of a troop transport truck, like me.


PlanetSide 2 is currently in closed beta. You can sign up for the beta at www.planetside2.com or by following the official PlanetSide 2 Facebook or Twitter accounts, where keys are regularly given away.

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Jason Winter
Jason Winter is a riddle wrapped inside a burrito, smothered in hot sauce. Mmm... burrito...