So a few weeks ago, my son, an avid PC gamer, told me about a game he just found, Planetside 2. It’s a freemium MMOFPS – translated, it’s a free-to-play (and pay to quickly upgrade) massively multiplayer online first-person shooter. It’s futuristic-themed, like Halo, and it’s team-based, like Battlefield and Modern Warfare and most any other current wargame. But the breadth and depth and scope of it is what sets it apart from other games for me.
It’s set in a persistant world, for starters. It’s not a “score X number of kills and you win” game – you (and your side) need to seize and control strategic locations on a map to gain resources to help you (and your side) continue the fight. Since it’s a persistant world, there’s day and night to deal with, which brings up all sorts of different tactics and strategies. There’s a multitude of ground and air vehicles, as well as six different types of combat units you can choose. But two of the things I like best about the game are just how *big* it is, and how seriously they take the “massively multiplayer” aspect of the game.
In most other multiplayer games, the game map is limited in size. You can frequently run from one end of the map to another in thirty seconds. In Planetside 2, that won’t even get you halfway through one sector of the map. And you won’t just be moving through a pre-fabricated military base or boring flat terrain. This is a whole continent-segmented planet we’re talking about, full of mountains, valleys and ravines, as well as roads, bridges, and other manmade installations. There’s plains and deserts and snow, and it all can change from sector to sector. There’s even occasional aruroras at night that will light up the whole scene around you with a flickering green glow. That stopped me in my tracks the first time I saw it. Thankfully, it stopped the guy that was shooting at me as well.
And speaking of the guy shooting at me… there are so many of them. This game is designed to host thousands of players at the same time, according to their marketing. I can’t speak to that number, but I know that I was playing once in a huge group of 48 players broken down into squads as part of a larger platoon. We went up against at least that many members of the opposing force. We spent over an hour trying to take one facility, grouping and re-grouping and lending support to the team as ordered by our platoon leader, who sounded like a 20-something guy that knew exactly how to read a map, plan a sound strategy, and organize resources to execute that strategy.
Sure, you can run around as a lone wolf, shooting up random enemy soldiers. But to get the most out of this game, you have to play as part of a team, and participate in that team’s operations. That way, you’ll live more than thirty seconds, and can accomplish a lot more than if you were playing “solo”. You’ll also get to build up more supply points that can go towards vehicles, and can score more achievement points that can go towards bigger and better weapons.
One of the only down sides to this game is the level of complexity, and how the first-play tutorial operates. In short: there isn’t one. The first time you sign in, you’re given the back story for why your particular faction is fighting, and then you are quite literally dropped (from low orbit) into the middle of an active battlefield. The finer points of things like troop-specific abilities, vehicle building, and the management of the entire interface are left for you to figure out as you go along. That’s not too much of a problem if you join in to a group that’s happy to walk new players through these things, but I’ve been playing for two weeks now, and I’m still trail-and-erroring my way through things. I’m still having a great time, though.
As initially stated, it’s a free game. You can play without ever spending a penny of real-world money. But you can also buy a premium account which grant you perks like bonus items and quicker increases in experience. Some people don’t like playing in these sorts of games, thinking that users that buy their way into power have an unfair advantage. But, the industry is moving towards this model for game as a way to get players invested in the game, and it seems to be working. Even World of Warcraft, the 800 pound gorilla of gaming, allows you to download the game and play for free up until your character reaches level 20 – which can take as little as a week for some players. Planetside doesn’t appear to offer a level restriction, though, so I intend on hanging around for a while and seeing if they impose such a limit. It’s a challenging game, with a lot of potential and replayability.