There was something I neglected to mention in my previous observations about Planetside 2's version of the venerable Galaxy drop ship, and that was the tactical implications of having it as the mobile base and spawning point. I'd been meaning to discuss it for a while, but then SOE went and fixed the problem. They promoted the Sunderer – Planetside 2's bus-like person-carrier – to the role they had originally designated to the Galaxy.
Thoughts on this, and more besides, resides below.
First thought: this really is a beta like they used to be. Before beta was essentially synonymous with “rolling demo”. That means it's one of those big old play-test sessions where things really are changing, in a big way, in response to player feedback. That's a beautiful thing to watch, as the designs proposed by the devs get reworked by exposure to the withering forces of contact with actual players. This is a good thing. The game will be stronger for it. And the changes are not limited simply to game design – as we have seen – they are also visiting changes on the way the free / paid aspects of the game will work.
But to our main point: the Galaxy and the Sunderer's role swap.
This is a fascinating – to me at least – design point. I can see exactly why the Planetside 2 designers wanted the Galaxy to be the spawn point: because setting down and deploying this dynamic, flying hulk was just a cool thing to have in the game. Happily, though, they've recognised that the fact it can fly means that “battle lines” were becoming extremely fuzzy. With the galaxy about to drop down a spawn behind enemy positions, it because very hard to hold the line, and for fights to become firm along particular fronts.
With the Sunderer – a purely ground based vehicle – being the mobile spawn, the capacity for enemies to bypass defences is significantly reduced. While it might be less immediately “cool”, it does make for a far better dynamic on the ground. A Sunderer can't just go as the crow flies to where-ever it pleases, and there's the added fun of trying to get the unwieldy buses into useful and safe positions in the first place. Ultimately it's just a better balance for the game.
Interestingly, I think, the issue with the Galaxy's incredible mobility eroding challenging tactical play echoes another criticism I once made of Eve Online. For many years in Eve the only way to travel around the galaxy was via the jump gates. This meant that you could always see your enemies coming, if you had enough scouts, and that to shift extremely valuable cargo – big freighters for example – you'd need a concerted, major operation. Eventually, perhaps inevitably, the game introduced ships with jump drives, which could simply pop from one system to another without ever visiting gates at all.
This created a parallel loss of tactical nuance to the one with the Galaxy. Eve's jump drives were cool, very cool, and absolutely fit the space travel fiction, but they meant that frontlines could not be maintained, and that convoys were a thing of the past. It was a parallel problem – one that Eve has never been able to solve – and one that Planetside 2, happily, seems to have identified early on.
With the Sunderer acting as a compromise, the Galaxy will have to find a new role. One it doesn't seem to have quite yet. Since the change I barely seem them at all. I'll be interested to see what the SOE team come up with.
- There are still some big issues hanging around in there. One is that the game's voice comms break up over a certain volume, and don't knock the volume down on the game's general cacophony. For voice comms to really work as an integrated function of the game, they need to be both clear and audible, and these aren't quite there yet.
- I think there's also a way to go with the squad interface. Players need much more signposting for where their fellow squad members are. Not just clearer on the map, but I would say in the world HUD too. Right now you can only see the location of chums if they're within close proximity, which I feel is limiting the potential for intuitive co-ordination with chums.
- The territory capture dynamics still feel a bit odd. Should a single character really be able to capture a base, as long as there's some adjacency? The flipping back and forth of bases still seems to easy, although I can understand that SOE don't want to push the “stickiness” of control too far, because then there might well be endless deadlock. One thought was that perhaps it demanded a set number of people to be present (rather than just a specific amount of time), so that those smaller captures demanding more than just a couple of guys who happened to be there to take an undefended post. Hmm, perhaps I can't really push and answer forward here, but right now I just don't think it's quite right, and I expect it to change.
- Finally, yes, I am aware that the European Planetside 2 will, following the launch, be handled by German media company ProSiebenSat.1. We've mentioned it before. And yes, I am aware that a number of people are uncomfortable with that, for various reasons. I'm going to see what SOE has to say about it, and do a little more research into whether people's concerns are justified. For the region-locking thing alone, I would say, we have something to discuss.
In the meantime, the beta rumbles onward. We're in this forum thread. See you out there.