Three-way mega-battle FPS MMO PlanetSide 2 is about to unveil another big update. The Shattered Warpgate will introduce hazardous storms to one of its maps and some new equipment, but most importantly, a campaign.
Its big update back in March, Escalation, bought thousands of players back, but where that was focused largely on organised groups of experienced players, Rogue Games' Andy Sites declared that "our goal for The Shattered Warpgate was to improve the experience for a much broader audience". Central to that goal is a series of campaign missions, and a host of smaller side quests that will reward more of PlanetSide's many playstyles, even if all you're interested in is driving around for a while.
Bluntly, it may not be a revolutionary update on paper, but in the context of PlanetSide 2's relatively static design when compared to more recent, season-based releases, these are some pretty exciting changes. It's been entirely without a campaign until now, and has only the barest semblance of plot needed to set up its eternal, player-driven tanks vs spandex war. Players have fought freely since 2012 over bases and resources for the sheer joy of blatting a sucker with a purple jetpack. But soon they'll be able to take part in campaign missions that will add some shading to the setting and factions, and offer rewards for success.
It's not exactly a campaign in the traditional sense. Rather than a series of set pieces or instanced areas like a more typical MMO, the Shattered Warpgate will offer players an optional, specific goal to pursue along with whoever else in their faction is on board. It'll naturally drive more conflict between the factions, and bring a narrative to the game's setting as you investigate the mysterious eruptions that have destroyed a local warpgate (initial spawn area), wrecked local bases, and brought deadly electrical storms to Essamir, the icy continent. The map will be permanently changed, with geysers spewing weird alien energies, newly melted ice with traversible icebergs, fresh alien flora, and roaming storms that alter flight physics and strike down exposed players with lightning.
Those storms will bring a few new items too, in the form of a deployable lightning rod that protects everyone in a small area from such strikes, and an entertaining new grenade that calls a lightning strike down on detonation. There'll even be disabled vehicle wrecks, normally impossible as defeated player vehicles disintegrate, and the devs shared with us that it might even be possible for a story mission to give temporary access to another faction's vehicles, although this isn't yet decided.
Each campaign mission will be available for a month, and then the story will move on to the next chapter, although they'll be designed in such a way that latecomers or those who skip parts will be kept in the loop narratively. They'll vary in duration and difficulty, not least because there's no way to predict how contested a given area will be at any time, but none of them are intended to grind on for hours.
Rewards for completion vary from cosmetic to unlocking new melee weapons, and of course the "certs", PlanetSide's main in-game currency. Cosmetics are hard to come by without paying real cash, so this is a nice bonus. The whole thing is also "a wrapper for our lore", something it's been notably short of. For all their technicolour glory, the factions have been pretty one-note and the world little more than a pretty backdrop, and with the rise of the hero-based shooter in recent years, it makes sense to develop both at last.
There'll be side missions too, which will work more like a quest system. You'll get daily offers to carry out small tasks for vendor NPCs on the Sanctuary chat hub. These are separate to the campaign and you can pick or choose whichever takes your interest, with the two main goals being to give niche players more to do, and offer some direction for new players. We were shown a video of one such mission, a simple courier task about driving a buggy from place to place. I'm hopeful that things like this, coupled with missions focused on neglected areas of the map, will mean more encounters outside the usual bases. It'll perhaps mean a trickle of certs for players who like to drive or repair bases too, so that downtime can still feel officially acknowledged as part of the game.
They're not intended as a grindfest either. The campaign missions are intended for everyone, including those with limited time for games, and they don't want to encourage players to grind themselves into burning out. They even volunteered the interesting phrase "There's something to be said for protecting your players from themselves too", which I find encouraging.
Rogue Games stressed to us that the whole update, and future additions, are subject to rebalancing and adjustment based on player feedback. A big draw of PlanetSide is the variety of playstyles, but that obviously makes it difficult to cater to everyone, or to shore up, say, tank gunnery, without affecting another playstyle.They're not blind to this, and are savvy enough to recognise that players might even hate it outright. They even accepted some fault, unprompted, for not pushing the game harder in prior years.
It's a good sign, I think, that they felt secure enough to speak so candidly to us. PlanetSide has had some shaky times in recent years, and the abject failure of last year's PlanetSide Arena wasn't a win for anyone. But Daybreak's decision to form a splinter studio to deal exclusively with PlanetSide 2 paid dividends in March, as it resulted in the most dramatic update in the game's 8-year history, giving properly organised teams the ability to airdrop tanks, set off orbital strikes, and pilot gigantic carriers about the skies. It brought vast armies of players (including myself) back for some breathtaking scenes, and some more of my most memorable game moments ever, even as the solo, resolutely infantry-only troublemaker I play as.
Even if you never take to the air, the ominous shadow of a hostile carrier and its swarm of escorts dramatically changes the feeling of a ground battle, and the way things can utterly erupt from a humble groundmook perspective when one appears is quite special. "It seems that Daybreak have put their eggs back in the old basket after canning PlanetSide Arena", I said at the time, and like all my opinions this became true.
It's clear the team are really committed to bringing one of the best games of the last decade into the new one, and to do so with the flexibility that it needs. Even the live launch date will depend on player feedback. The Shattered Warpgate update is expected to start as an open beta on the public test server in next few weeks, which most likely means a full release within the next couple of months. In the meantime, there'll be a livestream this evening at 7pm GMT on the official Twitch channel.
The bottom line, they say, is that it's still a unique, spectacular game, and they're not done with it by a long shot. "PlanetSide 2 is here to stay". I certainly hope so.