Blimey, I really am enjoying Planetside 2. Even more than I thought I would. But the initial excitement of epic ultra-war is passing, and I have begun to gather my thoughts more sensibly. And they have begun their precipitation upon the changes made to the Galaxy dropship – a lumbering skybeast designed for hauling folk around the wide open maps – which is central to both the original Planetside, and the opalescent sequel. Its role, however, is a little different in the new game, and something about the way Planetside 2 works means that one of the most thrilling aspects of the original game - the hotdrop - seems to have fallen into disfavour. I'll try to explain, as well as bundling in a bunch of other thoughts on the ongoing beta, below.
Let's begin with the Galaxy, then. The old Gal. One of the finest things about it – in both games, I should add – is that you can leap out of it at any height, and survive the fall. That's one of its key features: you can "hot-drop", and land from a height that would normally kill you. This allows pilots to come in over enemy positions and drop their passengers off, gun-wielding passengers, who would then assault the enemy position.
In the original game that was a routine tactic, and it happened constantly. In Planetside 2, however, the tactic seems to have fallen into disuse. It can and does still happen, of course, but it is noticeably less frequent than before, where it was almost the first beat in any attack in the 2003 original. I suspect there are a few reasons for this, and the first of those is, of course, that this is a beta in which resources and certifications for vehicle use haven't really been balanced or defined. The upshot of this might simply be that there are more vehicles on the field, and therefore less infantry to spill across the shiny roofs of enemy emplacements.
But there's also a more obvious systemic reason, which is that the mobile base of the original game is gone. Instead, the galaxy has taken on its role. Whenever a galaxy has landed, it is both a point for equipping yourself, and a spawn point. That means players can land spawn positions pretty much anywhere on the map, including high up on inaccessible plateaus – which, as I'll mention later, is important.
Following on from hot-drops in Planetside, the galaxy would often land and repair, or simply zoom off to stay safe before the next pickup, but now it can't afford to stray too far – the players need it to sustain an assault, because where before the mobile base would have rolled in, now the galaxy sits and dispenses.
My feeling is also that air-defence in Planetside 2 is significantly more deadly to galaxies than it was in the previous game. While I've regularly seen enemy galaxy landing on the pads of enemy towers, they generally find themselves shielded once they have done so. The hot drop of old, meanwhile, risks far more exposure when coming in and then going out again. So, I suspect, the hotdrop has lost its tactical relevance. A shame. But not to worry: we'll just have to hot drop nostalgically, whether tactically wise, or otherwise.
So yes, that thing about landing on distant plateaus – that leads my next point, which is the diversity and verticality of the map we've been playing on. I think I stressed this in the original piece I wrote, but this is a game of depth in the spatial sense. The height of the landforms is huge, and enormous bases, hundreds of feet high, are swallowed whole by its chasms and canyons. I don't know quite why I should find this so impressive, but it's certainly one of the most arresting aspects of Planetside 2. Last night I sat on a ridge and watched the sun set as tanks battled below. It was a thing to behold.
I was sat resting because the pace of Planetside 2 is relentless. And I was, like an old soldier, knackered. It'll partly be because I am a weary mid-thirties beast, past his gaming prime, but it's also true there really is no respite for the PS2 soldier. You come out of the spawn tube and find yourself in the thick of it within moments. And the fights are blazing across the vast map: it's essentially the world's biggest team deathmatch. A three-way duel between teams of hundreds. And that's exhausting. Exhausting.
Some other fragmentary thoughts:
- I love the jetpack on the light assault. It makes so much sense. This game will never be Tribes – Tribes: Ascend is Tribes, and Firefall is too – but the verticality I talked about suddenly makes a lot more sense when you can skip up a mountainside.
- Speaking of Firefall, I really do recommend you play that when you get a chance. I think the beta is quite accessible now, so sign up. I think it's going to end up being a fascinating game. It's utterly different to Planetside, and its single player co-op jetpack MMO aspect is probably going to be the antidote to Planetside 2's relentless PvP.
- Back to the game at hand: They've done well with making sniping effective, but easy to counter. You can always quite easily trace the source of sniper-fire, but the snipers themselves are just about powerful enough to threaten you without being invincible hand-of-God map dominators.
- The Vanu MAX suit doesn't look as wimpy as it seemed to do in the early concept art.
- The NC MAX looks better.
- I can't wait for more of the cert stuff to open up to me, and I am playing as much as I possible can to get up the battle ranks. That said, there's still lots of question marks in that area, with things that aren't in the beta yet. Like the cash shop. Exactly what is sold in there is really going to matter to how I – and everyone else – ends up feeling about this game.
- The in-game VOIP is surprisingly good. Having a proximity channel is smart, and has already resulted in a couple of moments where someone yelling to nearby comrades has saved us. Clearly it's going to be prone to spamming dickheads, too, so I hope there is provision for us to block people.
- I had sort of expected that a new Planetside game would have great win-conditions, but it seems like the perpetual back and forth of just trying to control an island will remain. It'll be interesting to see what level of satisfaction people get from that. Initially it will be okay with the sheer spectacle of the game, combined with the fun of organising people to fight, but I wonder about long term...
- God I hope they don't mess up when they decide to expand the game.
- It's been a riot so far, I can't wait for the beta to open up to everyone.
Next time: a full battle report.