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Free To Prey: The First Days Of Planetside 2

Hands On, And On, And On

Planetside 2 is in beta. You can sign up here. You should sign up, because it's brilliant.

I've been in there for a week, and with the NDA having dropped, I've posted a few thoughts below.

Yes, it's as good a remake as we'd hoped. Better, probably. But it has changed things. Important things. I will only touch on them briefly here, because you can expect sustained analysis in the weeks to come.

Between this and Day Z 2012 has turned from a year of some promise to a twelve month high-five of fuck yeah. Two PvP-focused games that are not MMOs in any traditional sense, that I can entirely get behind, in the same year. That hasn't happened since 2003. So now it's zombie survival and blazing hi-tech ultra-death, hand-in hand on the mountainside of beautiful PC-powered connectivity. Glorious times await us, my friends.

Someone once said that the interesting thing about computers is that they ended up being more about communication than computation. Whoever said that was half right, and it needs an amendment to say that the interesting thing about computers is that they became as much about communicating our terror at murderous bandits or our awe at massed plasma-tank barrages, as about computation. And I'll come back to that in a moment.

Let me first just touch on this: my initial moments in Planetside 2 – stepping into the thrumming blue-dark of the Vanu warpgate - were tinged with disappointment. I stood in the neon light of the console and lamented. For there was no Harasser: the two man buggy that I used to such glorious effect in the original game. Here were the familiar quadbike and tanks, and there the aircraft, albeit in new shapes, but my deathjeep, the lunatic machine I would default to for hunting snipers, dropships, and mobile bases, was gone. That's sad. I hope it returns in a forth-coming patch. I sighed.

And then I plunged into a blistering four-hour tank battle, raging across a gleaming sci-fi landscape.


Lasers! Bombs! Lasers! Bombs!

I found myself at the heart of one of the new maps, in the perfect scenario: a three-way brawl between hundreds of players. The NC presence was relatively light: a few tank attacks, a few aircraft, while the Terran attack was relentless and ferocious: an army of newbies mixed with talented, co-ordinated veterans. Everything lit up with a special light as teamwork unfolded: medics supporting soldiers, engineers supporting vehicles, everyone struggling in the same act of sustained defence. Snipers in the rocks were revealed only by the pulsing trace of their rifles. Tanks tried to avoid the raging chokepoint of the bridge by taking the dusty valleys below, and were revealed and then destroyed by the defensive explosions that met them. The deafening boom of bombing runs raking the facility.

I did a little hallelujah as I hit Q to spot enemies, and it worked.

Yes, it looks and sounds - and largely plays - like a futuristic blitzkrieg should. SOE have looked to Battlefield 3 for their deep war-scape ambience. You can hear the big guns and ordnance resonate across the valleys. Stood on one side of a mountain, in peaceful solitude, you can hear the cataclysmic rumble of a full-bore battle tacking place on the other. It's a game of enormity.

The verticality of the maps was immediately breathtaking: I watched hovertanks topple into vast canyons. From a dusty basin I saw MAX-suited commandos land a galaxy dropshop on the steel minaret of a vast desert facility, far on a cliff above me. I could see the crackle of explosions as they stormed the twisting, glowing corridors below. I saw soldiers pouring into our base, capturing our consoles, and then getting pushed back as engineers laid down turrets, and heavy assault troopers popped tanks with Vanu rocket launchers that look like someone has lobbed a burning ghost across the landscape...

What I am trying to say here with my wittering hyperbole is that Planetside 2 gets the spectacle of battle just right. I don't know if the actual balance is right, or if the weapons are fair, or if x and y need nerfing, or if it's going to break, or any of that stuff. I don't know because it's all still being tweaked, and because I need to play for three months, and because they haven't even unlocked all the shop stuff to really show us how this is going to work as a F2P game.

What I can tell you is that it feels right. The punch of the weapons, the range of the fights, the scale of everything taking place around you: it's bang on.

And no one should forget that the original Planetside designed itself into complete failure. That was a game that insisted on an expansion pack that was literally underground, forcing players to buy something that missed the point of the wide-open game world SOE had created. It was a game that was ruined by adding robot battlesuits. There can be no excuse for that.

And that could be Planetside 2's fate.

But not yet.

Right now it is a humming hive of potential. The variables are roughly in the right place. The dials have been set to excitement.

No-one knows if it will maintain the population it needs to be a success, and I can't tell if it will really scale to lower populations.

I can't get at all the community and outfit tools to really tell you about that stuff.

I can't even really be sure that the new role of the Galaxy – the dropship that lay at the heart of the original and is essential to this sequel (mobile bases are gone) - really works. I will need to write an entire article about that, and all the other mechanics in this vast, sprawling game.

I can tell you that I haven't wanted to tear myself away from it.

Going back to that point about communication and computation from earlier: yes, Planetside 2 is a balance of both of those things. Yes, you are going to want a heavyweight PC to get the most out of it, yes the latency struggles when sixty people are throwing themselves into the same gunfight. There is so much to communicate, on all levels, from the raw data through your internet connection to the hundred things that are happening on screen. None of those things are reasons not to play Planetside 2. The opening weeks of this game, like its predecessor, will be less like a game and more like an event. You will want to have been there, alongside us, fighting for a cause of Who Cares, and saluting a flag of Fuck Yeah This Is A Laser Tank Siege.

And I am going to want to communicate that.

I'm going back in. And I'll see you on the field.

We'll be writing a lot more about this in the next few weeks.

(And I'll be rolling with the RPS outfit, and you can keep up with goings on for that here.)

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