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The Return To Auraxis: Planetside 2

Back, Back! BACK!

You know of the late lamented Corporal Smith’s exploits on the Planetside. All of us here at RPS are ragged veterans of those interminable wars, serving time in the forests of Foresal and missing drops on towers in the lost deserts of Oshur. It is with great trepidation (and after a phone interview with SOE Creative Director Matt Higby) that we can now reveal details of Planetside 2...

The first thing that’s clear; they’re aiming to recreate Planetside with modern tech. From the video I just saw, I think they’ve done it.

For those not in the know; Our story begins eight years ago, on a distant planet called Auraxis. Three immortal factions contest the surface of this planet; the militaristic Terran Republic, the guerrilla New Conglomerate and the advanced Vanu Sovereignty. Their troops can’t die permanently, so contests consist of hordes of tanks, planes and infantry rolling, skimming and tramping towards each other over the same shattered world, eternally.

Being the most-varied and largest-scale MMO FPS combat of all time meant it was a game that generated war stories: as a lone anti-armour Max, running round a hillside, accidentally into the blind spot under a rare towering enemy mech and shooting its tuchas until it died of humiliation; of the mighty RPS tank platoon pounding our Escapist rivals until they realised we had no air cover and we scattered our tanks into the shelter of unsympathetic trees; of gal-dropping an ANT supply truck on a besieged base, saving it at the last moment. Every player has a dozen stories.

That was Planetside 1. Planetside 2 is going to be set in the same place, with the same continents and the same factions, as Higby explained: “It’s going to feel very similar to Planetside. We’re bringing the game up to a modern feeling, making it more quickly paced... the systems and features we’re adding are things we learned over the last eight years from the Planetside Live service and the features that MMO gamers expect, as well as all the bells and whistles of a modern FPS.” That said, there is going to be increased empire differentiation, so that the tools, techniques, strategies and tactics for each faction are going to be even more distinct.

“It’s only recently that we’ve had the technology that allowed the dream of where we need to bring Planetside in the future.” He tells us that they’ve been wanting to make the game for years, and that’s it’s evolved over a very long period. They’ve built a new homegrown engine called Forgelight designed specifically for online MMOFPSes, critically incorporating Nvidia’s Physx.

“We’re talking 2011 AAA graphics quality... We wanted to allow the AAA visual effects and physics that you see in today’s AAA FPSes - in an massively multplayer game”. He quickly runs through how physics is going to change the world: incorporating flight mechanics to make flying much more realistic; setting up large dynamic objects that can move around and be used for cover; or the way weapons affect players, so that if you get hit by a rocket that doesn’t kill you, it’ll knock you back.

As with the previous game, it’s going to feature thousands of players battling with each other in realtime on enormous maps, with no instancing - “we’re only limited by how many can physically fit into a small area.” New, however, is a territory control and conquest system; “You’ll fight over more than just facilities and bases; this turns every square inch into contestable valuable real estate that you want to control. The battlefield is always moving, you’re not fighting in the same place; something in your territory yesterday is now the newest hotspot. All of our maps are completely hand-crafted so that every square inch supports gameplay. The size of our environments is completely unrivalled.” It’s worth noting that facilities also have an effect on other parts of your military force - ammo dumps giving ammo bonuses and so on.

The more territory you control, the more resources you’ll have flowing in, whilst both attacking and defending give you a burst of resources. “There’s no resources pop-up to be smashed by assault rifle butt - how empires control territory and hence resources determines how successful they’re going to be in the game.” These are used for skill certifications, weapon upgrades, attaching new weapons to your vehicles and so on.

There’s also a new skill certification tree. “It uses an offline time-based learning method - if you’re familiar with Eve Online, how they unlock skills, it’s similar to that.” Each skill is locked to a battle-rank though - a player can’t progress past a certain point unless they actually play. “It allows players with not much time to game to keep up with friends who have nothing but free time, and it allows us to have bonuses for players who are actively playing.”

The skills tree is extensive, to say the least - Higby mentions thousands of skills. “Every vehicle will have its own skill tree, every weapon will have its own skill tree. You’ll be able to completely customise your soldier to the exact playstyle you want”. Squad leaders will retain their separate advancement tree, allowing them to command larger groups, whilst outfits will both be able to specialise further and customise their appearance. Higby envisages a purpose-built outfit for air cavalry with customised reapers and bonuses to air combat, or armour outfits so that “if you see these guys coming over a hill in customised prowlers, you’ll know who they are.”

To make ad-hoc combat easier, there’s a new customisation addition; a class system, replacing the pseudo-classes of the original. You can seamlessly switch between classes that you’ve unlocked; so you can can play as a medic or engineer, or switch to maxes and heavy assaults, depending on what your squad needs. It seems to be a way of creating a soldier that fits the individual’s play style but still feels useful and recognisable in the battle. “The FPS elements we’ve taken are for faster paced combat; we like the Battlefield games.”

Finally, most importantly, there’s a new mission system which automatically generates missions to focus players and balance populations, as well as allowing veteran players to insert their own missions. This allows players to specify in some detail what troops they need, for example a mission requiring engineers to set up minefields or repair turrets at a base. The default missions, when no player-created mission is available, focus players on nearby territory that can be conquered, or needs defending.

One large change followed on what Higby describes as Planetside’s number one lesson; “get people into the action quicker.” Because of this each factions’ sanctuaries are gone, and with them the Hart shuttle. Instead, each continent has an uncapturable foothold for each faction. To also aid with, and to tie into the missions system, players can also choose to auto-squad with nearby groups, and spawn on their squad - though this latter doesn’t work under every circumstance, to give defenders a chance, it’s one of many elements that should improve the new player experience.

Other changes we’ve picked out from the release; “seaborne combat” is an innovation and something that an FPS has never featured, especially not on Planetside’s scale. Though the setting of Auraxis hasn’t changed, the description of “open fields, tightly-packed urban centres” is also a shift from the locations we’ve seen before.

It’s rare when doing interviews that you hear relief in a voice; the sound of a tongue that’s been bitten so hard, for so long, that it’s resonates scar-tissue. “It has unrivalled scope and unrivalled scale.”, says Higby. “In a world where most games are copycats, it’s unique... It’s really, really, really hard to make an MMOFPS; an MMORPG is way easier... It’s probably more trouble than it’s worth for most people. It’s a juggernaut. We feel like we’re going to blow the roof of the MMOFPS market with this game.”

SOE wouldn’t be drawn on release dates, beta dates or pricing structures for this. It is, however PC-only, the sequel to the best MMOFPS of all time, and all of RPS is certainly going to be playing it. We’re running low on war-stories, after all.

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