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Twenty Bucks: Planetside 2

Like Prince's Wardrobe

Continuing our Twenty Bucks series, which looks at what $20 can actually get you in various 'free' games, Jim focuses his wallet on Planetside 2. Can he pay to win? Why does his jeep look like a giraffe?

These and many other questions are answered below.

Planetside 2 suffers from a virtual currency.

This currency is Station Cash, which is an in-game currency which can be spent in a number of SOE games, Planetside 2 included. This fact immediately obfuscates our project, because you have to buy amounts of Station Cash, rather than the actual dollar (or Sterling) cost of the items in question. 2000 Station Cash is £15 for me, therefore closer to $24, and therefore close enough, I suppose.

There's another variable to complicate things. While you can buy all kinds of things in the “Depot” - things which we will detail in a moment – you could alternatively spend your money on a subscription, which gives you great amounts of resources and XP. This comes to £9/month, or down to £6.49 a month if you buy into a full year. Having a subscription basically means that you can earn “certs”, the in-game points you can spend on things, much faster. Most of the things you can buy with money, you can also buy with certs (although some of the things you can buy with certs, basically skills, you cannot buy with money). This means any purchase you make has to be weighed against how fast you are making XP, and whether or not the time investment outweighs the real cash commitment. A subscription, therefore, makes more sense if you play the game for a great number of hours.

What this means is that many people will play Planetside 2 without ever grazing on the pastures of the depot, because they just don't have to. Others, meanwhile, will unlock all kinds of weapons and other fixings by paying a mix of cash and certs. It's a system that is entirely optional, and while it does allow you to unlock game-changing things such as weapons, none of these really counts as paying to win. I get plenty of kills with the base, free weapons, and those I unlocked with certs. The only reason to buy, then is to have a greater breadth of possible experiences with the game, and also to have a greater array of tools at my disposal faster than I would if I unlocked them all manually.

Anyway! Let's begin with the items that only money can buy, and that's the cosmetic upgrades. These have no effect in the game world, aside from making you look a bit tough, or a bit silly. There are plenty of different helmet designs, and since I really do like using my medic, I might well go for the banded skull design. I've already got a couple of other helmets, but this one rounds out my collection of tough-guy head ornamentation rather nicely. It costs a formidable 500SC, which is about £3.70 ($5.80). £3.70! I can hear my penny-pinching grandmother tutting about such profligacy from here.

There are a bunch of other ways to make your soldier look more intimidating, and chief among these are the composite armour types. These are available for all classes, and, like many other items, are routinely featured in the sales. Ah yes, sales. This is the point at which things in Planetside 2 actually seem worth getting. And that's doubtless SOE's strategy here: to make everything a bit pricey, only to make it seems reasonable when the price is temporarily slashed. The Light Assault armour is on sale today for just under a quid, so about $1.40, but even at that price I'm not going to go for it. The simple reason for that being that I almost never play as light assault, even though they have a jetpack. Such class-specific trappings make themselves unpurchasable if you play like I do.

We still haven't spent much of our $20 at this point, but not to worry, because there's a bunch of other things we could pick up – things that actually have some real impact on my game experience.

The first thing I want to do is have a look at these NS rifles. You'll see that I am playing with a Vanu character – purplest of three factions in the game – and the unlocks for me are different for those for other factions. Each faction has a unique set of weapons that has rough equivalents in the depots of its counterparts, but they also all share the NS weapons, which are faction neutral. I've been hankering for an alternative to my blistering H-V45 assault rifle, so the first thing I looked at is the NS-11A, which has rather similar stats. This in turn can be upgraded with new scopes and recoil dampeners, and it's an extremely tempting purchase. However, for £5.20 or $8.15, I am going to want something that actually changes my experience somewhat. This is simply too close to the H-V45.

Perhaps a new pistol? The NS-44G Commissioner looks good. But holy god it looks expensive. 2000SC! That's my entire spend, right there. Over twenty bucks, on a pistol. Not likely.

Nope, I am going to have to head into the Virtual Training area and try a few things out. This allows you to get your hands on anything in the game, and use it im target practice. Finally I settle in a sub-machinegun from my own faction, which feels satisfyingly different to the assault rifle in combat, and gives me an alternative to shotguns when I am equipping for close combat. The Sirius SX12 costs me 700SC, or $8.15.

That leaves me with just over $6 to spend in our Twenty Bucks, although my slight overspend means I actually have an inconvenient 800SC. I could go for a booster pack, that would give me a short extra boost on XP gain or in-game resources, but these feel pointless to me.

I could get more cosmetic stuff for my vehicles – like the famous giraffe skin which adorns my Sunderer APCs and three-man Harasser ATVs, and acts as the official camo for the RPS outfit. But I think I'll go for something more practical, which will have long-term use for me and my team-mates.

I've chosen the Harasser Proton II PPA-H, which will set on top of my ATV and can be used by the gunner-seat passenger to spit fiery blue death on our enemies. A pretty good purchase, I discover, as I race about with a chum. I can't hit the side of a barn with it, but oh well. I'll just have to drive.

So what does twenty bucks get us?

A new helmet, which is entirely cosmetic - $5.80
A new assault rifle, which is meat and shooty - $8.15
And a new gun for my Harasser - $8.15

I overspent a bit, thanks to SOE's virtual currency, but it's close enough. Do I feel like that was worth $20? Well, not really, and I think that's the issue with SOE's current prices. I could buy an indie game (probably several) for this sort of price, which does not encourage me to sink cash into Planetside 2. I really like SOE's mixed approach – with people able to mix certs and cash at their leisure – but I can't help thinking that the cost of everything in the shop makes mad spending unlikely. The only real attraction, as far as I can see, are the station cash sales, where the value of SC's currency gets slashed for a limited time, making everything cheaper. Trade purely on those, and the items in Planetside 2 seem a little more worthwhile.

Were the game to offer everything at half the price it is now, well, I'd probably spend far more. I can only concede that they'll have to keep tempting me with those sales.

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