Planetside 2 – game review

PlanetSide 2

PlanetSide 2

This article is NOT sponsored by anything.

The “video games” section of my blog seems pretty neglected. As years pass, somewhere on the way I lost the thrill of playing. But there are still a few games that give me a lot of joy. This article is about PlanetSide 2, one of my long-time favourites, and MMOFPS, a rare genre of video games.

MMOFPS

MMOFPS is an abbreviation of Massive Multiplayer Online First-person Shooter. For people that play games guessing the meaning of the letters is easy. Much less easy is understanding what that genre is. As many game developers categorise their games as MMOFPS with puzzling criteria, let me draw a sharp line for you.

GameGenrePlayers per round Playground (map) sizeLevels of strategic depthRound duration
Counter-Strike: Global OffensiveFPS5×5
12×12
Small245 min
Team Fortress 2FPSVariable, can be asymmetric
Usually 10×10
Small2Depends on game settings
Rainbow6FPS5×5Small2+Until last death/depends on bomb
Planetside 2MMOFPSVariable, asymmetric
Max 600×600 or 400x400x400
Usually 100×100
Very large4No limit
Alert events – 2 hours
Truth is more complex than this, but you get the point.

PlanetSide 2 achieved the Guinness World Record for the highest number of people fighting in a single FPS battle. That was 1158 players, in 2015 (source: Eurogamer.net). Normally battles aren’t that big, they usually fluctuate between 40 and 300 people. Factions invade on factions, battles start whenever people go somewhere and start shooting at each other, inflating the activity statistics per block in a map. They fight for terrain – in a classical capture-the-flag style, to control the largest span of terrain in a given time.

PlanetSide 2 – Robest Stoneman: War Correspondent. Official PlanetSide 2 YouTube channel

Rare game genre?

How many other games are like that? Not many. Star Wars: Battlefront would fit into the title if all the army seen in there was controlled by individual players. Eve Online? Indeed, old Dust 514 is considered to be an MMOFPS – or was, since the game’s closed. Star Citizen? Perhaps in the future. There used to be some others, such as Firefall (also closed), but they did not reach the scale of PlanetSide 2.

So what other games can we with confidence call an MMOFPS, other than PlanetSide 2? Probably just PlanetSide 1. Which, in 2020, is also closed.

Factions

While classes you can change like socks, there are three factions, and most people stick to one or two as progress isn’t moved to other ones.

Terran Republic

Red and black colours. Oldest by lore, the other factions forked from this one. They use traditional gunpowder and metal projectile-based weapons, but sci-fi era gave them ridiculous amounts of ammunition and rate of fire. Their key parameter is speed. Lore-wise? They’re the local tyrants and the default empire.

By players of other factions they’re called the “reds” or the “commies”, or (on Miller) the “crybabies” due to the incredible amount of chat whining. Notorious for swarming with airplanes, which were called “airchavs”.

New Conglomerate

Blue and gold colours. Rebelled against the TR. They use blocky armour and weapons that seem to have been duct taped, they specialise in improvised weaponry such as railguns and boy they do love their shotguns. Their key parameters are bulk power and defence.

By players of other factions they’re called the “smurfs”, the “blues” or the “burgers”. They’re absolutely notorious for friendly fire, killing their own with shotguns and riding over them with vehicles, which earned them the nickname “the idiots” (alongside the song “eat glue in gold and blue!”). To add salt to injury they really are top car honkers (I’m not kidding!).

Source: Imgur.com via PS2 forums

Vanu Sovereignty

Dark purple and cyan colours. Forked out of TR to start a religious worship of alien Vanu and its tech. Uses the most sci-fi weapons and vehicles, like levitating tanks and plasma weapons. They specialise in agility (tanks can strafe!) and accuracy.

What cheeky nicknames did VS get? Players of other factions they’re…flamboyant. Purple colour, tight spandex and the absolute lack of serious approach of its players despite the ability to still gather gigantic masses made them the most hilarious nation. They’re known for amassing large numbers of players in a tactic called “Zerg Rush”. Favourite hobby is mocking TR.

Source: Imgur.com via PS2 forums

So, which faction do you like the most so far?

Source: Old 4chan meme. Author anonymous.

Classes

What classes can you choose in PlanetSide 2?

  1. Infiltrator – lightest class with least armour. Specialises in ambush and sniping. They can hack enemy equipment and vehicle terminals, as well as defensive towers.
    They have access to EMP grenades which disables personal shields (in practice, halving enemy HP), kinda blind them, disables their UI so they can’t tell enemy from foe, blows up mines and paralyses small turrets. Fun because you can kill enemies with their own mines.
  2. Light Assault – same weapons as most, without extras, but has a jetpack. They are also used in ambush tactics and attack from above.
    Dropping C4 charges from above is a popular and nasty tactic which earned them the nickname C4 fairy.
  3. Medic – perhaps the most important class. They revive people on the spot. They also recharge shields and have access to cool, accurate weapons.
    They have revive grenades. That’s right – revive grenades. 12 players downed in 1 second by a C4 fairy? Throw a revive grenade at the bodies to undo what the Light Assault did (he will retain experience and kill count, but what does it matter if his enemies are back on their feet!).
  4. Engineer – repairs vehicles, repairs MAXes, repairs base facilities, places turrets and more mines than others can. Commonly used when playing tank or aerial vehicles.
    Has access to anti-tank/anti-MAX sniper rifle and a MANA turret which is mighty annoying if you’re in a tank.
  5. Heavy Assault – the obvious big boys, they have extra shields that they can activate, they have access to heavy weapons such as heavy machineguns and rocket launchers.
    Heavies of each empire have a very unique heavy weapon. The NC (blues) have a triple-shot shotgun called Jackhammer. The TR (reds) have a T7 Mini-Chaingun with a loud brrrrrt sound effect. The VS (purples) have a Lasher, slow siege weapon which shoots plasma projectiles that have a splash radius, make an obnoxious pew-pew and while not exactly useful, it sure is mighty annoying to the enemy.
  6. MAX – a mecha. They lack shields, instead having twice the HP, they are slower and carry the heaviest weapons. They require special resources to get. They can’t be healed, only repaired, although they can be revived. They have unique looks and abilities.
    I don’t know what the NC’s one is called (I call it the blockman), but the TR’s MAX is nicknamed the turtle and the VS’s MAX is nicknamed the crab.
    The NC’s one carries an extra shield, the TR’s one can anchor down losing the ability to move gaining twice the rate of fire, and the VS is… well… it’s is a crab. Snib-snab.

Levels of strategic depth

In an FPS, you think on two strategic levels: about the tactic of you as a player, and of your team. In an MMOFPS, you think on four:

  • the tactic of you as a player,
  • your immediate team (called squad),
  • your organisation or “clan” or “guild” (called outfit),
  • faction-wise (called empires) or globally.

You could argue that in many an FPS you also have some kind of competition of clans on some website map, and those clans need to cooperate to win the tournament. But in an MMOFPS, all of this is happening in real time in one game session, so easily a fight of 15 people with 15 people of another faction can escalate to 300 vs 500, 10 outfits on side and 15 on another, with a 3rd faction pestering both somewhere on the outskirts. Those outfits (PlanetSide 2’s clans or guilds), must cooperate in their efforts in real time, over voice chat, controlling the flow of large masses of players around the map.

There is an important conclusion: this means that you can’t just take your FPS experience and apply it to an MMOFPS, or you will likely fail. It is a different genre altogether. It is not an expansion to FPS.

As a player

You can play solo or join a team. Either way, you need to pay attention to the map, what currently happens where. Battles are intentionally asymmetric (no one controls equality of teams or their level, basically you get the weapon and a giant map and fight is where people shoot at each other), so you need to evaluate if the battle you are planning to join is right. Too many of your forces – and you will be bored out, sitting in a siege with few players to shoot at. Too few of your forces and too many against – you will be constantly shot, and unable to move an inch. Ideally, you would be looking for a fight where your faction is slightly over or underpopulated, where your contribution as an individual can tip the flow of battle for many. This is what veterans of the game love.

PlanetSide 2 - Ymir Biolab
Uh-oh. Looks like there is fighting in Ymir Bio Lab between the New Conglomerate (blue) and the Terran Republic (red). PlanetSide 2, Miller server, 2nd of May 2020.

At the same time, it is one of many factors responsible for the game being hard to the new people. It’s a bit like entering a photography shop and asking for recommendation of the best camera, and the owner asks you “best for what? It depends what do you want to photograph.” If you’ve never taken landscape pictures, portraits, astrophotography, time lapses, how on earth are you supposed to know what you like? How can you know if in PlanetSide 2 you like biolab fights, Crown chokepoints, massive Galaxy drops or tank sieges, if you just got your first gun in hands and are learning how to walk? Those questions bother the new players all the time.

PlanetSide 2 - Ymir Biolab
In this battle over Ymir, New Conglomerate faction’s outfit called “German Nightmare” is holding the biological laboratory in Ymir. More than 96 players are fighting there, split 54% NC and 46% TR. Biolabs are closed cupola with buildings and foliage where toughest chokepoints occur – this battle is likely to last for hours there. It gives no wider tactical benefit than farming certificate points that are used to buy new weapons. But can a newbie know this?

You as a squad member

You can join a squad or a platoon (squads are consisted of max. 4 platoons with max. 12 people in each). In this case, unless you like to tell people what to do, you have a leader. Follow the leader’s instructions: go where they ask, use the class (medic, heavy soldier, engineer, etc.) they ask you to use, take the vehicle they ask for. This gives a strong feel of cooperation and often helps you crush entire masses of enemy forces, even when you are outnumbered.

You often won’t know that your leader is usually also present in a voice chat channel dedicated for squad leaders. They will tell things like “we need support in Mani Lab” or “Defend Hurakan Amp station, if we keep it, we win the alert” (alert – 2h event for your empire having maximum continent territory until end of timer).

Terran Republic in Ymir
When I logged in, my main empire (Vanu Sovereignty) did not do any interesting fighting. So I switched sides to the Terran Republic, and joined the fight in Ymir. There are more people in the spawn building than in many FPS allow in the whole match. As expected – it was a chokepoint. Preferring to be a wolf than a sheep, I could have switched to the New Conglomerate rathen than the Terrans, but oh well. I’m not a newbie, I can fight with odds against me.

Your leader will tell you: go to the building, capture the point, get a medic and heal your people. In PlanetSide 2, you drop often – an average veteran player’s lifetime on the battle is about five minutes. Often you getting shot is not dependent on your skill, but the situation, and while your skills surely do matter, they often won’t save you from a stray bullet or a C4 fairy (slang for soldiers with jetpacks dropping charges from above on crowds). Such is the charm of big battles.

Overwhelmed by the enemy, I get out of here!
I moved to the Nott Amp station, where the odds against the Vanu Sovereignty were much better.
After some fighting, enemy forces were thrown out and had to move somewhere else, and thus Nott remained ours.

You can also press U and after 10 seconds you will drop dead. In fact, people do it all the time. Why would you do something like that? Because the ability to despawn and respawn is so crucial to gameplay tactic that it is even embedded in the lore. This is called redeploying and is used to rapidly move across large distances, change fights. Not everywhere you can redeploy, but it is still so common that, due to how often you do that in quiet times with low population (e.g. in the morning, outside peak hours), when you struggle to find the right fight, people even call the game RedeploySide 2.

You as an outfit

Squads are temporary, outfits are eternal. Outfits often have thousands of players. They create squads and coordinate them, which in turn coordinate people. Outfits have the ability to be extremely influential if they gather skilled players and are great at leading, example of which on Miller server is the New Conglomerate’s [POL]. An alternative is to be fantastic at rallying large crowds of people to flood the enemy (called zerg rushing) and defeat them regardless of their skills as individual – this is a difficult task in itself and often as fragile as a loose snowball in the wind, but if successful, can be very spectacular regardless of whether you are the attacker of the attacked one. One outfit notorious for this tactic on Miller server is Vanu Sovereignty’s [DIG]. And how do you exactly zerg rush? With a massive Galaxy drop.

Galaxy, also known as the Skywhale, is a large airplane used for transporting people. It can carry 1 pilot, 11 players and people dropping from it even from large heights do not take fall damage. Now if each Skywhale takes 12 people, you can imagine what a huge air assault of 7 galaxies dropping 84 extra people onto a 100 vs 100 battle of unsuspecting 200 people can do!

On a global level

Whether you play individually, in a squad with friends or coordinate large scale activities, you must be aware of what happens globally. If you are defending an important facility, you can check on the map time to time if enemy Warpgate (main spawn base) doesn’t have a sudden spike of population. If that’s the case, they’re probably boarding the Galaxies and will soon deploy on your head. What do you do then? Take a Skyguard, an anti-air tank, and give them a nasty surprise.

You see them preparing lots of MAX (mechas) units in a spawn? They probably will try to rush out and break through your lines with brute force. Plant mines while they’re preparing, and reap the fruits when they move out. Same tactic works for a tank column.

Watch the population of your faction, mind where the masses move, and pick fights you want to take part in, or even switch sides for extra fun.

Game review. Pros and cons

Let’s finally reach the conclusions: PlanetSide 2, pros and cons.

Pros

  1. Spectacular and of unmatched scale.
  2. A complete review on how to play a shooter.
  3. Game from 2012 which still looks very impressive.
  4. You get experience and unlock items fast.
  5. New weapons provide variety, not advantage. Many experienced players run with some default weapons, but switch them out of boredom.
  6. In 2020, it’s pretty balanced.

Cons

  1. Requires a pretty powerful computer and an even better internet to run.
  2. Very hard learning curve for new players due to unique but complicated playstyle of the game.
  3. Unreliable outside peak hours and weekends (you log in only to see really no interesting battles happening).
  4. Still glitchy at times.

It’s a game with history (original PlanetSide was released in 2003 and 2 in 2012), but fortunately, one that ages very well. It’s way more balanced now that it used to be, while changes made to it strengthened rather than altered the unique grandiose playstyle the game is known for. With that, it retained its hard learning curve, while remaining just as rewarding for those that give it the chance. I recommended it to friends in the past, and I recommend it today.

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