We Finally See Sony’s Massive (and Free) MMOFPS Planetside 2 «

It’s been a while since 2003’s Planetside, but Sony has been keeping the “have lots of players engage in massive multiplayer warfare” dream alive. Sony CEA tried such a concept for consoles with MAG, and now Sony Online Entertainment is revisiting the idea with a proper sequel, Planetside 2. Earlier this week during Game Developers Conference 2012, SOE showed off a 30-plus-minute demonstration of the current Planetside 2 alpha — so while the graphics and basic user interface were clearly in development, a lot of the core gameplay could be shown off.

At the moment, the most honest description of Planetside 2 would be “more Planetside.” Like the original, this one focuses on three distinct factions (Vanu Sovereignty, Terran Republic, and New Conglomerate) vying for control over a planet. Besides the visual design, each faction has a specific gameplay style — Terran Republic vehicles zip by fast, while Vanu Sovereignty craft are more maneuverable, and New Conglomerate tanks end up being the toughest. Players jump in with their customized soldier and vehicle loadout, and help secure a facility in a match to help his faction gain territory in the overall war.

Click the image above to check out all Planetside 2 screens.

The main changes, besides the obvious fact that it looks like a game from 2012 rather than one from 2003, appear to be inspired by modern shooter design. Taking someone out or completing an objective splashes experience points on-screen. Being killed triggers the ubiquitous kill-cam. Player progression gets outfitted with factors such as weapon proficiencies, and Certification points that unlock new weapon loadouts and vehicle upgrades. The game tracks player performance in the vein of Battlefield 3’s Battlelog or COD Elite or Halo stat-tracking. There’s a neat-looking day/night cycle. In a nod towards more tactically oriented shooters, the class system has roles like infiltrator, light assault, combat medic, engineer, and heavy assault. And in perhaps the most generous and interesting take on a non-combat support role for a class-based shooter, players can choose to be a pilot of the Galaxy transport — which flies around to provide a mobile respawn-and-resupply point.

Besides the above tweaks, SOE also plans on making the game simply easier to get into. On a base level, new players should be able to pick their kit and hit “join squad” to instantly hop online, find fellow soldiers in your faction, and get quick objectives to complete in battle. In a region holding up to 600 players, you can just focus on the 10 that are in your squad. Additionally, you can even gain Certification points to upgrade your soldier/gear/vehicle while offline — for new players who might not have the time to dedicate hours upon hours of shooting and grinding.

The kicker, and perhaps the most interesting aspect, is how Planetside 2 will be Free-to-Play. Following the recent trend of other SOE titles (most notable DC Universe Online), Planetside 2 will be Free-to-Play upon launch. SOE plans to support the title via microtransactions; at the moment, you use in-game resources to add actual gameplay upgrades and abilities to your soldier, while certain items (none were specified) can be unlocked with a combination of in-game resources and actual cash. The items that require actual cash will be limited to cosmetic ones like camouflage patterns. It’s an interesting model that’s certainly been tried before, but at the moment, this is the most high-profile (and only) Free-to-Play MMO shooter I’ve seen.

Will this trend continue of seeing the phrase “Free-to-Play” next to the descriptions of the next big wave of PC games? A couple of GDC panels address this topic, but I also have appointments to see non-Free-to-Play games. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the week shakes out — and whether or not Planetside 2 is indicative of the future.


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