The original Planetside was an ambitious game for its time. Released back in 2003, a year before World of Warcraft brought the MMO genre to an unprecedented level of popularity, Planetside is largely credited as being the first true MMO first person shooter. With server sizes in the hundreds and a persistent world with a never ending conflict, Planetside offered something no other game at the time did, though with a required monthly fee. The MMO market has changed drastically since Planetside came out, and Sony Online Entertainment has adapted their approach for the sequel accordingly. Planetside 2 is an even more massive game than the original, with the potential for as many as 2000 players fighting simultaneously on the same map. SOE has also ditched the subscription model in favor of the now common free to play with micro transactions monetization method.
If you come into this game expecting strong fiction or in-depth lore, you may find yourself disappointed. There are three factions in the game, but the amount information about each presented in the game itself is limited to a single paragraph when you are choosing your faction during character creation. There does exist some decent lore for the game, expanding upon the backstory for these factions since humans left Earth, but unfortunately none of this is in the game itself. There is a brief intro video once you pick your faction, but if you want some of the deeper lore, you’re going to have to track that stuff down outside the game. Luckily, the lack of story isn’t really a big negative; this being a competitive focused game you won’t really miss the lack of context for the gameplay.
Pretty much every aspect of Planetside 2 revolves around the enormous scale of the game, and in this respect the game is unlike any other shooter available. Even something like Battlefield 3, which stands out from most shooters because of its large scale warfare and huge maps, is absolutely dwarfed by Planetside 2. Servers consist of 6000 players, with a maximum of 2000 simultaneous players on each of the three continents. The three continents are enormous, far bigger than multiplayer maps in even the largest scale shooters. The continents are basically big open worlds with dozens of areas that serve as the points of contention. With as many as 2000 players fighting simultaneously on a single map, there are typically several major battles and some smaller ones taking place at various locations on the continent. Even with all the players spread out across miles of in game territory, battles consisting of hundreds of players at once are common, and these are the moments where Planetside 2 really shines.
There is just something so amazing about fighting in one of these enormous battles, knowing that every single one of the hundreds of characters taking part are being controlled by real people. Similar to Battlefield, but to an even greater degree, there are many insane moments that would be scripted in smaller games that just happen dynamically in Planetside 2, usually involving vehicles, explosions, and dozens of players. The game also makes it really easy to get right into the battle, allowing you to air drop anywhere a major battle is occurring once every 15 minutes. The only problem is you might not know how to do this right away because the game does a very poor job of explaining anything. It took my group and I a good while to grasp many of the games concepts and mechanics when we first started playing, and the tutorial text is inadequate at relaying this information.
As you would expect, the game puts a large emphasis on persistence, both in terms of the world and your individual character, and in this respect the game is a mixed bag. Having the world be persistent certainly feels cool at first, but after awhile issues become apparent.. Unlike most shooters, the game never ends; you never get dumped back to a lobby, there are no scores or matches and you are always just in the world fighting. Because of the way the world is structured, battles occur organically. The game is all about capturing territory, so at any given time specific locations on each continent will be under the control of one of the factions. If an enemy faction is pushing a territory your team owns, you will just naturally be in a defensive position. However, if the enemy captures your territory, you don’t lose, you will simply be pushed back. I’ve had instances where my team lost a territory and we immediately began pushing back for a counterattack, and others where we were forced to fall back to another territory, which the enemy proceeded to attack; the game is all about momentum.
The problem with the persistence comes from the very idea that there is no victory. You can spend hours playing with a large group of people and capture every single territory on a specific continent and come back the next day and find all your effort erased. If your team were to capture every territory, you would get bonus experience, but in the grand scheme of the game it is meaningless. The novelty of fighting a huge persistent battle wears off when you realize its a battle that is literally impossible to win. In this respect it’s not much different from ordinary match based shooters, but in those games at least you get credit for a win after every match, whereas in Planetside 2 the triumph of each minor victory is tarnished by the knowledge that the territory will likely be lost again once you stop playing. This is an issue that I really have no solution for, it’s just an unfortunate reality of the game.