After much scepticism and astonishment on my part, PlanetSide 2 is more or less here! Even late into the beta and actually playing it, I found it hard to believe it was a real thing. A niche project even when new, the unrelenting harshness coupled with numerous technical obstacles it never quite managed to fully overcome meant that the predecessor, PlanetSide, never really captured the attention of the masses and I often marvelled at its continued existence, let alone thoughts of a sequel. I get the impression that the franchise is a personal favourite and pet project of John Smedley and so carries more weight than matters of mere profitability would otherwise suggest. I would have been axed long ago otherwise.
The sequel is undeniably fun. It seems well-executed and a bears a worthy comparison to the modern console FPS in performance, execution and style. Comparing PlanetSide One against its own contemporaries, CounterStrike et al, was always painful and a lot of the cause of its marginality; too pacy for MMOists and too lumbering for FPSists. There were always better games of that type to play, back then. Differences between PlanetSide 2 and the latest Battlefields, Calls of Duty and Halos are much subtler and more in the nature of subjective stylistic matters, I think. Mind you, I do say all this as someone who doesn’t do a lot of FPS so take my thoughts as you will.
The graphics engine is very fine indeed, giving the old planet a fresh new look and looks particularly good during night-fighting; tracer fire, neon highlighting and inky shadows. The new class system works well enough, at once making basic gameplay more flexible, with roles being selectable as needed from respawn to respawn, while at the same time opportunities for long-term specialisation seem abundant and rewarding. There is a hefty range of toys to play with and although I personally didn’t get on with the aircraft, the ground vehicles seem potent and fun to drive, although nowhere near as robust as the PlanetSide 1 juggernauts – not necessarily a bad thing, pace-wise. New and much more elaborate base designs make for some challenging indoor-style combat, but the new continents still retain that large overland scale that so defined the first game, hills and canyons to plan advances through with open field battles commonplace, and it’s fascinating seeing those familiar old logos and names in a new context. It all harks back to a purer PlanetSide, before stupid giant robots, stupid Unreal Tournament style caverns and a stupid lack of players.
The basic feel of gameplay is mostly the same – a good thing. Much tinkering with the basic format during beta seems to have settled on a measured push from base to base which will be familiar and the big draw of the thing for me, the hundred player pushes and sieges still exist in recognisable form. Most of the time these base fights seem to roll through a fair bit faster than in PS1, but now and then the multi-hour battles of attrition can still be found.
Some things are different. Hacking to capture, in the old sense does not exist, instead its more capture the flag based. A new system of resource accumulation now regulates vehicle spawning and also consumables like med kits and grenades, although in practice it sounds worse than it is and I never had any problems with resource scarcity. Sanctuary is gone – instead the warp gates function as safezone ‘bases’ for each empire on each continent. Repair guns have an overheat mechanic now instead of needing glue canisters. Little things mostly.
The business model, for those who care about such things, seems to be the increasingly standard two tier F2P setup; the box cost, then free with cash shop, with a subscription option for extra bits and pieces, including a regular micropoint stipend.
All in all, as an on and off veteran of PlanetSide One, I recommend it – a fresh look at a familiar game which pays appropriate homage, yet revitalises the brand. It’s all surprisingly fun – go take a look.
Personally though, I won’t be joining you.
You see, as a valued long-time European customer of Sony Online Entertainment, I’ve been deported to the questionable custody of some German media company I’ve never heard of called ProSeibenSat.1 and this annoys me on several levels. I say questionable, as I know literally nothing about these people. I’ve heard lots of negative hearsay from unreliable internet people, but on the other hand, the only good things I’ve heard about them are from the FAQ put out by SOE themselves; hardly an independent analysis, from either side, leaving me all a bit confused and paranoid in this age of regular and inevitable customer details database hacking.
And even if I knew ProSeibenSat1 to be sterling and dependable fellows, it’s the manner in which I’ve been commodified that irritates me. I’ve been a regular and reasonably loyal customer of SOE, in Good Standing, since they were called Verant Interactive. So to be offhandedly handed off after twelve years of generally contented custom does feel like a betrayal somewhat. No-one asked me about all this! Perhaps I want to stay a SOE customer? Maybe I don’t want to go with the strange man into his creepy van.
So what can I do about it all?
Well, I’m not going to bang on about ‘my rights’ or any of that nonsense. These are luxury goods and services and to the uninitiated reader I’m already in danger of sounding quite fatuous about the entire thing. I could just hang my head, go ‘alright then, I’ll do what you say’, sign up at PSS1, trade in my Station Cash for ProPlusPoints or whatever and get on with my life. It would be easy in fact; a streamlined conversion process seems to already be in place.
Or I could vote with the only means available to me, my custom. It feels important to me to not just go along with something I don’t agree with. It’ll change nothing, but if I don’t have at least one stupid self-denying principle to stick to, what else is there?
So no PlanetSide 2 for me, a game I was quite looking forward to and which seems quite fun. Or EverQuest 2, a game I’ve always quite enjoyed and in which I own a floating island I was working at landscaping and in which I’d only just obtained a flying mount. Or EverQuest Next, which I’ll likely never know. Or DC Universe Online, Free Realms, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, Magic: The Gathering – Tactics, and PoxNora, which admittedly I had no interest in anyway, but now never will.
Some of SOEs games appear to remain unchanged, accessible via the usual Station account even for European customers; the original EverQuest, the original PlanetSide and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes all seem to be business as usual, but only because PSS1 likely didn’t want them. Possible nostalgia visits, but not viable main gaming for me, I think.
This is not a crusade. I am not trying to change anyone else’s mind. (It’s the internet, Haha! That would be impossible!) If you are in Europe and enjoy these games, by all means, do some research and perhaps give PSS1 an informed try. I’ll be watching with great interest how they perform. I am just explaining to anyone who cares why there won’t be any more coverage of the above games on this blog or the podcast anymore. Perhaps in one distant sunny future time, there might be a big u-turn, similar to when Codemasters gave up EU operation of DDO and LotRO and reverted it all back to Turbine and we’ll all meet again, but for now, adieu, SOE gaming, you will be missed.
As an amusing farewell, the PlanetSide 2 Beta left me with an inexplicable error message when I tried to uninstall it, and I had to just manually delete the files. I guess they never thought anyone would ever quit playing it…
UPDATE: Well, after that histrionic and highly cathartic rant, it turns out that the above ProSeibenSat.1 nonsense only applies to new European customers. Players with exsting SOE accounts (like myself) can continue to use them, and will have the option to switch over to PPS1, who will apparently offer ‘better payment options’. Still somewhat miffed by the principle of it all though. We’ll see…
Source: j_smedley replying to this reddit thread. You can even email him if you like!
UPDATE UPDATE: So after a tentative download and install, I was able to play PlanetSide 2 on my existing SOE account without a whiff of obscure german media company signup. I can probably play EQ2 without disruption too. It all makes this entire post a massive knee-jerk rant based on a storm in a teacup founded in insufficient research on a fundamental matter which I am wrong about in the first place.
It’s good to be blogging again!