Planetside 2 continues to entertain, and like most of these MMOs for me these days, seems to shine as a venue for good friends to have quite casual social hijinks of an average evening. Some of us are better than others at the whole shooty shooty thing, but there’s a good general atmosphere on Mumble in the Fire Rounds Rapid outfit of which I seem to have become somewhat in charge of.
We’re there to have fun, of course, but there is an actual game going on too, and I’m slowly learning what is involved in leading a squad in PS2. One of the great and unique selling points of PS2 over, say Borderlands, Halo or Battlefield 19-whatever is the sheer scale of the fighting. These are really large maps, with a LOT of participants, dozens at any given base and likely thousands overall. Making some kind of sense of it all is very much part of squad leading.
This can be tricky, but there are various tools available to help, I’m finding.
100 Certs will unlock Command Chat, giving you access to the [Leader] chat channel if you are currently leading a squad. This is somewhat helpful. Often leaders of outfits will take this seriously and give updates of where they’re going, what they’re doing and that can help give the squad leader some idea of the distribution of friendly forces. This also unlocks use of the yellow [Orders] broadcasts, which other friendly troops can see, and sometimes even obey!
More certs (200) can unlock map-placeable reinforcement request icons for attack and defend. This also creates several new spawn locations for all on the death screen to use, which can help direct the flow of battle on an empire-wide basis somewhat, but again, it’s still down to individual troops if they want to respond – it’s not an RTS! I can’t do that yet, but it does look handy.
My own main concern is typically finding a satisfying fight for the troops in my squad. I look for several things when picking out a next objective.
A good fight is one where the numbers are broadly equal. Several times I’ve withdrawn our squad when it looks like we’re about to get a massive mauling from a 40+ organised assault from a big-name enemy outfit. There is a time and a place for a heroic Rorke’s Drift style last stand, and that place is usually in the movies. In the ‘reality’ of PS2, assuming a generally equal level of average individual skill, 40 vs 10 will go about as well as you’d expect. It’s not actual losses that worry me – this is a sci-fi future battle based on nanotech immortality afterall. I worry more about morale. Being on the receiving end of repeated steamrollering to the point where it looks like they are just toying with you can sometimes be necessary (to delay, to hold out if you know reinforcements are nearby, etc) but isn’t a huge amount of fun if that’s all that happens to you for two hours.
The opposite is often true as well. It can be useful and revitalising ‘downtime’ to do 10-man paradrops on empty and undefended bases, certainly, and the bigger picture of continental conquest does require this kind of tidy-up fairly often, (to create territorial buffers, to improve resource gain chains, to gain cert points for the squad’s long-term development, etc), but taken to extremes, this misses the point of the game and can make for a boring two hours for all concerned.
Finding the sweet spot can be tricky and does rely on luck as much as judgement. A base where there are about ten or so defenders makes for a great fight for us, and is generally satisfying for all concerned, win or lose.
The best pointer I’ve found so far for this is the Map Screen side bar details. The sectors flash based on all sorts of obscure criteria, but the line of text above the pie-chart is a more useful guide; ‘No Enemies Detected’, ‘Enemy Squad(s) Detected’, ‘Enemy Platoon(s) Detected’. A squad is 2-12 players and a platoon is 8-48 players, depending on how full or spread out those players are. Not precise, but a useful ballpark. As a typically full single squad, we need to be looking for single enemy squad warnings. Oddly, I have no idea at all how many friendly troops are present – the map gives me more information about the enemies than allies, which seems an odd way to run an army!
The absolute best way of judging this stuff however, is scouts. Having one member of the squad grab a fast vehicle or drop-pod and actually go there to take a look. Whenever the winds of war scatter any of us across the spawn map, I’ll always try to get some on the ground intel where I can. Doesn’t need to be an Infiltrator, although that can help, they just need to be there.
Being a somewhat defensive sort of person psychologically, I’ll generally favour sectors nearer the home warpgate than further away. I personally view the shooting as a means to an end, and that end is the conquering of the island map, in all its multicoloured hexagonal glory. By trying to keep solid buffer zones between the home gate and enemy, we generate supplies for planes and tanks faster, but also keep overall morale up. Anyone glancing at the map and seeing big tendrils of enemy colours bothering the warpgate might start to think we’re losing! On the other hand, seeing healthy solid swathes of colour in ‘our bit’ of a map frees troops up to focus on pushing forward, safe in knowledge that, due to the bizarre game of Blockbusters that territorial claim turns into, their own efforts aren’t for nothing.
The Blockbusters game annoys me a fair bit, it has to be said. You can read about how the Lattice from Planetside One worked here, but all too often in recent weeks, a satisfying and hard-fought major base fight has been rendered useless because one bloke on a Flash stood next to a control point for a minute, quarter of a mile away and cut the base sector off from our own territories. You can still finish the base capture and gain certs from it and the fighting, but a bold enough slice across the hex grid can significantly starve your forces of vehicles, maxes and grenades, if it is allowed to remain for very long.
I personally don’t like that, but its part of the game, giving soloists and small squads something pivotal to achieve. So when it comes to picking a next sector, I’ll generally not pursue cut-off pushes, instead opting for a recall back warpgate and a push toward the offending obstruction. If we’re quick enough, we can restore connection and the advanced push might be able to continue as before.
Moving to a new location and getting set up takes time, and a squad of ten can only move so fast, redeploying, getting vehicles, travelling, securing satellite outposts, and so on. The more people under your command, the longer this kind of thing takes, something not well understood by many of the more vocal Command folks, who expect instant results NAO!
The more entrenched the position, the more relevant this becomes, as seen by everyone’s favourite game of conkers, The Crown on Indar, which is fast becoming its own meme. One does indeed, not simply walk into The Crown. Read more about the unique properties of this outpost here and here, but suffice to say, an assault or defence of the Crown is a serious undertaking which will likely take most of a session’s play. And that’s fine, if that’s what everyone wants to do.
Different sorts of nights out are available in PS2, but being able to judge the mood of a squad is key here. Sometimes, folks will want to really dig into something, like The Crown, and sometimes folks will want to be moving about rapidly, making progress, getting things done. It all comes down to inertia. As a squad leader, it’s important to be able to get a sense of the satisfaction the squad is getting from the task at hand, because it’ll be up to you to do something about frustrations or boredom, usually by issuing new orders for a new target. Mind you, if folks are enjoying a battle, it is not necessarily a bad thing to let a fight you suspect won’t win in the end, continue for fun anyway.
One way to keep things interesting is to try new things often. Tank columns, Galaxy paradrops, Liberator and ESF squadrons. Individual troops will gravitate to the roles they enjoy, further reinforced by cert spending on class-based specialisations, so micromanagement is a bad idea unless your Outfit is one of these ultra-hardcore ‘duty before fun’ types of setup. For the squad leader, basic gameplay will be about putting to best use the roles that your squad put at your disposal, but breaking up the drudgery with the occasional ‘Everyone grab a Scythe!’ for a mad five minutes can be refreshing and hilarious!
I don’t pretend to be an expert in squad leading, and am still learning the job as I go, but already I’m starting to see some basics on which to build.
Edit: Some very useful explanations of what everything in the Squad Leader Certifications section actually does can be found here!