Planetside 2 on Playstation 4 is a shooter unlike any other. Do you have what it takes to survive?

Invading an enemy base

To put it another way, can Day Break Games bring enough players on board and retain them, long enough to realise its full potential? 

It’s release week of Planetside 2 on the Playstation 4 and an armour column rolls up to an enemy base.

I’m running alongside, occasionally jumping into, or out of, the gun turret of a Sunderer Armoured Personnel Carrier (or “Sundy”, for short). As an engineer, I can use my special “repair gun”, to fix the vehicles around me and drop ammo supplies for the hundreds of soldiers running about like headless chickens.

Gunfire is constant, explosions light up the sky, futuristic flying machines swoop past, and smoke billows from the charred shell of a nearby tank. Whether it was an enemy or friendly, is of no consequence. I have no idea what’s going on, but all that matters is the war.

On another occasion, I’m in a team of 3 medics, lined up behind a mix of light- and heavy-assault troops, plus assorted other classes. They’re just above us, up on a ridge, firing down on the defenders. They are falling like flies in a hail of suppression fire, but us medics are reviving and healing them, as fast as they drop. We manage to hold the line and eventually, after half an hour, the base is taken.

Dimly, I’m aware that there is a bigger picture, that someone, somewhere, knows where to attack or defend, in order to take over, or hold, the entire continent. I follow the crowd, as we mop up stragglers in the vicinity, before moving on to the next battle.

All images, copyright Day Break Games, via PS4 screen capture

Confessions Of A Complete Planetside 2 Beginner

It wasn’t always like this.

I played a small part in the public Beta, where I was impressed, but mightily confused. I was excited at the possibility of real teamwork in massive battles, which I could actually afford, since Planetside 2 would be free to play.

Unfortunately, most of the other players were as confused as me and I was killed by friendly fire, almost as much as I perpetrated it.  When I started again in the released “Version 1.0” (everyone had to make a new character), things weren’t much better.

New players start on a smaller island called Koltyr. There are short “tutorials” of sorts, consisting of text boxes and voice overs, which jump to life when you approach an infantry or vehicle terminal, or happen to go into a menu (which, for me in the early days, was mostly by accident).

Character selection and loadout

I use the term “tutorial” in the loosest sense. Planetside 2 is developed by Day Break Games and started off life on the PC. On that platform, it has a reputation for a poor beginner experience and from what I have seen, the PS4 port is no different (I never played it on the PC, BTW).

Planetside 2: Beginner Unfriendly

I believe I must take it one step further and state, in no uncertain terms, that Planetside 2 has one of the worst beginner experiences I think I have ever encountered.

This is surprising to me, because the business model for a free to play game, must surely be to draw in as many new players as possible. This will be in the hope that enough of them decide to buy updates or memberships, to fund the developers’ salaries.

To make matters worse, the voice communications aren’t working properly despite a recent patch, and they still haven’t implemented the larger scale platoons and outfits (read “clans”), essential to the teamwork that is supposedly its beating heart.

Patches appear to be regular and are about 2.25 GB in size, which is a pain, because it can take an hour or two to download, thus destroying any chance I have at playing it the same evening. It therefore speaks to the strengths of this game, that I want to stick around, to see if it fulfils its promise.

What I have learned, I got mainly from trial and error, other players, from YouTube videos (many of which talk about the PC version) and from hanging out in the forums.

Some of the non-obvious things I found out include:

  • you can use the R1 button to spot enemies, so they appear on everyone’s mini-map
  • you can choose where your character spawns, by pressing the touch pad to bring up the map
  • you have to press the L1 + R1 buttons together to throw a grenade.
  • you should press and hold Triangle, to have any hope of swapping to your medic (or engineer’s) heal (or repair) abilities
  • if you deploy a Sunderer near an enemy base (by stopping and pressing Triangle), friendly troops can spawn there and gives you a small experience boost, when they do
  • Green icons on the map represent your fellow squad members
  • You have to leave your default squad if you want to join a team of friends
  • The squad leader will have a yellow star icon and name above his head
  • And so on and so forth…

Along the way, I discovered that different size bases require different points to be controlled, in order to capture them and that power generators can be overloaded to bring force fields down, by simply pressing a button. (It has been alternately amusing and frustrating, watching whole squads expending bullet after bullet, trying to destroy generators, when there was no way of telling them that they just had to wait for the timer to count down to zero.)

These are all things which could really do with an explanation. While there is a fine balance to tutorials and some games go overboard with them, Planetside is such a big game, that they really miss a trick here and end up turning it into a sink or swim experience. It would be easy enough to drip feed these pieces of information to players, perhaps by linking specific lessons to player level, with an option to turn them off, for the veterans.

Planetside 2: Lonesome Warrior

Every so many experience points nets you a new level, or Battle Rank, which confers on you unlocks, like new classes and vehicles, when you reach certain thresholds.

It is made clear from the start that Koltyr is the beginner’s pad, and that you will be forced to leave, once you reach Battle Rank 15. What was not obvious until I tried it, was that you can actually leave any time you like and come back again, should you so desire.

At first, I was worried about being stomped all over by veterans, if I moved on, but tempted by a new team I joined via the forums, made the jump to the continent of Amerish. The funny thing is, now that I have tried out the larger world, I can’t see myself going back, anyway.

I’ve also been on a fast learning curve with the local vernacular. A very large number of troops and armour support is called a “zerg”, while TR, NC and VS are shorthand for the three factions taking part (Terran Republic, New Conglomerate and Vanu Sovereignty, respectively).

Much conversation centres around the best gun, or accessory, to buy or upgrade with your “certs” – certifications which you get automatically, in exchange for experience points, which in turn are gained as you fulfil different objectives.

Planetside Graphics And Sound: Fair To Middling

Due to the sheer size of the game, graphics aren’t the most amazing thing about Planetside. They are certainly “good enough” and the 3 continents I have played in, have been varied in terrain and include a day/night cycle too. They’re not jaw dropping, by any means, but what truly makes this game worth playing is the scale – of the fighting, that is, not necessarily of the map.

Don’t forget to look up

Many players in the forums have complained of frame rate drops, poor draw distances and soldiers/vehicles suddenly popping in, right in front of them (some, to the extent that the game has then punished them for running over friendlies, by locking their weapons, for a short time).

I’ve managed to avoid almost all of that – so far – although I have seen some crashes, which threw me right out of the game and back to the PS4 menus. This necessitates a re-launch of the game, spawning, getting re-invited to my squad and finally re-spawning with them. To be fair, I saw a lot more bugs in the Beta, but it still feels like holding back the release date by a week or two, could have made a big difference.

The sound is nothing to write home about either. It’s generally functional, and the different guns are satisfying enough. Mission notifications pop-up with a chime, generic voices cry out “heavy assault spotted”, when you press the R1 spotting button, and there’s a nice electrical hum when a medic is healing you, or an engineer is repairing your vehicle.

The music can get a bit irritating after a while, but you can turn it down in the settings menus. In particular, the death music sounds almost, but not quite, like a child with a thumb on its nose going, “Na-Na, Na-Na-Na!” Whether you give up and go to bed, as a result, or use it as a reason to push back into battle, is up to you.

Planetside 2: On Death And Dying

And you will die – a lot.

Let me re-phrase that a bit: you will die on a regular basis, no matter what class or battle rank you are, and no matter how much (player or character) experience you have in the game.

Ok, you will slowly learn to find places and spaces, which will make your death less likely, or extend the time until the next one. You will eventually gain some upgrades which will improve your chances of surviving an encounter, but death comes to all players, at all times, from all angles and often in completely unexpected ways.

I suspect this is both a strength and a weakness for Planetside 2.

On the one hand, it could put off a lot of new players. It’s hard to tell friend from foe, until you’ve played a bit and worked out the spotting system. Many people on Koltyr will fall victim to friendly fire, as a result.

Another case in point, was when I spent a lot of my second and third sessions, running from point to point, only to be shot dead every time I got to where I was going. This was before I worked out the joy of vehicles and sticking with my team, but given the all but useless introduction to the game, many people might give up, before they get to see any of the goodness.

On the other hand, the easy deaths are great for both veterans and those who are committed to learning the game’s systems. As a relative beginner, I know I can polish off experienced players, almost as easily as they can finish me. I also know, that if I get into a squad which uses proper teamwork, then we can wipe the floor with the enemy – together.

PS2 On PS4: Free To Play

Some people might accuse a free-to-play game of being “pay-to-win” and one could be concerned to see that you can buy Planetside items with real money, if you don’t want to grind towards them with experience points. Specifically, you can pay for new weapons, weapon attachments and vehicle turrets. There’s clearly a lot of depth to the customisations too, so you may also worry about how much you’ll have to pay, to get what you want.

However, it seems to be generally recognised on the forums that most of the alternative options are in fact, “sidegrades”. In other words, they help you to build a character or vehicle that works for your play style, but don’t give you an overwhelming advantage, over anyone else. The only other things you can buy are cosmetic updates to characters and vehicles, which have no bearing on the actual gameplay. Conversely, if you want to upgrade an existing item or ability (such as adding more mines to your inventory, or allowing your jump jets to burn just a little bit longer), then you’ll have to play more to get it – move along, there’s nothing to buy here.

As far as I can tell, this means that despite all the customisation options, tactics will almost always win, over pure strength of numbers. For me, this is one of those increasingly rare games, where gameplay beats graphics and presentation, current bugs notwithstanding. Gaming isn’t supposed to be the same as watching a movie and that level of interactivity is why I have been a gamer, for over 35 years.

Night time base defence

Planetside 2: Squad Tactics

That is why I will keep playing Planetside 2 – and that is why I suspect most veterans stick with the game, too.

It’s pretty awesome the first time you take part in a “zerg”, with around 100 players all fighting together, but when you factor in the possibilities of combined arms strategy and tactics, it can take the game to a whole new level – one that I don’t think is possible with many other games, at this time.

When I get my hands on Batman Arkham Knight, I’m sure I will be distracted for a while, but I’ll definitely be returning to Planetside 2, when I get the opportunity.

I recently started to team up with a group calling itself the Terran Republic Commandos or TRC. They are currently made up of around 20+ players (Edit: 35+), about half of which are veterans from the PC version of Planetside, and they’re using a specific set of tactics to take over bases and fight behind enemy lines.

I can’t tell you what those tactics are, of course, or I would have to kill you (or they would kill me!), but from what I’ve seen so far, they are a pretty unstoppable force. I can’t wait to see what happens when Day Break Games finally sort out the platoon communications and we meet a similar opposing team, in the field…

Planetside 2 Ergonomics

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you will know that I’m in the process of updating things a bit. This includes a better focus on ergonomics and prevention of Repetitive Strain Injury.

Since video gaming can be a source of those injuries, I will include a section on it, in all future game reviews (and may go back and update existing ones).

In the context of console games and their controllers, I’ll be wanting to see that games avoid either:

  1. Very rapid and repeated tapping of a specific button
  2. Holding down a specific button or trigger for long periods of time

So how does Planetside 2 fare, with respect to ergonomics?
I am pleased to report that it does very well, for a shooter.

Most of the controls are fairly standard shooter/FPS type options, with L2 to aim and R2 to fire (sorry, but I still call them the triggers, in old school manner). This means that you may be spending some times where you are holding L2 and pumping R2 somewhat, but this will depend on what character class you choose and there will also be plenty of breaks, for reloading, studying the map, etc.

The fact that your weapons tend to have lots of recoil, means that you have to take your finger off the fire button, regularly, as well. Many weapons have a burst fire mode too, so you can avoid too much rapid tapping.

If you are an engineer or medic, then you may find yourself holding down the fire button a bit more often, when you are repairing or healing team mates, or their vehicles, but there are enough other things to do, to keep mixing up those button presses. 

The R1 spotting function is so useful to your team, that you will also be swapping to it regularly, which helps too. I have been able to play in sessions of a couple of hours, or so, with no feeling of tiredness or strain in my hands – much better than my experience with games like Call of Duty.

Life as a vehicle gunner

Recommendations

So do I recommend Planetside 2 on PS4 to you?
The answer is a semi-qualified “yes”:

  • If you get frustrated easily in games, or want to wait until they have fixed the squad/platoon communications, I wouldn’t blame you for giving it a miss.
  • On the other hand, if you are keen to get into a Sci-Fi setting, with truly massive battles (the like of which have never been seen before on consoles) and are willing to put in the time to learn the ropes – then go for it.

Lock and load …and I’ll see you on the battlefield!

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