In 2003 one of the largest MMO publishers in the world released a shockingly unique entry in the genre: PlanetSide, the first major MMOFPS. The game gained quick cult popularity, and had an incredibly devoted community due to its unique, team-focused gameplay and massive 399 player battles which could literally last days. The idea of playing a shooter that was really part of a much larger, more meaningful war is the big dream of many FPS fanatics. Amazingly, PlanetSide 2 is raising the bar yet again, and the scale of the game is nothing short of astonishing. Sony Online Entertainment showed us their impressive new game in a length GDC demonstration.
As you'd expect, Planetside 2 is all about massive scale battles with hundreds of people. Three factions battle for control of a massive many-kilometer map on foot or in land and air vehicles. The map is gridded, with each individual section representing a capturable point that provides resources or other benefits to boost your war effort. The map is persistent and seamless, but there are plenty of key structures to capture, and as you capture areas you get capture bonuses in adjacent territories, forcing your faction to play strategically.
Speaking of the factions, each of them has a unique identity. Like the first game, PlanetSide 2 is populated by the militaristic Terran Republic, the ragtag New Conglomerate, and the advanced Vanu Sovereign. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, the VS use beam weapons and thus avoid the need for clips, but they also will diminish in power as distance increases. Each team has a distinct style to their vehicles as well. Hopefully these differences will be well-balanced in the final game, and there's certainly promise in the variety they'll offer for players.
In-practice, we weren't able to see the massive sorts of battles that will be the main draw of the final release in this early build, but we did get to see a small glimpse of the scale and variety the final game will offer in a few battles with dozens of players in them. Even with the demo's reduced number, air vehicles would engage in dogfights and fire down on tanks, explosions and tank fire would create chaos, and ground troops would shoot it out. In more open areas vehicles are king, where their superior firepower can really shine, but not all of the map is designed for that. In canyons where the maneuverability of infantry boosts capability vehicles will be at a disadvantage, and when capturing a base you'll have no choice but to battle on foot. It's not hard to see the potential for glorious organized chaos when many hundreds are online. This effect is further helped along by pretty great graphics. Planetside 2 isn't the most graphically advanced game ever, but even in this alpha build it's pretty, and combined with the scale and a dynamic day and night cycle there's no denying it's impressive.
Of course, PlanetSide 2 isn't purely an FPS. There are plenty of MMO features to promote that addictive sense of progression. There are multiple classes including Combat Medic, Engineer, and Light Assault troops. Each has their own advantages and abilities, and the developers were quick to point out that you in no way have to play the game as a shooter; you can provide purely support roles and be effective if you wish. There's also a large degree of customization for individual characters and vehicles, including a variety of loadouts and specializations. For example, a squad leader can spec to allow people to respawn on him, and an aircraft can be specced to specialize in attacking ground vehicles.
The advantages and disadvantages of the individual classes and vehicles really stand out when invading an enemy fortress, which the developers showed us at the end of the demonstration. These bases are themselves the size of large FPS maps, and feature similar designs to those maps with both indoor and outdoor areas and corridor and open fights. The developer's character had a jetpack which allowed him to get up on top of some of the terrain and shoot down on his enemies. Other characters could heal and squad leaders could be used to respawn in the heat of combat. When they managed to push into the final objective they were able to cross into an indoor area, where the base was catpured. Normally they would have had to hack a door to get in as well (assumedly the job of an Engineer).
That concluded the impressive demo. As someone who's starting to get a bit tired of the same "arena FPS" games with 10-50 people and gameplay that barely feels different at all, I'm incredibly excited about the potential of PlanetSide 2. We'll be able to give more thorough impressions when we can see the game running with the hundreds of players it's designed for, but it's hard to not be excited for the potential. Any FPS fans and co-op game fans in general should keep an eye on the future of this one.