It's been eight years since Sony Online Entertainment first shipped its massively multiplayer online first person shooter PlanetSide. It was a game ahead of the curve in terms of its scale, and has yet to truly been rivaled in the market.
With PlanetSide 2, SOE hopes to make the same impact it had with the original back when it first launched in 2003.
"We're hoping to basically blow the roof off the MMOFPS genre," says creative director Matt Higby.
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SOE's first step towards bringing PlaneSide to a new generation is a fresh coat of paint and an all-new engine, Forgelight, which it designed in-house with the MMOFPS in mind. Years in planning and design, Higby explains that it has only been recently that the team feels that technology has caught up to the PlanetSide 2 experience it has been imagining.
The reveal trailer for PlanetSide 2 effortlessly demonstrates that from a surface visual standpoint, SOE appears to be meeting its goal. Higby calls Forgelight "revolutionary," and seems genuinely wowed at the type of visuals they're able to push within the MMO space.
"I mean, we're talking 2011, triple-A FPS graphics quality," he says, "[but] in an MMORPG."
As for the gameplay itself, if you're familiar with PlanetSide, you're going to feel right at home with the sequel. The pace is quicker, bringing it up to speed with more modern shooters, but the core gameplay -- thousands of players combating each other in real time on enormous maps -- remains decidedly unchanged. The new systems the team has added are a direct result of lessons learned from running the PlanetSide service over the years, as well as player feedback.
New the PlanetSide 2 will be battles for both territories and control of resources found within them.
"[This] allows players to basically fight over more than just facilities," Higby explains, "it turns every square inch of the game's terrain into contestable, valuable real estate."
Because of this, battles are always moving, you're not repeatedly fighting in the same spaces. What was yesterday's secured territory could be today's battle zone hot spot. Because of this living, evolving battleground, every map in the game has been handcrafted to that "every square inch" can support PlanetSide 2's gameplay.
This new territory control system gives players a new motivation in fighting for and securing valuable resources which can be used for upgrading weapons, skills, vehicles, and more.
"The way that empires are able to control resources and control territory is really going to dictate how successful they can be in the game," Higby explains.
PlanetSide 2 will also feature a skill certification tree, one that uses an offline time-based growth method that Higby likens to the one used in EVE Online. Even still, these skills will be locked to a "battle rank" which a player can only progress through gameplay. But within that ranking, Higby says there's a massive amount of player customization.
"The skill tree is extensive, to say the least," he says. The game's 15-plus vehicles will have their own skill tree; over 20 weapons can be customized and re-purposed based on a player's preferences.
That extensive customization, Higby says, starts with choosing your faction from the jump. All three empires -- the Terran Republic, the New Conglomerate, and the Vanu Sovereignty -- will all be making a return. The differences between the three factions will be evident, with your choice having a dramatic impact on how you'll play the game.
"Not only will the tools that they use to accomplish goals be different," Higby says of the factions, "but the techniques and the strategies and the tactics that they use and employ will be different, as well."
The final piece of the customization puzzle will be PlanetSide 2's new class system, with different roles unlocking depending on how you progress through your skill trees. Once unlocked, players will be able to switch seamlessly between them, based on how they want to (or need to) play at any given time. If you're a support-style player, you'll lean towards a medic or an engineer. Want to get dirty and in on the action? You'll lean towards a heavy assault class or the game's Mechanized Assault Exo-suits (or MAX, for short).
"All that customization is really about letting players create a soldier that fits their play style and can still feel useful and part of the battle," Higby says. "That's really a super important tenet to our game."
PlantSide 2 will also feature missions that drive the action. While many missions will be generated from within SOE, veteran players will have the opportunity to drive original mission content to the world, as well.
"Doing missions and playing through the mission system is going to be a way that, on our end, we help to balance the population and ensure that everybody's gameplay experience is really fun," Higby tells us. "But it's also a way that players all be able to coordinate large groups, coordinate large battles. If they have a critical defense that needs to be done, they'll be able to create a mission that players will be able to be routed there easily."
Interestingly, you'd think the "2" in PlanetSide 2 would indicated a direct sequel, but Higby explains it differently.
"PlanetSide 2 is kind of a revisiting of the original PlanetSide," he says. "So yes, it's in the same setting; it's on Auraxis, it's fighting over continents, and we have lots of diverse landscapes. [But] a lot of the [story] events are going to be sort of re-imagined."
That's truly what this sequel seems to be shaping up as: the PlanetSide players have come to know and love, re-imagined for modern gamers. While SOE is keeping many of the fine details of the game close to its chest, the overarching theme with PlanetSide 2 certainly seems to be give players more of what they want.
"PlanetSide has an enduring and dedicated fan base," Higby points out. "People are really nostalgic about PlanetSide, and they want to have that experience again."
There are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the MMOFPS, chief of which is pricing structure. At this time, SOE isn't ready to says whether PlanetSide 2 will follow a traditional MMO monthly fee model or got he increasingly popular free-to-play route.
SOE's also not ready to talk about specific release timing details, and Higby says it's "a bit premature to speculate" about beta timing. Back in December of last year, SOE president John Smedley did hint that current PlanetSide subscribers would be the first in line.