I made a promise to myself when I was about to start this review: no battle reports. I wasn't going to write sexy, sensual descriptions of what PlanetSide 2's enormous, chaotic, 2,000-player sci-fi warfare is capable of. There was a very good reason for this, and it's probably not what you're thinking: I just wasn't sure I could do it justice. Over the past week I've been taken aback by the scale of this game. What it encourages players to enact, on the ground and in the skies, and how well it scales the battles is rather extraordinary. It's laying a late claim for my game of the year.
It is exhilarating. It is exhausting. This couldn't happen on any other system without being compromised. And that uncompromising attitude means there are still crashes. Although I've never had any real trouble other than server bugs, the reports of framerate drops and other bugs on message boards are pretty numerous. To its credit, Sony has acknowledged that there's stuff to be fixed, and most of the server shutdowns I've experienced has seen a flurry of activity afterwards to find the culprit.
No, this is free-to-play with a purpose: to feed a war with warm bodies. If the servers were empty because it wasn't fun to play for free, if the world didn't feel as alive, PlanetSide 2wouldn't be half as impressive. It needs stalwarts veterans and newb fodder alike to keep trying to push to capture that last hexagon on the map, to fill the giant structures you fight for, to appear below you as you fly from one corner of the map to the other, the lights of their tanks splashing out onto the road. And what better way to do that than to give everything to everyone? It's incredibly smart. Sony is aware that locking off levels or weapons or vehicles would create a tier system that's just not workable. One 64-square kilometer map might occasionally be taken over by one of the three factions, but there are two others there to fight for, and we're free to teleport between them at will. What good would that be as a game mechanic if only the people that paid could access them?
Free-to-play games are always evolving, and I hope that some of that evolution brings more features to help squads to coordinate. Right now the squad stuff is pretty basic, with no support for a squad leader to point to multiple objectives at once, or suggest what sort of soldier or hardware is required to take them other than doing it over voice chat. The original PlanetSide lets people draw on the map, which is both handy and hilarious. Given that PlanetSide 2 tosses you right into a squad the moment you land, this kind of coordination is obviously an important aspect. It needs some love.
The other choices are already made for me. I'm placed in a squad from the moment I enter the battle, I'm assigned as Light Assault class, and I'm tossed right into the middle of a huge battle. It's overwhelming, but I can kind of see SOE's point: this is a shooter, so everyone knows the thing in front of them makes the bad people run and hop and die. You can figure out the rest when you respawn. But if you need help, watch and learn.