Postcards from Auraxis
The term revolutionary is a phrase overused in gaming, every other release in a publisher’s pipeline has a supposedly revolutionary aspect to it according to pre-release marketing spiel, over-enthusiastic journalists or even the back of most game boxes. The feeling of actually experiencing something that is or could be revolutionary in the gaming world is a rare thing, especially in today’s market which have us spoilt with genre blending titles to cater to everyone’s taste and maximise sales potential. Some may argue that this shift in the market is a bad thing, with current big publishers pushing titles which combine FPS’s with RPG’s and sheep shearing simulators and as a result are shying away from creating truly stunning innovations in their respective genres. The view that games today are becoming a jack of all trades type experience is a valid one and has probably been one main reason we are seeing such an rise of the free to play and indie scene, where even the most jaded gamer can find something fresh or a triple a experience for free.The rumbling revolution of free to play is something that is a rather juicy prospect in 2013 with a massive shift in the number of truly spectacular titles which you can experience for zero pounds, zero pence. PlanetSide 2 is one of those potentially revolutionary titles which have thrust free to play into the limelight it very much deserves by providing a range of services and pant wetting gaming delights that were a gamers dream ten years ago.The scale of the battlefield and base structures is enormous.So those of you who were familiar with the first PlanetSide will be well aware of the concept, a truly enormous sci-fi themed battlefield housing thousands of players in an ever shifting persistent gameplay arena. The aim of the PlanetSide 2 is to capture the available territory with your respective team and the ultimately gratification that goes with the owning the map. You play a member of one of three factions (The Terran Republic, New Conglomerate or Vanu Sovereignty) on planet Auraxis, locked into battle as a soldier, pilot, heavy demolitions specialist, sniper, tank captain or even a pint sized mech if that takes your fancy. All of which are playable on the fly in game allowing you to change your gameplay style with the time of day or what you are wearing. Using your team and vehicles you have to take enemy territory through the usual base capture converting the oppositions structures to your cause.The real attraction of PlanetSide 2 is the sense of scale and what that brings to the experience. The battlefields are enormous, we are talking Bethesda big and depending on how you are playing can allow some delicious experiences to emerge – within the first few hours I had experienced something I have not seen in any other title.After landing in the heart of my factions territory i proceed to suit up and hop on a small atv and proceed to the front line of battle where my comrades are on the offensive. I come in late to a rather large battle where my team had just captured an impressive base structure in the shape of a huge golf ball on stilts. I proceeded to help mop up a few remaining stragglers as the battle died down and everyone took a few minutes to regroup and resupply. After a few moments pause the team were off to conquer the next stronghold on the horizon, I jumped into a gunner turret on a tank enjoying the journey at first then, I witness the enormity of the force that I am part of and continue to gape at my PC screen. The multitude of vehicles moving in unison was fantastic to watch and reminiscent of some of the more epic cut scenes in war based games with what seemed like forty tanks, a dozen fighter jets, a hand full of APCs all moving in a loose formation. All the while being skirted by ATVs and and a handfull of troopers on foot, to believe that this was all in real time was a thrill backed by the realisation that the games we used to dream of are now a reality.Its a pint sized mech off!Upon cresting a hill with my team’s main armoured force we approached the enemy baseas night had fallen, with our target all lit up in its full sci-fi neon glory we were met head on with a similar opposing force of tanks and air power all spilling out of the enemy structure reminiscent of a giant metallic hornet’s nest. The thrill of the battle was immense in the first few minutes as wave of tank shells, bullets and rockets wash over both sides in a truly huge battle of hundreds of combatants. The structure of PlanetSide 2 is a marvel being the only major free to play game that can offer this absolutely epic kind of experience, others have come close in recent years such as the Battlefield franchise but nothing can claim to rival a rush like that.There is a down side which will touch most players, and that is the learning curve which may be a little prohibitive to the more casual player as the gameplay (especially on foot) can be tainted by many deaths in your first five hours of fun. The lack of any tangible in game help or tutorial section you will have a lot of fumbling around on the battlefield at first. In an age of mind numbing tutorials with every title these days, the lack of one here is a real shame but you will always have YouTube. Once you get your feet wet the gameplay does shine as you experience moments like the one described above.PlanetSide 2 does contain the usual XP based progression system gathering xp through kills, base captures, healing team mates and repairing vehicles allows you to upgrade your character and weapons thus giving you that edge in battle. As with all free to play games there are some monetary routes which you can exploit which will give you a rapid advantage, be that and accelerated XP boost, that much needed anti-aircraft weapon for your tank or that handy rocket pod for your aerial fighter. The plethora of options to upgrade your character is eye watering both in terms of overwhelming choice and burden on your wallet if you choose to spend your Christmas money, but it does serve its purpose if you have to have that rocket pod right now.The name of the game is mostly team based combat, so the lone wolves among you may find the PlanetSide 2 a little lacking in terms of reward as you do play a smaller cog in an even bigger machine and the sense of achievement on your own is quite diminished vs other smaller battlefields. This can be remedied by joining a squad allowing you to take part in smaller strike team, perhaps darting behind enemy lines to take a small unguarded base or retake a contested structure of your own far from the front lines of battle.Too victory! Sights like this are more common than not.The first squad experience was extremely fun, our squad leader had us capturing smaller outposts on the outskirts of enemy territory. A few successful base captures later and we soon caught the eye of another slightly more capable force belonging to the enemy and within minutes we were pinned down in the small outpost we had just captured. Surrounded by tanks and APCs the battle lasted roughly five minutes as our squad stood our ground and fended off our foes as best we could. The outcome didn’t look good and we were out of options but just as everything looked bleak and the enemy closed in to snuff us out the tanks and APCs began to drop like flies. A small group of our aerial fighters turned up making what looked like paired runs passing over the base, tank buster style, in turn saving our bacon and making mincemeat of our foes.To top off this very juicy proposition from SOE, PlanetSide 2 is a very pretty game combining the latest graphics options with audio that suites the sci-fi setting perfectly. The problem some less fortunate may face is the performance of the is very variable even when removing the top end graphical niceties. This can get in the way of some larger battles as the frame rate can drop significantly but hopefully with further refinement will iron out these issues.From some research online some ageing rigs may find the performance drops a little more prominent than newer hardware. (Testing Rig – Intel Q6600, 4GB Ram, Nvidia GTX 560)The excuse to not play PlanetSide 2 is non-existent if you own a decent PC. The progression and upgrades add to the experience giving you impetus to strive for the next upgrade or weapon and help the team storm their next stronghold in style. Just the chance to experience the huge real time battles and epic spectacle is worthy of admission alone and did we mention admission to the one of the crowning jewels in the Free to play revolution costs you nothing, nada, zilch?
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