I hated the first few days I spent with PlanetSide 2. I kept getting lost, and I barely lived long enough to figure out what was going on. But all that changed after sticking with it for two weeks.
The free-to-play massively multiplayer online shooter pits thousands of soldiers against each other on the alien world of Auraxis. Instead of fighting on small self-contained maps, players move through four huge continents with dozens of battles happening at any given time. You can make a character based on one of three factions: the Vanu Sovereignty, the Terran Republic, or the New Conglomerate. PC players have been waging war in PlanetSide 2 since 2012, but developer Daybreak Game Company (formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment) recently released the PlayStation 4 version (which I played) on June 23.
After choosing to side with the Vanu because of their cool futuristic football uniforms, I dove headfirst into PlanetSide 2’s complex battles. As I soon found out, the beginning is the hardest part. But if you’re patient (and a little bit of a masochist), you’ll find a unique and rewarding shooter that’s unlike anything else on PS4.
What you’ll like
Auraxis feels like a real world
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Auraxis isn’t a playlist that rotates different battlegrounds over and over. Each continent is so massive that it’s often better to find a new spawn point using the world map than to travel on foot to the next objective. Though they’re devoid of life other than the warring factions, they feel like they’re all part of a real planet. Hossin’s gloomy swamplands look like they came from Dagobah; Indar is home to expansive canyons and valleys that are tricky to drive through; Amerish has the most vegetation; and Esamir is a flat tundra of ice and snow.
Their geographical features aren’t just eye-candy, either: They determine what kind of strategies you can use to capture the various bases and facilities. For example, some of the buildings you need to take control of sit high atop mountain ranges, so tanks and other assault vehicles can only reach them by snaking their way up using the roads. It’s something you’ll just have to memorize from playing. Since most of the bigger battles tend to happen toward the center of the continent, I still haven’t seen everything in the game.
Everyone has a role to play
Lone wolves don’t survive in PlanetSide 2. You have to work together as a team if you hope to accomplish anything, and a team’s chance of success starts with the different classes. Combat medics can revive players and help keep their health bars full. Engineers can supply ammo packs and repair vehicles, turrets, and MAX units (a heavily armored class with huge guns). Light Assault soldiers can reach high places thanks to their jetpacks. And Infiltrators can use their invisibility cloak to sneak up on enemies or hack computer terminals so their allies can use them to change classes and use vehicles.
Throughout the two weeks I played, it looked like the PS4 community was slowly getting better at working as a team. Now I see more medics traveling with squads than I did just a week ago. Dogfights with skilled pilots are a more common occurrence. And most impressive of all is the way most players follow the helpful message alerts that appear on screen. After capturing a base, people move en masse to wherever the next mission is. They travel on foot, in tanks and transport vehicles, and in fighter ships flying through the skies. It’s a cool sight that conveys the scale of the game.
If you want to be part of a better coordinated killing machine, you can turn on your mic and join an outfit (PlanetSide 2’s version of clans). But if you’re like me and would rather not take it too seriously, you can still have that feeling just by playing with strangers.
Microtransactions never get in the way
You can spend real cash to purchase cosmetic armor pieces, new guns, or money and experience boosts. But I never felt the need to buy anything. The most important in-game currency is Certification Points, which unlocks better equipment for your character. You can only earn that by playing.
It’s a radically different FPS for consoles
Aside from its huge scale, PlanetSide 2 has other qualities that separate it from console shooters. Friendly fire is a harsh but permanent feature. It has a day and night cycle that makes enemies tough to see in the darkness without using flashlights or special scopes for your guns. Some areas can’t be captured until your team takes control of the smaller facilities around it. Battles take so long to finish that you might log out before seeing them to the end. If you’re used to short multiplayer matches like I am, it’s challenging to learn and become comfortable with these rules.
As punishing as PlanetSide 2 is, it can turn into an immensely rewarding experience if you have enough patience. I can’t think of another shooter that has that same sense of accomplishment that I feel after working together with 100 players to take over an enemy base.
What you won’t like
Those first few hours aren’t fun
Most of my frustration with PlanetSide 2’s beginning come from its weak tutorial section. After choosing one of the factions, the game drops you into a small continent called Koltyr, a training area for new players. While you can warp to other parts of the world at any time, you can only play in Koltyr up until your character reaches level 15. It doesn’t have as many players as the other four continents, but it will get you up to speed with basics like the strengths of each class and vehicle.
After that, you’re on your own. That’s when you realize Koltyr does a poor job of teaching you the actual flow of battle, which involves destroying a series of enemy defenses before capturing the objectives.
For instance, a tutorial message told me to overload a shield generator, but it didn’t tell me why I needed to do this or where I’d even find one. I spent hours fighting battles on Koltyr and not once did I come across these generators. It wasn’t until I left Koltyr out of boredom and joined the rest of the player population that I eventually found it (it’s only inside certain types of bases). Koltyr inexplicably leaves out a lot of crucial information. I turned to YouTube videos to fill in those gaps, and it was only then that I began to understand and enjoy the game a lot more.
It doesn’t run that well
Given how merciless the gameplay is, you’d think that everything would feel snappy and responsive. While the shooting, flying, and driving mechanics are fine, other things could use some work. Summoning vehicles at a computer terminal is unpredictable: Sometimes, I’m driving right away, other times I’m stuck on the selection screen while PlanetSide 2 catches up with my button presses. Bringing up the map (which I use a lot to see how many enemies and allies are in my area or to respawn somewhere else) is always a pain because it takes way too long to load. The long load times when warping to a different part of the same continent are more understandable, but that time just adds up and kills any momentum you might’ve had.
You might hit a few bugs, too, like when I fell through the world while trying to spawn on a vehicle. PlanetSide 2 also crashed to the PS4’s main menu several times.
When trigger-happy teammates kill you
Fratricide is an unavoidable part of life in PlanetSide 2. It’s one of the hardest things to get used to — if you’re a Vanu soldier who died at the end of ActionBrosnan’s barrel, I’m sorry! But I’ve become better at recognizing friend and foe, which makes it frustrating when my team kills me, especially if I’m doing pretty good during that battle. I’m often shot by teammates when I’m just running over to heal them with my medic. One incident that still hurts was when I was kicking butt as a MAX and died only because a Vanu tank ran me over.
This is why the spotting feature — the R1 button on the PS4 controller — is so helpful (and another thing the tutorial fails to mention). Spotting tells you if a player is friendly or not. Please use it!
For better or worse, Daybreak didn’t design PlanetSide 2 for instant gratification. I’ve had hours of playtime where enemy forces were so overwhelming that I barely got anything done. But I’ve also had hours that were full of tense battles filled with explosions, multicolored lasers, and missiles. When you play at night, it looks like a chaotic fireworks show.
But getting to that point is tough. The learning curve is steep as it is without the sluggish performance and barebones tutorial that drag you down. If I wasn’t reviewing PlanetSide 2, I’m not sure if I would’ve continued past Koltyr and saw just how good the game can be. Your enjoyment will depend on how much time you’re willing to spend with it.
PlanetSide 2 came out on PlayStation 4 on June 23. It’s also available on PC.
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