I’m one of those gamers who looks at a list of purchasable and playable games, trying to filter out the free-to-play ones from the pay-to-play. I just don’t like the idea of money pouring out of my pockets as I play games, especially when the slow periods or moments of tedium kick in. I like to invest, and reap the rewards. Call me old fashioned, but that’s just how I am. I can cope with a monthly fee, and I can cope with a £35 price tag, but what I can’t cope with is 10 necessary purchases thrown in front of my face just as I’m starting to get anywhere. In short, free-to-play just isn’t for me; the odd thing is, Planetside 2 most certainly is.

Planetside 2 is solid, squad based first person shooter action set on a massive scale. There’s no point trying to convince you by comparing it to Arma II (comparing it to Battlefield 3 is a joke), since, I mean, with fast vehicles, jets, and other means of getting around, comparisons are all about pacing. What I can say is that fans of truly huge combat experiences on the PC will feel right at home here, and whilst not overwhelmed with the scale, completely blown away by the deceptively complex honeycomb of strategy, and the number of people playing.

Your life means nothing.

The fact that Planetside 2 is a massively multiplayer online game means more than just ‘more people on the screen at once.’ Your life is completely and utterly inconsequential in game. On your own, you are meaningless. Without a role, you are useless. Without setting yourself a task, you are aimless. On the flip-side, this makes the game an ultimately more rewarding experience. Since battle is consistent across the three main continents, IndarEsamir, and Amerish, you can get into a troop transport and consider yourself a taxi for a few hours, or stick to small fighters and take out stray enemies flying around your territories.

There are of course the standard roles of light soldier (with a jetpack), heavy assault, engineer and medic, and they all come with there easily inferred responsibilities, but the depth and scale of combat means that, as an infantry soldier, you’re still a tiny, meaningless little sprout in a field of cabbage – unless you want to get into it properly. And this is where Planetside 2 shines.

Bases and out-posts are vast, like maps in and of themselves.

You don’t need to be a part of a guild or gaming community in Planetside 2 to get the most out of the experience – although arguably you need to be social – because joining a squad is more than a mere afterthought. Squads of PUG’s are mature, organized, and friendly, and joining a squad where everyone is banding together, following the squad leaders way-points makes this FPS shine. If you’re in a squad of 4 or 5, you can go around the out-skirts of the map, taking smaller command points and areas moving as a quick, efficient single entity. Reprise your roles as medic, engineer and assault and help out your immediate friends. Want something more? Join a squad of 15 or more players, and defend a huge warp-station or invade the enemies’ along with other squads of equal size.

In Planetside 2 banding together to work as a team is key to both the enjoyment of the game, and the fulfillment of your actual role, and the role you give yourself. Everyone is in the same boat, which naturally pushes players together, creating an enjoyable and amicable gaming experience like no other. There’s simply nothing like it.

Only 11 vehicles, but each has their own all important role. 

At this stage, you’re probably thinking “well how much do I need to fork out for all these features so far?” In all honesty? Nothing. Auraxium is the currency with which you purchase all of the vehicles and weapons, and this resource is gained through capturing resource rich paints across the whole map. As your team captures more points, the more Auraxium you have access to. Ever class and vehicle is purchasable from day one, at level one. In fact, as soon as you start the game you can run to your nearest vehicle spawn point and get in whatever you want – no charge.

There are troop transports which house up to 15 players; 3 player gunships, one man ships; one man tanks, two man tanks; there are ATV’s and Sunderer’s, which act as a land transport and spawn point, and each of these are purchasable from the moment you start up the game.

Factions

Whilst the game has a rich lore from the original Planetside, the sequel doesn’t really make much of an effort (if any) at explaining what each faction is, or why they’re fighting. In fact, Planetside 2 features a “re-imagining” of the original Planetside universe. There are some short introductions and a little bio, but there’s no real meat or exposition. I know that literature outside of the game does more to explain this, but it’s likely you’ll be picking faction based primarily on whatever your friends are using, or from something even as trivial as the intro music. There are important differences and styles between the factions, though, and you can go here for an in depth introduction to the lore.

The difference between the factions are too subtle and mathematical to approach here fully, but each faction changes variable accuracy of the vehicles, to the armour strength, speed, etc,. As you can imagine, where one single man fighter is faster than another, it may be more accurate, but less powerful, and so on. For example, the Terran Republic have vehicles which excel at speed and maneuverability, whilst New Conglomerate focus much more on solid, powerful shots, albeit with slow reload times.

The differences in their vehicles are also shared by their infantry, with different fire rates, reload times and other variables you’ll be happy to see in a shooter of this depth and scale. Of course, however, this is a review, and my experience thus-far tells me that although on paper there are differences between the factions, there aren’t huge leaps when you actually play them. My two mains caracters are Terren and New Conglomerate, and the differences between infantry classes and their weaponry seem minute. Each faction has a very similar armory, and the only notable differences from the get go are the vehicle styles. I’m sure the differences will feel much more defined in a few months, though, so I do advise some research.

Cat and mouse.

Each continent is split between the three powers, annotated with use of the factions respective colour. Capturing more of the map will establish more resources for your faction, and each of the continents can enable certain boosts. For example, capturing Indar for your faction will enable a reduction of cost for items purchased with Infantry resources. Sections of the map are also of strategic importance, with spawn points spread across the continent. With that, there’s also a spread of vehicle spawn locations, with ground and air units being purchased from separate consoles.

Capturing points is as simple as sitting on the A, B, or C locations in that area with as many people as possible. There is a maximum number of players that can camp a spawn point, depending on the size of the area, but the more people camping it, the faster you take it. Some areas are protected by energy barriers which require the destruction of generators to power them. Taking them down will allow huge swaths of land units and tanks to enter the base, and capture them for your faction.

Gameplay is as varied as you want it to be, and when it gets down to it, Planetside 2 feels more like a huge first person shooter than it does an MMO. There’s startlingly no lag at all, from what I’ve seen, and hit detecting is absolutely fantastic. The visuals, too, are bright and beautiful with some great lighting effects and a day and night cycle – although I’m not sure if the day and night is arbitrated by your location on the map so much as time(?)

LoL style shopping makes things firm but fair

Planetside 2 is free to play not because it wants to milk you for cash, but because it wants to exist. This game couldn’t exist as a $60 one off payment, and it also couldn’t exist for very long with a subscription as mandatory. Because of this, Planetside 2 has been built with a consumer friendly ethos previously only seen in games like League of Legends. As if pay to win wasn’t problem enough in most F2P games, there’s the matter of experience taking so long that you’re often forced to purchase whatever it is you need, anyway. The thing is, Planetside 2 doesn’t have any gimmicky weapon sights, armours, or anything that’d give you the upper hand at all. Anything you want or need in game is purchasable with an in-game currency that is earned through playing and leveling up, and anything else can be bought with SC, the real money currency. So let’s take a look at that.

To be completely honest, SC is a fairly expensive currency. Buying 1000 SC in order to purchase a single gun will cost you £8, and of course after that you’ll be left with a useless sum of 300 SC which I’m sure is designed to “inspire” you to buy more. This isn’t necessarily a problem, though, because this game hasn’t been designed to make you feel the effect of the following secret to free-to-play:

“Oh man, I keep dying – why don’t I have all this stuff they have? I just need a little boost”

That’s just not what this game is about. You don’t need anything else, and changes in weapons for both infantry and vehicles are 100% unlock-able with the free in-game currency. Just to put that into perspective: it’s the same as either levelling up Battlefield 3 naturally, or buying the upgrade pack. The difference is you never had to pay $60 up front, and no $60 for Premium. 

That said, if you want to look cool and differentiate yourself from the crowd, there’s a whole load of cosmetic armour additions and skins, including helmets and other fancy features you can purchase yourself, similar to the way in which Guild Wars 2 works. These can get a little pricey, though, with most things costing between 500 and 1000 SC. The most important thing for me to point out here, though, is that the game doesn’t pressure you to purchase anything, and in no way does the gameplay feel as though it’s been designed to force you to expedite upgrading. Planetside 2 is, in my opinion, the first FPS F2P that hasn’t compromised gameplay for the sake of a quick buck for the developer and publisher.

There is a subscription, though, and this will get you an initial 25% XP boost for the first month, increasing by 5% each month. It will also get you priority log-in (which is very useful during the evenings). I subscribed to Planetside 2 because I felt bad for playing it for free. What sorcery is this?!

You pretty planet, you.

I’m not going to lie and say that Planetside 2 is bug-free. It isn’t, but I’ve not personally experienced any of the serious bugs that other people have talked about, such as having been forcibly logged off after your ship explodes (what they hell is that all about?) In all, it’s smooth, with great hit detection, and although there’s potentially thousands of people logged on your server at once, it plays remarkably well. There have been some first person shooters that play a whole lot worse online post launch (I’m looking at your Far Cry 3.) To say thanks for bearing with the bugs, there’s even a double XP this weekend, which stacks for premium subscribers.

Planetside 2 is by no means “the thinking mans shooter” that Arma II is. It’s not a particularly in depth shooter, either. It’s not even that tactical. That’s not what it’s about. The scale of battle and the fact that every tile on the map, or every building or defensive or strategic position feels like a map on it’s own is what makes this game great. You can spend an entire day in an area of low activity with a few mates, hanging out, chatting, “defending”, or you can get right into the thick of it and defend one of the mammoth stations as the enemy overwhelm you and push you back. Get bored? Change continent, class, role. Join a squad, or an ‘outfit’ (guild). There’s always something to do, and when you play Planetside 2, the tedium of major FPS’ round-changes, small player count, and repetitive map rotations will leave you thinking… “well, where the hell has this been all my life?” There’s nothing else like it – that’s a fact. Whether its your thing or not is entirely up to you. As for me, Planetside 2 has won me over, and although it hasn’t asked me to, I’ve been throwing money at it like a kid playing Time Crisis for the first time.

EA, you need to learn what F2P is from Sony Online Entertainment.