Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Golden Age of Planetside 2

With MMOs in general, it tends not to be worth looking into them, even the somewhat worthwhile ones, unless you get in on the ground floor. You're either in it from the start and building up your character, or you may as well wait for the next one. Hey, sorry MMO developers, the truth hurts.Until you ditch the moronic illusion of infinite character advancement through level/loot accumulation, your games have expiration dates. Why would I buy into your years-old game world where everyone will be ridiculously richer and more powerful than me when I can just shop around for some brand-new identical copycat of your game system? Unless of course you manage to snatch the rights to the grand-daddy of all modern fantasy worlds, middle-earth, but that's another story.

This was not a problem for Planetside 1. Access to various vehicles and weapons in PS1 was determined by the number of certification points which the player had accumulated, one per character level, to level 20. Heavy infantry armor was something like 2-5 certs. A relatively weak, single-seater tank or aircraft was again about 3. More advanced vehicles or infantry equipment required a heavier investment along that line of certification, to let's say a dozen certs or so. With a moderate time investment in the game, a few hours a week, you'd soon enough get 10-15 certs to play around with, which meant you could specialize in something like heavy infantry assault or interceptor aircraft and have a little wiggle-room to also fly a plane or just get a decent rifle, respectively. And when you got bored, you could switch certifications, with a few days' cooldown between re-certing. It was a system which allowed those who did not play enough to reach max level to still try various things.
Aside from that, there were no big advantages to playing nonstop or bribing the company by feeding them more cash. Everyone got to use the same tank for five certs. Being level twenty did not make a difference, aside from more flexibility. You didn't shoot faster than a level ten, or get tougher armor.

Sony moved with the times however, and Planetside 2 re-defined 'certs' as basically just experience in its standard meaning in level-grinding games. Killing a couple of people or being present while your faction captures a minor base gets you a cert point, and certs accumulate endlessly. Weapons, vehicles, infantry class functions are all improved through certs, tens of thousands of them overall, (non-refundable of course) an endless level-grind. What's more, Sony ensured their customers' right to cheat. Though improvements to various weapons can only be ground-out with certs, the initial weapon purchase can be made in the game's handy-dandy real-money-shop. Not only that, but players can raise their experience/cert gain rate... you guessed it, by paying real money for it.

Never mind the actual numbers involved. You can argue endlessly about when exactly it becomes pointless to set foot in the game because some schmuck who paid his way to success can just trample you, but it should be clear that that time is coming. I haven't kept strict track but between the starter package from the game's launch, a few monthly fees and a straight-up purchase of amusement-park money, I've probably paid a neat hundred dollars into PS2. If you were just starting out, then I've probably got a steadier rifle than you do and 20% more hit points. I have air-to-air seeker missiles for my interceptor and have its jets upgraded to turn on a dime while you just have a piddlin' little machine gun. Good luck, red baron. Even if you shoot me down, hey, guess what, I can immediately respawn as an anti-aicraft tank with reinforced armor. Destroy than and I can switch to half a dozen other roles, all beefed up through legitimized cheating, through bribing the referee so I can have an advantage over you.And we're not even through the first year. And I'm not even one of the die-hard, eight-hours-a-day players.

Now, there is a reason why I deign to play PS2 despite this, why it is worth the money for even moderate FPS fans. Though many of the interesting features from PS1 were removed, as I previously mentioned, it still provides some of that hellish mix of dozens to hundreds of players stretching as far as the eye can see, goin' at it. You still get to charge up a hill among the pounding of artillery shells and dodge behind cover through a hail of gunfire to take an enemy base as part of a larger conflict, and it's all PvP. And this is getting to be the point where PS2 is worth playing: it is reaching maturity as a project but has not yet been wholly invalidated by its real-money-trading scheme. It's not very well balanced, but it's far from the godawful "my pistol can destroy planes" or "my bomber has more armor than an entire base" mess it was for the first few months. The constant base capturing nonsense I complained about before has not really been addressed but it's mitigated by events which happen several times during a day which focus players on specific objectives, forcing some actual fights. Now we just have to wait for the legitimized cheating advantage to accumulate.

This is it. This is the sweet spot. If you're ever going to play PS2, do it now. From here to the new year or if Sony drags their feet on throwing more paid level-grinding advantages into the mix maybe this time next year, this is the game's golden age, such as it is. And don't get suckered into investing much money into it thinking it'll be worth playing three years from now.

Camelot is being unchained as we speak.

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