Let's face it, we are in a rut. Since 2007 the market has been flooded with the modern military shooter all based loosely on the small scale, corridor ridden, infantry focused combat of Call of Duty 4. Military shooters today have 2, sometimes 3, basic elements: a really short, extremely high paced single player which plays more like a glorified on-rails shooter than a FPS where you're really in control, a multiplayer mode feature class based customization, ranks, and special abilities, and, form time to time, some sort of a co-op mode which puts you and a buddy against waves of mindless enemies. That pretty much sums up the Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Battlefield series and has rubbed off on games such as Crysis 2, Homefront, Killzone 3, and pretty much every other shooter since 2007 in one way or another.
The epitome of this brand of first person shooting is the ongoing battle of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 which has spammed up every gaming forum, youtube video, and Facebook feed of gamers since roughly the start of 2011. These two shooters exemplify everything that FPSs have become: the leader and the follower. Modern Warfare 3 leading the way with its derivative gameplay mechanics not unlike what we played in 2007 and Battlefield 3 giving the illusion that it offers whole new experience while carbon copying most of the same experiences of Modern Warfare 3 with a new coat of paint. Now Activison and EA are prepping yet another round of modern military shooters with Medal of Honor Warfighter, which looks to be to the FPS genre what Steven Seagal is to actions moves, and Call Of Duty Black Ops 2, which sets players in the not-so-distance future filled with the same bleak color palette and grim that every "futuristic sci-fi shooter" seems to be set in. Given the outrage of both the Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3community about the quality, lack of diversity and originality of the two games, it seems that gamers are finally getting sick of the same old and are looking to break the status quo. While EA and Activsion seem to milking the cash cow dry, Sony Online Entertainment is pushing forward and looking to what could be the next big thing with Planetside 2.
Now before I continue I must give credit where credit is due. Hi-Rez Studios have created the stunningly successful Tribes Ascend, a free-to-play FPS exclusive to the PC, which has radically different gameplay than any of the modern military shooters. Similarly is pushing the innovative front on the consoles with the free-to-play shooter DUST 514 on the Playstation 3. Both games break the mold set by the modern military by breaking down the standard conventions that people have come to expect while still providing a very
familiar basis of which is easy for players to pick up on. However, Tribes Ascend can be seen as bringing back classic Tribes gameplay and while DUST 514's interactivity with EVE Online persistent world are intriguing, the actual gameplay is not proven and previews look a bit bland, falling for those same modern conventions. Planetside 2 seems to be pushing a frontier without looking back.
At this point, most people have probably heard of Planetside 2. It's 2000 player persistent battlefields aren't something that is easily overlooked. Not to mention the game has some striking visuals with a very unique artstyle that turns heads. While the scale of Planetside 2 is the most obvious feature of Planetside 2, there are also several advancements with the way players interact with each other, progress their characters, and how players stay connected with Planetside 2. Even with these other noteable departures from modern standards, of which I'll cover in a bit, the scale of Planetside 2 brings with it a major and not-so-obvious departure from the norm.
The scale of Planetside 2 could only be achieved on the PC at this time, so Planetside 2 is a PC exclusive. For a shooter of this quality and budget, this is a pretty large departure from the norm. It would seem that every major shooter series this gen has migrated its way onto consoles and thus onto the limits that multiplatform and console development impose on the development team. Publishers unwilling to fund unique ideas because game development on multiple platforms is to high and the hardware of the platforms being to weak to support some of the more innovative ideas. With Planetside 2, we see SOE taking a major risk by pumping a lot of money into a PC exclusive shooter that focuses on the strengths of the platform. This joins a small trend I'm noticing of large publishers and developers starting to put a focus back on the PC market after console development has skyrocketed in cost. For example, Epic just announced the first Unreal 4.0, Fortnite, engine game will be exclusive on the PC. That's pretty surprising considering that all of Epic's games last gen were on the consoles.
It's not just size, scale, and graphical fidelity which set Planetside 2 apart, it is also how Planetside 2 handles keeping players engaged with the game, specifically with the various factions. Planetside 2 implements a much more modern unlock system with the revamped certification system which allows you to unlock more equipment, guns, and abilities to customize your role on the battlefield. However unlike modern shooters, each one of the factions has a lot of faction-specific weaponry that changes how each faction fights on the battlefield. The Vanu Sovereignty fights with alien tech and high tech plasma weaponry, the New Conglomerate fights with pure muscle, and the Terran Republic which fights with numbers and rapid fire weaponry. Also unlike other major shooters this gen, with Planetside 2 you level up your character only on one faction. This gives the player yet another level of loyalty with a faction that I have not seen any other game outside of the MMO world capture.
The last, and probably most important aspect of Planetside 2, is that it follows the free to play (F2P) model. While other shooters this gen launch at $60 with another $60 worth of DLC spread out over the next year until the next iteration in the series is launched at another $60, Planetside 2 is 100% free 100% of the time. A special emphasis by SOE has been placed on making the F2P model stay free to play and not pay to win. There are a lot of successful free to play games right now like Leauge of Legends, World of Tanks, and Tribes Ascend and Planetside 2 is poised to take a seat right next to them. Sure there an in-game shop where you can buy exp boosters to help you level quicker (but since you can only have 10 certifications unlocked at once, a player at level 10 can be equal to a player at max level depending on how they spend the cert points) or zebra skins to make your Vanguard tank a bit more flashy, but there is no element which gives a player the ability to buy a skill or weapon that gives them a distinct advantage on the battlefield.
With the game being a focused PC exclusive, having 2000 players in a single map, play and look like an AAA shooter, immerse and engage the player in unique ways, and is 100% free to play, Planetside 2 is the shooter we need to really break up the monotony of the typical modern military shooter that has dominated the market this generation. If a 100% free to play game can offer a completely unique, AAA shooting experience, Activision and EA may have to finally reevaluate their approach to their yearly shooters. That will be good for all gamers.