I finally managed to download and play Planetside 2 – the free to play, first person shooter from Sony. there was some weird Windows 8 bug which required me to replace a .dll file manually or Direct X 10 was trying to install itself forever. Its nice and comforting to know that underneath that gorgeous and sleek Windows surface lurks the kludgy mechanics of DOS.
So, Planetside 2. I used to play FPS games quite a bit – starting with Doom, Duke Nukem, Unreal and then later bought pretty much all the Half-Life clones including Counter Strike. I enjoyed the instant-on action and the very fast spawn mechanics means that there is no penalty for getting killed by a chocolate-cookie laced 12 year old. My problem with the genre was (and is, see below) the utter pointlessness of it all and the lack of “open world”. You spawn into some confined arena with static obstacles and hideouts. In addition, I never played in a real team but got steamrolled many times by squads who dominated everyone by just collaborating. But it was fun, in a mindless way and so I thought I might get back into it when DUST 514 comes out. It promises the depth of gaming experience of EVE with the fast and furious “instant-on” combat of – say – Counter Strike. And since I don’t have a Playstation I installed Planetside-2 as a substitute.
So, first impressions of Planetside-2. The log-in and character creation system is straight from the 80. You can select from 3 races – I didn’t bother reading up since I assume they are all well-balanced. Then you select from one of three faces – which don’t matter since you’d be wearing a helmet.
The mapping and warping system is pretty neat and can get you into combat reasonably quickly, the usual keys work and I maneuvered around like in every shooter since the invention of the keyboard. Apparently, I can buy things with credits and experience points but for now, its standard loadout as a combat medic. Why did I choose combat medic? Best way to hang back, understand the game, get experience and soak up the game. All I have to do is to follow the bulk of my faction and there will always someone needing healing or reviving. And nobody minds if I stay out of sight as long as I can.
So far, its like Team Fortress or something but the landscape is astounding. It is of course some random planet kind of environment and all these games look like their designers steal from each other. Its basically a Utah-style desert (presumably the easiest to render) with some enormous and confusingly complex buildings. The landscape is so big that walking from your spawn point to where the action is can take several minutes. I guess I am supposed to take some vehicle. But I am too cheap to burn off my very few CERT points and I wont fork real $ over for a long time. So, I hitch rides with people or just hoof it, admiring the scenery as I walk along. Combat is pretty straight forward, someone engages me, I die. I see someone, I shoot, I miss. Thats what I expected for the first hour – no big deal. And every time I die, a screen comes up displaying who killed me with what – but all these weapon names melt into some slog. The idea is of course to tell me that I was killed by “Rifle of Superior Doom- XLS” in order to make me want to buy one. Sure. I’d do the same if I was the marketing dude there, so no problem. DUST will be far worse there since customization is the key to differentiation in EVE and hence in DUST. Question is – would typical FPS player care enough to buy Plex, learn the entire EVE system of tanking, resistances, weapons etc?
After about 1 hour or so running around, I have the hang of it and am starting to be useful to the guys around me. I even kills a few people with my noob gun – likely they were afk or lagged out. I man turrets, take down an aircraft and tanks as gunner (cant drive these things yet – presumably once I swap $ for CERT I could?) and I am “getting it”. “It” being the fundamental system of running around and shooting others in the face. The game has some very complex resource system based on the territory held. But what do I care (I think I am fairly typical of casual FPS players) – in this semi-persistent world I may get some complicated bonus for holding my ground but I just want 20min worth of action. It is possible that I am wrong about it, but the majority of players don’t seem to care at all about the benefits of holding ground. They load up, go out and shoot something in the face. In EVE terms it would be like asking RvB to hold sovereignty or grind structures. Ain’t gonna happen.
On the other hand, I played Planetside for maybe 2 hours total – and am nearly done with the game. Why? Its just going to get repetitive. Sure, I will get better at it, will get better weapons etc but nothing really will make a difference. Thats exactly why I like EVE. The butterfly effect is really there and the reason why I put up with crappy codes like POS mechanic.
But many people like FPS games and maybe I just grew out of it. So thats where DUST wants to play. It wants to be a strategic FPS game where my actions on the planet reverberate across the universe. A bit ambitious, maybe, but one could have said the same thing about the spaceship fights. Remember “Descent“? If someone had taken that game and said that spaceships could make a deep strategy game, I would have laughed… (I never played EVE’s direct ancestor “Elite” so I cant comment how deep that game went).
So, while this may work for CCP (and I do hope it does – if not, I am seeing real issues for EVE online. CCP’s investors seem to have banked the entire future of the company on the synergy between shooters and spaceships), for me personally, I don’t think the two worlds connect. I like FPS for the quick fix, adrenaline rush and I like EVE for the never ending learning curve. But I play them quite distinct from each other and I would see DUST as a competition to Planetside-2, not as an add-on to EVE. For the goons, this may be more interesting. They have an army of trolls who need to be entertained. Using these as planet-bound canon fodder could be of strategic advantage – but only if they dont already have all the resources. This means, what DUST 514 adds to EVE has to matter. I am very curious how CCP will pull that off.