The first time you log into PlanetSide 2, and are dropped from orbit right into the middle of a bullet-and-bomb-filled warzone with hundreds of players fighting for every square meter of land, you can easily pick up on just how expansive PlanetSide 2‘s idea of large-scale warfare can be. Battles will vary from brutally short to long and drawn out, and aside from a few setbacks, it’s an impressive action experience.

PlanetSide 2 sends players to the distant planet of Auraxis, where three factions; the Terran Republic, the Vanu Sovereignty and the New Conglomerate, wage an all-out war for the planet’s resources. You’ll start off creating your character and choosing your allegiance to one of these factions, and although they possess all the same basic classes and vehicles, they each have their own distinctive visual style and weapons along with a few unique entries into their vehicle pool, such as the Vanu’s Magrider hover tank and the TR’s lightning-fast Mosquito airship.

If you’ve played an FPS like Battlefield 3, the combat in PlanetSide 2 will feel very familiar. Most firefights end up being a mix of players on foot supported by other players piloting vehicles either attacking or defending a control point. You can easily switch infantry classes whenever you spawn into the game world, and each territory has multiple consoles where you can swap out your gear or spawn vehicles. Hopping into a tank or airship lets you take a break from slogging around on foot for a different style of combat, and depending on how they’re used, lets you make a visible difference in how a battle might pan out. The heavy-duty Sunderer APC for example, can be outfitted to deploy as a mobile spawn point anywhere on the map, and a fully-crewed Liberator gunship can devastate armored units from overhead. As exciting as that sounds, though, other than a YouTube series and some tooltips that appear during the loading screen, there’s oddly no in-game tutorial to explain how exactly to fly or drive anything. If you’re up to the challenge of providing close air or armored support, expect to spend a few minutes playing around with vehicle controls, but once you understand their functions it can be a lot of fun strafing enemy infantry with a futuristic fighter jet or engaging in tank duels with a double-barreled cannon.

Depending on how many regions your side controls, you’ll passively earn resources to use for things like purchasing tanks or refilling your grenades and ammo. Resources are finite and your character can only carry so many at one time, so players who consistently want to deploy gunships or hulking MAX battle suits will need to work together to capture (or defend) territories to keep their faction’s supply line going. Thankfully, it’s as simple as pressing a key to join up with a squad or outfit (PlanetSide 2’s equivalent of a group or guild, respectively) of fellow players to organize a plan of attack, or at least find out where’s the heaviest fighting.

Where PlanetSide 2 gets interesting is how almost any skirmish can become incredibly complex in a very short time span. You might get into a small engagement with a handful of players while trying to take over an outpost, only for it to escalate a few minutes later into a huge, intense free-for-all with hordes of soldiers, tanks and gunships from all three factions throwing themselves into a conflict that might take an hour or more to resolve. The larger fights, where you run around with your team trying to find a way to tip the scales in your side’s favor while the sky is filled with dogfighting airships and you’re moments away from getting run over by a hostile tank (or a friendly one, if the fighting is extremely hectic), are definitely the most awe-inspiring and the most fun.

Unfortunately, PlanetSide 2‘s large scale can also be one of its biggest draw backs. Each of Auraxis’ continents is filled with mountains, forests, valleys, small outposts, towering airbases and gargantuan military fortresses. As impressive as all that is, getting around can be a hassle. Spawn points can be limited, meaning you’re not always able to just get right into the action near your faction’s front line, and it can be very frustrating having to spend upwards of ten minutes traveling to your destination, dying the moment you get there, and then have to repeat the process. The game does try to mitigate this by having an “Instant Action” option available when you bring up the map, which will let you airdrop right into one of the biggest battles going on in the server at the moment, but that can have mixed results. Most of the time it works well enough to get you right to the forefront of a battle, but you’ll occasionally find yourself landing in a warzone where the fighting’s just about over or you’re vastly outnumbered by hostiles. It’s more of an annoyance than anything else, but either way, you’ll need to have some patience to deal with the lengthy chunks of downtime that’ll pop up between battles.

By killing enemies and capturing objectives, you’ll gain experience, which in turn grant you certification points. Certifications can be used for unlocking various abilities and equipment, ranging from extra health for a given class, increasing the ammo a tank can carry or unlocking a scope for a rifle. Each class, weapon and vehicle has a wide variety of options available for purchase, so you can either specialize by dropping all your points into the class or weapon you use the most or spread them out across the board so that no matter what role you decide to play, you’ll have a boost. The prices start to spike sharply upwards once you get a level or two up the tech tree, so be prepared to do some heavy grinding – especially if you’ve set your eyes on picking up on some of the alternate class and vehicle weapons that are available. You can preview most weapons through a temporary “trial” system, but sadly there’s currently no system in place to refund purchases or respec your character’s skills. If you end up picking an item or ability that just doesn’t work for your play style, you’re stuck with it and will have to re-earn all those certification points over again.

If you are interested in skipping or at least speeding along through the point-earning system, PlanetSide 2 has an in-game store that’ll let you purchase weapons and cosmetic items outright along with paid subscriptions that boost your ability to earn experience and certifications. The important thing to note here though, is that even if you do decide against using your wallet to fast-track up the technology tree, you actually won’t be at that much of a disadvantage against players who pay for a premium. Most of the starting gear of each class/faction serves as general, all-purpose weaponry for you to use, and you can still be as effective as someone who’s dropped a couple of dollars to pick up a fancy assault rifle by only spending the points you earn naturally to augment whatever gear you have.

Bottom Line: It might take a while to figure out how its various mechanics work and its pacing may be too slow for some, but PlanetSide 2 is a solid shooter that does a very good job of merging the social aspects of an MMO with the action-heavy game play of an FPS. After that first time you participate in multi-tank battle or hold off a huge infantry rush, however, you’ll be eager to do it again.

Recommendation: If the idea of taking part in large-scale warfare with dozens and dozens of players appeals to you, PlanetSide 2 is your game.

[rating=4.0]

What our review scores mean.

Game: PlanetSide 2
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment (SOE)
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Platform(s): PC

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