Planetside 2 – First, Second, and Third Impressions

This is unrelated to MMOs (sort of ), but I’ve been on a Quake CTF nostalgia trip for a while, so I went looking for a modern AAA shooter that would provide the same sort of team-based competitive spirit.

I don’t know if such a game still exists, but my first candidate for testing was Planetside 2, a game which I haven’t played before. (Well, that’s not entirely true–I installed it sometime around when it first came out, played it for about 30 seconds–enough to see myself airdropped into a chaotic mess–and then decided it wasn’t for me. I don’t remember it launching with the tutorial it has now and I had no clue how to play it.) I suppose technically PS2 is an MMO, but I think of it as a shooter because there is no PvE element.

It's a nice-looking shooter at least.
It’s a nice-looking shooter at least.

First Impressions

My first impression of Planetside 2 now after playing for a handful of hours is: It’s not what I was looking for, but it’s a fun and dare-I-say addictive game. (If you can set aside all the standard problems that modern shooters have.*)

In a nutshell, Planetside 2 drops you (sometimes literally) into a battlefield with hundreds or thousands or millions of other people. I’m not sure exactly, but it’s a lot of people. The gameplay is very similar to Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, if anyone remembers that, but with a whole lot more people.

There are the standard overall team objectives, like capturing enemy bases and defending capture points and so forth, but when you start out they are unimportant to your immediate survival so you don’t really think about them. At least I didn’t. Mostly I just thought about staying alive and trying not to shoot the teammates that kept jumping in front of me. (I imagine that is similar to what real warfare is like, not that I would have any clue about that.)

In more practical terms, when you start out your best bet is to find a group of other people running somewhere and help them shoot whatever enemies they’re shooting at. Most likely those enemies are very far away so you can’t really see what it is you’re shooting at. Even when you use your iron sights or whatever you still can’t see individual people very well. I end up spamming the “spot enemy” key while waving my gun around until I see a red triangle. Not that it matters because the enemy probably has sniper rifles and they’ll kill you the second you stick your head up to look around. Because all scrubs use sniper rifles in these games. (They don’t know they’re scrubs though, which is the worst part. That’s probably going to get some hateful comments but god I hate snipers.)

Side rant: God I hate snipers. I don’t know about anyone else, but I still curse the day that sniper-like rifles were ever added to the shooter genre. The first one I can remember was the Railgun in Quake 2, and snipers have destroyed the fun of anyone who prefers “fair” combat ever since. (At least the Railgun didn’t usually kill you in one shot like most modern sniper rifles.)

Anyway, back to Planetside 2. It’s yet another one of those progression shooters where you “level up” by gaining experience so you can unlock new stuff and whatnot, which makes it sort of like an MMORPG. You’re never really sure exactly what it is that you’re doing to gain these points, but sometimes you get a lot of points and sometimes you get a few points, and eventually your “battle rank” goes up. (I assume that’s meaningful but I can’t really tell any difference except that I can create more loadout sets–which is useless to me since I only have basically one gun.) That’s the essence of what makes these progression shooters so addicting. You’re always thinking to yourself, “Well, if I just play a little bit more, I’ll be able to unlock X, Y, or Z and that will really help kill those bleepity bleeping bleeped snipers.”

One thing I really like is the nifty report that appears each time you die that shows how well you did during each “lifetime.” It also shows who killed you so you can see just how much that other guy out-ranked you and how hopeless your chances are to run back and avenge yourself upon him.

I don't know what any of those numbers mean but it looks pretty impressive. EXTREME MENACE KILL. Yeah!
Don’t know what any of it means but it looks impressive. EXTREME MENACE KILL. Yeah!

One thing I don’t like is the placement of the minimap. SOE must have been sitting around thinking, “Let’s see, every other game puts the minimap in the upper-right and a few put it in the lower-right, so everyone is familiar with looking to the right to see where they are. I know, let’s put ours in the lower-left!”

Ahem. Anyway. I set out to find something like Quake, but this isn’t it. The scale of the battles in Planetside 2 is way too big to feel like you’re playing anything like a team-based “sport.” In these massive battles I don’t feel like my playing matters much when I’m only doing roughly 0.1% of the damage, or whatever. You’re mostly playing against yourself at that point; just trying to see how long you can stay alive while hopefully contributing a few bullets in the right directions.

To be fair, there are occasional times when the action feels a little more Quake-like, for example when you’re trying to hold one of the capture points. Those times are quite fun. But they are pretty rare.

While on I’m the subject of massive-battle shooters, let’s talk about sound effects. Something that bugs me about Planetside 2 and other shooters of this kind is the unrelenting assault of sound effects that wash over you the entire time you play. Don’t get me wrong: It’s perfect for the kind of game it is, and it’s brilliantly immersive, but I just can’t handle it anymore at my advanced age. It jangles my nerves and makes my muscles hurt from the tension. (I am the same way about continuous loud noises in real life, too.) If I lose track of time and play for too long (which unfortunately is easy since there aren’t any breaks in the action), I feel like I’ve been in a boxing match. I really wish there was a way to adjust the sound in such a way that you only hear the things that really matter to your particular gameplay. Or maybe have some way to adjust the volume of your effects versus the effects of other players versus incidental world effects. (Final Fantasy XIV has some nice controls like that.)

Overall it’s a fun game* that’s worth a look (since it’s free), but I can only play it for short periods of time. (I usually set a timer so I only play for about 20 minutes per session.) So far I don’t see any compelling reason to pay any real money for it. I’m perfectly happy with the free experience so far. (Unless there is a way to pay them a one-time fee or something to unlock everything–like a super-sniper-seeking-death-bomb–but I have a feeling they are more interested in nickel-and-diming you to death. A quick glance at the store confirms that it’s a subscription model–that SOE All Access Pass thingy–with the obligatory cash shop.)

Second Impressions

After playing a little bit each night for about a week, I’ve started to notice some trends.

The deck is seriously stacked against people who like a more defensive playing style, like, say, me. All weapons do incredible amounts of damage. Snipers almost always one-shot kill you (typical in modern shooters). Standard duels between two automatic weapons at relatively close range last for about two seconds if you’re lucky. Even the defensive turret positions at bases don’t last very long against flying vehicle weapons. So if you don’t like dying repeatedly, you may want to steer clear.

The game makes it possible to use plenty of super-cheesy scrub tactics. Things like suicide-ramming a position with vehicles over and over again. And of course the sniper thing. You can never, ever stand still if there is a hillside anywhere in the vicinity.

I’m not quite prepared to call it a pay-to-win game, but you can definitely buy better “stuff” with these things called Nanites (like Maxes and Tanks and Flying Gizmos), which are given out periodically while you play, and I think you get more Nanites if you’re a paying customer. (You also get more XP I think.) Basically, I believe it’s designed so that paying customers control the overall battlefield. The rest of us freeps are beholden to their whims. (Cannon fodder, in other words.)

But for some weird reason, I still think it’s fun*. Maybe because it’s the only game like this that I can play for free hehe.

Third Impressions

As you can tell from my statistics page, I’ve played about 18 hours of Planetside 2 and reached battle rank 14. My kill/death ratio stands at 0.27, a rating which I would have found shameful back in my Quake days, and today I find only slightly less embarrassing. People who are good at modern shooters would probably put me in the “loser scrub” category based on those numbers. (But I saw plenty of people worse than me, so there.)

Anyway, the freshness of the game has now worn off. I might pop in every now and then (because it’s free) but it doesn’t really feed the reward center of my brain very well now that the “ooh shiny” phase is over.

(By the way, the statistics page in Planetside 2 is very, very cool. The obsessive attention to detail in tracking statistics is one thing I love about modern shooters.)

Modern Problems

  • All modern shooters have these problems, no matter how fun they are:

1) Usually, you are the only person on your team who knows what to do and how to do it, because you’ve played team-based shooters for ages and everyone else is just there to shoot stuff and look at the pretty lights. 95% of the rest of your team either doesn’t help or actively hinders you somehow, which makes for a frustrating experience. Since Planetside 2 is a Friendly-Fire game, you can expect your teammates to be particularly adept at either shooting you in the back, or jumping in front of you when you’re about to make a crucial kill.

2) Everyone else has unlocked all kinds of uber weaponry and armor so you have basically no chance of killing anyone who has played the game longer than you, which makes for a frustrating experience. I really miss the old days when everyone was on a level playing field equipment-wise. (After carefully reviewing the weapons of the people that kill me, I can say that it’s not quite as bad as I first thought.)

3) In most modern shooters, old people like me can’t see what they’re shooting at. The enemies usually blend in completely with the background terrain somehow via. some sort of camouflage, or the enemy models are so small that they are just specks of pixels.

4) Ever since 1999-ish, somebody somewhere will always make a bot or a hack or something for online games so even if you do manage to get yourself the right equipment, you’re still never going to be able to beat the cheaters. Maybe I’m paranoid but I still clearly remember when cheating ruined Quake 3 tournaments. (And people were cheating, it wasn’t just our imaginations–back in the old days it was easy to tell the difference between a very good player and someone using an aim bot–so once the genie came out of the bottle, in my mind, there is no reason to think that cheaters aren’t continuing their efforts to create more and better cheats as the years pass.) (By the way, I don’t think everyone that kills me is cheating, like some people do, but some small percentage of people out there are definitely cheating in online games. The only thing you can do is keep repeating the mantra, “It’s just a game. It doesn’t matter.” And try to enjoy the scenery while you’re running back to the battle.)

Comparing Played Times

I found an old, old screenshot of my main Asheron’s Call character from near the end of my playing time:

What MMORPGs used to look like before they were fun.
What MMORPGs looked like when they were more work than fun.

There’s some interesting things to note there. First of all, my /played time was 17d 11h 26m 22s. I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing that game… it seemed like my entire life was spent in that game for about a year. (I was playing AC when everyone else was playing EverQuest.) Yet I only reached level 35. In AC, your character “level” wasn’t much except a measurement of how much you had played–your power level came from your skills. Level 35 seemed like an impossibly high number to me back then. I knew people in their 40s and I couldn’t imagine how anyone could get there without giving up sleep entirely.

I never thought I would ever wrack up 17 days of playing time on one character in any other MMO in my life, but then after my main WoW Hunter reached level 98, I noticed this:

WoWScrnShot_011015_135816_cropped

The total time played for my main WoW character is now over 19 days! Two more days than when I had an arguably unhealthy addiction to Asheron’s Call! Fortunately that 19 days spans over about eight years, so that’s not too bad. (Altoholic reports that the total playing time over all of my WoW characters is about 35 days.)

Then I started to think about games I’ve played more than WoW and I started to wonder.

I played a lot of Guild Wars 2 after it came out.

gw049_cropped

GW2 doesn’t make this easy, but that comes out to almost 12 days of playing time for my main Necromancer character, and almost 31 days for all of my characters together. Not as much as WoW, but most of my GW2 time was crammed into that first year.

But that pales in comparison to the game I’ve probably played more than any other MMO in my MMO-playing life: Rift.

2015-01-10_140609_cropped

Yes, that’s 35 days on one character in Rift since, what, 2011? The next three highest /played times on other characters are 13 days, 11 days, and 10 days on my other level 60s, and I have numerous characters 40 and under on various servers. So yeah, I’ve played a lot of Rift if you add it all up.

Shut up. It’s a good game.

ArcheAge – Patron Status Waning

Ruh roh.

No more soup for you.
No more soup for you. Or land.

I logged in quickly to see what, if anything, changed. The only immediate change I noticed was that my Labor Points plummeted from 5000 to 1000. My house and land are still mine, but they are only “protected” until the 28th, after which I believe they will decay in a week.

I went to the web site to see how much it would cost to resume my Patron benefits, and realized I had never redeemed my Patron Compensation thingy, so I went ahead and did that to extend my time another 5 days. For no particular reason.

Then I saw that you can buy 30 days of Patron status for 2,400 credits. (Everybody else probably knew that already, but it was news to me.) That’s pretty cool, because I still have 5,705 credits. So theoretically I could extend my Patron time for another 60 days for free.

Buying 2,400 worth of credits will cost you $20, and you’ll actually get 3,250 credits.

I would have sworn there was also a subscription plan to simply buy Patron status for $15 a month, but I can’t seem to find it now. Maybe it isn’t showing me that option because I’m back to being a Patron for 5 more days.

Most likely I will simply allow them to take back my land, since I don’t think I’ll be playing very much in the future. By saving my credits, if I do decide to play again, I can use them to buy stuff in future holiday events. (Just kidding, holiday events in ArcheAge are pretty lame.)

Arbitrary Mid-January Status Update

I’m in a “bouncing around between games” mode at the moment, now that I’m done with Elite: Dangerous. I’ve been logging into two or three or four different MMOs a day, looking for one to capture my imagination.

Level 100!
Level 100!

WoW. My WoW subscription runs out on the 20th, and I won’t be renewing. WoW is a fun game, but I always tire of it pretty quickly. I did manage to reach level 100 with my Hunter and upgrade my Garrison, though. I have enjoyed my time in the game, but I simply can’t comprehend how people think the story in this expansion is the best ever. I guess I’ve never “gotten” the lore in WoW. (WoW might be the only game that I care less about the quest text than ArcheAge.) I thought there was supposed to be time travel in here somewhere but at no point do I remember anyone saying that I traveled back in time. (Except one quest to kill Banthar in Nagrand that sort-of referred to it, some five zones into the game.) There are Russian space goats and angry orcs everywhere, but then I was in a place with a bunch of bird people and giant crow gods or something. *shrug* I feel bad for people who will feel obligated to spend the next two years playing this expansion until the next one comes out. It’s okay to play other games, guys. You really don’t have to live in one game your whole life. :)

FFXIV. I still have my Final Fantasy XIV subscription, however I haven’t felt much of an urge to return to the game full time. I stop in periodically and level the Rogue class, but that’s about it. Not planning to cancel my sub though. (I noticed that FFXIV is now selling more and more optional cosmetic items in their store… I wonder if that might mean an upcoming change in their subscription model.)

ArcheAge. I still log into ArcheAge about once a week to pay my taxes. My property is still sitting there empty, probably making everyone else angry. Sometimes I think I should just push on through from level 48.5 to 50 before my Patron status runs out, but I can’t summon the energy for it. (I now have about 450 tax certificates stored up, by the way, which is enough to pay for my property for about… calculating… 22 more weeks.)

Rift. I also log into Rift every couple of days to pick up Minion rewards. I think I have about 50 million pieces of endgame crafting items now clogging up my inventory and bank, and countless numbers of Dimension Item boxes. I meant to do some of the Christmas event, but I never got around to it. It turned out I still had a sizable amount of Christmas currency from last year anyway. There’s a new recurring event now for

Guild Wars 2. I keep trying to get back into the Living Story of Guild Wars 2 but it only takes about twenty minutes of gameplay before I want to punch the monitor with my fist, so that’s been slow going. (See Aywren’s post for the exact reason why.) I’ve only just completed Dragon’s Reach Part 1, which involves trying to get Important People to come to some kind of Summit. I cannot emphasize enough how much I despise the GW2 concept of story being the reward for completing challenges. Loot should be the reward for completing challenges. Story should require no effort to consume. (In my opinion.) Not that it matters, because I play so infrequently that I have no idea what the story is anyway. There’s a new dragon somewhere I guess, and a bunch of annoying vines doing insufferable crowd-control effects, and some Asura prodigy doing something with waypoints. It’s all just random noise to me. It’s like how you do leveling quests without paying attention in WoW, except you’re not actually leveling so what is the point of even doing it other than to see what everyone is talking about. Also since the loot in GW2 is so impossible to understand, I really don’t know if I’m even being rewarded with loot either. Grrrr. It makes me literally angry with rage!

Landmark. I re-rolled a fresh character to see what a brand new player would see. It’s sort-of getting somewhere, but I still don’t get it. There still aren’t any real objectives. I couldn’t find any caves. There are newbie mobs standing right next to uber-advanced killer mobs that you can barely scratch with your sword. The combat feels weirdly like TERA, only a lot more limited. My hopes for EQ: Next plummet each time I play this game.

TERA. Speaking of which, I even tried to play TERA, but for some reason I can’t update the game any more. I suspect I need to un-install and re-install, but that’s too much of a bother.

WildStar and ESO. Waiting on subscription model changes, like everyone else. :) I think I have a 7-day “please for the love of God come back” free pass for WildStar that I might use. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what WildStar does in 2015 now that they’ve been crushed by the reality that casual players outnumber elite raiders by about a thousand to one.

SWTOR. Given my lackluster showing in the games above, I’ve sort of re-discovered Star Wars: The Old Republic again. It’s actually a pretty good game. :) I’ve probably spent most of my playing time in it during January. I even managed to play it successfully for a while without paying any money. But then I caved in and got a 3-month subscription so I didn’t have to worry about the restrictions. I expect by the end of 3 months (or maybe even 1 month) I’ll be ready to cancel again. I’m playing a Jedi Guardian Knight this time, and have so far gone from level 10 to level 22. (Previously, my highest level character was a Smuggler at level 28, but every time I try to play it now, I die horribly.) The Kira Carsen companion is hilarious.  (“Eat lightsaber, jerk!”)

Standing around in Nar Shadda, unable to remember to hide the FRAPS display.
Standing around in Nar Shadda, unable to remember to hide the FRAPS fps display.

H1Z1 – Dumb Question

This is probably a dumb question, but if these Airdrops are such a fun element of the game that everyone enjoys, why aren’t they building it into the game as random spawns like Trion’s Rifts and Arcfalls? Why would they make someone pay to spawn a fun event for everyone? That makes no sense. It’s like making people buy world boss spawns. (Don’t get any ideas, game developers. That would be terrible.)

I mean, besides the obvious answer that it’s a great way to make money from players. But then, why would anyone pay for an Airdrop if there’s little or no chance of getting anything out of it (and now apparently it will be even less chance)? That makes even less sense. I can’t even imagine spending real money for that. Maybe I’m the wrong target audience. (I’ve never bought a lockbox in my entire life.)

Sometimes I think SOE goes too far with their efforts at transparency. I mean, I appreciate the honesty, but when they “think out loud” online it sounds like they just don’t know what they’re doing, which squanders the goodwill they’re trying to get by being transparent.

H1Z1 – Early Access Already?

So apparently John Smedley of SOE called PvE players “disgusting carebears” on Twitter. (Covered by TAGN, BioBreak, and Clean Casuals.) It’s yet another example of how executives should never attempt to be funny in public.

More interesting to me was the sudden news (to me, at least) that H1Z1 is launching on Steam today (January 15). (Well, I say “launching” but I really mean “crowdfunding” because it’s an Early Access game.) This surprises me because I thought it would be a long, long time before we saw this game.

But then SOE seems be building their business around releasing games roughly two years before they are ready. I was burned once by SOE’s “early access” with Landmark, so there’s simply no way I’m buying Hizzy until launch day (and/or a deep, deep discount sale that puts it around $5), because if it’s anything like Landmark, they are releasing it way too early and what we’ll actually get is a game engine demo with maybe two hours of actual gameplay.

Not to mention that it’s a zombie survival game with, so far as I can recall, no distinguishing features. (Zing! Actually I don’t know if it has any features or not. I watched the very first live stream of H1Z1 and saw nothing but a running and driving simulator where you could hit zombies with a baseball bat.)

MMORPGs Aren’t Dinner Parties

I recently read this Soapbox article on Massively: Of course I care what you’re doing in MMOs.

(Contains Moderate Peril also read it.)

It’s a soapbox article, so I’ll grant that it’s supposed to be controversial. Jef sets out to refute what he calls this misconception he read on a forum: “Why do you care what other players do in an MMORPG? It doesn’t affect you.” I didn’t write that, but it’s something I might have written. So I was genuinely interested in hearing the reasoning behind Jef’s belief that it’s a “misconception.”

Unfortunately, Jef never directly addresses the question. His article goes on to say (in summary), “It does affect me and everyone should care.” But he never says how or why, except with the vague idea that the genre is diminished without more socialization. If Jef was trying to convince a soloist that his gameplay would be fundamentally enhanced by interacting more with the players in the game around him, he never gave any concrete examples from any real games.

So I remain unconvinced. You might already know that I play solo most of the time. I usually don’t give a whit what people are doing around me, unless they are somehow impeding me from completing my PvE goals. I’m not oblivious to the other people, though. I try not to interfere with them while I’m going about my business in the collectively-shared virtual world. This is more-or-less how I behave in real life, too. I don’t bother other people and I expect them not to bother me. This doesn’t seem very controversial to me.

My guess is that Jef was just trying to say that the social aspects of MMORPGs are more important to the genre than the RPG parts. He doesn’t want all MMORPGs to devolve into single-player games while leveling (I imagine he is thinking of games like ESO and SWTOR).

I can understand that, and even I am glad that there are group activities available in these games, but I never, ever want to log into an MMORPG and have to find other people before I can do anything rewarding. I don’t want my MMORPG to be some kind of dinner party, where introducing myself to people and mingling and striking up conversations to be polite is the social norm. I want to choose whether to be social or not. Just like real life.

I will always come down on the side of introverts’ rights–whether in game or in real life. :)