It’s hard to know where exactly Dave Georgeson fits in the Tribes pantheon, which God he represents. At different times he has been painted as either the savior or despoiler of the franchise, and finding out where the current consensus is on the man would involve braving forums overgrown with human weeds. I have long been intrigued with Planetside, seeing it running a couple years ago even in an embryonic form was enough to spark an interest that has maintained for years. I don’t know if it started out being a massively multiplayer Tribes, or if what we are seeing is the Georgeson effect - but in its current form, you will see similarities that will surely warm the heart.
I should hope that as a Penny Arcade reader, you would have at least a passing knowledge of Tribes. Where games like Duke Nukem 3D gave us unprecedented interactivity, and Quake (as it evolved) made direct Internet play an expectation, what the Tribes series did was offer options - and more options. Options to get from place to place, a dizzying array of options for personal loadouts. Options in what maps to play, as maps and many entire mods could be obtained instantly as you joined the server. Planetside adopts that heritage and runs with it, and even extends the options along new axes - and I will tell you how.
Here is the basic hook, for those of you who just started being gamers yesterday. In Planetside, three groups - the Terran Republic, the New Conglomerate, and the Vanu Sovereignty - do battle geographically diverse continents in an attempt to capture useful facilities and eventually entire regions. So, how do you do that? Pretty much however you want, and here’s where where part of the RPG and Persistence stuff comes in. Unlike most Massive games, you don’t choose an explicit class. You sort of “build” a class out of Certification Points. You earn BEP (or Battle Experience Points) for doing things like shooting guys and claiming facilities, and these will earn you more “certs” which can be used to customize your character further. I feared initially that, like most MMORGWHSYG, the player would start out devoid of utility, unable to fire their weapon or something equally ridiculous. What I found was that I had a fairly healthy number of certifications right off the bat, which were more than enough to create the fairly well-versed medic/mechanic sort of character I wanted to play. I certainly wasn’t piloting the Galaxies - gargantuan troop transports which can even drop vehicles in a warzone. Nor was I operating the powerful MAX suits, dangerous servings of battle armor. They couldn’t they do what I do, either - at least, not at this point in their development.
You don’t purchase the weapons you need, which is good, because you’re going to die rather a lot. You stop by equipment terminals - virtually everything is obtained at terminals, even certifications - and simply select the equipment you think you’ll need. Once you have selected your loadout you can even save it - a la Tribes 2 - and load it up at any terminal. You can even tuck backup items away in a Locker whose contents are available to you in many areas. When you die, you can respawn at facilities your team owns, or from special vehicles called Advanced Mobile Stations that can be driven to the front. If you’re just logging in, you can hop in transports that are sure to be massing in your faction’s base or try the “Instant Action” option, which will place you at a friendly base near a contested area.
You might be wondering how it actually plays when many people are in close quarters.
It plays “okay.”
Sometimes it is great, and sometimes it is not so. Most of the times I play it is good enough, but I do wonder how much better it could actually get before release.
There are many things I have left out, like Implants (special abilities you can install or remove) and Command Abilities (I have no idea what these are). This is mainly just to give you a rundown of the basic ideas, you can hit the site, or even apply for the beta if it sounds like they’re doing what you want them to.