Friday, November 30, 2012

PlanetSide 2 Boot Camp

I've been playing "PlanetSide 2" (PS2) since beta and now that it's been released and made available as a free-to-play game via Steam, I find myself playing even more of it than ever.

The problem with PS2 is that it's a very complicated game that does almost nothing to reveal its intricacies to new players.

Some might say that the learning curve is part of the experience and while I can agree with that to a certain extent, there are some fundamental things that I wish I'd known about when I first started playing that I'd like to share with those of you who are interested in the game.

The Basics

PS2 is a first-person shooter about world domination. You play as one of three factions vying for control of a planet's three continents and their respective resources.

For those of you who play a lot of games, PS2 is like a cross between "Halo" (esthetically), "Battlefield" (mechanically) and "World War II Online" (meta game).

For those unfamiliar with those points of reference, PS2 takes place in a futuristic/alien setting and is comprised of a series of battles between infantry of several types, various land and air vehicles, and mounted defenses over facilities that confer territory and equipment and/or bonuses on those who control them.

The overall goal of the game is to control all the territory on a given continent to reap the benefit of doing so for your faction in future battles.

To accomplish this, you must assault enemy bases and facilities to capture them while maintaining control of those your faction already holds.

As you might expect, the overarching goals are not something that an individual or even a small group of players can hope to accomplish on their own; however, there are many opportunities for individual players and small groups to make meaningful contributions to said goals.

Your First Session

There are a handful of things new players should focus on when first starting to play PS2:

1 - Learn to communicate - When you first spawn into the game, you will be dropped into combat with a randomly-assigned squad of players engaged in battle. This is quite literally a trial by fire and you should go into it expecting to die.

In this situation, friendly players have blue names above them, enemies are reddish-pink and those friendly players in your squad are green.

You can press the "q" key to mark enemy targets (those with no name above them) so that others in your squad/faction can spot them more easily.

You can speak to those near you by pressing and holding "numberpad 4."

Be aware that spotting enemies and using this local chat will likely reveal your presence to anybody nearby (be they friendly or enemy).

You can speak directly to your squad leader by pressing and holding "numberpad 7."

And you can speak to your whole squad by pressing and holding "z."

Depending on how things go, you may find yourself getting killed a lot or rolling with a group that's killing a lot of enemies. That's just the luck of the draw but either way, there's something you'll need to learn how to do soon enough.

2 - Learn to Navigate - PS2's game world is huge. Each continent is a significant area divided into clusters of hexagons that represent territories controlled by the various factions.

When you pull up the map by pressing "m," you should take note of a few things.

There is an "Instant Action" interface in the lower left, which can be used periodically to deploy to hotspots on the map where the fighting is most intense or to where you squad leader is at a given moment. This is very handy but can only be used a few times an hour, so use it wisely.

A much more common method for moving around the map is to use the "Redeploy" button in the lower right of the map screen. This will let you essentially teleport to any of several nearby spawn locations or your faction's Warpgate (home base) at any time and can be used as often as you like.

When you're moving through the game world normally, be it on foot or in a vehicle, there are a few things worth noting.

You can use the "h" key to toggle the size of the mini map.

When the mini-map is small, there is a compass directly above it.

When you are near a base or facility and the mini map is small, you will see indicators for any control points relevant to that facility above the compass. Blue control points indicate those held by the enemy. Green control points are owned by your faction and flashing control points are currently being contested.

Larger facilities often have secondary objectives such as shield generators and transportation systems that will be indicated by icons on your heads up display as you look around the game world. As with control points, blue icons indicate objectives held by enemies, green icons indicate friendly points and those flashing are being contested. These icons can also be red if they indicate a facility that's damaged or destroyed and needs to be repaired by an Engineer.

3 - Order the Sampler Platter - There are several infantry classes in PS2 with varying weapons and special abilities. There are also several ground and air vehicles, with faction-specific variants in many cases. A good idea when you first start playing is to try out all the different infantry classes and vehicles. A good place for this is your faction's Warpgate, which you'll always start at in subsequent play sessions and can always be accessed via the "Redeploy" button in the lower right of the map screen.

At the Warpgate, you'll find terminals that allow you to switch your infantry class (indicated by a gun), summon ground vehicles (tank), air vehicles (aircraft) or travel to other continents (globe).

This is also a good place to explore the rest of the game's interface and settings as it's generally a safe haven unless your faction is on the verge of losing the continent completely.

There are a myriad of options and settings in PS2 that are definitely worth taking the time to explore if you want to get the most out of the game. A lot of it is pretty self explanatory and many of the settings such as whether or not the mini map rotates to match your point of view are simple matters of preference.

As important as all those settings and choices can be, there's one facet of the game interface that I want to call out specifically.

4 - Get Certified - When you participate in the capture or defense of facilities or accomplish other goals within PS2, you'll be awarded with Certification Points (CP), which allow you to unlock various abilities, weapons and other enhancements related to the various classes, vehicles and roles in the game.

For example: At level 10, you can spend 30 CP to unlock the ability to periodically drop a spawn beacon when you are a squad leader that members of your squad can deploy to every so often. This is an extremely useful certification for those intending to lead a group into battle.

You can also use CP to buy optics and other attachments for weapons or class-specific enhancements like additional health.

Once you've tried out all the different classes and picked a favorite, I highly recommend focusing on getting as many relevant certifications for that class as you can as they will enhance your abilities and give you a real edge in battle versus other players who don't have them.

It's certainly possible to dabble in various classes, spending points here and there to make a character who's effective in multiple roles but focusing on one or two types of certifications will allow you to access some pretty significant perks early on in the leveling process that you might otherwise have trouble attaining.

5 - Find Your Niche - One of the best things about PS2 is that it supports a wide range of play styles. Want to be a professional pilot who ferries troops around the battlefield? You can do that. Want to be a sneaky Infiltrator who works alone in the shadows to spot or snipe enemies and sabotage their facilities? You can do that. Want to lead a squad, platoon or outfit to victory by setting waypoints on the map, issuing squad orders and using spawn beacons and smoke to establish rally points? You can do it. Want to just run around and kill stuff? Hell yes, you can do that! :)

The point is that there's a lot you can do in PS2– whether you're doing it alone, with friends or total strangers, it doesn't matter because the game provides the tools to accommodate just about any play style.

Having said all that, PS2 is not for everyone. Some folks just won't care for it and that's completely fine; however, if any of this sounds the slightest bit interesting, you owe it to yourself to check this game out. If it clicks for you, you're going to have a lot of fun with it and have some of those special moments that only games like this can provide– those "I can't believe what just happened!" experiences that you'll want to tell your friends about even though you know they're just going to look at you like you're crazy. :) It's that kind of game.

PlanetSide 2 (via Steam)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Shout Out: Frontline Tactics

Things have been crazy as usual lately but I have been finding some time to do a little streaming here and there. Most of it's been pretty low-impact but I have done a couple streams of a cool, new Free-to-Play game called "Frontline Tactics" that's now available for Mac & PC through Steam.

I feel like these particular streams turned out pretty well and were worth bringing to your attention, so I've highlighted them on my Twitch channel and added them to my YouTube channel.

As always, if you want to keep up with what I'm doing, especially now that my schedule is less predictable, please follow/subscribe to my channels and/or Twitter.

Frontline Tactics (via Steam)