The Planetside series by Daybreak Game Company is known for its large-scale combat with potentially thousands of players battling over giant persistent maps, and now it's set to offer up some battle royale action and arena modes as a bridge between Planetside 2 and whatever comes next.
"For us, it's definitely a passion project," says lead game designer Tony Morton. "So we're excited to see what we can do inside the Planetside franchise, in terms of educating ourselves and experimenting with things while we move forward towards whatever may be next down the line in the franchise and in the Planetside universe."
It's easy to look at the announcement of Planetside Arena as another announcement hopping on the bandwagon following the massive success that battle royale games have enjoyed over the past couple of years. But that's overlooking two things. First, the fact that Daybreak (or SOE) were on the battle royale scene before PUBG or Fortnite with H1Z1. Second, that Planetside Arena isn't purely a battle royale game, but a game that's set to offer a variety of arena-based massively multiplayer game modes. The big differentiator here between this offering and that of Planetside 2 is that it's session-based and devoid of the overarching conflict that fuels the longrunning (originally launched in 2012) MMOFPS.
"This takes place after Planetside 2, the war has kind of ended," explains Morton. "The map itself is 8k by 8k Amerish map, we're calling it The Echoes of Amerish. So we've given it a complete rework from top to bottom and left and right in terms of its road structure, its terrain, it has biomes now. So it's kind of been completely redone. The idea is that the factions have fallen apart, the war has ended, everybody is just trying to figure out what's going on, on their own. And we're going to be using the seasonal content drops as themed packages to deliver story arcs over the months as we progress to whatever may be next..."
There's been a bit of negative news earlier this week with Daybreak Games, as the studio was forced to make some cutbacks in addition to some downsizing earlier in the year. The hope is naturally that Planetside Arena is the game to turn things around for the company previously known as Sony Online Entertainment.
As we alluded to, Planetside Arena isn't strictly speaking a pure battle royale offering, and it will launch in January with both a last-player-standing mode (solo and teams of three players with 100 and 102 players currently) and a huge 250 versus 250 mode called Massive Clash (the player count here could be brought up further in the future). Future plans include staples of the genre such as Search and Destroy, Global Conquest, and Team Deathmatch.
"The history of Planetside has always been scale, so we want to start with the 500 player mode and we're currently able to scale up to a thousand players," says Morton. "We've made a lot of technical advancements to the engine, to the servers, to a lot of our backend, that will allow us to go beyond a thousand players, but that's kind of what we're designing it around for now."
The game offers up three classes to begin with - Assault, Engineer, and Medic - but while they come with differences and abilities that make them more efficient in certain situations, they all feature jetpacks and are effective damage dealers. Each class has an active, a deployable, and a passive ability. So for instance, the Assault class comes with Dash Jumpjet which will allow them to propel themselves forward, they can put down a totem that heals teammates and harms enemies, and they have a speed buff that allows them to run faster than the other classes.
Planetside Arena is a second generation battle royale offering in more ways than one. Given Daybreak's experience with H1Z1, they're familiar enough with the basic concept that they've been able to look at some of the minor annoyances and issues the genre suffers from and the studio is attempting to remedy them.
One example of this is how picking up loot works. In most battle royale experiences players will spend a good part of the first few minutes running around looking at the ground (in search of equipment). So in Planetside Arena loot has been placed on elevated platforms, easy to spot, and perhaps (more importantly) allowing you to keep an eye on your surroundings as opposed to the ground.
Mobility is another area where Daybreak has thought long and hard about how to make changes for a better experience. First of all, all classes have access to a jetpack and can call on a quad for transportation. The jetpack is limited in its use, but can certainly help you get in and out of situations. What's interesting about your quad and other vehicles is that they immediately appear on the mini-maps of all players, so using a vehicle is always a risky move. It gets you where you need to go in a hurry, but you may be walking into a trap. Or you could set up a trap by using a vehicle to lure out others, perhaps so your teammates can take them out. The guaranteed access to vehicles means that the circle can be a bit more aggressive at the beginning of a match, but the idea is for the action to slow somewhat and be more tactical towards the end. Daybreak is gunning for sessions to last approximately 15 minutes, you see.
The studio has made an effort to make sure there's a bit of added survivability for players so that you can take a couple of shots, assess the situation, and potentially mount a comeback. The idea is for it to be a bit more tactical and for players not to have their session end from a threat they never saw coming.
"We wanted to make sure we slowed things down a little bit [in terms of the combat]," says Morton. "We found that in BR, in general, a lot of the time you get hit and you're dead before you realise what's going on. So interestingly enough with the progression flow, since your shields and whatnot gain strength, and the weapons gain utility, time to kill actually slows down a little bit as the matches progress. It allows you when you're in these superhot moments, you can kind of take some hits, you can react to that, you can reposition yourself, you can kind of overextend yourself a little bit."
Another interesting way in which Planetside Arena is different is the blueprints. These are unlocked through progression and allow players to bring in a loadout to the battle. Now, these blueprints don't really mean you'll do more damage, but there's added utility there. The key to maintaining balance though is that you first have to loot money and then find a terminal in order to get the weapons and use them in battle. Another thing to point out is that if you take out a player using a weapon that's been printed out you can pick up their weapon and use it during the rest of the session; a sneak peek of what's ahead as you progress. The neat part of blueprints and progression is that you get some sense of accomplishment even if you don't walk away with the victory, as perhaps you can bring a new blueprint into the next round. Furthermore, the weapons that are available through unlocking blueprints during season one will become part of the regular spawned loot during the second season.
Planetside Arena certainly has a battle ahead as it goes against the giants of the genre, but a focus on large-scale combat, slight tweaks to the formula, and the sci-fi theme certainly helps it stand out. With a full release planned for PC on January 29 which includes the BR modes and Massive Clash, and plans for a console launch down the line, we're certainly keen to see if it's got what it takes to claim a large enough piece of the ever so tasty battle royale pie.
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