PlanetSide Arena’s best sales pitch would probably include something along the lines of “strength in numbers” and “all-out warfare”. It’s not easy to get another battle royale game out there in such a crowded market, and so a few unique selling points are virtually mandatory.
Daybreak is trying to tap into the wide battle royale userbase with the identifiable PlanetSide brand as a starting point, but it’s likely that veterans of the franchise aren’t particularly thrilled with the new direction. However, this is a game that deserves to be played with a fresh mindset to properly judge its potential.
The long-term plan is to support up to 1,000 players in some game modes, but the Steam Early Access release is going to focus on 300-player battle royale matches. This is more than enough to give you a good taste of the sprawling map size and chaotic final minutes. The closing circle pushes everyone together, as a reminder that you are in the arena to eliminate other squads and proudly stand as the winner, not just to collect mods and power-ups ad eternum.
Royale Pain Circle
During the short beta test anticipating the Early Access release, we spent quite some time hanging out inside the fleet carrier, wandering around and shooting our fellow players for some harmless fun, as we waited for the match to begin. These were the few peaceful moments in PlanetSide Arena, because as soon as we hit the ground running, it’s time to scour the land for anything that improves your build and your chances against the rival squads.
But first, you need to settle for one of the three available classes: Assault, Engineer, or Medic. Take your time to get acquainted to each one while in the headquarters, switching between classes in a last-minute bid to pick the one that will surely net you the win. Anyone familiar with battle royale and typical shooters won’t have any issues with this selection, or the customization options on offer. Everything about it is designed to get you to the battlefield in no time, including the diverse mods that you unlock and attach to your weapon, or the vehicles that you can choose while customizing your class.
The only game mode available in PlanetSide Arena during the test was the 12-player Squad mode. We could already see some hints of group strategies for the greater good of the squad, but as perfect strangers, our primal instincts told us to go forth and bravely venture into the unknown. The result was, unvarying, death. This is no game for a reckless Rambo approach, despite the temptation to break free from the slow tactical grip that your squad may force on you. Strength in numbers comes to mind once again, a motto that couldn’t ring truer when you are part of a 12-strong squad facing several teams sporting similar numbers.
This streamlined gameplay approach is patent in the way that the weapon upgrades work when you are in the heat of the battle. There is no inventory to manage, you just choose to pick up or ignore the upgrades, weapons or abilities that you happen upon, always watching your back when it comes to those sought-after drop pods containing legendary items – there is no better time to be ambushed than when you are gazing at that legendary loot. You keep your primary, secondary, and pistol weapons throughout the duration of the match, upgrading them as you go, but there is a fourth slot that is saved for a special weapon. Nanites are the in-game currency that you pick up, but it is shared through the team, so it’s not a source of internal competition.
Mobility in the battlefield isn’t an issue, with so many means at your disposal. Jetpacks are your basic gear to propel you skywards and give you that edge over careless players who look no further than what’s in front of their nose. You can summon your personal vehicle when you want to move faster or, in some cases, when the team needs that extra firepower. Voice chat is of major importance for your team’s well-being, so if you don’t want to jeopardize your chances of success, setting up a team with a few chatty friends is crucial.
Part of your time in PlanetSide Arena is spent rummaging the battlefield for upgrades, while the rest of it is about spotting enemies in the horizon and shooting them before they shoot you. However, the pain field will constrict every few minutes, narrowing the active area and forcing players to come together. What started as a huge battlefield that no single player can accurately cover by himself, slowly but surely shifts into a compact space where several dozens of players have no choice but to blast away, hoping to survive the ensuing anarchy. Infantry units try their best to support the tanks, with the special weapons that you managed to grab minutes earlier possibly making the difference between victory and defeat.
Shooting from the Pocket
PlanetSide Arena feels mechanically sound, extremely responsive, fast, and fun, with a fierce competitive side to the matches. The initial minutes of a new match help convey a false sense of security, a feeling that is shredded to pieces as the shrinking circle enters the fray and urges everyone to the same area. Suddenly, there is a lot going on, shots are fired from inconceivable places, and if you manage to survive dangerous situations, you may end up with this rewarding but conflicting sense of exhaustion.
But there are a few concerns that need to be addressed. Against the initial blurb, Daybreak has decided to release PlanetSide Arena as a free-to-play game, just like its older brother PlanetSide 2. However, even with the pleasant last-minute removal of the price tag barrier of entry, it will still face the competition of extremely popular battle royale games such as Fortnite Battle Royale or Apex Legends. Perhaps players will also stick to PlanetSide 2 instead of making the switch to the new game.
If for some reason PlanetSide Arena fails to gain traction and convince a large share of players, the 300-player matches may become an issue. The massive scale of the battles is where the game shines, and if it fails to show them in all their glory, it may end up stuck in an inglorious loop. Match waiting times will be another concern in case the player base is less than satisfactory, with the subsequent addition of game modes dispersing players even further.
Then there are the inevitable lingering doubts regarding monetization. PlanetSide Arena has a loot box or crate system where you can earn cosmetics, which is fine, but there are mods as well that affect your performance. Increased sprint speed, reduced time to revive teammates, or increased turbo regeneration for vehicles all sound like the kind of tiny advantages that may end up giving someone the upper hand. It’s the kind of mechanic that makes you wonder if the battles will be leveled, or if your skill is useless in face of your opponent’s deep pockets.
That’s a lot of “ifs” for Daybreak to consider, with the priority task of balancing gameplay and monetization in a way that pleases the community, while still being able to fund the game’s continued development. I enjoyed my short time in PlanetSide Arena and can’t wait to try more of its massive scale free form combat, but here’s hoping that I won’t have to face an enemy squad that shoots with its credit card.
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