Planetside 2 is now available to all - if you're prepared to pay for 'Alpha Squad' a voucher that gives you access to the Planetside 2 beta, $40 worth of in-game currency, a selection of in-game weapon unlocks, a small selection of cosmetic rewards and an XP and resource boost that lasts six months. It costs $39.99 (£25/€31.29 at time of writing).
So. Should you pay for it?
Short answer: yes, but with caveats. Long answer… well.
Planetside 2 is extraordinary. Let's just get that out of the way first. It's a Massively Multiplayer Open World First Person Shooter, where three factions battle for control of resources on a ridiculous scale. Fights in Planetside see hundreds of players fighting across valleys, in the sky, through towering bases that look like they've been dropped out from some science fiction dream. Fights can last for hours; the sun-rising and setting while the tracer fire remains undimmed. It is a stunning, stunning thing. Think Battlefield, but orders of magnitude bigger. Think Battlefield: but the Battlefield you've always been dreaming of. That's Planetside.
The game is currently in a closed beta as developer and publisher SOE close in on the launch. It will be released at some point before the end of 2012 - Alpha Squad gets you in ahead of the rest of the internet.
If you want that experience, then $40 is just about the perfect price. Thankfully, it's getting better every day. Yesterday, SOE revealed that a new continent will be coming to the beta.
For those who’ve already fallen in love with Planetside 2, the offer is a good one. You get $40 of virtual currency to spend on weapons, plus a pack of eight guns. You could therefore spend the cash any XP you’ve earned on certifications for vehicles, while still having a clutch of new toys to play with. If you think you’re going to be playing long-term - six months of 10% extra XP is a good move. Plus, you get some satisfaction that you’re supporting a forward thinking, inspiring MMO FPS.
But if you're new to Planetside 2, here are my caveats.
Beta keys are available all over the web
If you're serious about trying Planetside but don't want to pay, keep an eye on the Planetside twitter feed - and on gaming communities across the web. SOE have been generous with beta key distribution, and if you're determined to get in, you'll be able to find a route.
You're not buying a headstart
Just because you're in now, it doesn't mean you're ahead of the pack in terms of character progress. In Planetside 2, you spend XP and certification points on upgrading and unlocking vehicles, weapons and class abilities. Currently, the resource, XP and certification points are all being accumulated by players at an accelerated rate. This won't last. SOE have said that there will almost certainly be character resets as the game goes forward. So don't get too attached to everything you earn.
This is a beta, and it shows
On the EU server I play, server resets, restarts and disconnections are commonplace. Fights are frequently interrupted by the server going down, and when that happens, the territory positions are also reset. There's a hilarious bug in which characters appear to be able to lie down and shoot around the floor like rockets, and you'll occasionally log in to discover particle effects don't work.
The currency and customisation you're buying will be applied irregularly
Alpha Squad feels like a pretty good deal for Planetside 2 veterans as well as newcomers - a batch of new guns, and the equivalent amount of Station Cash to spend on customisation in the in-game store. But don't expect all that cash and customisation to appear immediately. In Europe, Planetside 2 is run by a separate company (ProSiebenSat1 - a German media company) - but right now, SOE are handling the accounts. In Europe, the goodies land when ProSiebenSat1 take control. It may well be that you've tired of the game before your loot appears in your account.
It may not be for you
The reason I love Planetside is the reason you may not; it's a team game. If you're playing on your own, you're just not going to have as much fun. If you're playing on your own, you'll find that you have to walk from long-spawns to the front line. If you're playing on your own, you'll miss out on team-chat, and the tactical nuances. This is a game that's meant to be played in squads - if you're not able or willing to accept that, it's just not going to be right for you.
Some of the mechanics are ill-explained and open to change
The current debate within the Planetside 2 community is how players capture and hold bases. Right now, the continent is split into hexes. To capture a point in one hex, you'll need to control at least one adjacent hex. That's led to situations on my server where a zerg of players had accidentally overextended, and were fruitlessly shooting at the force-fields that surround a base. In previous versions of the beta players were able to capture any territory at any point. SOE are expecting to make further changes to the mechanics.
So it's understandable if the players haven't worked it all out yet. Meanwhile the game doesn't' do a great job of explaining itself. When you first spawn, you're dumped right by the warp gate. There's no tutorial or guide when you begin. It is sink or swim on Auraxis.
Planetside 2 could suffer from the same problems as Planetside 1
I love the Planetside games, but no-one could ever call them perfect. I think the preferred term is magnificently flawed. The first game suffered all kinds of strains. The player numbers quickly dwindled leaving continents mostly empty. Players found themselves stuck in the same fights over the same locations, with no real sense of possession.
The developers could never find a real meta-game that could provide a reason to fight. SOE's mishandled expansions and updates: Core Combat added too much geography, further spreading the players out while, later, Aftershock, added unnecessary Battletech style mechs called BFRs.
Some of these problems are alive and kicking. There's still no real meta-game in Planetside 2, and there's already a sense of repetition creeping into the fights. I don't want to overstate this, but the lack of long-term meta-game is something I worry about.
My other worry: the most popular free-to-play tease their players with a steady stream of new features, content, consumables, weaponry and aesthetic choices. That makes for plenty of rope for SOE to hang themselves on.
But that's for later. Right now, I'm struggling to find reasons not to be playing Planetside 2. It's extraordinary. I love it. If you want to, you can buy your way in right now. That's always going to be a good deal.