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Mass Effect Review / Planetside Improvements

3am: tired, yet not tired enough. I blame residual caffeine. Fine. I've things to say. First, about the game that's taken up my last few days, Mass Effect. Second, about a game that looks pretty washed up but I came up with some interesting ideas for it, Planetside.  In my sleepy-yet-not state, my typical apprehension has left me, all that remains is pure thought and emotion.

Mass Effect

First off, Mass Effect (XBox 360) is pretty awesome. I've always been a sucker for the space exploration-type game: Elite series, StarFlight series, Star Control 2, ect. Mass Effect barely resembles them... it's more like a popular BioWare game in that it focuses mostly on the story punctuated by combat (as though this guy hasn't changed his approach much since Baldur's Gate.)

To put at it another way, Mass Effect takes reasonably emulated combat from Gears of War (which involves a lot of running behind cover and shooting things from a third person perspective) and merges it with the story-driven 3D world narrative of a Bioware RPG. That's already an excellent formula, but they didn't stop there. They added a space exploration and planet transversing mechanism like Star Control 2, Starflight, or Sentinel Worlds would have had if the developers of those games had cutting-edge 3D technology at their disposal.

Though the amount of space to explore in Mass Effect is not as vast as many of the earlier games, it makes up for it by having universally (but to varying degrees) hand-crafted content. When merged with the hardcore story presentation, which makes the whole thing feel like the military Sci-Fi TV shows that air today, the whole thing feels very real and at the same time adequately surreal.

My only complaint about the game would have to be that the hand-crafted universe is disappointingly finite, the game is over in about 20-40 hours, but that really can't be helped considering the elements of their winning approach.

Two thumbs up. I might even have to extend my pinky on this one.

Planetside

Planetside was the first Massively Multiplayer First Person Shooter and, to an extent, it remains the only one out there. Oh, there's some interesting tactical games, but none of them have quite the same focus of Planetside. Unfortunately, the game has never managed to pull together the neccessary feeling of worldliness to make for an effective subscription-based MMORPG.

The developers are scrambling to retain what remains of their playerbase, which is probably composed of 95% die-hard fans by now. Yet, I think the game can be saved. Here's a small laundry list of some changes I'd like to see Planetside undergo:
  1. Change pay model to free-to-play but with paid-advantages (standard Korean MMORPG configuration).
    • Higher tier equipment requires payment. $2.50/mo for access to individual packages containing the very best equipment. Paid Packages Include: Assault weapons, Anti-Infantry MAX, Reaver gunships, and Battle Frame Robotics.
    • Paid account required for higher command rank access.
    • Access to the Core restricted to paid accounts.
    • Other possible advantages.
    • All Station Pass access includes complete package access (much like with Adventure Packs in EQ2).
    Overall, even if you shelled out for all the features, you're still doing better off than you were paying $15/mo. Meanwhile, a lot of players who would have given up Planetside stick around and keep the game alive.
  2. Having to respec is an unnecessary hurdle. Replace certification system with one that grants universal access to all gear the player can use with their Battle Rank and subscription plan. Each Battle Rank unlocks access to a specific type of equipment or vehicle.
  3. Drop pods only allow access to friendly spheres of influence. No using them to skirt enemy lines anymore. This apparent time saver is actually a major reason why territory never mattered in Planetside.
  4. The Quick Action option has similarly got to go. It never did bring people to places where they needed to be, it usually only teleported people off to some tower of no particular tactical importance. If it's kept, you'd have to allow commanders to designate where quick action players go.
  5. The Orbital Strike is pure cheese. Restrict it - Empires can only launch once once every 10 minutes per continent held (minimum 5 minutes (0 continents held)). In other words, if you hold 4 continents, your empire can only launch a single orbital strike every 40 minutes. That's total - this timer is shared across all Command-Ranked players of that empire.
  6. Add client side inertia to strafing. This should result in no more dodge lag. This has been a fundamental problem with Planetside since day 1, that dodging quickly from the left and then right results in you teleporting on your enemy's side, and it could easily be fixed if you'd just fire whomsoever is dragging their feet on this extremely vital, non-optional fix. To be clear, MMOFPS technology is not yet ready to lack this control.
  7. Optional: Add ability to call in supplies and other automated drone air support. Think Mercenaries. Just because it'd be cool and better suit the futuristic theme of the game.
Now there's a Planetside I'd be willing to play again. Only trouble is that the existing players would probably have a conniption if they forced these changes on them - diehard fans are diehard fans because they like things exactly as they are. So, instead, put this on the drawing board for Planetside 2. The planet needs to rebuilt to reflect current experience and today's hardware anyway. Really, by today's standards you're in better shape to look at Battlefield 2142 than you are Tribes for inspiration on what can make a good Planetside. Giant floating battle fortresses? Heck yeah! It's unfortunate for Planetside that BF2142, a game that in many ways does what Planetside currently does better, is completely free to play. That's just one more reason they should consider a F2P model with paid incentive system for Planetside. If nothing else, it at least assures sufficient players for the massively multiplayer feature to mean something.

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