Greetings everyone, welcome back to my modest campfire, where I talk about video games and stuff. Last time, you may recall me talking about free-to-play games and the pay-to-win elephant in the room. Though I talked about PlanetSide 2 almost extensively in that article, I wasn’t able to determine whether or not PlanetSide 2 was pay-to-win or not. Well, rest assured, I can give you a clearer answer on that now. With that, I believe it’s time to drop into the hot zone that is PlanetSide 2.
PlanetSide 2, for those who are just joining in, is an MMOFPS (stop it with the acronyms guysss) where you are dropped into one of three continents as part of one of three factions, who are all locked in a very drawn out war of attrition. I suppose there’s no real ultimate goal, other than controlling territory for your faction by capturing it from other factions. The lack of a main goal may make the game seem pointless, but the massive battles make the game seem more like an authentic war than most other shooters out there. With the ability to wage war on foot, in a tank, or from the skies, the game turns combat into a constant spectacle.
Like any free-to-play game, PlanetSide 2 must indeed come under scrutiny. Is it pay-to-win? If you remember my article from last week, my ultimate conclusion was that offering weapons and items for money doesn’t necessarily make a game pay-to-win, so long as one can obtain those items as a non-paying member, these items don’t significantly affect the balance of the game, and the grind for these weapons isn’t insanely long. I did say that boosts fall under pay-to-win, as they create a schism between paying members, who can save time and reach higher levels/ranks faster, and non-paying members, who take much longer to get to where the paying members are currently. I also reasoned that, by including boosts in the first place, developers recognize that the grinds in their games are, to some extent, too much. Rather than balancing the grind, developers who implement boosts try to bury the issue by passing the buck to members who are willing to pay.
PlanetSide 2 does have boosts, so by my very definition, PlanetSide 2 would be considered pay-to-win. Not quite. I think there’s a fundamental problem with PlanetSide 2, but it’s certainly not pay-to-win. Sure, I do consider boosts pay-to-win, but I also look at what boosts get you. There are two “collectibles” in PlanetSide 2. There’s your standard experience, which determines your battle rank, and then there are certification points. Now, I have not found a single use for battle ranks (other than status), so boosts don’t affect much in that regard. Certification points are used to buy new things, like weapons, equipment, and upgrades. Boosts do help you get certs faster, which would in turn get you weapons, equipment, and upgrades faster.
Here lies the crux of the issue. It takes simply way too damned long to grind for anything in PlanetSide 2. Certification gain goes like this: for every 250 experience points you get, you earn 1 certification point. You get about 100 experience for every kill, plus a few points for multipliers and the like. Other things like repairing and healing give 5 experience per tick. Deploying your sunderer (the sunderer, normally an armored truck that carries people about, can be turned into a mobile respawn/resupply station) and having people respawn from your sunderer gives you 2 experience points each. Resupplying other players gives you 10 experience every time. Blowing up vehicles give 150 experience points each. Capturing objectives give anywhere between 100 to 250 experience points each.
For reference, the last weapon I bought cost 1000 certification points (I bit the bullet with this one though and used real money, ashamedly). That’s a maximum of 2500 kills, a minimum of 1000 captures, around 1700 destroyed vehicles, 125,000 respawns at a deployed sunderer, 25,000 resupplies, or 50,000 medic/engineer ticks. That takes an absolutely absurd amount of time for a nonpaying member to earn. Hell, an attachment for the weapon I got takes about an hour to grind for, give or take.
Through sheer absurdity, these numbers devilishly lead players toward the path of maximum certification point gain. Now, try to remember the experience point gain I gave for each action. Also remember that this game is an MMOFPS. With that in mind, you can probably infer the best way to obtain certification points: by rushing into danger zones and trying to kill as many people as possible. Capturing objectives, destroying other vehicles, and focusing solely on repairing and healing other players will simply not give a suitable certification point gain. One will never progress with these methods, and will eventually realize that rushing enemy bases (or madly defending your own under fire) will upgrade your character the fastest.
This flies directly in the face of PlanetSide 2′s very design, which should technically encourage a wide variety of playstyles, whether they be bombing strategic targets, capturing bases to use as springing boards for major ones, ferrying squads into the heat of battle, or getting into massive skirmishes with the goal of killing everything not on your side. However, with the way certification gain works, there seems to conflicting intentions in the game. One aspect of the game tells you to wage war as you please, the other very heavily encourages you to only wage war a certain way, the way that maximizes your own growth. It’s this very dissonance that could wind up creating a schism in the game, a schism between those who want to develop their characters as fast as possible, and those who want to experience the game in ways the developers should have encouraged, but ultimately didn’t.
So to answer the question, PlanetSide 2 is not pay-to-win. Pay-to-win implies that a paying member gets an advantage over non-paying members. PlanetSide 2 seems to be pay-to-not-grind, instead. Players have to grind a significant amount to obtain new equipment, equipment that will ultimately never tip the scales in anyone’s favor. The most prevalent battles will always be slug-fests between two sides, and this is solely due to optimal point gain. If PlanetSide 2 wants to be the massive, macro-level war it advertises, the developers should do something about the grind, fast, otherwise the game will devolve into little more than World War I IN SPACE.
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