This past weekend, Sony Online Entertainment whisked me away from the bustling PAX Prime show floor to the Seattle Hyatt, where I got to see updates to a few of the games in their stable of massively multiplayer games.
Planetside 2's New Swamp Continent: Hossin
Sony Online Entertainment senior art director Tramell Ray Isaac walked me through Planetside 2's next big update: the Hossin swamp continent. Currently Planetside 2, a massively multiplayer first person shooter akin to the Battlefield series, is made up of three continents. Hossin features a massive new research facility, the largest structure in the game to date. The swamp setting also introduces more large trees and foliage, limiting the usefulness of Planetside 2's aircraft and prompting a switch in player tactics.
More interesting than the new continent, though, were the variety of gameplay improvements coming down the line. I wasn't exactly keen on Planetside 2 when it launched last year. However, as Isaac described how the game has changed since release, I gradually became more interested in stepping back into the fray. All the continents in Planetside 2 will be redone to allow for easier player navigation, and add more explicit objectives. There are varying objectives according to group size, so players don't need to latch on to a larger group of strangers to feel like they are accomplishing something. In addition to all this, performance will be vastly improved by the time Planetside 2 launches on PlayStation 4. Isaac detailed several intricate ways in which the engine has been fine-tuned to get a smooth framerate on a wider variety of machines, without sacrificing the fidelity or scope of Planetside 2.
The Hossin continent is available to play on the Planetside 2 test server, with a launch set for later this year. Sony Online Entertainment is hoping to release Planetside 2 for the PlayStation 4 on launch day, but cannot firmly commit to that timeframe yet.
Dragon's Prophet, a Free-To-Play Massively Multiplayer Online RPG Launching September 18th
Next, I walked through the starting area and "frontier" system in Dragon's Prophet. As the name suggests, Dragon's Prophet brings a slight twist to the MMORPG formula with an always-present dragon companion. Players collect several dragons throughout the game, and can easily switch them out depending on what abilities they need in a given situation. The increased mobility afforded by riding your dragons around is a welcome change of pace from typical MMORPGS, which force you to trudge around on foot until you have already invested hundreds of hours.
The frontier system was the real highlight though: an endgame player-versus-player area. A "frontier" in Dragon's Prophet is one of many enclosed areas with several plots for houses owned by players. These houses are decorated with paint, furniture, and rare items acquired by players, introducing a bit of Animal Crossing flair to the standard MMORPG. Across a bridge lies a player-owned citadel which is either your home or your next target, depending on your guild allegiance. Players who own the citadel own the entire region it overlooks, and are able to tax the players who live there. This results in a substantial income to players in the dominant guild so, naturally, the guild in the citadel will want to upgrade guardians and defenses to make it difficult for other guilds to assail the citadel. This frontier system is mainly for players who have already seen the rest of Dragon's Prophet's content, but represents pure player-run worlds in a package infinitely more accessible than Eve Online.
Dragon's Prophet sticks to a standard MMORPG framework, which may not draw a large, dedicated player base in a post-World of Warcraft era. But given the unique steps it does take, and a fair free to play model that only charges for "customization and convenience," MMO fans could do worse.
Dragon's Prophet is in open beta right now, and officially launches on September 18th.