It must have been a difficult task to devise an expansion pack for one of the year’s most unique releases. Planetside isn’t quite a shooter, nor quite an RPG, but an element of both. It is, however, definitely more shooter than role-play. When other massively multiplayer titles have released expansions, like Dark Age of Camelot, they have simply added more classes and more areas to explore, because most of the fun in MMPORPGs is in playing around with new classes and exploring new lands. Most of the fun in Planetside, however, is in killing people, especially in the enormous battles, the vast scale of which only Planetside has yet achieved. The question is can an expansion, which, like most MMPORPGs, offers new areas to explore, along with new weapons and vehicles to play with, enhance the enjoyment of playing Planetside?
The first thing that I noticed about the expansion was how little it affected the way I played the game. For the first few hours I could hardly tell any difference between life with Core Combat, and life without it. Apart from seeing one of the new alien vehicles drive by, and testing out the new weapons and vehicles in the training building, things I could have done without the expansion installed, nothing had changed. I didn’t get the opportunity to play with any of the new weapons or vehicles for real, because none of the terminals I tried allowed me to tool up with them, and required a special module to be collected from the Core, that nobody seemed to be bothering to get. Starting to become frustrated at the inability to review the expansion I was tasked with, I decided to hunt down the gateways to the underworld and discover what it was that I was missing.
The reason I hadn’t managed to get into the Core for the hours I had been playing, is because of the way I play. I tend to just want to jump in, rather than take long walks into the countryside, and usually select “Instant Action”. The Instant Action function, however, just wasn’t taking me to the Core ever, and when I reached the core, I realised why: there was no action going on there. After driving half way across the continent in my Basilisk (the new Switchblade wasn’t available to me), I eventually found the gate to the underworld. Unfortunately I turned up just as it shut down and became inactive, forcing me to find another. Eventually, through much p***verance, I found my way down and was greeted by long dark and empty corridors, and a central cavern filled with glowing and multi-coloured platforms, but no people, friend or foe.
Several unpopulated cores later I chanced upon my first enemy underground: a hacker going from point to point, disabling everything in the cavern, unhindered by any defenders. He seemed as surprised to see me as I was him, and after an all too brief fight, we never found each other again. I spent the rest of my time down there, moving from platform to platform on the maze of zipline transporters, the navigation of which proved a not particularly enjoyable challenge in itself. On each of the platform were subterranean encampments, much like those above ground, only alien, along with some defence positions, like the surface based wall turrets, only they hurt me with every shot I took. One of the benefits of being underground is that you can finally get to try out the new weapons, as these are always available from the Core terminals. The only problem, of course, is that there is nobody to shoot at, so it tends to be no better than training.
The key problem with the Core Combat expansion is that it doesn’t enhance the fun of the player, because it doesn’t address the aspects of the game that make Planetside fun in the first place. Planetside is at its most boring when you are forced to wander around the large, if beautiful, continents, trying to find the next battle. It excels when you find those battles, and they become the awe inspiring colossal combat scenes that no other game offers you. The expansion pack should have helped make these more enjoyable, by concentrating the action and giving you more ways of enjoying the action itself. The expansion addresses one of these issues by giving you new weapons and vehicles, but fails on the other count, by making the game more expansive, and creating areas of the game that would thin out the battles if anyone actually bothered to go down there in the first place.
Planetside isn’t an MMPORPG, and so having new places to explore doesn’t make the game more fun to play, in fact less populated battles and longer walks around unpopulated areas just makes it worse. In an MMPORPG it doesn’t matter if you are only one of a few hundred players with the expansion, as you can happily wander around the new map, killing the new creatures, with your new classes and weapons, whether there are many others with the expansion or not. With Planetside, however, you absolutely need hundreds of others buying the expansion for that to work, and few seem to be buying it. With the servers now slimmed down to a single server on each coast, and one in Europe, and still no heavy action inside the Core, it would seem that it would take a huge increase in numbers for there to be any hope for this actually making the game more entertaining.
Planetside is a great game, one of the best of the year, and if you haven’t already played it, you should definitely take up the chance before it fades into history. Core Combat, however, offers little for players, neither those that are still playing nor those who are considering returning. There’s nothing actually wrong with Core Combat, but as it fails to offer a significant improvement over and above the original game itself, then there is no reason to recommend buying it. The game does offer some extended choices for those who may be starting to tire of the options they already have, and having access to the Core technologies definitely gives your side a boost, so for the seriously hardcore Planetside player wanting to get more from the game while helping out their allies will probably want to pick this up. Everyone else, however, will probably not even notice its passing.