Daybreak Games has announced PlanetSide Arena, a battle royale take on the PlanetSide franchise.
PlanetSide Arena launches on PC on 29th January 2019 priced €16.79. At launch, it includes a first-person shooter battle royale that comes in three types: solo for 100 players, teams of three for 102 players and a 250 versus 250 player mode called Massive Clash. It's all set on a huge 8k x 8k, four square kilometer map called Echoes of Amerish, which is based on Amerish, the third continent added to the world of Auraxis for PlanetSide 2.
Three classes are available at launch, each with their own abilities, utilities and passives. All classes have jet packs and all can summon a vehicle to zip around the map at any time. Because of this, there's a freedom of movement to proceedings. But, countering this is a longer time to kill than in most other battle royale games, fuelled by a shield system that can make characters feel tanky.
While Arena launches as a battle royale experience, Daybreak does not intend for it to be a battle royale game. New modes like Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy and Global Conquest will be introduced each new game season.
Speaking of seasons, each will introduce a Fortnite-style battle pass. The battle pass has a free and paid for track. The free track unlocks some cosmetics as well as blueprints for things such as weapons. Players pick three blueprints to bring into a match. Then, during the game, you can spend a virtual currency you earned while playing to spawn your blueprints from a terminal for use in battle. It might be a unique weapon, for example. The paid track of the battle pass, on the other hand, contains flashy cosmetics only.
If you buy the game, you get the battle pass for whatever season's running at that time. Subsequent seasons will then give you the option of buying the battle pass. Interestingly, Arena will make the previous season's blueprint-exclusive weapons "in-map weapons" for the current season, giving those who didn't manage to unlock them before a chance to give them a shot.
While there is much about PlanetSide Arena that will be familiar to battle royale fans, it's doing a few things that are interesting and unique. For example, every player can spawn their own Flash (the ATV from PlanetSide 2) at any point.
"The whole goal of this was whether the distance is far or tall, the player isn't felt held back in terms of movement," Tony Morton, lead game designer on PlanetSide Arena, told Eurogamer in a Skype interview.
"So they can cover a lot of ground on the Flash pretty quickly, and with the jump jets in terms of height, they're able to fly up and climb things."
PlanetSide Arena also puts all loot on pedestals, rather than on the ground, in order to improve game flow.
"Typically in the BR genre, in the beginning of the match you always find yourself running around staring at the ground looking for loot," Morton explained. "We wanted to make a change to that, so we've placed all of our loot on pedestals. As small as this change may seem, it actually helps quite significantly because it keeps people looking around the horizon. They're more aware of opponents. They're more aware of what's going on. And in general it helps the game flow better because you're not continually looking up and down."
Similarly, Arena doesn't want players fussing over weapon attachments. Weapons come with a set of attachments, with better quality weapons, for example, including a full set.
"It's much more of a grab-and-go scenario," Morton said. "It's freeing in terms of just running around, grabbing what you need and continuing that movement."
And then there's the relatively slow combat. "When it comes down to getting into combat and killing, but more so being killed, we do find other games in the genre, you tend to die really fast," Morton explained.
"There's no a whole lot of time to react. We wanted to give players more of an extended combat experience."
PlanetSide doing battle royale comes at an interesting time not just for Daybreak, but for the battle royale genre. 2018 has seen a number of developers try and fail to carve out a piece of the phenomenally-popular battle royale genre with games that have come and gone, while genre staples such as Fortnite, PUBG and Call of Duty's Blackout keep on going. Indeed, Daybreak is no stranger to battle royale - its own H1Z1 is currently live on PC and consoles.
So, with battle royale a crowded genre, what will make PlanetSide Arena standout? Experience and non-battle royale stuff, Morton said.
"I spent about a year-and-a-half as lead combat and systems designer on H1Z1," he said. "There's a lot of experience inside the building when it comes to the genre. It's not our first rodeo. There have been some places where we've taken some liberties to double down on the things we learned players enjoyed, and veer away from some of those friction points, and take a chance to innovate in the space.
"The other side of it is, it's not a BR game. It's an Arena game. PlanetSide Arena may have BR in it, but our biggest goal is to have just BR as a mode and not be a BR game. While we may have a CTF mode that is 8v8, we may also have a CTF mode that is 20v20v20v20, which completely throws everything on its head and any expectation for predictability out the window, and it's something we can do on a scale base we know no-one else can do at the moment."
The announcement of PlanetSide Arena also comes at a worrying time for Daybreak itself. The company has suffered two rounds of layoffs this year, the most recent occurring just before Christmas, with a reported 70 staff let go.
I can't imagine how tough it is in the studio right now, nor how difficult it must have been to see friends lose their jobs. I imagine it's pretty tough to have to speak excitedly to press about PlanetSide Arena so soon after scores of people at Daybreak lost their jobs, too. And yet Tony Morton is charged with doing exactly that, at a time when I'm sure some will say PlanetSide battle royale is too little, too late for a company that looks like it's really struggling.
When I asked him about the layoffs, his tone changed. Sure, he will have expected to be asked about it, and will have worked on an appropriate response, but I detect a genuine sadness. And of course there should be sadness in his voice: our interview takes place just a week after these layoffs were announced.
"It's always tough, right?" he said. "Especially in an industry where everybody works so close together, we're basically like family. The PlanetSide Arena team was relatively unimpacted, so we're pushing forward, doing what we can. The PlanetSide 2 team was unimpacted as well. We've just got to make sure we can do everything we can to ensure as much success as we can in the future, and really double down on that and do the best job we can do, you know?
"No matter what industry it's in, stuff like this is always difficult, right? We've been working hard for quite a while on this. We're all excited about it. We're all passionate about it. We just want to see it do the best it can. We'll do everything we can. Morale, of course, will be up and down. But we have a lot of pride and we have a lot of conviction and we have a lot of confidence. That can carry us far.
"If nothing else, we just want to make everybody proud whether they're still here or they're not. We want to make sure it's a title we can all stand behind, and a title everybody can look forward to and be proud to say they either are working on or they worked on at some point. We have to do our due diligence for everybody to make sure this thing gets out the door in the best shape it can. And just so everybody can have a moment of pride and be happy and speak with confidence."