Sony Online Entertainment’s next flagship game has a lot to prove, but the majority of my doubts were erased once I took control of a grunt in Planetside 2.

I already knew I was on board with Planetside 2’s persistent warfare that puts everyone in the same world without splitting up into 16-, 32-, or even 64-player matches. The foremost question on my mind was whether it could deliver the kind of pixel-perfect shooter gameplay that any Call of Duty or Battlefield player expects. My hat is off to Sony Online, because I wouldn’t have known I was playing an MMO-scale title, with hundreds of players fighting dozens of skirmishes in a three-way war spanning multiple continents, from how good it felt to vaporize my enemies with hand weapons, vehicles, and aircraft alike. It may only have been a half-hour on the E3 show floor months before release, but the moment-to-moment gameplay itself is already on par with any triple-A sci-fi shooter you care to name.

The typical shooter archetypes are all well-represented. I tried the majority of them for myself, and each one I got my hands on was a delight in its own way. Heavies control their area wherever they go with powerful miniguns, snipers provide overwatch, engineers deploy deadly turrets, and jetpack-sporting assault players create havoc all over the battlefield. Aircraft, from the helicopter-like VTOL assault craft to enormous dropships that double as forward spawn points, are expensive but powerful support craft. Swift four-wheelers and a variety of tank-like assault vehicles provide land-based firepower, but also require a non-trivial investment of resources. 

The struggle for those resources is how Planetside 2 blows the doors off of our conception of a modern online shooter. Players belong to one of three factions, and rather than joining discrete matches with objectives like capturing a flag or planting a bomb they simply deploy wherever they feel like in the persistent public space that makes up Planetside 2’s game world. Control of territories depends on capturing nodes on the map, which are often fortified inside enormous bases. Wherever players decide to fight is where the action is; nothing is scripted or determined by NPC actions.

I was already sold on the idea of joining the enormous persistent war that Planetside 2 promises. Now that I’ve played it and have firsthand confirmation that the gameplay holds its own against the best shooters on the market today, it’s at the top of my competitive shooter list. We should see a closed beta starting soon, with a full release planned before the end of the year.

Oh, and it’s 100 percent free-to-play (with real-money purchasing of cosmetic and convenience items as well as sidegrade weapons, like an assault rifle that does less damage but reloads faster). That doesn’t hurt either.