Despite Phantasy Star Online being ahead of its time as the first MMO to work on a console way back in 2000, the franchise as a whole has seen better days. With a recent string of mediocre games, Sega seems like they're getting their act together in turning things around for Phantasy Star Online 2. We checked out the recent closed beta session for the PC version and found new things to get excited about while traversing space and killing waves of indigenous alien creatures and evil spawns called Darkers.
You have three standard classes to pick from: the close-ranged Hunter; the long-ranged gun-toting Rangers; and the magic-wielding Forces. You also get to pick your races. Humans are adaptable to any class and have balanced stats, while the Newmans are better at spell-casting roles since their physical form is as effective as a wet paper towel. The robotic CASTs race is better-suited for more physical roles, which means they are terrible at handling magic.
It has been ages since we've played a Phantasy Star Online title, so we picked the easiest class to explore with: the Hunter. As for our race, we decided to go with the CASTs because, hey, when you have a chance to pick a cyborg race in a space-based MMO, you just go for it. While we didn't spend much time on the character creator, we did see that the customization options were plentiful, from facial morphing to tweaking eyelashes and body proportions. Fans can lose themselves creating their perfect space opera anime avatar.
The tutorial mission was set in a forest area. We were given the standard guidelines on how the game's controls and classes work. PSO2 feels more action-oriented due to the addition of jumping, guarding and evasions.
Each class has their own special combat maneuvers: Hunters can block, while Forces can cast area-of-effect spells. The Rangers can go nuts with the long-reaching grenade shot skill. All of these abilities require the PP meter which regenerates decently after a second of usage, and we found that mapping the quick swap weapon option to the mouse wheel helped switch up combat faster and more efficiently.
Using our Hunter, we alternated between using a two-handed sword and our fists for variety in combat. The quick switch also allowed us to use our entire combat arsenal to go as far as to juggle foes to the air, which is also new to the series. Blocking was also a good way to deal damage; we had to time it just right before the enemy's strike made contact.
We also had a chance to play around with the Forces class, and she came with her own array of spells like Fire Blast and Frost Attack. The former only allowed us to attack a single target but inflicted the enemy with burn status which deals damage over time. Frost Attack dealt less damage, but could be used to hit multiple foes in a straight line, and also has a chance to freeze them. Bum rushing as a magic user is suicide, and we avoided getting close unless we knew we could finish off our target with a few melee strikes.
Randomness plays a significant role in PSO2. While the geographic nature of the map stayed the same, enemy positions, level layouts and item drops were dynamically scattered, altered and distributed during our second and third run in the forest level. Furthermore, PSO2 introduces interrupt events to shake things up when you least expect them. These include crashed space ships or high-level groups of Darkers teleporting within the vicinity. Other times, the game can throw a type of interrupt event where you duel against a boss (usually a few levels higher than you), regardless of whether the current quest you're in contains a boss or not.