We certainly live in interesting times. Last year, the idea of playing Phantasy Star Online 2 while I’m explicitly told to not leave the house was literally a, dare I say, phantasy. But here I am, doing exactly that. And aside from a 24-hour stint in Animal Crossing with my wife, this game has taken over most of my now-abundant gaming time.
Phantasy Star Online 2 came out way back in 2012. Confusingly, it released only in Japan. Of course, thanks the tireless efforts of fans, English-speaking players have always had a chance to play the game through fan patches. But if you’re like me and play MMOs only on official western servers, that’s not an option. For many, the dream of this game coming out stateside petered sometime around 2016. But those who waited are now in for a treat with the release of this free-to-play title.
In the eight years it’s been out, the game’s received many quality-of-life improvements along with all three “episodes” of the game, the equivalent to expansions. Servers in the west will have parity with the Japanese ones. SEGA never mentioned when open beta closes, but some events run until late April, so it’s possible what we’re playing right now is actually a soft-launch.
In my recent Shadow Arena article, I mentioned why it’s critical to have a really strong focus in any game, and PSO2 is all about fashion. This game gives players an unprecedented amount of control on how their characters look. There are the basics like height, hairstyles, and skin tones. Then there are the features that allow players to customize the physical proportions of their characters. It even has a stomach-and-butt-slider!
But before getting to the all-important butt slider, players need to pick a race, of which there are four: Humans, Newmans, Deumans, and CASTs. Newmans fit the elf archetype, while Deumans are your “humans with horns” variety. My favorite are the CASTs; they’re robots and androids. The CASTs have a variety of aesthetic choices too, and players can create something that looks like a Gundam or something with more human features.
So much of this game is centered on self expression. Players have access to various outfits (body parts in the case of the CASTs) with many different dye channels to work with. Arm, leg, and back items float on on their areas and run the gamut from blades, shields, and even some silly little items. Every player also gets a friend called a MAG, which is a tiny robot that floats beside them providing stats, extra attack support, and most importantly, style. Even small details are considered: Players can adjust where their character keeps their weapons sheathed and even add layers to outfits.
I could go on for ages the many different ways a player can design a character, but it’s this singular focus that really makes this game shine. This game knows it’s got something for you. Are you the type that likes pink pigtails like one of our commenters? There’s like four different types of pigtails and every single shade of pink available. The cash shop is also well-stocked on many fashion items to choose from. I didn’t really have a chance to explore, but the catalogue is expansive. The game depends almost exclusively on cosmetics from what I see, and that’s fine. It really doesn’t feel like the gameplay is gouged.
Coming from Black Desert Online, I was floored at how much inventory space players get. Every character gets 50 slots with a 200-slot shared storage. Players can purchase more inventory space too if they need. That’s a lot of space to work with, and there are very few barriers to gameplay. I haven’t put a cent into this game yet, and there’s still so much.
So what about the gameplay? PSO2 is a hack-and-slash with a hybrid of instanced and public spaces. The town is a central hub filled with players. In the combat areas, it’s a mix of instances and a shared space. Combat areas usually have one shared space to kill monsters on and do events, but the next combat zone can be a single-person instance.
The game also offers its own version of zone events in the form of monster attacks and giant boss monsters showing up in both private and public instances. It’s a nice addition; it adds to that feeling that you and your fellow players are in dangerous territory and should be on their guard.
Regardless of where players are, the monsters respawn, so players can choose to find a spot to just kill monsters and grind EXP. Those who didn’t like Black Desert’s grinding because of encountering players will enjoy grinding in this game. There’s no dueling for spots – just kill, get loot, and get EXP. It’s relaxing, and the combat is just dang satisfying. Players can also conduct exploration missions where all they need to do is get to the end of the instance where they fight a giant boss, and boy are they scary.
No matter what class you pick, be it the sword wielding hunter or the space-marine vibe of the hunter, every hit has a satisfying percussive sound. The animations are well done and the combat has a really nice rhythm to it. Button mashing is not the best way to play this game. While that’s possible, your DPS will be lower. After the first attack, properly timing each subsequent attack will provide extra damage. There’s a visual symbol of one circle getting smaller and hitting the attack button when it reaches the same size as a second, smaller, circle. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it really differentiates itself from the super mashy action MMORPG titles out there.
And you’re not just fighting some tiny enemies here. From level 1, the monsters are downright ferocious. The focus on aesthetic is front and center in this game. It makes a point to make sure you’re doing cool things while fighting massive beasts without any need to grind. The game’s even balanced out so that players have a fighting chance against higher-level mobs too. It just doesn’t seem to get old.
Interested? The game is available in its open beta for the Xbox One right now, so give it a download and try it! Every MMORPG player will get something out of it. This game is just downright fun.