Phantasy Star Online 2 has gotten a big revamp with Phantasy Star Online 2. It’s a fresh new start for the long-running free-to-play MMORPG, a much-needed one too. But at what cost?
Now that the first week of launch has passed, I’ve played enough to share some thoughts on the state of PSO2 NGS as it is now.
What The Heck Is New Genesis?
PSO2 New Genesis could have been a standalone game, but it’s not. It’s a new version of PSO2 that every player (even returning ones) need to at least play the prologue before being able to access good old base PSO2.
New Genesis brings a major graphics overhaul, a new gameplay loop and several tweaks and differences to combat.
Think of it as Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn, except Sega isn’t nuking the original game. It’s a fresh start, but the original is still intact for everyone to access.
New Genesis, New Waifu/Husbando/Abomination
The big selling point of PSO2 is its robust character creation tool. It’s up there among the best character creators in an MMO, especially so if you like the game’s choice of aesthetic: anime characters. And a good serving of fanservice options too.
New Genesis revamps the existing character creator, giving you more freedom to make your own waifu, husbando or an abomination just for the fun of it. Race and gender restrictions have been removed, so you can mix and match your character bodytype with different faces and other race-specific features from PSO2. You can make mecha girls that uses the blocky full-robo body parts exclusive to males, for example.
However, clothing is still restricted to body types. You can’t mix-and-match a type 1 basewear clothing with a type 2 outerwear, for example. You have to commit to one body type.
The improved graphics quality for New Genesis can easily be seen here. You can still use legacy PSO2 character customisation options, but they clearly look low-res compared to the shiny new NGS options. It’s Gran Turismo 5’s Premium car and Standard car situation again. But during gameplay, the difference is hard to notice, and several legacy clothing options will get an NGS version later in the future.
The character creator is overall a positive step forward, and I’m glad they let PSO2 veterans go and customise their existing characters for free before starting NGS. But don’t expect a huge library of cosmetic options at the start, more on that later.
Not Better, But Different
New Genesis isn’t necessarily the better version of PSO2, it’s a different version.
At its heart, this is still PSO2. You have a sci-fi setting about ARKS operatives fighting against some familiar otherworldly entity. The story is, for better or worse, your typical story riddle with anime cliches just like in PSO2.
There is still action-based combat in this MMORPG. There are weapons to enhance and add augments. Classes and sub-classes you can freely change each with a skill tree. The usual.
But NGS also comes with some fundamental shake-ups. The gameplay loop isn’t akin to Monster Hunter where you select mission, then gear up, then drop into a map and then fight a boss at the end of the run. Instead, now you’re roaming out there in instanced “open-fields”. Sega doesn’t want to say open world.
And I get that. It’s not the clear-outpost-climb-watchtower kind of open world. The Aelio region, one of many in planet Halpha, is vast and filled with secrets to discover. Discovering a dungeon (or rather, a simulation arena that is Cocoons and Towers) is fun. So as picking up the collectable red boxes hidden across the region.
Traversing the open field is thankfully fun as well. Everyone gets a Photon Dash, a super-speed sprint button, and the ability to double jump, do a wall kick and glide.
The new movement actions can be fiddly (I find disabling auto-wall-jump makes it less disorienting). But for the most part, it’s fun zooming around while admiring the abnormally shaped but beautiful vistas. You can always fast travel if you want to save time which is also nice.
The combat has also been changed. You are now not encouraged to time your attacks in a rhythm to deal bigger damage. You can just hold the attack button.
But that doesn’t mean it’s simplified. Your character, regardless of class, now has more options to move in the air as well as stay in the air with a mix of all-new and redesigned Photon Arts (skills).
Even better, there’s a way to make better use of your sub-class with the addition of multi-weapons. This lets you bind attacks from two different weapons in one single action pallate. You don’t need to fiddle a bit to switch weapons mid-fight, it can just be part of your bread-and-butter combo. A nice quality of life change.
You have no way of improving the Photon Arts, or learn new ones like in base PSO2, but this may change in the future.
The takeaway I had from playing NGS is that it hasn’t made base PSO2 outdated. It’s not like a good game sequel that improves a lot of the familiar aspects so much that going back to the predecessor is less fun as a result.
The changes are different enough to feel like it’s a separate, different, new experience. And this makes both versions still relevant and enjoyable in different ways.
Players can also switch between both PSO2 and PSO2 NGS within the same game. You may find that useful during this early launch period.
Easier To Learn, Harder To Grind
After the NGS reveal last year, I played over 70 hours of the original PSO2 without really knowing what I’m doing most of the time. Most of the time I either get carried by a much better-equipped team, and the game didn’t really hammer down the importance of some gameplay mechanics by not punishing my janked character build.
PSO2 is the sort of game you need to watch YouTube tutorials to understand its intricacies, and the game doesn’t punish you as hard if you don’t learn these lessons until late game. I dropped off PSO2 after that 70 hours of play because I kept running out of space in my limited inventory, don’t know how to optimise my gear, can’t tell which loot is junk and which to keep and no motivation to do all that because I can get carried by other players in most content with matchmaking.
I expected PSO2 NGS to be this fresh start where the mechanics are stripped down and everyone is back on the same level playing field. So it’s a good time for me to actually learn how to play the game properly without needing to look up external guides and walkthroughs.
And it is. The tutorials and the game pace is much more slowed down so newcomers not only have enough time to understand the importance of certain mechanics (like enhancing gear items), they are required to do so.
As a result, I went back into base PSO2 and now I know how to manage my bottomless list of weapons that I know which is junk and how to make use of them properly. The onboarding and tutorials work this time!
Also, the game lets you collect various different resources for weapon enhancements as well as the new and slightly different food buff option. Your character’s base inventory is 100, twice the amount from PSO2.
With drop rates being appropriately rare, it’s much easier for newcomers to get a grasp of NGS’ mechanics without having them suffer from “too-many-loot-but-too-little-storage-space” issues, like I did in base PSO2.
In PSO2 NGS, there’s now a gear score system, called battle power. The game’s current main story and endgame content are gated by gear score, so you really need to work for it and engage with all of the game’s systems before you can progress.
It’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Players have clear motivation to learn how to put skill points, enhance items, limit break them and other things to make number go big. The bad thing is, it’s quite the grind. These parts can feel unrewarding and same-y as you’re stuck in the same gameplay loop.
It’s an MMO, it’s supposed to be like that in some ways. But coming from the laxness of base PSO2 it’s a bit frustrating at first. There are times where I just don’t see any kind of progress being made. The current level cap of 20 may seem low, but the exponential ramp-up in time to gain the next level-up is quite high.
Once you have finished the current story arc, you should be close to unlock endgame content- urgent quests. These are boss fights where you have to team up with seven other players to defeat them. You’ll also get access to what is essentially world tiers, a way to make the designated combat-grind areas populate higher level enemies.
Other than that, at launch, there’s not much you can do. Which leads nicely to the big issue for the game right now.
A Work-In-Progress Still
As all I am positive about NGS, there is one crucial flaw that needs to be addressed. This clearly a work in progress.
Games having launch-issues is common, but the launch week for PSO2 NGS there were noticeable sever-side lag issues. Hits and other players’ movement can get desynced, and that is very much not ideal in an action-oriented game. The game can also be stuttering too.
That will be fixed in due time (and at the time of writing, performance has significantly improved), but there’s another problem with NGS.
The launch content is so, so little. Of course, comparing NGS to the almost 9-year-old base PSO2 isn’t fair at all. But really, it is entirely possible to reach the current endgame within a week or less. And when you’ve reached it, there’s not much you can invest time in outside of those limited-time urgent quests, and start grinding the 4-star rare drop gear.
At the moment, there are no side activities in NGS (unless you count gathering materials for food recipes). Not many NGS-quality fashion cosmetics are available yet, but that seems to be a weekly addition.
I hope you like playing gacha for cosmetics (or buy them off from players in the in-game market for high price tags). The game’s free, but not free from gacha. They just call them scratch tickets, but it’s totally gacha, except you can buy the cosmetics from player shops should you wish to remain a F2P player.
PSO2 veterans will end up hanging around at the base game’s lobby rather than NGS’ Central City after what they’ve seen all that it is to offer for now. And I can’t blame them. It’s really barebones as of right now.
Content will come, however. The end of the (short) story arc already teases the next area you will be going to already, and you can clearly see the two next regions neighbouring Aelio from the distance. More classes from base PSO2 are also coming too. There is a roadmap of content for the next six months, so players just have to be patient with the rollout.
It’s a good thing NGS isn’t supposed to replace PSO2 altogether. The original game is still there for everyone to enjoy while we wait for NGS content to start dripping in.
Is PSO2 NGS Worth Playing Right Now?
PSO2 NGS is the fresh start the game needed. Especially now that it is being offered to players worldwide.
I am excited to see how this live game grows as I’m playing it. And I’m much more invested in PSO2 just because NGS does a much better job with onboarding new players and making sure you understand how to grow your character stronger.
For veterans, I don’t think you will be impressed with what’s on offer at the moment. As it is right now, PSO2 NGS offers very little when you do your daily logins, but it has set the fundamentals to be so in a few month’s time. Give it time, and this might be one of the better free-to-play MMOs out there.
Impressions based on the PC version