Over the past several years, the MMO genre has grown exponentially, from huge, triple-A releases like Star Wars: The Old Republic to 2D Facebook titles geared for more casual gamers. Sony Online Entertainment has been evolving along with the market, slowly making the shift to free-to-play on their most popular titles.

PlanetSide 2 took center stage at Sony Online Entertainment’s E3 booth this year, and for good reason. The game looks incredible. As with every other game being showcased by SOE, PlanetSide 2 will be completely free-to-play, with cosmetic and time-saving microtransactions for those looking to supplement their experience.

Why does this sequel look so good? The answer is the brand new Forge Light engine, and PlanetSide 2 will be the first game to implement it, followed by EverQuest Next. The visuals aren’t the only aspect of this MMOFPS receiving a makeover – this time around, everything is bigger and better than before.

As in the original PlanetSide, the sequel will focus on three warring factions fighting for territory on an enormous scale. Those factions are the Terran Republic, the New Conglomerate, and the Vance Sovereignty. After picking a side, there are six classes to choose from which can be changed during every respawn.

PlanetSide 2 Preview 1

The Light Assault class has jetpack, the Heavy Assault is geared with anti-vehicle weaponry, the Medic heals fallen comrades, the Engineer repairs vehicles and fortifies important locations, the Infiltrator snipes from a distance, and those who choose the Mechanized Assault Exo-Suit (MAX) class get to ride around in a mech. Plenty of variety for players who prefer to specialize.

Each class does have its own unique play style, so picking a fast-paced Light Assault loadout will require a very different strategy than the lumbering, dual-wielding monstrosity that is the MAX. Many shooters, especially free ones, offer a group of mostly interchangeable gun-toters with slightly different weaponry. The focus on differentiating the classes gives more weight to the player’s decision.

Although the “massive infantry combat” might be the focus PlanetSide 2, “huge ass vehicle combat” will also be scattered throughout large portions of the battlefield. Vehicles are built for both land and air, including tanks, jets, and something that looked suspiciously like a motorcycle. Along with the vehicles available to everyone, each faction will also have empire specific airborne and armored vehicles. The amount of customization allowed was impressive, with dozens of performance and appearance mods for each and every vehicle.

PlanetSide 2 Preview 2

The map I played on was quite large – vehicles were practically necessary to get to the center of the action without taking a very deliberate trek from the base where players would spawn. The vehicles could take out enemies with ease, but the environments were cluttered and diverse enough to keep tanks and jets from dominating the battlefield.

The most exciting prospect presented by PlanetSide 2 was the size of the battles. Because this is technically a massively multiplayer online game, a single server will contain not 10, not 100, but 1000s of players playing simultaneously. The potential of such hugely populated regions is both exciting and worrying, but the developers have simplified things a bit for those in need of some semblance of structure.

Since team play is the focus of PlanetSide 2, 10-man squads will be the primary mode of communication and strategizing. By combining three squads, players can form large platoons to cover more ground with 30 soldiers. Finally, a guild system exists in the form of Outfits, which will allow leaders to assign ranks to its members.

For a game with a non-existent price tag, there are certainly a load of features, but the fun doesn’t stop when the round is over. The game’s official website will have full statistics for every single player, a view of the planet status will show who owns what at any given time, there will be chat functionality so teammates and friends can communicate in or out of the actual game, and a ridiculously detailed mobile app will allow for voice chat and real time tracking of every region in the game.

Any fans of the original PlanetSide, first-person shooters, or just online games in general should make sure to check out PlanetSide 2 when the beta begins later this summer on the PC.

Follow me on Twitter @JacobSiegal.