This is a round-up of the major details revealed so far.
PlanetSide 2 was originally envisioned as a graphical update to the original PlanetSide, coupled with a change to the free-to-play model. It soon became apparent, however, that there were a lot of ideas floating around at SOE Austin about how to extend the PlanetSide universe, to the point where a decision had to be made whether to scale back the project and stick to the graphical overhaul only, or to expand it out to a fully-fledged new game. Fortunately for us, SOE chose the second option over the first.
PlanetSide 2 will have classes that each have their own (apparently quite extensive) skill trees, but you can change roles on-the-fly. This differs slightly from the first game which had no true classes but instead had you create your own character by learning certain certifications which would then permit you to use particular weapons, drive specific vehicles, etc. In addition, you will be able to "queue" up to 24 hours of skill learning that will continue to take place even when you are offline, though it has been confirmed that this learning process goes faster if you are actually in-game.
Specific areas and sub-regions of continents will have specific resources available, which, if captured by your empire will grant special bonuses. This may take the form of bonus weapon emplacements and turrets for your empire, for example, or possibly some kind of flat damage (or damage mitigation) bonus.
In addition to
There will be relatively few character customisations you can make when you first create a character, as was the case with the first. This isn't EQ and FPS players on the whole don't much care about whether our avatars have tousled hair or dreadlocks. As was already known, there will be no instancing anywhere in the game. Period.
The developers also intend to release their three year plan for PlanetSide 2's continued progression prior to release. Based on the feedback they get it might mean changing certain aspects of the plan to better tailor what the community wants. The panel also confirmed that as of now there are no plans for paid expansions to PlanetSide 2; instead there will be "major content releases" (i.e. patches) which will main method used to deliver updates, bugfixes, etc.
PlanetSide 2 was also said to be a re-imagining of the original game, rather than a true sequel (think Battlestar Galactica). For this reason it is my personal belief that SOE intend to close the original game alongside the launch of PlanetSide 2, giving existing players an easy upgrade path.
As seems to be all the rage in MMOs these days, Outfits (PlanetSide's version of guilds) will progress in the same way players do, and will grant additional bonuses and privileges as they level up. The much-maligned third-person view will be eliminated for infantry, although certain air vehicles will retain it in some fashion.
The devs have said they intend to try and vary base layouts a little more than was the case in the first game. You will also not need to be at a specific base in order to perform a specific function (i.e. to spawn Galaxy airship you won't need to be physically present at a Dropship Centre, for example). There were also confirmed to be at least two layouts of towers, and possibly more coming prior to release.
In another departure from the original game, any base will be hackable by any empire but you may need significantly more time to complete the takeover for a base in the middle of nowhere than one surrounded by bases that your empire controls. Headshots will also be making an appearance in PlanetSide 2, no doubt as part of some support / sniper / recon class. You will also be able to target specific areas on vehicles for location-based damage, e.g. you may want to target and destroy the turret on a tank in order to reduce its damage output.
PlanetSide 2 will be the first game to use SOE's new ForgeLight MMO engine. It is essentially being built from the ground up and has already been confirmed to incorporate PhysX support for Nvidia graphics cards. John Smedley said that the engine is extremely scalable even to machines around five years old, but obviously the newer your rig (and in particular your CPU and graphics card) the better it's going to look and run.
Our good old friend the Orbital Strike will be making an appearance in PlanetSide 2, but will likely be tied to an advanced command rank as was the case previously. Sanctuaries no longer exist, players will instead be headquartered at an unhackable base on each continent from where they will launch their empire's attacks. In another departure, combat at sea was also said to be making an appearance.
In short, PlanetSide 2 is meant to be PlanetSide 1 but faster, bigger and better. SOE absolutely refused to be drawn on any kind of release date, but my gut instinct says a late 2011 / early 2012 beta coupled with a release in the first half of next year. That should give them enough time dial up the awesomeness without keeping players unnecessarily waiting for its release.
And finally, if you're reading this Smed, I'll take my beta invite now, please.