Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 Review

  • Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
  • Developer: Popcap Games
  • Publisher:  Electronic Arts
  • Release Date: February 23, 2016
  • Price: $59.99
  • Reviewer: Chuck

“Shears of War”

War. War never changes.
That is unless you decide to become an anthropomorphic Orange and roll around a battlefield avoiding potato mines and wallnuts as you make your way to the front lines where your comrades Kernel Corn and Sunflower are waiting to do battle with a never ending horde of zombies, some of which house themselves inside giant mechs that spew fire while others carry entire sides of homes and use them as shields, then war changes, it changes each and every time you step foot onto the backyard battleground that is Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. It is also incredibly fun.

When Popcap announced the original Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare I was both intrigued and apprehensive. How would the studio, who were known for smaller indie hits such as Bejeweled and Peggle, transition into full blown AAA development? Better yet, how would they take the simple but addictive nature of the original tower defense game of PvZ and turn it into a successful third person multiplayer shooter? Surprisingly when the game launched I found out that the studio was more than suited for the job and that they were able to capture the fun whimsical styling of their popular indie game and bring it into the 3D world with ease. Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare was a successful broadening of the studio’s flagship IP and a great first attempt at a larger scale production.

For those unfamiliar, Garden Warfare is a third-person shooter where players choose between two factions, the titular plants & zombies, and then choose from among several classes for each, partaking in either single player or multiplayer content, ranking up and unlocking additional customization’s and abilities as you go.

When developing the sequel, Garden Warfare 2, Popcap and publisher EA’s mantra was “Bigger. Badder. Bigger” and while strange, that is exactly what the game delivers. This shooter, now launching on all platforms simultaneously, ups the ante in every area. From two large single player campaigns to multiplayer modes and new variants to long form Horde Mode survival and enough secrets and unlocks to keep the most die hard of fans busy for a long, long time; Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2 has enough content packed into its disc to make every other AAA shooter blush with envy.

Upon starting the game players are introduced to the “Backyard Battleground” a new hub area where you are free to leisurely roam about seeking out the games many secrets or just practice taking out AI enemies with a class you are unfamiliar with. It is from this large playground where you can explore the newly added single player content, a feature that was unfortunately absent from the games predecessor. Players can now experience both sides of this eternal conflict as they complete missions for “Crazy Dave” the air headed leader of the plants and last remaining human, or “Dr. Zomboss” the oddly ambitious and intelligent leader of the undead. While these missions are not very ambitious, they do occasionally throw in a unique objective that will allow players to control new vehicles or weaponry they cannot use elsewhere and they do offer up a nice break from the chaotic nature of the games online play and allow users the chance to relax and unlock additional content while also being provided brief glimpses of a nonsensical story.

In-between the campaign missions players are provided with a Daily Quest board that resides in each base in which to grab from an ever rotating collection of smaller side goals that reward players with Coins, Stars and an XP Multiplier. These quests can range from “Kill X number of Peashooters” to “Win 10 Games of Suburbination” and always allow players to have goals to strive for and reasons for logging in each day and playing. The rewards, such as Coins and Stars, can be used for purchasing additional packs of stickers and unlocking chests respectively, each of which can provide players with more defensive towers to drop, customization’s to wear or new items to decorate your backyard with.

This aspect of sticker collecting plays a large role in the world of Plants vs Zombies, both for single and multiplayer fiends. Sticker packs range in price from 2,500 coins all the way up to 75,000 and offer up the biggest reward for playing the game: customization. Best of all, every action you take in the game, from completing quests to playing online, provides plenty of coins, so amassing a small fortune isn’t difficult or time consuming. Garden Warfare offers players the opportunity to collect tens of thousands of both consumable and cosmetic gear ensuring that every player, no matter their skill, will be able to succeed and make their favorite characters their own. Want to use the Cactus but not a fan of her standard plant arms? Turn them into lawn flamingos or neon signs that are sure to make the zombies stop and drool with envy, or confusion. Bored of the standard Sunflower? Use her Vampiric or Alien variations and reap the benefits of toxic damage or life leech.

While the original Garden Warfare featured eight classes, four on each side, Garden Warfare ups the ante with three additional roles for both the plants and zombies, bringing the total to an impressive fourteen specialized classes. In the original Garden Warfare both sides of this conflict were catered to with the basics in warfare, you had your soldiers, your healers and your long ranged fighters and while these linchpins were stylized with humor and flair, they were still pretty basic. For Garden Warfare 2 Popcap looked to their game plan for inspiration when designing the new heroes that would be entering the battle and they definitely fit the “Bigger. Badder. Bigger” guideline well. 

On the Plants side the original roster of Sunflower, Cactus, Peashooter & Chomper are joined by Kernal Corn, a dual wielding mid to long ranged threat that can call in artillery strikes, Citron, a large orange that can roll around the battlefield with ease and use his EMPeach ability to shut down electronics and stun enemies and Rose, a new mage class that can turn her enemies into goats and fires homing thistles. As for the Zombies, the original four of Foot Soldier, Engineer, Scientist & All Star return alongside newcomers Imp, a small but fast zombie that can also call in a large mech for assistance, Captain Deadbeard, a formidable pirate that is dangerous at both close and long range and can take shelter inside his explosive barrel and Super Brainz, a brawler that can inflict serious damage when up close and can leap over buildings to make a quick escape.

The new classes add some much needed diversity while also plugging up holes in each teams weaknesses from the previous title. Where as before the Zombies were quite limited in their movement, being shambling corpses and all, now with the additions of Super Brainz and the Imp, they finally have some fast and formidable options that can sit on the front lines and add some much needed cover for their weaker Scientists and Foot Soldiers. On the other side of the conflict, the Plants now have some additional options in the all fields of play, with each of the newcomers bringing some sort of benefit to both offense and defensive capabilities. It also doesn’t hurt that each of these new classes look brilliant, with the series trademark creativity and humor being on perfect display.

When done exploring the lonelier side of Garden Warfare players can hop on over to the Multiplayer portal within each base and choose to either create a private game for their friends, complete with custom rules and bots, or jump into one of six playlists, including Welcome Mat, Vanquish and Gardens and Graveyards for up to 24 players.

Online play is where the majority will choose to spend their time and luckily Garden Warfare 2 offers enough variety and options to allow for those that want to play strategically to hatch their plans and those that would prefer to run around chaotically shooting everything in their site to do so as well. The game features twelve maps with a nice mix in size and locale, from smaller desert arenas to larger snow capped resort getaways and even a Zombie base on the moon; the eternal Plant and Zombie conflict has no boundaries. The first game received developer support in the form of new maps, modes and customization’s and Popcap have committed to doing the same with this sequel with the first free batch having already been released which resurrected a classic stage from the original and the second free DLC pack releasing in the near future with more to follow.

Games of Vanquish consist of typical deathmatch style play with both teams attempting to reach a score of 50 while Gnome Bomb asks that teams grab a randomly spawning garden gnome and attaching it at any number of enemy towers in the hopes of destroying three to win the game. The largest and most demanding of the multiplayer modes are easily the ones making up the Turf War playlist, which consists of Gardens and Graveyards maps. Turf War sees one team defending while the other attacks, with attacking teams having to storm sequential checkpoints and turning them to their side. Once a marker has been converted the defending team gets pushed back to another checkpoint and the attackers continue their assault.

Gardens and Graveyards feature the most elaborate maps of the series with the boundaries ever expanding with each successful takeover by the attackers. Most locations feature up to five points that must be attacked or defended with a sixth and final showdown taking place at the end that mixes things up depending upon the map. One final stand sees the zombies attempting to thaw out a frozen yeti using mirrors and the Suns rays while the plants must stop them by controlling the mirrors themselves. Another example of the kind of absurdity these final stands can showcase sees a map conclude on a large pinball table, requiring each team to guide large balls around various obstacles and enemies before pushing them inside their teams goal. These tense showdowns require each team to work together and put their best foot forward in order to win but they are also always fun and exciting and momentum is constantly shifting ensuring that even losing teams can rally back and win in the final seconds.

If larger drawn out conflicts are not your bag, or you would rather play with a small group of friends, Garden Warfare 2 also features a great co-operative suite in the form of Garden Ops or Graveyard Ops. These options are similar to Horde Mode from Gears of War or Firefight from Halo, requiring a team to defend a set location from waves of increasingly tougher enemies. Ops can be played alone or with up to three friends, either in a private game or leaving it open for strangers to join. Matchmaking is easy and at the start of a round the team is allowed to select the location they would like to defend and then are given time to place various defensive armaments before the enemy waves arrive. These defensive turrets are acquired within the games sticker packs and range from healing flowers to doom shrooms. Teams are tasked with surviving ten waves with randomized boss waves at rounds five and ten.

Upon completion of the games campaign, players will also unlock a bonus mode that can be played either solo or with friends, but its definitely a cool secret I wont spoil here.

Whether choosing to enjoy a simple and short round of death match or settling in for a longer drawn out war, Plants vs Zombies features some of the most lighthearted fun one can find on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. From the games bright and colorful visuals to its humorous sound design and characters, this is both a game that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. This approach to comedic innocence ensures that players will find both younger children and veteran gamers interacting online, which makes the games easy to use social features a welcome asset, ensuring protective parents can keep their kids safe and older players can choose to mute those they may find distracting.

— Conclusion —

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is the rare treat where gamers of all ages can sit down and play together for short stretches of only fifteen minutes or long sessions of several hours and still be laughing and discovering something new each time. Whether following through on the campaigns story alone, playing cooperatively on a couch with a friend or teaming with strangers online from across the globe, Garden Warfare 2 has enough content and variety to keep anyone busy for months on end and with the consistent game updates and the near limitless secrets to discover, it is a game that is well worth the asking price and one of the best games of the year so far.

The Rundown

  • + Great breadth of content                                         – Single player missions lack variety
  • + New classes are tons of fun                                    – Sticker Pack randomization may frustrate
  • + Plenty of secrets to discover

—Final Grade—

“Incredible”

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