The grass gets greener.
The original Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare was surprisingly good. The game delivered a fun, colorful third-person shooter that not only successfully brought the characters to 3D but managed to retain its charming brand of humor. PopCap continues its endless battle of crops and corpses with Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, and with it comes a more well-rounded experience. The game brings back the original cast along with six new characters – three for each side. Our green peace keepers get Citron, Rose, and Kernel Corn while the undead army receive the Imp, Captain Deadbeard, and Super Brainz. Each character has a very distinct but enjoyable playstyle, making for worthy additions to the lineup.
Once you load into the game and get past another Kenny Loggins royalty check and a very brief tutorial, you’ll find yourself in the new “Backyard Battleground”. This hub world serves as your access point to all the game has to offer, from multiplayer and story mode to collectibles, side quests, and other shenanigans. When I say story mode, though, I mean it in the loosest way possible. Yes, there are a fair share of characters to meet, all with stuff to say in Banjo-Kazooie styled gibberish. And yes, they all have one task or another for you to accomplish, but a lot of these are just restructured versions of the game’s survival modes with some mild explanation to give it purpose. That’s not to say these aren’t fun, because most of them are and even with their shallow nature there are a few unique ones; like the mission that parodies Modern Warfare’s popular “AC-130” level. Completing questlines for both the Plants and Zombies only takes a few hours but they can be replayed for more coins. The biggest downside is that these can only be played solo, which is disappointing.
Outside of the story quests are smaller side missions you can do for characters you’ll find standing around, such as taking out bounty targets or simply tracking down snow globes you’ll find scattered around. Also available is a challenge board that rewards coins, stars for opening treasure chests, and the ability to unlock double XP. Along with all this are golden garden gnomes you can collect, both hidden in the hub world and in every one of the game’s multiplayer maps. Like any collectathon, these will have you searching high and low, but for your troubles, you’ll be very handsomely rewarded with rare items and tons of coins for sticker packs.
If unlocking goofy customization items and over 100 characters is something you enjoy, then rejoice, because this game has that in spades. Both sides have literally thousands of assorted things to acquire to help them stand out from the crowd, as well a few abilities and upgrades to give them an extra edge in combat. The upgrades can’t be bought, however, and must be obtained through leveling each and every character from 1-50. Gone are universal levels for character variants and the challenge based rank system, and in its place a more traditional XP based one. This is a welcomed change that doesn’t just encourage playing each character, but also, unlike GW1, keeps progress from feeling halted just because you didn’t horde enough challenge stars or couldn’t shoot Cactus drones down with a Scientist.
To rake in that XP and fuel your funds for sticker packs, is the games multiplayer portion, all of which can be played online, solo or split-screen against bots. Every mode as well most of the DLC ones from the original return, along with a few new ones. The popular Gardens & Graveyards gets a highly requested twist with the new Herbal Assault mode. Now zombies can defend while plants get a chance to invade. This change also applies to the survival mode, Garden Ops, which can now be played as zombies in Graveyard Ops. Both of these are quality changes to modes that were already fun but could grow stale due to both teams always having the same objective.
The smaller scale modes like Gnome Bomb or Suburbination have eight maps to battle it out on, all with unique themes like Egypt or Ancient Japan. Gardens & Graveyards and Herbal Assault each have two sprawling maps that end with special finales that task you with doing more than shooting things in the face. One includes crashing a zombie graduation party while another has you fighting for space balls. These sections are where the game’s focus on teamwork (and PopCap’s humor) really shine. Most maps have their own gimmick, too, like blinding blizzards in the snow map or low gravity on the moon base. Each location looks good and has a lot of little details to check out for when you find some down time during all the animated anarchy. Map layout is pretty fair, but much like the first game some of the capture points seem to favor one team or the other, and it’s not always the defenders.
The gameplay is just as frantic and over the top as it ever was. The characters and their variants are still a blast to play as and with all there is to choose from finding one to match your playstyle isn’t much of a problem. While the original tended to just slap an elemental type to a character’s weapon and call it a day, GW2 goes a step further by adding things such as target penetrating rounds to homing and even ammo types that limit characters from using special abilities if they’re hit by it. All these things help add a depth to character matchups that aren’t apparent at first but will come from extended play. I find this to be a nice translation of the franchises “who to use and when” mindset that comes from its tower/defense days. Character balance is mostly fine, with a few notable exceptions. The Rose on the plants side has abilities that vastly outclass the rest of her team, and the Imp has a tough time against almost any plant due to his low health and damage output when not inside his mech. Apart from that, though, simply learning maps, using teamwork and mastering your class of choice will often lead to success.
The first game was no slouch in the graphics department, but due to it being cross-gen, it suffered a bit. The sequel doesn’t, however, and the extra boost from current gen development shows. Characters new and old are presented with great detail and have much more life and personality. The colors are as vibrant as ever, sometimes distractingly so while in the midst of many of the chaotic battles. The upbeat and zany soundtrack is still there, with some returning tunes, remixes, and all together new pieces. The energetic electric guitar solos heard during one of the games survival modes being one of the standouts. The online connections don’t seem quite as smooth as the first game at the moment, with hit detection feeling off and some mild lag here and there. Given it’s still early in its lifecycle though, it’s fair to say these are teething issues that most online games face during launch.
Once again, PopCap has proven that this series has found another winning formula. Newcomers will find the game easy to pick up and play while returning players should find the experience as enjoyable as the original but considerably improved in almost every aspect. It’s fun, addicting and content filled as ever, and with promises of free DLC down the line, it’s likely to get even better.