It wasn’t entirely predictable that what started as the humble defence of a single crazy man’s house would blow up into an all-out war throughout all of time and across dimensions, but here we are. Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2 sees the zombies seizing control of Suburbia. Of course, Crazy Dave and his plant army won’t stand for that. Refining and expanding the third-person shooting of the original Garden Warfare, GW2 offers a broader yet more cohesive package but certainly isn’t without its flaws.
As well as the four plant and four zombie character types from its predecessor, GW2 offers six new classes to play as. Each of these newcomers is just as distinct and varied as the returning cast, offering unique utility and catering to an expanded range of specific play-styles. On top of using their own exclusive primary weapons, each class offers three special abilities, ranging from AOE attacks, to heals, to transforming enemies into goats. As if that weren’t enough diversity, several variants can be unlocked for each class, bringing the total number of unique playable characters to over 100. These variants are pretty substantial too, often offering distinctly different attacks to their base-class counterpart. Of course, it’d be no fun if characters weren’t cosmetically customizable with all sorts of weird leafs, capes and goggles to throw on too.
In abiding by modern standards, GW2 ditches the main menu in favour of the Backyard Battleground; an explorable hub providing access to the game’s plethora of modes. Here, in the now dubbed ‘Zomburbia,’ the plants and zombies each have a home base, divided by an appropriated battlefield across town. Suitably, there’s a fair bit to do in Zomburbia, itself. Hidden treasure and NPCs waiting to offer challenges provide ample reason to explore the war-torn town alone or with some friends.
One of my biggest reservations with the original GW was its dearth of single-player content, and PopCap made no attempt to ignore these requests this time around. The plants and the zombies each have access to a series of singleplayer missions in GW2, ranging from unique scenarios in the Backyard Battleground to specific games of Garden/Graveyard Ops mode. As great as it is to have something to play alone, the more fun, exciting missions a few and far between the redundant. Why have me play Garden Ops alone with AI team members? Would I not just choose to play that mode instead of single-player if I wanted to?
The bigger issue, though, is that GW2 can not be played offline, at all. You can’t play singleplayer missions, you can’t mess about in Backyard Battleground, you can’t even customise your characters until you’ve connected to the game’s servers. If the singleplayer missions are dumbed-down multiplayer modes and can only be played while online, what’s the point? It is a great step in the right direction for the series, but I can’t help but feel that it misses the point.
Of course, Multiplayer and Ops modes are back and are the real core of the GW2 experience. Multiplayer options range from standard Team Vanquish (death match) to objective focused modes like Gnome Bomb and Turf Takeover. There isn’t anything especially distinctive among these modes, but each is creatively and interestingly suited to the PvZ world. As well as the plants’ Garden Ops mode, this time around Graveyard Ops allows the zombies to get involved in wave-based defending.
Something I find incredibly important in this kind of game is progression. You progress in a few ways in GW2. Characters gain experience for performing well in games, unlocking variants on their abilities as they go. Hit level 10 with a character and they can be promoted. Promoting a character sends them back to level 1, but with a new rank and title visible to opponents. You’ll also collect coins upon defeating enemies and completing objectives. Coins can be used to buy stickers – everything from consumable items for Ops to customization options to new character variants. You’ll also collect stars, an extra currency used to open chests and interact with certain items in Backyard Battlegrounds.
A notice board in each teams base offers optional objectives to take on for coin and star rewards. Tasks, like defeating ten cacti or turning five enemies into goats, can be accepted here, and offer continual goals to aim for. Completing these objectives also builds an XP multiplier which resets as a new set of tasks become available. It’s a great system to incentivize play as different characters and in different modes.
There are always carrots on sticks in GW2; always something to look forward to unlocking or achieving. The problem is, the sticks are so long, and the carrot often turns out to be a much less appealing vegetable. If you’re set on playing as Citron and want to grab some variants and gear for your orange hero, all you can do is hope your sticker packs don’t net you stuff for any of the other thirteen classes. The sticker pack system is a fun way to unlock stuff, but some more options for packs with more specific contents would go a long way to making rewards more satisfying. With the amount of content available to unlock, it wouldn’t hurt for rewards to be a little more generous, either. It would have been awesome to be rewarded character variants for completing tough missions as the character in question, or have specific cosmetic items be awarded for certain accomplishments, but as it stands, it’ll take a long, long grind to grab any particular item you have your eye on.
The aesthetic of Garden Warfare 2 is definitely worth a mention. The visual fidelity itself is nothing to write home about, but the design work here is awesome. Characters like Kernel Corn and Rose are wonderfully designed, brilliant ideas for playable classes, fitting into the PvZ world like they’ve been there all along. PopCap truly have a knack for characterising vegetation. Environments offer diverse, interesting settings as great backdrops for wacky battles between outrageous characters. The art team has created something distinguishable and fun to look at, without ever abandoning the unmistakable style the series has built such a strong identity in.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a fun, substantial third-person shooter filled with fun, colourful personality. Single-player content is a little shallow, but co-operative and competitive modes make up more than enough options for a wonderful time. It’s a shame rewards come so slowly and chasing anything, in particular, is based completely on chance, but there’s always a goal to aim for. Garden Warfare 2 is a great time, offering plenty of shooting fun and a wonderful world to be part of.