Also On: Xbox One, PC
Developer: PopCap Vancouver
In early 2014, EA and PopCap released one of the most enjoyable, family-friendly multiplayer shooters of the generation: Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare (one of our reviews, here). It was likely overlooked by many as a cheap cash-in of the popular PvZ franchise, but nothing could be further from the truth. Garden Warfare was a colorful pick-up-and-play experience with a familiar set of characters and gameplay that could be enjoyed by casual and shooter fans alike. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is essentially more of the same, except with a whole lot more content and features, and even a little something geared towards solo players.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was appropriately priced at around $40 when it first launched on the Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC (and the PS4, PS3 a few months later). Being an online-only multiplayer shooter with somewhat limited content, that price point made sense. PopCap then steadily built up the fanbase with free updates and DLC and even gave the game away a couple of times which surely gave it a bit of a popularity boost. So leading up to Garden Warfare 2 we assume the franchise has been on a lot more radars than the first game ever was.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a much, much more complete experience than the first game. PopCap Vancouver added a half-dozen new character classes (3 zombies, 3 plants), a metric ton of character customization and unlockables, several new modes and the much requested ability to play solo. For those keeping count, there are over 100 characters available to be unlocked in GW2, and if you’ve already done so in the original game, those (and their abilities) will absolutely carry over.
For those looking to just get playing, you can choose a plant or a zombie and jump right in for some co-op or competitive action, but there’s much more to the game than that. The new Backyard Battleground serves as an interactive hub and online social space that the entire game revolves around. A simple menu could probably do much of the same job in parts, but it wouldn’t be quite as crazy or fun. Other than performing straightforward tasks such as browsing for a game or purchasing sticker packs, you can customize your backyard, embark on quests, harass the enemy and/or invite friends to hang out and cause all sorts of chaos. There is also a whole host of hidden secrets and nooks and crannies worth exploring. I wasn't totally sold on the idea before spending time with it, but the Backyard Battleground really does add something a little extra to the experience.
As for a single player and solo play experience, players can team up with bots for competitive or co-op multiplayer-style play, or take on several plant or zombie-specific quest lines. Regardless of the mode you play in, like the first game, you can earn XP which affects your overall player rank and the ranks of you individual characters. The quests have been decoupled from individual character classes this time around, and you can pick and choose the specific bounties you take on, which can earn you coins (for purchasing stuff) and stars (for unlocking stuff).
To add more variety to the game, PopCap has introduced 3 new plant and 3 new zombie classes, and so far, they fit right in. On the plant size you have the magician Rose, the badass tank Citron, and the powerful Kernel Corn. As for zombies, we now have the relatively weak imp with his awesome mech suit ability, the balanced Captain Deadbeard, and the close-range fighter Super Brainz. Having 14 character classes, each with their own unlockable variations, is honestly more than enough variety to go around.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is very obviously designed as a pick-up-and-play experience, and as someone with kids of my own, it’s perfectly suitable for children (and rated E10+). The straight-forward controls, fun and colorful characters and environments and largely non-violent “shooting” action does make it an ideal entry point into the genre — if you’re looking for something like that. In typical PopCap fashion, there’s quite a bit of humor and references that will go right over the heads of younger ones.
Garden Warfare 2 includes an all new set of multiplayer environments which are more or less on par with those in the original. Of the more interesting maps, Moon Base Z/Lunar Landing takes place in a low gravity moon setting and Seeds of Time/Time Park is set in a time-traveling amusement park with portals scattered about. Many of the layouts are usually tied to the game mode that you’re playing in, so a straightforward Team Vanquish game could be very different than an Herbal Assault or Gnome Bomb game. Oh, and for those who enjoyed the original game’s plants-only Garden Ops co-op mode, PopCap has balanced it out with a zombies-only Graveyard Ops mode. In general, both sides are well balanced in GW2 in terms of character classes, abilities, modes, available quests and so on. The game does a nice job in encouraging players to play on both sides of the fence by randomly selecting a team when matchmaking, though it’s possible to switch at any time (even though it’ll cost a few coins this time around). There’s a ridiculous amount of variation in the multiplayer modes, so it’s doubtful that anyone will complain about that aspect.
The multiplayer gameplay, in our somewhat limited sessions with both the beta and retail version, has been rock solid. As goes the usual disclaimer, it’s hard to tell how it’ll hold up once the general public gets their hands on the game, but we can’t imagine that EA’s servers will have much of a difficult time. It’s likely the same netcode and infrastructure as the original game, which ran wonderfully even with a full 24 players.
One thing in GW2 that took me some time to adjust to (and I felt was worth pointing out) is the slower character movement. I’m not sure if it’s because of the larger environments, or just to better balance the classes, but some of the familiar characters definitely feel like they walk at a noticeably slower pace. It’s not anything game-breaking, but GW veterans will likely notice the change.
Fans of split-screen play should be happy to know that GW2 supports 2 players in nearly all of the solo and multiplayer modes, and even allows multi-user console and EA logins to track progress. But (and this may be a big but) you can’t play online if you’re in a split-screen session. You can load up plenty of multiplayer modes, populated with bots, but you cannot go online. You also cannot activate or complete Backyard Battleground quests at the moment for whatever reason. Other than those complaints, the mode works and performs well, even if the fonts and icons are just a little bit too small for my liking.
I may be one of the few who cared about the feature, but Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is missing the mobile device second-screen functionality (via the PlayStation or Xbox apps) that was present in the first. Having an extra player take control of Crazy Dave’s RV or the Zombie Blimp and rain down attacks/healing stations during a packed multiplayer match was surprising amounts of fun, so I was kind of sad it didn't make the cut in GW2.
Honestly if you loved, or even liked the first Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, then you’ll have a blast with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. Yeah, it’s a full-priced, online multiplayer game (which can be a tough sell), but it’s one that’s jam-packed with content from a developer that’s been typically generous with delivering new updates and support.