When publisher Electronic Arts first unveiled Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare as a surprise announcement years ago at E3, it was as impressive looking as it was smile-inducing for a brand new spin on the PvZ formula, turning it into a third-person shooter. When it released however, its great core gameplay and visuals couldn't make up for its shallow content.
For the sequel, PopCap Games went all-in to address some of the feedback of the original and to flesh out Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 as a full retail product. And they've done a commendable job.
The great elements of the first Garden Warfare are all back, even more stylish than before thanks to some choice licensed tunes used in the game's intro and marketing and clever character designs. All the character classes for the Plants and Zombies factions are back too, now with more variants, alongside entirely new classes. There’s much more to do in single-player and the entire game is now built around a base system for each side - the Plants and Zombies each have their own hub separated by an open area dubbed the Backyard Battleground with a never-ending conflict in the middle.
Gone are the traditional menus, replaced with an in-game setup which helps establish the lore and conflict in the light-hearted game, but make no mistake, this is still an over-the-top cartoonish parody of class-based shooters. And it's beautiful to look at, built on DICE's Frostbite 3 game engine.
The multiplayer modes and local two-player splitscreen return for Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 and now all modes can be played solo. Garden Ops also returns and the Zombies finally have their own equivalent. Entirely new however, is the aforementioned Backyard Battleground which hosts the game's hubs and a hold-the-flag battle area.
The most notable addition is the single-player campaign. Having more solo play is a welcome addition to Garden Warfare but the missions featured are too simple and formulaic. There are defend missions where players take on increasingly difficult waves until the boss wave, and of course, the go from point A to B type missions which end up all being repetitive. The missions aren't very polished and if you skip reading the subtitles (since all the characters on both sides speak gibberish), you won’t miss much. They can be treated as a tutorial of sorts and are worth completing for the coins early on in the game though, and to understand all the features of the hub area.
Where the variety does come in however, is in the playable units, and this is where Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 really shines. With new classes and more variants for all of them, there’s a mind-blowing potential for progression and replayability from Garden Warfare 2’s 100+ characters. And better yet, players can easily and quickly import unlocks from the first game (yay, future Cactus!). EA and PopCap arguably don't quite take full advantage of the amount of units in a player-friendly way though due with how slowly rewards are dealt out.
Like the first game, unlocks (character pieces, minions, customization options) are acquired mainly through Sticker Packs which are purchased via in-game coins. And the way the system is designed, like its predecessor, the only reasonable way to unlock other variants is to purchase the most expensive sticker pack. But that can take hours of gameplay to earn. Saving up a decent amount of coins (or diamonds) is a painstaking process which might be demotivating for some players. And of course, EA is adding in microtransactions post-launch (again) which explains the harsh rewards system. It’s clear it was designed to encourage players to pay instead of play to get those sticker packs which sours the system and detracts trying to unlock stuff.
The game doubles down on the progression walls with how character leveling works too. It can take a while to level up a character class. The first few levels do nothing but once players hit level 5 and keep going, they unlock valuable character upgrades, but the system is punishing since it forces starting from scratch on each new variant unlocked. Again, this is a deterrent to putting in the extra effort outside of the base character in each class.
Progression aside, what Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 comes with is pretty great and it has so much personality and charm. The core gameplay and multiplayer modes are accessible and while we really wish there were more shooter staples like the ability to melee close targets or move faster, it works well as is. And there's a lot to play with, including a few secret areas and collectibles scattered throughout the game.
Garden Warfare 2 delivers on everything the first game should have been and is an easy recommendation
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
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