Plants vs Zombies is a modern classic in the tower defense genre, with its casual looks and unexpected tactical depth. Despite looking like (and being) a mobile game, it quickly found its way onto mainstream consoles as well and in 2014 we saw its first spin-off with Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, blending modern team-based shooters with elements from the original Plants vs Zombies game. With the release of its sequel, PopCap is now expanding on those foundations and has delivered a solid cross-over game experience.
The main change in Garden Warfare 2 is the addition of far more single player content – although this is still very much a multiplayer game at heart. Despite obvious reference to the ‘Modern Warfare’ games in its title, you shouldn’t expect an adrenaline-filled story campaign with AAA art direction in PopCap’s take on the genre. Instead, single missions and quests make up most of the solo content, although there’s more to it than just blasting your way through simple missions. Some diversity is offered through the use of certain objectives and a small layer of depth is added by providing a bit of a background story here and there.
However, at the heart of the game – and translating into the multiplayer portion as well – is the aspect of unlocking and upgrading the many different characters that are available to you. Completing single player missions gives you access to new content, and playing with characters often allows you to develop them over the course of time. With over a hundred characters, this takes up a considerable amount of time unless you stick with a personal favorite or two – or manage to get an XP multiplier in the process. This introduced us to two small problems with the game that kept us from enjoying its full potential. Unlocking characters and items is largely a random process in which you unlock decks of cards and gain access to the characters you want by the luck of the draw. Because of this, you might never get to play with the characters you’re most interested in – or at least not for a while. Another element is that, unless you’re a completionist, you might never get to experience the sheer diversity of characters that are available – which in turn takes away a bit of the tactical depth that the game offers.
This tactical depth comes mainly from the diversity in characters – just like it did in the original tower defense game. And with a cartoon-like exterior usually comes… exaggerated features, and the Plants vs Zombies games are no exception. Instead of subtle variations that balance each other out, the characters in Garden Warfare offer a great deal of variety. Some characters excel at long distance, while others are extremely slow yet strong when it comes to getting up close and personal. This makes for an extremely fun experience where one battle will differ greatly from the next one, but it also creates a potential problem when it comes to balancing issues. Early player feedback points at this as well – with a lot of players complaining about the strength of the “rose” character, resulting in multiplayer skirmishes that are more “battle of the roses” than “plants vs zombies”. Luckily, PopCap has already indicated that balancing issues such as this will be fixed in a forthcoming update.
Multiplayer and singleplayer content seamlessly flows together using the Backyard Battleground, which is a combination of a central battlefield and ‘home bases’ for the Plants and Zombies, in which most of the single player content can be found – as well as portals that transport you to the online multiplayer portion of the game. Somewhat ironically, the single player portion of the game also requires an online connection – which is a shame for players who aren’t generally too interested in multiplayer and would prefer to just play single player mission and unlock and level up until the end of time.
Early balance issues aside, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a great deal of fun and a true break from other games in the shooter genre. This keeps the experience fresh for a long time, although it’s a game best enjoyed online in its multiplayer modes. Once you unlock whatever it is that you want to unlock, there’s not too much reason to keep playing the single player portion. The sheer diversity of the characters and subsequent tactical depth of the gameplay will, however, ensure that online matches remain fun for months – if not years – to come.