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Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2 Review - Fleshed Out

Mitchell Saltzman | 22 Feb 2016 14:00
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Developed by PopCap Games. Published by EA Games. Released on February 23, 2016. Available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One (reviewed). Review code provided by publisher.

While it didn't hold my interest past its launch weekend, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was a refreshing take on the class based shooter genre and did a fantastic job of meshing the zany and cartoony characters of the Plants vs Zombies universe with gameplay and modes that you'd typically find in a bloody and gritty war shooter.

Its biggest problem was that it was sorely lacking in content, with much of what content there was locked behind a microtransaction-based sticker shop. There was no real single player mode, only four classes on both sides, and while you could unlock all of the new characters by simply playing, the worthwhile sticker packs were so expensive that grinding for them felt more like a chore than a reward.

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Fortunately, Garden Warfare 2 addresses nearly all of those issues. The sticker shop is still around, but the addition of a substantial solo campaign, three new classes for both the Plants and Zombies teams, split screen multiplayer in every mode, a beautifully designed hub world, and a couple of fun twists on old favourites go a long way in making the sequel actually feel like a full fledged $60 game.

The main new addition is the solo mode, which takes the form of a split campaign where players can either work as an initiate in the Plants' secret Zombie fighting army known as L.E.A.F., or a Zombie looking to impress Dr. Zomboss in order to potentially become the "Next Top Zombie."

PopCap went to great lengths to create a rich world to facilitate the inclusion of Garden Warfare 2's story mode. The Backyard Battleground is a dynamic hub world that features a base of operations for both Plants and Zombies on opposing sides of the map, and a large neutral ground in the middle where both sides fight for control. It's a fun world to explore, with fantastic art direction and a great dichotomy between the two sides. The Plants side is bright, colorful, and a perfect picture of suburbia, but as you start moving past the neutral zone into Zombie territory, the sky starts to turn a purplish hue, trees start to look more crooked, buildings start to become more industrial and dirty, and zombies start rising up from the ground to roam around aimlessly.

The downside is that the narrative in Garden Warfare 2's solo mode is a complete afterthought. There's no voice acting outside of random grunts and efforts, the writing is random and wacky without being cleverly random and wacky, and there's no cohesive plot thread that actually ties the quests together. You simply move from one quest giver to the next another, with each quest giving you a very loose justification for why you're doing what you're doing, or how it'll actually help your faction's cause in any way.

Even though it includes a solo campaign, Garden Warfare 2 is still at its heart a multiplayer focused shooter, and for the most part, that aspect of the game has been left unchanged.

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A total of six new character classes join the fray -- three on the Plant side and three on Zombies -- with each class filling a vital role for their team. On the plant side, Kernel Corn finally gives the Plants an offensive powerhouse, with a devastating rapid fire weapon, the ability to call in airstrike, an explosive blast that takes some time to charge up, and a Matrix-style jump that causes him to leap over an enemy, while firing his guns at everything below him. Citron acts as the tank, capable of turning into a ball and getting right up into the action with a shield that mitigate damages, use an EMP grenade to stun enemies, or do continuous damage with his beam projectiles. And finally, there's Rose who fills the role of support with her abilities that focus on debuffing the opposition by slowing them down or turning them into goats.

The new Zombies don't fall into such obviously defined roles, but still manage to provide a lot of utility, while also giving the Zombies some answers to certain Plants classes.

Captain Dreadbeard gives the Zombies a sniper class; one with the flexibility to also turn his weapon into a shotgun for close range fights. Dreadbeard can also call upon his parrot to remotely take out enemies from the sky, hop into a barrel and explode for massive AoE damage, and utilize a stationary cannon to bombard enemies from afar. My personal favorite, Super Brainz, is a melee focused juggernaut that not only sports one of the largest health pools in the game, but also one of the most extensive repertoires of moves - hand lasers, dive kicks, and an AOE energy ball, just to name a few.

And then there is Imp, a tiny zombie with the fastest move speed in the game, but also by far the smallest life pool. Two direct hits from a Pea Shooter and Imp is toast. To make up for that, he's got great offensive capabilities with rapid fire dual pistols, a gravity grenade that will suck enemies in and cause them to float momentarily, and a powerful breakdance technique called Impkata that causes him to spin around on the floor, shooting his blasters at anyone around him. He can also call down a powerful mech with a long cooldown.

Everything you do in the game goes towards earning coins and leveling up your individual characters, which can net you slight character buffs at certain level milestones. Coins will allow you to purchase the aforementioned sticker packs, which give a random set of goodies such as cosmetic items, consumable turrets that can aid in defense modes, and new characters.

The problem is that you need to collect five stickers of the same type to unlock that character, making it very unlikely to unlock a new character without splurging and buying the most expensive pack that guarantees one character unlock. It's a system that's obviously designed for microtransactions, and even if it is possible to obtain everything through playing, the amount of time you'd have to play to unlock even just a few characters you're interested in is insane.

As far as modes go, not much has changed since Garden Warfare. The new Graveyard Ops mode is essentially the same as Garden Ops -- a 4 player cooperative wave defense mode -- and Herbal Warfare is the same as Gardens and Graveyards -- a 24 player competitive multi-tiered point defense mode -- except with zombies being on the defensive against the invading plants.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 does a great job of addressing most criticisms and fan issues with the original game, but often feels so concerned about fixing those particular issues that it doesn't add anything that pushes the actual gameplay forward. The result is a game that feels like it should have been the first entry in the series, using the first Garden Warfare as a beta test. It's a solid shooter, and especially great for kids, but anyone who wasn't sold on the original game probably won't find any compelling reason to give it another shot.

Bottom Line: With Garden Warfare 2, PopCap builds upon the success of the original Garden Warfare by adding much needed meat to its bare bones in the form a new solo campaign and 6 new character classes, but fails to evolve the actual gameplay in any meaningful way.

Recommendation: If you played the original Garden Warfare and didn't find it to your liking, nothing in Garden Warfare 2 is going to change your mind. That being said, it's still a solid multiplayer shooter, and especially easy to recommend to parents looking for a kid-friendly alternative to war shooters.

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