As adults, we tend to belittle children's entertainment at our own peril. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was such an absurd concept it almost seemed as if EA bankrolled a third-person shooter on the strength of its pun. (In fairness, it is a pretty good pun.) But Garden Warfare took us by surprise and became a hit, especially among parents who were finally able to give their kids a solid third-person shooter that wasn't rated M. Garden Warfare 2 boasts a more robust package on the whole, even if it's distinctly a half-step. This time, though, I know to take it seriously.
In fact, most of the improvements in Garden Warfare 2 retroactively feel like strange omissions from the first game. It all left me with the sense that this was a complete package, but by the same token, that would mean the first one was lacking. This is a game of satisfying iteration.
Take the new split-screen feature. An obvious inclusion in a family-friendly game that's likely to be played across generations, this is an absolutely fantastic addition that makes the lack of it in the last game stand out. The same could be said of Graveyard Ops, the zombie version of Garden Ops, which made the original Garden Warfare feel lopsided in favor of the plants. Now that both factions have their own Ops, they feel like real equals.
The new single-player campaign is a nice addition, giving players a little more variety than a selection of multiplayer offerings. For the most part, these boil down to simple A.I. tasks in parts of the multiplayer maps. Occasionally it will throw in some spice with a large raid boss or a vehicle segment, but for the most part it's a simple, safe test bed for you to try out characters against not-too-tough enemies.
And if Garden Warfare 2 has one thing in spades, it's characters. Each side brings back all of the previous plant and zombie classes, including variant subclasses, along with three new ones on each side. Kernel Corn, Rose, and Citron join the plants, while Super Brainz, Captain Deadbeard, and the Imp join the zombies. Including all the variants, it's an absolutely staggering amount of characters, and the old ones have gotten a noticeable visual upgrade. The new ones, meanwhile, look to fill holes in the plant and zombie rosters. My favorite two new characters, Rose and the Imp, offer unique dynamics of their own. Rose is centered on status effects, while the Imp is a relative weakling that can summon down a super-powered mech to ride.
Picking Your Brain
The game economy is centered around this ludicrous degree of choice, with the return of the Sticker Shop to obtain random consumables, aesthetic items, and characters. It does add a new pack which guarantees a character unlock. The price is hefty, but it's a much preferable option to getting dozens of individual character pieces that may not match up with each other. Even so, you'll have to get lots of packs to unlock all the characters, which is to say nothing of upcoming DLC, so it's clear PopCap wants this game to last.
It would have no chance for longevity without a solid foundation, though, and that's one area maintained precisely from Garden Warfare. Though the characters aren't quite impeccably balanced, the moment-to-moment action is just as great as the first game. Each character plays extremely differently from each other, and their animations are bursting with personality. The maps are crafted with the utmost care to give opportunities to each character type, and in a shooter rarity, I didn't feel any were too large for the characters. The new Backyard Battleground is the only truly sprawling map, since it's linked to both mission hubs, but it's meant to be explored, not simply fought over.
Turning a New Leaf
Maybe the same solid foundation with more robust content is all Garden Warfare 2 needs to be. The package feels more whole and satisfying, and while that may dampen my thoughts on the first game a bit, it's really only by comparison to this one. If Garden Warfare was the seed, this sequel is the harvest.
This review is based on a Xbox One download code provided by the publisher. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 will be available in retail stores and digitally on February 23, for $59.99. The game is rated E-10+.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
- Single-player campaign and couch co-op are good additions
- Loads of characters to collect and choose from
- World is still bursting with personality
- A half-step iteration from the original Garden Warfare
Steve Watts posted a new article, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 Review-in-Progress
The only thing I don't care for is EA's practice here. Consoles were the only ones to get a beta (meh, i suppose) and you can play the game early, but IF you subscribe to Origin Access.(could be part of the reason for no beta on PC) Thats the part that pisses me off, I've had the Deluxe version (69.99) pre-ordered since around October and your telling me I can play it early, but I need to give you 4.99 more?
I know the absence of a beta on the PC version was disappointing to PC players, but I think Pop Cap looked at the low player volume Garden Warfare 1 (PC version) multiplayer and judged it to be not worth the effort. I have both the PC and Xbox One versions of Garden Warfare 2 and the PC version always had very few players playing online.