Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2 Review (XONE)

PVZ GW2 screen1
PVZ GW2 screen1. EA

Buy PVZ Garden Warfare 2 at Amazon.com

The original Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare became a cult hit because it was a shooter for normal folks.  Kids, families, casual players, and just plain normal gamers (like me) who didn't want to wade into the murky waters of conventional hardcore dudebro multiplayer shooters could jump online and have a great time against similarly-minded and skilled competition.

  It was an oasis for gamers that just wanted to have fun and not worry about their K/D ratio.  Now, two years later, PopCap is back with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.  Does it hold the same magic as the first?  Find out in our full review.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Electronic Arts
  • Developer: PopCap
  • ESRB Rating: “E10" for Everyone 10+
  • Genre: Multiplayer Shooter
  • Pros:  Tons of content!; single-player; splitscreen co-op; bots; funny; looks and sounds great
  • Cons:  SP Campaign is a bit repetitive; slow progression; new classes still need balancing

Features and Modes

The biggest and most important change in Garden Warfare 2 is that it is no longer a multiplayer-only experience.  There is a full "story" campaign for both the plants and the zombies.  You can play solo matches against A.I. bots in any game type.  You can play splitscreen co-op / multiplayer in any game type (though you can't play online matches in splitscreen anymore).

  There are the wave-based Garden / Graveyard Ops modes.  And, of course, you can play everything online as well.  There is a ton of solo content here.  The best way to play, honestly, is to jump online, but if you really don't want to, there is actually plenty of solo content to make Garden Warfare 2 worth buying even if you intend to play alone, which automatically sets it head and shoulders above the first game.

Another change this time around is that the modes are evened out to allow both plants and zombies to play both offensive and defensive roles.  In addition to the traditional Gardens and Graveyards mode from last time where the plants have to defend their gardens from invading zombies, now there is an Herbal Assault mode where the plants play offense and the zombies have to defend.  Also, the wave-based Garden Ops mode gets a Graveyard Ops counterpart where teams of zombies defend a zone against waves of A.I. controlled plants.  Other modes include team deathmatch, vanquish confirmed (where you have to pick up orbs slain enemies / teammates drop to score points), gnome bomb (where you pick up a bomb and then have to destroy enemy control points with it), and suburbination where you have to control multiple points around a map. 

My only complaint with the feature-set is that there aren't a ton of maps yet.  Gardens and Graveyards and Herbal Assault only have a couple of maps each, for example, so you see the same maps over and over again.  The smaller-scale modes have their own selection of maps as well, but not nearly enough.  This isn't a huge problem, however, as, like the first game, PopCap promises to provide regular content updates for free for the forseeable future.

  New modes, maps, characters, and more will be added.  The game may seem somewhat light on content currently, but it won't be for long. 

Along with the multiplayer-focused modes, there is also single-player content as well.  The main menu has taken the form of a playable "Backyard Battleground" map where you have plants on one side, zombies on the other, and a contested area in-between.  You can take quests in this mode in order to earn in-game credits, stars (to unlock chests hidden throughout the map), or just wander around and fight the endless hordes of A.I. enemies that constantly spawn.  Other players can also join your game (if you want them to) and you can tackle the backyard together.  It's a pretty fun addition, though the quests you are sent on are almost always simple fetch quests, variations of "kill everything", or even plopping you into the various multiplayer modes as a "mission".  The quests can get kind of repetitive, in other words.  The writing is pretty funny, though, and there are some special missions and set-pieces that do make the campaigns pretty darn interesting occasionally. 

The real stars of Garden Warfare are the various characters, of course, and Garden Warfare 2 has plenty of new classes to play with.  In addition to the four classes for each team from the classic game, both teams get three brand new ones in GW2 for a total of 7 classes on each team.  Add in the class variations - such as variants that shoot fire or ice or lightning or other things - and there are more than 100 total characters to play with.  And these aren't just simple palate or skin swaps, either.  Each character variant has unique abilities and strengths and weaknesses, which means the 100+ characters all play fairly differently from each other.  You are pretty much guaranteed to find at least one variant in every class you like to play with, which really gives the game a ton of variety and longevity.

A lone sour note on having so many characters and variations - that are all fully customizable, by the way - is that unlocking stuff takes forever.  Unlocking individual characters is done by opening card packs you buy with credits you earn in-game.  The good news is that all of your characters from the previous game can be carried over, so if you unlocked everything in GW1, you're well ahead of the game here, but unlocking the new characters will take quite a long while.  Character upgrades and abilities are unlocked by playing as each individual character and leveling them up to a level cap of 50.  So, in other words, you have to play with every character - all 100+ - for hours and hours to unlock their better abilities and upgrades, which is kind of a drag.  In GW1 these upgrades were unlocked through card packs, so you unlocked stuff for everyone randomly, but not here.  You do still unlock summonable A.I. or turrets, as well as aesthetic customization options via card packs, but the important game-altering stuff can only be earned by grinding.  Quicker progression would really make a difference here.

I also want to comment on the new classes as they really change the way the game plays and, at least at launch, throw the balance off quite a bit.  The first GW was really finely balanced where everything had a counter, but that balance isn't quite there in GW2 yet.  Certainly, that is partially because it is still early and players still need to figure things out, but the new classes seem really overpowered compared to the classics, particularly on the plant side.  The rose is skinny and hard to hit, and their ability to briefly turn enemies into goats is annoying.  The corn is an unstoppable killing machine whose attacks do ridiculous damage.  On the other side, the imp is hard to hit in normal form and basically unstoppable when it gets its Titanfall-style mech to drop (but at least that is balanced out by it being very, very weak outside of the mech).  With all of that said, however, I'm sure it will all change as players learn, but at launch everyone is using the new characters almost exclusively, which really highlights the balance issues.  Or maybe I just need to get good.

Gameplay

The core gameplay is still just as good as ever overall, though.  As I mentioned above, all of the classes, and even the various characters within each class, really do all play differently and finding a character you love to play with in each class isn't too hard.  I also love the various classes themselves as they allow everyone to contribute, and potentially even be the MVP of their team without having to always get the most kills.  Being a healer or engineer or other support character is really rewarding here.  The general attitude is so different from every other multiplayer shooter.  Everyone just wants to have fun and goof off, so it isn't super serious like most online games.  If Halo or Call of Duty or Gears of War are too hardcore for you (or not family-friendly enough), give PVZ Garden Warfare 1 or 2 a shot.  They're just good fun.

Graphics & Sound

The presentation has gotten a serious polish compared to GW1 as well, most likely since there are only current-gen versions this time around and no PS3/360 ports holding it back.  There is a lot more detail in everything and a lot more stuff going on than before.  It still retains the bright and colorful look, which is a big plus.  It runs at a mostly smooth framerate as well.

The sound is solid all around once again.  Great music.  Great sound effects.  And the mumbling garbled made up languages for the plants and zombies always get a laugh. 

Bottom Line

All in all, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a definite step up from the first game.  Considering how much I truly loved the first game, that is a pretty big statement.  The addition of actual single-player content and bots in multiplayer give the game a huge value boost as well, and the promise of more free content to come really makes it a solid value even at the full $60 MSRP.  The important thing to note, also, is that any balance or character issues I may have will most assuredly be null in a week or two (replaced by new complaints as the balance of power shifts) as this type of game is always in flux.  Techniques change.  Plans change.  Players figure out new stuff.  That is why it is so fun and why I was hooked on the first game for two years.  It's always a new experience every time you play.  Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a fantastic sequel that I can't recommend enough.  

Buy PVZ Garden Warfare 2 at Amazon.com

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