The original Garden Warfare was something of a surprise. I don’t think many expected the Plants Versus Zombies series to transition into a third person shooter, let alone, to do so successfully. However that’s exactly what happened, and in our review of the original game, we praised the colourful, frantic combat, while criticizing the online only, and built-for-micro-transaction elements of the game. As its sequel, Garden Warfare 2 is a bigger, more feature packed experience, yet one that unfortunately repeats the mistakes of its predecessor.
Going into Garden Warfare 2, there are a number of additions that fans of the series will enjoy, Popcap have placed emphasis on making the two sides equal in participation this time around, and instead of Plants being strickly defenders, and Zombies strictly attacking, these roles interchange throughout all of the featured game modes. In order to accommodate this Popcap have added 3 additional classes to each team, with plants have gaining a number of classes to help with the offensive push, while the zombies have more defensive options available to them.
For instance, Captain Deadbeard on the Zombies side is a long-range sniper-esque class, capable of dishing out considerable damage from afar, while going into a mountable cannon with high AoE damage clearing plants off of small areas quickly. The class fits in well with what’s already available for the plants, and provides a strong defensive option for the zombies as they use his abilities to push opponents from their graveyard. The same is true for characters like the Citron on the plant side, a giant orange capable of tanking damage, stunning enemies and getting around the map quickly in his ball form. Citron can quickly push onto objectives, and due to his health and shield, hold his ground when he gets there, a perfect addition to help the plants in their new objective focus.
Not all of the class additions are ideal however, and it’s unfortunate that the games balance doesn’t feel as though it has been appropriately addressed. For instance the Plants new Rose class is both extremely easy to succeed with due to a homing primary attack, excessive amount of damage and damage-escaping abilities. Meanwhile, many of the class variants for both teams have variable utility. One of the new additions are character with remote detonatable projectiles, but these fail to do enough damage to justify the limited rate of fire. Long standing issues also remain, like why would anyone use the Citrus Cactus over the Default, or Zen Cactus? Popcap have failed to address these concerns and subsequently it’s unlikely that you’ll want to use all of the 100 plus characters that the game boasts.
Gameplay itself is as enjoyable as it always was however, offering a fast paced, third person gameplay where skill feels determinant of match outcome. That’s right, despite the younger target audience, Garden Warfare 2 has more competitive depth than many of its more serous contemporaries. Projectiles all take skill to land, requiring you to accommodate travel time when aiming, and there’s considerable depth to learning about all of the character variants and how to play each of which optimally across the various modes. This complexity comes without sacrificing accessibility too, as at a more basic level everything can be boiled down to mere ‘point and shoot’ for the more casual gamer.
Gameplay and balance aside, Popcap have also made a number of meaningful additions to the games core experience that more than justify its existence of a sequel. Alongside the ability to play as both plants and zombies in the attack and defend based modes, the game also features a vibrant hub world for players to team up and interact through. This includes a singleplayer campaign of sorts, as you complete quests around the hub and in various maps in order to earn esteem with each factions leader. These quests are often little more than the co-operative content streamlined into a very basic narrative for a solo player, but that didn’t prevent them being an enjoyable distraction from the online or split screen options.
The game has a few surprises up its sleeve too, with an additional mode to unlock, and a number of hidden collectibles and features in the hub world for players to engage with. All of which feed into a compelling unlockable system where you’re able to obtain a myriad of additional character variants and cosmetic items through sticker packs, purchasable with in-game currency. This system of progression feels a little more rapid this time around, as you earn more coins per game, have more modes in which you can earn them, and have more options when purchasing sticker packs. It’s a better, and ultimately more rewarding system that will surely keep many players hooked for a considerable period of time.
Thankfully, if you played the sequel then you can transfer all of your character unlocks over. This is a great addition that prevents veteran needing to go through a rather lengthy process of unlocking everything again. If you haven’t played the first game though, that’s great, as there’s a near endless supply of content in wait for you in Garden Warfare 2. Challenges have been tweaked this time around, and are no longer tied to your character level, instead distributed on a notice board in the hub. While the prequel featured an endless series of micro-challenges, the notice board challenges, which reset every 2 days – offer considerably greater reward, allowing you to boost your xp, and coins quickly.
In my experience, none of these challenges seemed tedious, and the addition of multiple ways to play the game, split screen, online multiplayer or singleplayer with AI, offer a very versatile array of means in which each challenge can be unlocked. Even if you don’t like playing competitive multiplayer with others online, you can complete these challenges on your own, with AI. It’s a very flexible system and it seems that Popcap have taken all manner of considerations to make the game as inclusive as it can be.
Or at least that’s almost true. One of our biggest gripes with the original Garden Warfare was the fact that you needed an internet connection at all times, to play anything featured in the game. The same is true in its sequel, and you need to be online at all times to play even the games singleplayer and split screen offerings. Ultimately this is present so that EA can retain control of their in-game currency system, and prevent exploitation, preserving the value of eventual microtransactions, however this comes at the detriment of the player experience. Even having offline features that were only tracked locally and did not contribute to online play would have been a great addition, but that feature is once again missed in this iteration, leaving everyone at the whim of EA and their server status.
Ultimately however, Garden Warfare 2 makes enough additions to more than justify its existence as a sequel, providing a robust array of additional features, while streamlining the core content into a better progression system. Both multiplayer and co-operative content is compelling and very well designed and aside from a few balance issues Garden Warfare 2 sits at the top of the pack, a remarkable example of how these online multiplayer shooters should be structured, putting games like EA’s own Starwars Battlefront, and Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege to shame, especially from a content perspective. The need to always remain connected to the internet while playing is a limitation, but if you can overlook it you’ll find a rather remarkable third person shooter in Garden Warfare 2.