Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: Feb. 23, 2016 (US), Feb. 25, 2016 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Xbox One Review - 'Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2'

by Brian Dumlao on Feb. 18, 2016 @ 3:00 a.m. PST

The battle for suburbia grows to crazy new heights in Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2!

Buy Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2

By all accounts, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare should have been a failure. Transforming a simple tower defense game into a third-person shooter was a tough sell, but making it a multiplayer-only title was another limitation. Releasing it just a month before EA's own multiplayer-focused Titanfall almost showed that the confidence behind it was rather low. Despite all of this, the game flourished. The title was solid, the multiplayer-only element was well received, and the community remained strong when compared to Titanfall's, which fizzled out pretty quickly. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 would've been fine if it was merely more of the same, but  players are getting even more.

The war between the zombies and the plants has differed greatly since we last saw them. After years of fighting, Dr. Zomboss has finally taken over Suburbia, renamed it Zomburbia and made it a haven for his legion of undead. Despite the eternal gloom, a sunflower emerges. After a quick escape, she's rescued by Crazy Dave in his flying RV and whisked away to their new treehouse headquarters. Now the roles are reversed, as the zombies have to defend themselves from an invading plant force.

GW2 sees the return of the four original classes for the plants and zombies. They behave as they did in the previous game, so veterans can easily jump in and play their favorite classes. The Chomper, for example, is still excellent for those who like the element of surprise, and the All-Star is the perfect tank-like character. All of the previous variations are still here, like the Ice Peashooter, which can slow down enemies, and the commando Soldier, which has a spread shot via his crossbow. New variations are also available to unlock, like the Vampire Sunflower that steals health by damaging foes, or the Computer Scientist that can initiate a mode where he increases both speed and damage. Coming along for the ride are three new classes for each side.

The plants start off with Kernel Corn, who has dual guns and acts as the team's heavy gunner. He can call on bombers to target an area of the field, and he can also shoot dual rockets and leap high into the air. Rose has homing ammunition for a primary attack, and secondary attacks include freezing enemies in a magic sphere and damaging anyone within her energy attack radius. Her funniest attack is her ability to turn any foe into a goat for a few seconds, restricting their attacks to a simple charge that doesn't do much damage. Rounding out the cast on this side is Citron, who has a beam cannon. His secondary attacks include an EMP blast, an energy shield, and the ability to imitate Sonic the Hedgehog by rolling into a ball and using a spin-dash attack.

On the zombie side, Super Brainz acts as the main melee class but also has a sustained blast for hitting foes at a distance. He also has an ultra ball for a slow, powerful projectile, and his secondary abilities include a diving kick and a spinning tornado. Captain Deadbeard is equipped with a shotgun, and his secondary abilities are all over the place. He has a cannon turret, the ability to hide in an explosive barrel to damage himself and others around him, and a parrot he can send to hit enemies from afar and from above. By far the most interesting of the new zombies is the Imp, the only character to actually start at half health. Dual machine guns are his primary weapon, and his secondary abilities include a gravity grenade to suspend enemies in the air and a spin move where he twirls around while firing his guns. Taking a page from Titanfall, he can also call on and ride around in a mech, which exponentially increases his health and gives him additional abilities like a missile barrage, a large ground stomp, and an eject that causes his mech to self-destruct.

While it may take some time to determine the right balance for the new additions, there's no doubt that the new classes are just as fun as the old ones. They all feel intuitive to use, and some fill in gaps that were present in the original game. For example, zombies now have an aerial drone ability while plants now have someone who can go toe to toe with the All-Star. Throw in all of their variations, and the roster becomes rather deep, which is great for keeping the game fresh.

The returning game modes are a healthy mix of the originals and modes that were introduced via DLC. Team Vanquish is essentially Team Deathmatch with a hard limit of 50 kills and the ability to take away a kill if allies are revived in time. Vanquish Confirmed is similar, except players drop orbs when they die, and orbs must be picked up in order for a score to count. Gnome Bomb has both sides fighting for a randomly spawning bomb so they can take it to one of three spots to blow up bases. Players have 30 seconds to defuse the bomb before it explodes, and if you're successful, the bomb respawns at another location a few seconds later. Suburbination has your team trying to take over three control points on a map, and you must hold on to them to score points until the goal is reached. Gardens & Graveyards has the zombies trying to take over particular spots on the map, and each successful takeover pushes back the plants until they run out of bases to protect. Finally, Garden Ops has you and up to three plant allies trying to survive 10 waves of increasingly difficult zombie hordes before rallying to the evacuation zone and making their escape. The only original mode to not make the leap to the sequel is Boss mode, and while it will be missed by some, its exclusion doesn't ruin the game.

By comparison, the new modes don't offer anything drastically different. Graveyard Ops is basically Garden Ops, but with the zombies defending a spot from the invading plants. Likewise, Herbal Assault is Gardens & Graveyards with the roles reversed while Turf Takeover blends Herbal Assault and Gardens & Graveyards into one that alternates the roles between rounds. If you're looking for something completely new, you won't find it here.

However, you won't necessarily mind because of the map count, among other things. Compared to the first game's launch, there are more available maps from the beginning. Almost every mode has a selection of eight maps. Both of the Ops modes have two maps, and there are two used for both Herbal Assault and Gardens & Graveyards. While the count isn't a lot more than the eight overall maps in the first game, at least the maps vary their themes by basing themselves on the time-traveling setting of the second mobile game. In addition, you have available options that don't change the goals of each mode but alter some of the game mechanics, including one-hit kills, infinite ammo, and higher jumps. Playing with these options means losing out on the full amount of coins earned for the match, but the playfulness is worth the penalty since few multiplayer titles bother to do this kind of thing.

As for the performance, it is much better than the original game was at launch. Granted, our time with the game was spent with only reviewers on board, but there were no hitches, and the gameplay was so smooth that it felt like you were playing offline. The hope is that the free DLC starts to come in at a steady clip, especially for players who seem to be exclusively in the Ops and Herbal Assault/Gardens & Graveyards modes.

If those were the only changes, then GW2 would be considered a good follow-up to the original title. However, it doesn't take long to see that bigger changes have been made to make it more appealing to a wider audience. For starters, the game has a pretty good loyalty system in place for players of the old title. Depending on the rank achieved there, you'll get bonuses once you log in to the new game. You also get to transfer any unlocked characters from the first title, with the exception of the special promotional characters given away as retail bonuses. It's a nice gesture that you hope to see other series adopt, if only to ensure players have another reason to stick with the series.

The progression system has also been overhauled. Falling in line with other games, all of your actions — from killing a foe to reviving allies — gain XP that eventually unlocks perks for your character. It takes a while before anything of significant value can be unlocked, especially since your XP gains per action may be constant but small, but each character variation is treated like an individual character and not just a skin, so you can be pretty busy trying to level up everyone you have.

As a result of this, quests have also been changed. Instead of a static list per class, you get a list on the quest board that changes after a few days, though they'll remain static if you choose to undertake it. You can hold up to five quests at a time for as long as you want. Aside from being rewarded with coins, completing quests also gives you points that are applied toward XP multipliers. The multiplier points expire over time, so you'll have a reason to continue quests to level up your characters.

For the most part, the coin system remains untouched. Completing games gives you a good amount of coins even if you lose. The coins are still fed into a vending machine, so you can buy packs of trading cards that provide consumables, cosmetic accessories for your characters, and pieces to construct character variations. The pack selection is quite numerous, and the consumables pack is cheap enough that you can purchase it after just one match.

Split-screen offline play is much more comprehensive than before. Unlike the previous title, where Garden Ops was the only mode, GW2 opens up multiplayer to every mode. You even have the ability to play those modes in co-op or competitively, and while it isn't a substitute for online play, it's a welcome addition nonetheless. The same can be said for solo play, and it works well because the AI is very capable this time around. Even though adding in AI partners for the various Ops modes makes the opposition harder, they come through when things heat up, and you'll appreciate the extra help even if they don't always do a good job of reviving you.

The single-player portion also has a proper quest. Both the plants and zombies have similar scenarios where they're trying to be new recruits in their respective armies. The missions vary wildly between standard Solo Ops with a specific boss at the end to mini-missions where you need to acquire an item, escort an ally, or defeat a specific foe. They're really nothing that you haven't seen in other games, but they're welcome here since they encompass a number of missions, and it is still something fresh for a game that's trying out a single-player mode for the first time.

Of all of the additions and changes, the biggest and most significant one is Backyard Battleground. After choosing a side, you appear at the respective base, which now acts as a hub for all of the choices that are normally presented in a menu. Aside from choosing missions and character customization options, you'll use your base to look at the various stats you've accrued with the side you chose. Go outside of the base, and you'll be able to explore all of Suburbia through the influences of both the plants and the zombies. While this is meant for the solo player, you can invite online friends and strangers if you want to just hang out.

What makes this mode excellent is the fact that it's full of things to do. You can activate a soccer game at the side of the plant base. Don't expect anything deep, but it's fun nonetheless. The park in the middle of the stage has its own Ops mode, where you face endless waves of enemies, with each wave specializing in specific classes before mixing it up. Roam around the level, and you'll meet other characters that send you on missions or engage you in target practice. Others send you on fetch quests for things, like gnomes and snow globes, while others can exchange the stars you obtain during quests for XP. The better deal is to use those stars to open treasure chests to obtain more coins and special cards to decorate parts of the world. Even if you choose to partake in none of that, you'll fight random zombies and plants for XP without having to participate in any matches.

Graphically, GW2 is pretty much the same as before. What you have is a rather colorful shooter during both day and night scenes. While that is expected from the plant-controlled areas, the zombie zones sport an equal amount of color as well, just in a darker spectrum. The character designs look great, and so do the animations. The game is flooded with particle effects, especially when you're traversing the plant base and see pollen all over the place. About the only flaw is in the smaller details, like grass suddenly popping up in areas. Considering how well the game handles the chaos, that kind of thing can be easily overlooked.

Like the graphics, the sound is also similar to its predecessor. As it did before, the soundtrack specializes in being whimsical, and this time around, it also matches the level theme. The game emphasizes the effects more, and the soundtrack only kicks in during the beginning and ends of matches, but it is still enjoyable. Likewise, the effects have the right kind of silly punch; the popcorn shooters and the pellet guns sound good but still give you the sense that they're playful enough for this universe. As for voices, prepare to hear nothing but grunts from everyone, a perfect way to ensure that this title sticks with the traits of the series.

If you consider the original title to be a proof of concept, then Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is the true realization of the game. The fun of the original title is still here but has been amplified with the addition of new maps and classes. The expansion of the split-screen local multiplayer is very much needed, but the new single-player modes round out the package. This is especially true of Backyard Battleground, which proves to be an enjoyable time-waster, especially since it can also be played online. Though there are still some heavy hitters in the multiplayer space this year, don't be surprised if GW2 has the most staying power.

Score: 9.0/10

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