If you would have told me a few years ago that the Electronic Arts of 2016 would be publishing a new Star Wars Battlefront and a sequel to a shooter based on Plants vs. Zombies, I'd have a hard time believing you. If you continued on to say that the PopCap developed third person shooter would be more robust and fully featured than the DICE-helmed Star Wars game, I might have started scanning the room for hidden cameras. Yet, here I am, writing about Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, an excellent second entry in PopCap's family friendly multiplayer shoot 'em up featuring sentient plant people and the reanimated corpses that want them dead.
The original Garden Warfare was one of the few games to really take advantage of the path laid out by Team Fortress 2, offering up a plethora of cosmetic options and regular gameplay updates to keep things interesting for casual players and fanatics alike. The character classes were all distinct, and the fanciful setting of Suburbia allows for a ridiculous arsenal of plunger launchers and solar beams to wield. All of this gameplay moves forward into Garden Warfare 2, with the same characters and every game mode but Taco Bandits returning. If you played a lot of the first game, you can even transfer over your unlocked characters and secondary abilities for immediate use, although cosmetics do have to stay behind.
Things aren't completely the same though. Garden Warfare 2 introduces three new character classes on each side of the conflict. Plants receive help from the popcorn blasting Kernel Corn, the neon infused Citron orange tank, and Rose mages that can transform foes into goats. On the Zombie side, you'll see the melee focused Super Brainz, Captain Deadbeard and his high-flying parrot drone, and the mech piloting Imp. The new classes seem to be focused on balancing out each team, with several providing functionality and abilities that were previously exclusive to the opposing team. They're not direct copies, but they're close enough in function to feel a bit less novel than the original game's cast.
The game's presentation has also changed in this new iteration. While the original stuck with 2D drawings that were reminiscent of the franchise's tower defense origins, Garden Warfare 2 modernizes things with 3D representations of every character. Menus are also gone here, replaced by an open world environment called the Backyard Battleground, which is filled with hidden collectibles and AI characters wandering about. You and up to three friends can load into the same world, using it as a lobby before jumping online or into the game's returning Garden/Graveyard Ops horde modes.
There are even a few mini-game distractions to be found if you look hard enough, including a "Shoot the Targets" type game and several King of the Hill missions, but none of these really hold your interest for long. This type of MMO hub world can be intrusive in some games, but everything is close enough here that I never found myself wishing that I could just use a menu instead.
If you're all by your lonesome and tire of the standard Vanquish matches online, Garden Warfare 2 has you covered with a pair of single player campaigns. Each short storyline has you rising in the ranks of your chosen team, learning a bit about the new classes, and eventually becoming a top agent and gaining access to something too crazy to spoil. These missions are split between tasks you complete out in the open world and specialized rounds of Garden Ops.
In-between missions, you get bits of dialogue and a few cutscenes, which elevates the proceedings slightly above a collection of tutorials and bot matches. You can also play any multiplayer mode with a full suite of AI foes, but these matches feel lifeless without the character variety and focus on objectives that you get from playing with real people. Make no mistakes, Garden Warfare 2 is a multiplayer shooter first and foremost, and it does that job extremely well. A full game of 24 characters blasting their powers left and right can get hectic in a fun way, and each round is fast paced and satisfying.
The only issue you may run into online isn't unique to this game, but it is exacerbated by its character system. A player who as already sunk hours and hours into the game is going to have access to more characters than a player just starting out, and each characters has enough tweaks to their abilities to give them advantages in certain situations. Considering that you'll want to be leveling up all your characters over time, you might find yourself jumping into a server as a default Sunflower and facing down a squad of Goalie Stars and Pylon Imps that roll over your team. Thankfully, you can level up characters in the game's other modes, as well as play as a support player when you're just starting out, meaning that this isn't an insurmountable issue.
Unlike some shooters these days, Garden Warfare 2 launches with a full multiplayer suite of maps and modes that will keep players busy for quite a while. You can pick and choose whatever mode you want online, including a mixed option if you just want to play everything. The map count is decent, with four maps for the Gardens and Graveyards/Herbal Assault mode and eight for the more straightforward team modes. Every map has little details tucked away everywhere, as well as some interactive elements to add chaos to any match.
The locations are more varied this time around, which makes the game feel generic when compared to the set of neighborhoods from the original game. Having snow levels and theme parks in the mix feel like the developers stretching the original PvZ premise a bit thin in the same way that Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time did. It makes me hope that the classic levels return at some point in the future in one of the promised free content updates.
Technically, you can tell that Garden Warfare 2 is vastly improved by the move to focusing on only one generation of consoles. The unlockable characters are allowed to be much more varied this time out, with particle effects flying off of my Power Chomper and Dr. Toxic whenever I spawned as them. This also extends to the collectible cosmetics, which really bring out the best part of these games. The unbridled madness that is happening at any given moment is already great, and adding in spaghetti hats, steampunk goggles and punk rocker hair only adds to the enjoyment.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cn7zrf2g1yI
I was disappointed to see that there were silver and gold versions of many hats padding out the cosmetics, as I'd much rather have less in quantity for more quality. Still, you can create some truly dumb characters once you crack open a few sticker packs, and the game is pretty generous with the coins you'll need to get collecting. There are no microtransactions to get those coins as of launch, but those were added in after release in the original game. One can assume that they might arrive in a similar fashion here, especially considering the continued emphasis on unlocking expensive character packs.
When you first load up Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, a ninety second intro plays that features Kenny Loggins singing Danger Zone. No matter how much my brain tells me that the video is a nostalgic grab at attention by a lazy marketing department, my heart just wants to give in and go with it, and that feeling persists throughout the experience. The entire game is joyous, providing deep gameplay that is shamelessly silly and easy to jump into. It's a rare sequel that doesn't innovate for innovation's sake, bringing back everything that worked about the previous title and adding more on top. While it is iterative at times, the new player classes and improved visuals make the game worth a look for everyone from the middle school set to the Call of Duty faithful. After all, when you're already accepting jetpacks and nanomachines in your "serious" shooter games, you might as well strap into a Z7 and turn up the nonsense.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 was reviewed on Xbox One with a copy provided by EA. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC via Origin.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a chaotic good time that takes everything that was great about the first game, gives it a fresh coat of paint, and adds in more nonsense on top.