Yesterday we looked at Unravel, one of Electronic Arts' most surprising games of E3 2015. Jonathan also looked at Star Wars: Battlefront, probably the gaming public's most highly anticipated title in that lineup. I'm not much of a first-person shooter guy, but I'm pumped for Battlefront as well. Still, it's EA's third-person shooter that I'm most looking forward to: Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2.

The original Garden Warfare launched as a timed exclusive on Xbox One and 360, where it captured the hearts of young and old gamers alike. Garden Warfare 2 will arrive on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC simultaneously early next year. A host of enhancements like new characters, maps, and modes, character transfers from the first game, and improved split-screen support should make this a very worthwhile sequel.

We spent some quality time playing Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2 at E3. Read on for my detailed impressions and developer interview and gameplay video!

Warring across time and space

Time travel plays heavily into Plants vs. Zombies 2, the somewhat disappointing sequel to the original PvZ tower defense game. The same science-fiction concept appears in Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2 as well, with some of the new levels appearing to span different eras. Someone has been mucking with the timeline, in fact, and things look grim.

Dr. Zomboss, the leader of the zombies, has finally conquered Suburbia, the setting of the Garden Warfare games. He does so by sending new zombies and technology from the future, turning the tide of battle. Now the plants must mount a desperate attack to take the city back. They'll do so with the help of a few time traveling plants of their own…

Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2

Returning heroes and villains

In the original Garden Warfare, each of the two factions had four main classes to choose from. Players could also unlock a whopping six variants for each class. Interestingly, PopCap and EA chose to balance the plants and zombies asymmetrically. The plants had a melee class (Chomper) and sniper class (Cactus) while the zombies did not, for instance.

All of those classes and variants return in Garden Warfare 2. You won't even need to unlock them again if you've already played the first game. The game detects your original save data and imports (nearly) all of your unlocks automatically. Presumably you'd need to play both games on the same platform for the transfer to work, but you never know. The cool part is current players can keep on playing and unlocking stuff, and all that effort will carry over to the new game as well.

Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2

The new class(es)

Each side gets three new classes this time out, and those classes will have their own variations like the originals. The new plants are:

  • Citron: A time-traveling, bounty hunting orange from the future. My favorite character design of the new plants.
  • Kernel Corn: An experienced veteran who missed out on the first game's events because he was on an overseas tour of duty. This guy is based on the Kernel-pult from the mainline PvZ games. I prefer the original design, but this one does fit Garden Warfare 2 well.
  • Rose: Another female character in the Garden Warfare series, she'd be just as sweet by any other name. Rose is a sorceress from the future who had a vision of the zombies winning, so she traveled back in time to help. Her design is kind of fugly if you ask me.

Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2 E3 2015 tip sheet

The plants' actual abilities will be revealed at a later date. We do know more about the new zombies and their powers:

  • Imp: The smallest and fastest character in the game, Imp can even double jump. His first ability (the Impkata) involves using his rocket pack to spin in a circle, firing shots everywhere. He can also throw a gravity grenade that sucks plants together for easy killing. Finally, Imp can summon a giant robot called the Z-Mech. As a purist, I'm a teeny bit sad the Imp doesn't get to ride on a Gargantuar instead of a robot.
  • Z-Mech: Not technically its own character, but the Imp's Z-Mech does have unique abilities. Its main attack is an arm-mounted rocket launcher. It can stomp a foot to deal massive damage to enemies. The Z-Mech's "Missile madness" ability unleashes a barrage of projectiles from its shoulders. Finally, it can self-destruct and allow the Imp to keep on fighting.
  • Captain DeadBeard: Since the zombies now have territory to defend in Garden Warfare 2, they need a long-range specialist like DeadBeard, their first-ever sniper. Interestingly, his weapon normally fires scattershots like a shotgun. Zooming in causes it to telescope out and act as a sniper rifle. Deadbeard's Parrot Pal can fly around the battlefield, pooping on plants below. His second ability allows him to hide in a barrel for reduced damage, detonating the barrel when he needs to escape. Deadbeard's "Cannon Rodeo" ability summons a powerful cannon for him to ride.
  • Super Brainz: A superhero zombie who has lost a boot, and also the zombie's first melee class. His default punch attack can combo up to three times. His first ability sends him flying forward in a kick, which can also be performed from the air. His second ability tosses a fireball. Super's "Turbo Twister" move spins him around in a tornado, knocking opponents back. I had a blast playing as this zombie, but his lack of a standard jumping attack is annoying.

Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2

Play alone or with your plant pals

Garden Warfare started out as a multiplayer-only online shooter. It did offer one mode that could be played in single-player or split-screen (on Xbox One and PS4) though: Garden Ops. However, the game required Xbox Live or PS+ to even play, so nobody could actually buy it for offline play.

The new game improves on offline support dramatically. You can now play all game types in single-player without the need for Xbox Live or PS+. Whichever modes you choose, the game supplies bots as enemies.

2-player split-screen has gotten much better as well. Now both players can use their own profiles, making progress and earning Achievements independently. At last, people might actually want to play split-screen! Sadly, split-screen players can't join in online games – another oversight. But at least local teams can battle bots together.

Online play has improved too. Players can now join parties and move smoothly between different online game types without fear of anyone getting left behind. If they prefer to just play with friends, they'll enjoy the new private games option. These are basic features of most modern online shooters; it's good to see Garden Warfare 2 catching up.

Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2 E3 2015 players

Zombie Ops

During the show, we tried out a new cooperative game mode: Zombie Ops. It works just like Garden Ops, but with the teams reversed. A team of up to four players will play as the zombies against waves of AI plants. Just like Garden Ops, the zombie team will have to fight giant bosses on some waves. The bosses we faced were Giga Torchwoods, gigantic flaming tree stumps.

In between certain waves, Crazy Dave now scatters presents across the map. The team will have to rush to grab them before the next wave starts. The presents I grabbed contained money, though some of them might also hold consumable defense items as well.

After completing the final wave, the zombie team must reach an evacuation point and survive the oncoming plants for several seconds, much as in Garden Ops. Zombie Ops proved just as fun as anything I played in the previous game – maybe even moreso.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is shaping up to be a robust sequel that fixes most of the first game's weaknesses. It doesn't seem like the new game will feature a campaign mode, but the improved offline support should still make for a decent single-player experience. We'll know for sure when Garden Warfare 2 brings the fight to on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC in Spring 2016.

Are you looking forward to this game? Let us know in the comments!