The first Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare accomplished the seemingly impossible: it took a beloved tower defense game and spun it off into a team-based multiplayer shooter. And it worked! Electronic Arts carved a niche for Garden Warfare as a colorful, family-friendly alternative to traditionally adult-oriented shooters.
The only problem with the first Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was that it lacked value as a single-player or split-screen game. Garden Warfare 2 ups the ante in a big way, delivering a surprising assortment of solo missions and improved split-screen multiplayer. A creative new hub world, more character classes, and game types round out the package. Find out more in our detailed review!
Welcome to the suburban jungle
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 starts out by dropping players right into a tutorial. This segment isn't strictly necessary, but it helps establish the sequel's scenario as well as making this feel like more fleshed out game than its value-priced predecessor.
The zombies have overtaken suburbia, turning it into a desolate, dystopian wasteland. Somehow, amidst the chaos, a Sunflower manages to emerge from the desecrated ground. Playing as the Sunflower, you'll have to fight your way out of the zombified neighborhood. At the end of the street, our hero must hold position for a few minutes while waiting for a dramatic rescue from Crazy Dave's flying RV.
After completing the tutorial level, players emerge in the Backyard Battleground, Garden Warfare 2's all-new hub world. You'll begin within the walls of the Plants' base, run by the nonsensical but virtuous inventor Crazy Dave. You can also switch to the Zombie side (led by Doctor Zomboss) at will. These bases are home to various interactive structures that replace the menus of the original game.
To start a game of Garden Ops, for instance, you'll approach the Flying RV and activate it. The downside to navigating a world to choose modes, customize characters, etc. is you have to learn where everything is in both the Plant and Zombie bases. It can be a little confusing at first, but the hub world setup certainly gives the game a larger scope.
The Backyard Battleground also brings the Plants vs. Zombies war to life. Between the two bases, AI-controlled plants and zombies wage an unending battle for control of the neighborhood. Players can leave the base at any moment to participate in this conflict, complete side quests, or explore and hunt for secrets. The Backyard Battleground supports split-screen and online multiplayer, as well.
Within each base, players can access two distinct types of quests: Solo, and Daily.
Although the Solo Quests haven't been pitched as a campaign, they make up a surprisingly large chunk of content. You'll visit the current side's quest-giver and accept a series of quests – single-player levels. These take a few minutes each, have a fair share of variety, and can be replayed at will. After completing all of the quest-giver's levels, specialized quests open up for each of Garden Warfare 2's new character classes.
An ultimate quest area centers around a final boss for that side, after which a special reward is unlocked. All told, players will get several hours of enjoyment out of the Solo Quests. With a little more structure and some voice acting, these quests could've become a full-blown campaign. The one major downside of the Solo Quests is that they are strictly one-player, lacking split-screen or online co-op support. But at least they give us something to do when friends aren't around.
As for Daily Quests, you can pick them up from the Job Board. On it, a selection of optional objectives (such as getting kills with a certain weapon or fighting a specific boss) appear, that change fortnightly — I mean daily. These essentially replace the character-based Challenges of the first game. Only having to take on the Quests you want is a serious improvement. The stars earned from Daily Quests can be spent on base customizations and other unlockables.
The first Garden Warfare offered eight character classes (four for each faction) and an assortment of unlockable variants. Any characters unlocked in that game can automatically be imported into this one via either base's Mailbox. And anyone who reached Rank 313 in the first game gets a Legendary-rarity Peggle-themed Unicorn Chomper.
Players unlock character variations in Garden Warfare 2 the same way as before, by purchasing randomized sticker packs with coins earned from gameplay. Every week, one variation on each side is free for players who haven't unlocked it to test out, as well.
The new game has fourteen base classes. Combined with the new variants of existing classes, that makes for a huge lineup of alternate characters to unlock – over 100 in all. The returning characters have received some tweaks, such as the Scientist gaining a proper heal beam and the Engineer losing his drone.
The new characters available at the start include:
- Citron: A time-traveling orange, Citron can switch to ball form and roll around at high speeds.
- Kernel Corn: This corn soldier can use butter to slow down enemies or fire a "Shuck shot" that vanquishes most targets in one hit.
- Rose: The first female Garden Warfare character, Rose's basic shots home in on targets but deal little damage. Her Goatify ability transforms zombies into goats for a short time.
- Captain Deadbeard: This pirate zombie's main weapon acts as a shotgun when zoomed out and as a sniper rifle when zoomed in. He can also summon a controllable parrot that flies above the battlefield.
- Imp: The diminutive Imp's claim to fame is his ability to summon a pilotable Z-mech, kind of like a smaller Titan from Titanfall.
- Super Brainz: The first melee-class zombie dresses as a superhero. He can throw fireballs and spin around to knock plants away.
The new characters are all well designed from a gameplay standpoint, and should make it even easier for everyone to find a favorite class. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not crazy about their visual design though. Combined with the 'Danger Zone' theme song used in the intro and trailers, Garden Warfare 2's increasingly commercialized aesthetics seem to be moving farther away from the original tower defense game's simple charms.
Most of Garden Warfare's multiplayer game types return in the sequel, including the cooperative Garden Ops mode, and the popular Gardens & Graveyards. Whereas the first game featured several modes in which only plants could be played, the sequel offers Zombie equivalents, such as Graveyard Ops and Herbal Assault.
The co-op modes support four online players and the competitive modes support 24 online players. All multiplayer modes can be played single-player or split-screen (against bots) as well. Players will earn coins and experience in every game mode, even the Backyard Battleground. You're always making progress no matter what you choose to play.
The 'Solo Ops' variation of the Garden and Graveyard Ops modes allows a single player to team up with three AI-controlled partners. You can even 'hot swap' between them at will by tapping up or down on the D-Pad. Whichever character you currently control will earn XP, and you even get an Achievement for your first swap.
Although Garden Ops has always been this series' equivalent of Gears of War's Horde Mode, it's strictly limited to ten rounds. During the final round, the team seeks to survive until rescued, at which point the game ends. That still applies in Garden Warfare 2, but the unlockable Infinite mode has no such round limitation.
Infinite Mode isn't quite the same as Garden/Graveyard Ops in that it takes place on a specific map and with characters unique to the mode, but it still offers a potentially endless co-op experience. Upon unlocking Infinite Mode, you can even invite other players who haven't unlocked it yet to play.
Though the Xbox One version of Garden Warfare featured an exclusive split-screen mode, it was not well implemented. Two local players could team up in Garden Ops, but no other game types. Worse, the second player couldn't earn money, experience, or Achievements. It was fairly pointless.
Garden Warfare 2 goes a long way towards fixing those issues. Both split-screen players get to use their own profiles now. In fact, the second player will have to create an EA Account at sign-in if he or she doesn't already have one. Each player will earn money, experience, and Achievements, so nobody loses out by teaming up.
Split-screen players can play all co-op and competitive game types, not just Garden Ops — that's the good news. The bad news is split-screen players can't participate in online games (a downer we already reported during E3 last year). This still limits how much fun two local players can have. Given that other series like Halo (prior to Halo 5) and Gears of War have long-allowed split-screen players to hop online, Garden Warfare 2 really should've supported it as well.
Update: On December 1, 2016 Garden Warfare 2 quietly received an update that allows split-screen players to join in online games! Now two local players can enjoy the full game experience, making a great game that much better. As a result, we've bumped our review score up a tad.
Garden Warfare 2 launches with 51 Achievements on Xbox One. One involves Promoting ("prestiging") a character five times. Luckily, characters level up really quickly, so Promotions don't take too long. You'll also have to find all the hidden Gnomes – yes, this game has collectibles strewn throughout the Backyard Battleground. Other tough Achievements include reaching milestones in Infinite Mode and completing the co-op modes on Crazy difficulty.
The first Garden Warfare established itself as not only a brilliant spinoff of a great franchise, but a quality online shooter for kids (and grownups) to play. Bur it also felt like an incomplete game due to the lack of offline content. The reduced asking price ($40 at launch) reflected that.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 makes up for most of its predecessor's shortcomings. With Solo Quests, solo and split-screen support for more modes, new characters, and the expansive Backyard Battlegrounds hub world, this sequel feels like the full-sized game that fans always wanted. Naturally it sells at the full-sized price of $60, but shooter fans (especially kids) will get more than their money's worth from Garden Warfare 2.
- See Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 at Xbox.com
- See Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 at Amazon
- See Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 at Amazon UK
This review was conducted on Xbox One using a copy provided by Electronic Arts.