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Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 review

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 for Xbox One

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.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 for Xbox One

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.

Quests

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 for Xbox One

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.

Characters

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 for Xbox One

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.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 for Xbox One

The new characters available at the start include:

Plants

  • 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.

Zombies

  • 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.

Multiplayer

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 for Xbox One

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.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 for Xbox One

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.

Split-Screen

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 for Xbox One

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.

Achievements

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 for Xbox One

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.

Overall Impression

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 for Xbox One

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.

This review was conducted on Xbox One using a copy provided by Electronic Arts.

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

26 Comments
  • My son is loving it so far, well worth the purchase price for the wealth of content. Posted from Windows Central for Windows 10
  • got it for my son and he loves it especially the battlegroud part. i like it too and playing this with him while i wait for the division Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Garden Warfare 2 looks like fun, too bad I didn't really get into GW1 yet, 1 of this days I'll give it a try
  • You're missing out.  Fun game
  • Nice review. This is already a GOTY contender for me. Way more content than I was expecting. Much more than what was in the beta. I've got close to 10 hours played, barely touched multiplayer, and still have more solo stuff to do.
  • I just miss the classic plants vs zombies on consoles instead of this freak show FPS Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • It's a third person shooter actually
  • You can still play the original pvz on Xbox one. It is backwards (forward) compatible now. The second one (of the original series) focuses heavily on microtransactions and is way too hard and I don't miss it.
  • Agreed. PvZ2 is not nearly as good as the first game. I'd still love a real PvZ3, but the Garden Warfare series is a very worthwhile spinoff of the main franchise.
  • This game is so fun, it is easily my favorite game so far this year. I play this game with my niece and she loves the new Rose character. Excellent review Paul.
  • Thanks man! Glad to hear you guys can enjoy the game together. :D
  • Huge fan of Garden Warfare One.  Only played one multiplayer match last night and something felt off.  Seemed a bit more serious of a shooter even with the silly characters I dig.  The best thing about GW1 was it was the first shooter I've ever played where I laughed just about every time I got vanquished.  The comedy in the killing moves and kill cam never got old.  I hope that continues in the latest sequel and hope theyre not going for more depth of a game while making the comedy suffer but I didn't see a lot to laugh at this time around---yet.
  • It should get more comedic as more and more people get goofy costumes. It was hard to get upset when dying in the first game when the person that killed me looked ridiculous.
  • Great review Paul, thanks for keeping an eye on split screen options. The split screen is what I need these days. This is a game I played the pants off previously. Surprised how good the original was. I think that the price is a little steep this time, but may still get it. My kids lived the original, and it is a true family shooter.
  • Hey Peachy, a recent update added the ability for split-screen players to join online games. So cool! :)
  • Cheers Paul... How the hell you remembered my comment, I will never know. But great news.
  • Nice review. This looks like fun and I'll probably pick it up in the future. So many games to play still...
  • Great review, as always. I'm not sure this is one I would pick up, after playing the beta. I might prefer to just play the first through EA Access. Maybe if it hits a sale, I'll jump in, but it's hard to not look at EA titles and say I'd rather wait 6-10 months to play it for nearly free (if you're someone already using Access). I actually wonder how long EA Access will last because of this. EA adds its games pretty quickly, and it's hard to imagine they'll just leave this $30/year ($60 if you go monthly) service up as-is and keep adding games. It's gotta be nearing 20 by now, I'd think, and Rory McIlroy (the game I'm waiting to be added before I subscribe) can't be far from being added either. Can they REALLY sell new games well at $60 each while offering dozens for $30/year total? It seems tough to think it. I do feel a bit badly for this game, though. It's done a really solid job of creating a franchise that works well in two genres. It's not a bad game at all, but it's releasing at an awkward time before the atypically busy first-half of the year. Where as Dying Light was about the only major thing I gave attention to early in the year, GW2 has to deal with The Division in a couple of weeks, Pokken Tournament (not a competitor, but something I'll probably buy before I'd buy this), Far Cry, Unravel, and others hovering around its release (if you wanted to go about 6-8 weeks off, you could throw in Uncharted, Quantum Break, and Dark Souls in the mix). 2016 is a very busy year, and this seems like one that coudl get drowned out a bit, where as its predecessor probably produced so well, in part, becuase the early generation library was lacking. I really do wish I had a chance to play this, though. If it were launched at the same $40 price tag, I'd probably bite. Instead, I'll try waiting for the first price drop, then maybe give it a look.
  • New addition to my collection. Paul, thanks for your article. Very in detail and informative. I really lile how well it is organized. Game time
  • Having a lot of fun playing this.  The price may be higher than the first, but they added so much more to this one.  Great review.
  • Pre-ordered the game and have it waiting on my Xbox. Hope to dive in this weekend and maybe play the game with some of you.
  • 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. Well, this is still not fixed using my Xbox One. We can play backyard battlegrounds fine but that is about it. Anytime we go into Garden Ops, it just gets stuck on the leader player loading screen and you have to exit split screen to release it. No other game modes can be played while in split screen co op mode. I only got it to work one time where the second player HAD to log in as a guest but they were not able to earn achievements, money or experience. Only ths article was the first place that actually explained more in detail what to really expect with Split Screen local co op on Xbox One systems. Thanks! https://www.dropbox.com/s/njcxqzu3tehhkf4/waiting.png?dl=0
  • Sorry to hear you're having problems! Did you try a third Gamertag? And have you signed up all users for the required EA account?
  • I wanted this game since E3. Angel had a choice buy this game or Sims addons a month ago. She picked sims addons for the pc. I understand. When I play xbox she has pc. She wants me to play xbox more and that is nice of her. This game is on our list but Ea Access has got me a few times. Each game I had purchased has shown up on that list. So will I buy this one? no. This will give me a reason to renew my ea access pass. I currently am not subscribed. Because I own the games I play on that list. Except BF 4. I just dont play it every day. So I will pick up this game when it goes on sale or comes to the Vault.  The beenifits to that is bugs will be fixed and minor content additions will be done. I haven't played gw in nearly a year. But Angel and RoyalBob play all the time. I am sure we can wait this one out.
  • Still no Plants vs. Zombies app for Windows 10?!  C'mon!!  Let's wake up and get on the ball here!!  Lolz.
  • As long as EA has Origin, that probably won't be a priority.