When EA and Popcap released Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare in 2014, the game surprised many with how well it translated the goofy style of its parent franchise into the 3D space. But even more surprising was how competent a class-based shooter it was. Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 grows on the strengths of its predecessor, building on its gameplay framework and creating a ridiculous, addictive shooter experience.
Garden Warfare 2’s most immediately apparent improvement is its much more expansive scope and variety of content. The first game wasn’t necessarily bare-bones - it had a variety of multiplayer modes and maps, and a co-op experience called Garden Ops - but simple menus and lack of single-player content left it feeling like a “lite” experience. Garden Warfare 2 does not share this approach - the production values are significantly higher across the board.
A significant contributor to this is the new hub world, the Backyard Battleground. This area is divided into zombie and plant sides, with a No Man's Land in constant contention in the middle. The faction areas act as bases of operations where players can customize characters, check stats, and dive into missions, co-op, or online matches. In some ways it is akin to the Tower in Destiny, but the Backyard Battleground’s advantage is the way players can run out of their bases straight into the PvE mayhem of No Man’s Land. It’s theoretically possible to grind for experience in this area, but its more important function is to make the world feel alive and chaotic. Adding to this feeling are smaller additions such as quick NPC quests, collectibles, and a plethora of unlockable customisation options. All of these factors coalesce into one of the coolest and most immersive hub worlds I’ve seen.
The other major improvement Garden Warfare 2 has over its predecessor is its wealth of single player content. There are two single player campaigns: one for the plants and the other for the zombies. Neither of these campaigns tell an in depth story, rather offering players opportunities to play solo while earning rewards like stars for world customisation and experience for your characters. The lack of an overarching story feels like a wasted opportunity, but ultimately, that has never been an emphasis for this franchise, and the existing campaigns still succeed in communicating the universe’s amusing and ridiculous tone.
Additionally, a solo mode has also been added to the wave defense mode Garden Ops, previously cooperative-only. You can now generate three AI allies to help you defend your graveyard or garden (depending on what side you pick). The AI allies are surprisingly competent, making this a viable option for playing Garden Ops on lower difficulty levels.
The core of the game, however, remains its multiplayer combat, with all of the previous game's multiplayer modes and characters returning. In some ways this gameplay feels like more of the same, but it does include a few significant tweaks. For instance, the shooting feels much tighter and more refined, and the character classes are now better balanced against one another.
All of the characters from the previous game are back, and players can even import their unlocked sub-classes from Garden Warfare into the new game. Joining old favorites such as Chomp and the All-Star, are 6 new classes. On the plant side there is the Rose, Citron and Kernel Corn; on the Zombie side, the Captain Deadbeard, Imp and Super Brainz. Each new character has a distinct new fighting style and approach, which introduce new strategies to the mayhem of multiplayer matches.
The map design, though, is what really takes the matches to the next level. The previous game had some great maps, but the design in Garden Warfare 2 is far more varied and charming. Each map has its own distinct feel, and many have unique characteristics which change the battle significantly, such as a moon-based level with lower gravity. Each of the maps works well with multiple modes, despite the very different demands they each have on the map.
The casual multiplayer shooter genre doesn’t get a lot of attention or respect within the gaming industry, but Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a shining example of why it should. Although it will never boast the high-end professional play of other multiplayer shooters, how many people really play at that level? Garden Warfare 2 offers all the tension and intensity of a hardcore shooter, without the angst. This goofy experience combines a fantastic tone with tight shooting mechanics and a plethora of gameplay options, making it one of the most enjoyable and accessible shooters around.