Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a refined execution of its predecessor. The same multiplayer and co-op modes have returned (with a few welcome additions), the roster of characters for both sides have expanded (as well as the customization options), and the main menu has been replaced with an interactive “Backyard Battleground” area. It is, for better and worse, more of the original.
Having more of something can be a good thing. For instance, having more activities in which players can participate. This is encapsulated within the Backyard Battleground. It is, in essence, Garden Warfare 2’s interactive lobby area. Players can explore a (limited) open world where there are secrets to discover and an ever raging war between the two eponymous sides. You are free to test out new character class builds against A.I. enemies, invite friends into the area to join you, setup a multiplayer or co-op match using the appropriate console, or partake in the new single-player quests. There’s even a flagpole in the middle of the “neutral zone” that kicks off an endless horde mode if you just want to shoot a bunch of stuff and earn some coins.
It is your playground and your in-game menus all rolled into one, and it is fantastic. I cannot think of another shooter that has provided me with a place where I can hangout with friends and engage with the game on a more casual level when I need a break from the action. It is something I would like to see in other games.
Just as in the original you’ll earn coins by participating in the multiplayer and co-op modes, which in turn are used to purchase card/sticker packs. These packs usually contain consumable items, such as plants, weeds, bots, or zombies, that are used in the multiplayer and co-op modes to boost your defenses or aid in your assault, as well as character customization items, like new hats. The more expensive packs will also contain character stickers, which unlock variants of the character classes, and possibly new character abilities. These character variants use the same abilities as the basic version, but have different main attacks. For example, the fire-based Peashooter still has the Chili Bean Bomb, Pea Gatling, and Hyper abilities, but it shoots peas that set enemies on fire. Across the game’s 14 different classes, there are over 100 unlockable variants, and this is where the negative side to all of Garden Warfare 2’s “more” fits in.
One of the conventions of the modern multiplayer shooter environment is leveling your multiplayer avatar to unlock new gear, abilities, and/or customization options. Garden Warfare implemented this idea, to some degree, through the “Rank System.” Players would rank up entire character classes by completing certain challenges, which in turn would unlock new upgrades for that class. Garden Warfare 2 has scrapped that almost all together (the challenges have been moved to the quest/bounty board) in favor of a straightforward experience system. Your character will earn experience through almost every action they take, whether it’s vanquishing foes, healing allies, capturing strategic points in a multiplayer match, or completing a wave in Garden Ops.
At levels five and nine your character earns a new character upgrade, like being able to regenerate health faster or doing more damage. Once they reach level 10 you can promote them, which resets their level back to one, gives them a new title (specialist, advanced, elite, super elite), and gifts you 20,000 coins. This process can be repeated five times for each character, which is the catch.
Let’s say you really enjoy playing one of the new characters for the Zombies, Super Brainz. You play as him a lot, level him up, and unlock some upgrades. Then you open a sticker pack and nab one of his variants, Cosmic Brainz. If you want to get those same upgrades for Cosmic, you’ll have to go through that whole leveling process again. Completing the quests from the bounty board does provide you with an experience multiplier that will make leveling easier the second, third, or tenth time around, but between the coins and this new system, there’s a distinct “grinding” aspect to Garden Warfare 2.
Additionally, having that many different playable characters in a game will naturally lead to a lot of imbalances when you do face off against foes. When I first started playing a couple weeks ago, I noticed that, on the whole, the Zombies felt like they took more damage and died quicker than their vegetative counterparts. I mainly noticed this while playing through the single-player and co-op modes, but it was enough that it made me hesitant to even try and engage in any multiplayer. EA patched the game recently to address some of the balancing issues in the game, and that has helped. Still, there’s a feeling that the Zombies are a little outgunned and a little less adaptive to the dynamic situations that often arise when you’re in the mix of things.
While some aspects of the game have suffered a bit, the co-op is stronger than ever. Local co-op is now supported (on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions only). Garden Ops, a horde mode for up to four players where you have to defend a point against ten waves of zombies, returns from the original game, and the Zombies now have their own version with Graveyard Ops. Additionally, Garden Warfare 2 has added the ability to play against enemy A.I. bots in all of the game’s multiplayer modes. So, if you’re itching to play some Gnome Bomb, Suburbination, or Herbal Assault with your friends but not against other players, you can.
Finally, completing the single-player quests for either the Plants or the Zombies unlocks a new challenge, Infinity Time. This new mode also supports up to four players where you try to survive as long as possible against a relentless horde of garden gnomes that are bent on destroying time. However, instead of playing as a Plant or a Zombie, you’re placed in the metal frame of a giant mech, which has abilities of its own and helps to make the mode feel a little different from the Graveyard and Garden Ops. While the mode is endless, there is something of a goal here. Defeated gnomes in Infinity Time drop time shards; the more shards you collect, the better your rewards at the end. These rewards include some unique hats/customization options, but also variants of the six new character classes (Rose, Citron, Kernel Corn, Super Brainz, Captain Deadbeard, and the Imp) that can only be earned in this mode. It’s fun addition overall and your friends don’t have to unlock it in their own game in order to join you.
Garden Warfare 2 is the kind of multiplayer game I’ve always wanted. I am free to enjoy the chaos and camaraderie of playing with friends against another team, and can do so in the comforting knowledge that that is only bots. The pressure of not letting down my team or having to be the best Garden Warfare 2 player to ever grace the planet is removed. In other words, I can engage with the game how I want, not how it tells me to. If I had one wish for the game, it’s that it offered more variety in its co-op only modes. I’m not sure if BioWare has sole propriety over the type of objective focused, squad-based co-op that it implemented in Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition, but a mode like that would go a long way towards making Garden Warfare 2 the greatest collection of “multiplayer hits” out there today.
This co-op review of Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.