With the gaming landscape rife with shooters, be they sci-fi based or super realistic, it can be a little daunting for those who fancy a little more whimsy on their battlefield. When Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare hit the scene two years ago, it wasn't even clear if there was a market for something as colourful and ridiculous as a tower defence game turned third person shooter about the epic war between nature's most ancient foes – flowers and the undead. Luckily, the quality of the first game earned it a place in the hearts and minds of the masses and the sequel was among the more highly anticipated titles of this year.
From the get go it's clear that Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 means business. It's bright, brash and absolutely loaded with content. The graphics have been improved somewhat from the original game, which is most noticeable in the new environments, which are crisp, clean and just as crazy as those in the first Garden Warfare. The battlegrounds are a mixture of time travel and space-styled themes, as well as some more down to Earth areas. All are beautifully rendered and well designed for maximum chaos and the sound design remains hilarious and well implemented.
There are six new characters joining the veterans from the Gardens and most of your characters from the first game can be imported into the sequel, which is neat. The Zombies welcome Super Brainz, Captain Deadbeard and the Imp classes; each of whom bring a unique new way to play the game and fill some gaps in the balancing of the team roles. The Imp is particularly hilarious to play and his low health is balanced out by his ability to jump into a mech suit and cause serious damage. Super Brainz is the gallant hero who has devastating close-quarters attacks, while Captain Deadbeard can send his parrot out for drone-like attacks or sneak up to enemies hidden in a barrel before exploding for massive damage! Additionally, some of the zombies now have attacks which mirror the Planting abilities of their enemies; rooting the player in place but dealing increased damage per hit.
The plant side also sees some new faces. Citron the bounty hunter from the future (who also happens to be an orange) carries a shield and can roll into bases undetected, while Kernal Corn is a battle-worn war hero whose abilities include the devastating Shuck Shot, which can instantly vanquish anything it hits. Most notable on the plant side is Rose however; who was designed as a support class but is currently dominating multiplayer. Rose has several control abilities including the ability to slow enemies or turn them into goats. She is also able to become completely invulnerable and her magic thistles attack has a homing function. Add to that her increased manoeuvrability and she is currently causing a lot of upset online – enough so that EA have specifically addressed the unbalanced nature of the character and assured players that it will be fixed in the near future. In fact, the update may be available by the time that you read this.
Levelling characters has now been tweaked to make it a little more accessible, with XP being earned for taking down enemies or completing tasks. The missions which were used to increase levels previously can now be used to earn Stars or unlock XP multipliers. Each character variant is levelled independently and there's the option to promote your characters - similar to the Prestige system in Call of Duty – resetting them to level one and earning them a new title for bragging rights. Sticker packs are back and now more affordable than ever given the host of new ways to earn coins in game.
All the game modes that were available in the original return – including everything that was unlocked in the updates that have been released over the last two years. The biggest update to the multiplayer modes is that now you can experience the war from the Zombies' point of view. Herbal Assault is the reverse of Gardens and Graveyards, now allowing the Zombies to defend while plants attack the bases. For those who have not played PvZ:GW before; this is similar to Battlefield's Rush mode, with one party trying to take over progressive points while the other attempts to hold them back.
In order to balance this out, there's a whole host of new items to collect to give both sides a similar set of abilities. Zombies can now build turrets for defence and the plants have acquired the ability to summon Weeds from soil mounds. These AI-controlled characters will lumber up to the capture point, attacking anything that gets in their way and hopefully swarming the enemy. As well as the new Weeds and Zombie turrets, there are new undead which can be summoned from dirt piles which will switch up the way that attacks play out.
Garden Ops has been Zombified as well, with the addition of the splendid Graveyard Ops. This is essentially a horde mode where players must defend against waves of enemies and super-powered bosses in an effort to defeat them all and save the day, but now shown either from the Plant or the Zombie point of view. A very welcome addition is the inclusion of a solo version of these modes, allowing a single player to play with three AI characters chosen from those already unlocked. The AI replaces player controlled characters very convincingly, healing or attacking as one would hope, but not really going too far out of the box with their strategies. They certainly do a good job but multiplayer is always the path to the most enjoyment from this mode.
For those who tire of multiplayer, there's now an entire single player element included in the form of the Backyard Battleground which serves as the main hub of the game. Menus are out and interacting with physical structures is in as you wander around this contested zone, entering multiplayer matches, fighting waves of enemies at the Flag of Power, or searching for one of the many, many collectibles hidden throughout both single and multiplayer. Quests have been added and there are a few hours of content for both factions to complete to earn XP, coins or the elusive Stars which are required to unlock extra items. Stars can be exchanged for customisation options around your backyard – allowing you to build hedges, statues, or unlock chests for additional goodies. The single player handles itself with the same tongue-in-cheek humour as the rest of the game and quests vary from vanquishing enemies to short bursts of Garden or Graveyard Ops and more.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 builds on the original brilliantly. It takes everything its predecessor did right and does it again with more bells and whistles. There's new characters, levels and quests to explore and the sticker and levelling system have been tweaked to make acquiring the masses of new content feel achievable. The addition of single player quests and AI companions for Garden and Graveyard Ops make it a viable choice for when you just don't fancy playing with others or you want to power level a character you aren't too comfortable with playing in multiplayer. The current balance issues are an annoyance but the developers have already reassured users that this will be fixed soon; leaving little to criticise in this frantic, fun and family-friendly shooter.