Have you ever wanted to be a sunflower with rainbow beams that heal your friends, and can fire pellets of sunlight to take down your enemies? How about a mad zombie scientist with a fish-firing dolphin strapped to your arm? Maybe you'd rather be a blazing hot, fire coated, pea-shooting, army hat wearing, garden defending walking pea pod? Whatever your dream job (as long as you don't mind being either a zombie, or something floral), the mad-cap team based shooter, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 has something for you.
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A world away from the original tower defence style game, where Crazy Dave (part time gardener and full time crazy) sold you an array of living weaponised plants, which you had to plant strategically in order to defend your house from waves increasingly powerful zombies, the Garden Warfare series makes the war between the bitter enemies a lot more... direct. Ditching the strategy in favour of a more action packed third person shooter, Garden Warfare 2 is a team based blastathon, with each character having a different role to play.
We should probably start by stating a basic fact - Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a lot of fun. It really is that simple. Silly, light-hearted, and with a playful cartoon style, Garden Warfare 2 amps up the fun in a refreshing change from most third person shooters.
There isn't really very much in the way of a story here to tie everything together, although there's still more than was offered in previous titles. The battles between the Crazzzzy Dave led plants and the Zomboss ruled zombies has escalated to epic proportions, with each side holding a large base camp, while a no man/plants land stretches out between them. This area is a new addition and is called the backyard battleground - an area of unending conflict where the longer you play, the stronger the enemies that come out to stop you.
Another new addition to GW2 is a number of solo missions, in which you can unlock some new areas to explore and collect new bits and pieces, marking a distinct (and much needed) change from the original Garden Warfare, which was an entirely online game. With PvZ GW2 there are a number of challenges, collectibles and other things to do while playing offline in your own backyard.
Before we go on, it's probably important to mention that, while Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is designed to be played as an online shooter, there are only a handful of pretty samey multiplayer modes to choose from - and, uber disappointingly, you can't take a friend online with you, playing in split-screen. Each mode has a similar set up, as one team plays as the plants, and the others as zombies, with the options taking in Team Vanquish (team deathmatch), Gnome Bomb (Bomb planting/defusing where each team has 3 targets), Suburbination (where the two teams battle for control of 3 marked locations) and finally an old favourite of ours, Gardens and Graveyards (an unusual take on wave defence in which defenders hold a point as long as possible before falling back to defend a new location). The solo missions do add a nice twist, but the online, which serves as the bulk of the game, does still feel a bit repetitive. It didn't help that when we played there were some gameplay/reward balancing issues which lead to the large majority of players playing only a single mode (although this is an issue which could be easily fixed by EA - and hopefully will have been by the time you get around to playing).
In the online battles, players will be split off into two sides, either plants or zombies, with a choice of character classes to play as on each side. More than one person can play as the same class if they want to - and, indeed, if you go online, it quickly becomes obvious there are a few favourites, as you could put money on there being a minimum of three kernal corns on the plant side.
Despite the popularity of some choices, there's a selection of seven different character classes on each side, but many sub types for each, such as fire, toxic, ice or cosmic. Here's a bit of a rundown of the characters you can choose and what they are best at.
If you fancy yourself as a garden hero you can choose between:
Peashooter: He's the grunt of the plants, a common footsoldier type. Fires peas at a relatively slow rate but does high damage. Also comes armed with a chilli bomb which can be thrown to cause an explosion after a short delay, for massive damage.
Sunflower: The plant team's beautifully happy healer, armed with machine gun style rapid fire sun pellets, as well as the ability to drop healing plant pots or heal on contact. Oh, and she can plant herself to fire off a solarbeam attack, for when you really want to stop something in its tracks.
Cactus: This green sniper is a force to be reckoned with. Somewhere between the ability to hit a target at any range, the deployable walnut walls and potato based mine traps, this spiney character is well worth a try.
Chomper: This guy functions as the melee superplant. With high health and a ranged goop attack that slows your targets while you move in for the chomping, this is probably one that will take some practise. Although the ability to burrow underground for quick movement, and the fact that you can take down anyone from behind with a single bite again makes this a character worth playing.
Along with three new additions to the plant ranks:
Kernel Corn: We know, the name is genius right? This is a fairly slow moving character but he fires his corn off his two cob-hands like a pair of tommy-guns - unless you'd rather fire the whole lot as a pair of corn based rockets of course! He can also call in the ever popular corn strike for some hot buttery raids from above.
Citron: We couldn't help feeling like this guy has some inspiration from the Star Wars franchise. For those of you who've seen Episode 1, if you can imagine the child born from a droideka (or destroyer droid - the rolling ones) and an orange, you're only a pair of cool sunglasses away. With the ability to close up into a ball, Citron is easily one of the fastest movers in the game, although his laser does lack a bit of the punch it should have to make up for how slowly he walks.
Rose: She is a fancy lady who has a magic wand and can turn zombies into goats! Why goats? Why not? (Well, they kind of eat plants - Ed)
So that's the full plant line up, ignoring the dozen or so variations of each character you can choose from once you've unlocked them (which is simply a question of playing the game, earning coins, and spending them on "sticker packs" of upgrades). We had a lot of fun with an icy version of Citron, freezing zombies in place for our teammates - but now it's time for Zomboss' squad, so here goes:
The Footsoldier: As his name suggests, this one commando that found his way into the ranks of the playfully undead complete with a paintball gun looking main weapon, stink bombs and the fearful ZPG (Zomboss's personal take on a rocket launcher).
Scientist: This is the zombie team's healer who normally opts for dropping a healing station rather than healing on contact like the sunflower does. Armed with a goo blasting shotgun and the ability warp up close and personal, he's far stronger than your average healer.
All-Star: A lot of health, minigun type weaponry and a charge that a American football players would be proud of! A real nightmare for those who just want to do a bit of pleasant gardening.
Mechanic: Now the mechanic is an odd one. He doesn't overly excel for any obvious reason, but he is a lot of fun to play with - and the variants you can unlock will give you a whole host of different weapon types to play around with. The best we can say for him is that he can make a teleporter in one game mode which nets a lot of coins very quickly.
Captain Dreadbeard: The first of the new additions on Zomboss' side of the yard. He's a pirate with a cannon, and a remote control laser parrot. Need we really say more?
Superbrainz: A classic hero recipe, reimagined into a quick punching, spandex clad zombie. He's ready to stop any threat to zomboss' plans with high health and the ability to switch between punching or a laser beam.
Imp: The last in our hero showcase. With very low health but extremely high damage, this little guy can be very fun to play. He can spin into a little hurricane firing in all directions, before calling down his mech suit for a complete change in play style.
Mixing the different classes together, it's up to you to work as a team to fend off the enemy, in the game's fast paced, frenetic, third person battles - and for the most part, it works really well. It's even pretty family friendly. First off, there's no blood, only small splashes of colour that show up when you hit someone. Secondly, the majority of people you encounter online are either children, or people who are playing simply for fun - there's so much less aggression, and anger than on other shooters, where players don't tend to take losing very well. In fact, we still have yet to come across a single bad loser while playing. Of course, you do have the option to mute people if anyone does talk too much for your liking.
In fact, there's a lot we really liked about Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. The variety of characters to choose from once you've got a few sticker packs behind you is immense and gives you so many ways to play the game. We also loved the addition of the solo side of things, even if it perhaps doesn't really go far enough. Finally, we also appreciate the daily challenges, which is something we haven't yet touched on. These challenges set you little tasks to do, whether you're playing as plants, zombies, or across all online games separately, but you can have multiple active at once. It may be something as simple as win 7 online games, or take down 20 zombies with headshots, but it gets you points towards having temporary experience multipliers, which we thought was a really nice touch. Also, as a nice little reward for any returning players, you can transfer your characters from the first game for instant unlock in PvZ GW2.
Now, while the challenges are a really nice touch, they also present one of our biggest complaints about the game. First off, while there are plenty of challenges the game could throw at you, it seems that a large portion of the players have are working towards the same challenges, on any given day. So if the challenge is to get a lot of assists in a match, you'll notice that no one actually wants to finish anyone else, because everyone is trying for the same challenge. Some days this made the online gameplay very unusual - and obviously has an effect on the fun. The character levelling system is something that appears to be an afterthought as well, and definitely wasn't fully thought out. As you play as a character, they can begin to unlock bonuses or changes to their abilities. The issue is that each variant, for example our cosmic Superbrainz, has to be levelled separately from each other, e.g. standard Superbrainz. This means that after you've already played the luck of the draw on sticker packs to get a character you like, you have to start from the ground up again which can feel like a lot of work..
All in all, though, our gripes on this one were quite minor compared to the fun we had playing. PvZ GW2 is one game we have genuinely enjoyed, and the constant barrage of puns and jokes helps to keep the light-hearted fun going. Whether you consider yourself green fingered or you want to be minion of the great Zomboss of the graveyard, this is well worth picking up.
Format Reviewed: Xbox One