Just as the franchise started in its humble beginnings, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare began as a tight little experiment that offered an alternative to the militarised/futuristic first-person shooter space before the industry went full force into MOBA-styled hero shooters. Both the preserved personality from the original tower defense titles, and the surprisingly sound class-based formula as an online third person shooter made the original Garden Warfare a wildly successful $40 title. The marketing catch phrase “Bigger. Badder. Bigger!” is not wrong; Garden Warfare 2 is indeed all of those things. But notice that the word “Better” isn’t provided, and the way I see it, there’s a good reason for that.
Garden Warfare 2 certainly doesn’t have a content problem. Filled with lists of single-player missions, excessive character unlocks and customisation options, and an open explorable town, there’s no shortage of things to do. We see this all the time with sequels, just as we’ve recently learned that Titanfall 2 will have both a single-player campaign and an accompanying television show. But while Respawn is looking to give Titanfall the Quantum Break treatment, PopCap wasn’t even remotely as ambitious with its added content to PvZ.
The game’s single player component, called Solo Ops, is painfully shallow. It offers little more than mindless isolated missions, most of which lead you across the new Backyard Battleground where Garden Warfare 2 takes place. What largely consists of approaching objective markers, tapping the A button through lines of oversaturated humour, and shooting plant or zombie variants, is only punctuated by Garden Ops styled missions (or Horde mode), which can be accessed all on their own in the actual separate, and still very enjoyable, Garden Ops mode. Everything here feels as if it was assembled by duct tape and glue, adding unnecessary bulk to a concept that stood well all on its own.
The Backyard Battleground itself appears to have received more care and consideration than the rest of what’s offered in Solo Ops, however it adds little substance to PvZ Garden Warfare 2. There are many secrets, collectibles, treasures, and hidden events that take place within this hub space of a suburban town rattled by personalised undead and angry flower buds. Looking back at the original Garden Warfare, it extended its play value with its somewhat exploitative customisation system led by an economy of card packs containing random class items and consumables. Here, the Backyard Battleground simply offers more of that in a big, open physical space.
This new hub world attempts to incentivise players to explore every nook and cranny in favour of monetary and treasure rewards that become available either through spending the game’s alternate currency (Stars), or playing the handful of mini games on the map. However, if you’re not partnering with friends – in which case you’re still better off playing the more structured game modes – the pay-off just isn’t there, especially since PopCap refused to add a running speed, forcing you to walk at a leisurely pace all over town.
There are, however, some notable improvements to Garden Warfare 2. If you’re a zombie sympathiser, then you’re in luck. PopCap has literally levelled the playing field by adding Garden Ops for the Zombies (read: Graveyard Ops), along with adding an alternative to Gardens and Graveyards in Herbal Assault which puts the Zombies on the defence instead of the Plants. The new classes added for the Zombies are easily the more interesting of the two factions as well.
Super Brains, Capitan Deadbeard, and Imp bring a versatility to the game that almost none of the other classes do. Super Brains is a strong melee character with some effective long ranged attacks, both in which render him more accessible than Chomper. Imp’s double jump and rapid fire twin pistols alone make him a unique presence on the battlefield, but his mech transformation add a fresh dimension to the game. Capitan Deadbeard, my favourite pick for GW2, uses a weapon that doubles as a shotgun and a DMR styled rifle which marks him as deadly at both close and long range. All character classes in Garden Warfare 2 have seen a complete overhaul as well, with swappable abilities and perks that add to the costumes and character variants from the last game.
The original Garden Warfare, while fun, had some clear balancing issues that favoured the Plants in most matches. These new Zombie classes should have brought more parity between the two sides, but they didn’t – not even close. Popular classes such as the Toxic Pea and the Tank Commander frequently dominate multiplayer matches, but there’s one class that off sets the balance completely: Rose.
You don’t need to be a frequent or even occasional Redditor to notice the outcry against Rose’s class. Just a few matches alone will make it abundantly clear to you how obnoxiously overpowered she is. Outfitted with the only homing-base weapon in the game, along with a time slowing vortex, a spell that turns you into a goat, and an AOE attack that renders her invincible, just facing up against a single Rose is enough to make you toss your controller. But when up against three or more, it almost becomes almost mathematically predictable to guess by how much the Zombie team will lose by. This completely ruins the competitive culture in Garden Warfare 2 far worse than the first one did, robbing the tension of balanced competition when matches can be called from the very start.
It would be forgiveable if PopCap simply added fluff to justify a $60 price point while retaining everything that its predecessor did well. Like most other multiplayer packages, being able to enjoy a solid co-op component and a well-crafted competitive mode in favour of uninspired single player content would have made Garden Warfare 2 a worthwhile sequel. But while I still endorse the game’s Garden Ops mode and its extension to the Zombie faction, that’s only a third of the game. In the end, Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2 is spoiled by a mundane single-player package, and a completely unbalanced competitive multiplayer system.
PVZ Garden Warfare 2 not only adds a plethora of empty content, but also worsened the balancing issues from its forgiven predecessor.