The third-person shooter and tower defense video game developed by PopCap Games and published by Electronic Arts is almost here and oh boy it’s good. A strange, fun, rare and sophisticated shooter game that does almost everything just right.
Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One (tested), Microsoft Windows
It wasn’t too long ago when EA and PopCap celebrated 8 million players by giving away a bunch of PvZ Coins. That’s right, the casual-friendly developer PopCap was celebrating millions of players and 1.4 billions of games played on a shooter no one saw coming in the first place. A shooter with almost no violence, no blood and no realistic graphics. It was a recipe for failure, except it was not.
Two years later is a fair amount of time to release a polished and improved sequel. And you can see the improvements right after booting the game: The controls are perfect. The responsiveness is perfect. Even the menu has been revamped. Where GW gave you the typical navigable menus that have been around for this long, Garden Warfare 2 gives you a complete 3d demilitarized zone. Edgy.
Garden Warfare 2 drops you right into a war. A demilitarized backyard battleground that serves as the nexus for everything in the game. It is a town split into three parts: the sunlight occupied by the Plants and their benefactor, Crazy Dave. One section is controlled by Dr. Zomboss and the rest of his super-advanced Zombie army. Finally, in the middle, a no-plants-or-zombies land where chaos rules. It makes sense for a game of this style and gives you context. It even shows how ambitious PopCap is: each zone has missions, bounty boards, a mail service, secrets with treasures to discover, a crazy target range, cannons to transport you right into the chaos, and the list just keeps going. You can even party with friends to enjoy the chaos before accepting a mission, and switch sides as you want. You are having fun right from what is supposed to be the menu.
The progression system feels as good as well. Everything you do contributes to your overall character and player progression, and you can tank it solo or with friends. I was truly hooked to the multiplayer, trying all the different classes and modes and after a good amount of hours, I didn’t want to stop playing. I didn’t want to write this review either (damn you deadlines!). I truly wanted to keep playing.
There are three new classes on each side, for a total of seven kind of Plants and seven kind of Zombies. You can enjoy them all at once in multiplayer or make use of the Welcome Mat playlist where new players are locked into base classes. This is where everyone is supposed to learn who does what, and the game provides bonuses to those who are struggling to level up the field. There is a marked inclination to the competitive side, but the game never deviates of its main purpose: to have fun with badass plants and not-so-scary-zombies.
In addition to the very distinct 14 base classes, there are tons of additional variations, and some of them really change the basic abilities and playstyle. In addition to the classes from GW1, the undead now have the Imp class. Tiny creatures with really low HP. They have a huge burst potential and can even call their own robotic suit, Titanfall style from the same publisher. You have Zombie Pirate that deal damage from distance and can blast up close. Super Brainz –from the Zombie side too, if you didn’t guess from the name- is a Zombie Super Hero features a devastating three-hit punch combo. From the plant side, my favorite class is Citron. An orange from the future. And it is just not ridiculous, it is faster than any other plant, it also has a badass shield to cover you and your team mates. Rose is the sorcerer for those who fancy magic, and Kernel Corn is… well. You have to try it.
There is also an important aspect to consider: PopCap achieved something unique regarding maps. They are large and asymmetric, which usually means unbalanced. They are not. Hard core numbers will prove me wrong of course, since it is impossible to achieve a 50-50 balance, especially for a complex shooter right on release, but the play feels rewarding on both sides and I’ve played a fair amount of games where the matches felt even. This is probably thanks to the non-existing meta –yet. We were all trying new classes, figuring out what does whom and how to use it in the right situation, but playing several good and even matches in a row felt good. I can only hope for developers to tackle balance issues as fast as they arrives and keep a healthy environment.
A really cool feature is the podium at the end of a match recognizing effective players, even from the losing side. The game also gives medals based on what you did best. If you did tons of damage, healing, or racked up the most kills, there is always a little reward for you keep the progressions going.
Something I’m worried about are micro transactions. EA is pretty infamous for this, but we dodged the bullet in the original title. GW2 features a leveling system similar to other shooters in addition to stickers which you collect in order to unlock new character variants. Stickers can also be used to summon potted plants or low-level zombie underlings to help in the middle of the battle. You buy stickers in packs using coins earned by finishing quests, killing powerful zombies and playing multiplayer matches. Stickers come in packs, and the best stuff is most likely to be found in the most expensive packs. I think you already know where I’m going with this. Garden Warfare 2 is generous with the coins, but we can only hope for it to remain like this.
Garden Warfare 2 is an ambitious and complex shooter sequel that improves every single aspect. It is fun, dynamic, and has everything you can expect from a well-designed game. Kudos to PopCap.