Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2's solo quests, hub world, and robust split-screen options make it a significant improvement over its predecessor.
It seems safe to say that no one really expected PopCap Games to take the 2D tower defense Plants vs. Zombies franchise and create a third-person shooter called Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. Despite being such a departure from the franchise's roots, the first Garden Warfare managed to provide a solid gameplay foundation, but many felt as though it was lacking content. We're happy to report that anyone underwhelmed by Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare's lack of content should be more impressed with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 feels like a more complete game than its predecessor. It accomplishes this by offering all the same game modes and colorful characters as before, along with new content in the form of the Herbal Assault match type and six new classes. The 16 total classes in the game all have their own special characters to unlock, and they each inject even more personality into the proceedings.
Garden Warfare 2 also comes across as a more polished game overall, with a sense of balance from the outset. The original Garden Warfare seemed to have a balance issue when it first launched, with the plants seemingly having an easier path to victory than the zombies. Things are now much fairer for the zombies, with neither side of the conflict appearing to have the scales tipped in their favor.
The zombies are treated like a more integral part to the game in general. For example, in the previous game, only plants had access to the tower defense Garden Ops mode, but in Garden Warfare 2 the zombies have their own spin on it, called Graveyard Ops. This gives players more reasons to upgrade the various zombies classes, instead of focusing mainly on the plants.
From the outset, players are encouraged to test out all the different classes, and find one that fits their preferred play style. They are able to switch between classes in the new hub world called the Backyard Battleground, which itself is the portal to all the other game modes and content in Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.
The Backyard Battleground is one of the highlights of the experience, and is far more interesting than just cycling through menus to pick game modes like in other games. Besides allowing players to jump into multiplayer matches, the Backyard Battleground features enemies roaming about, hidden collectibles, and neat diversions, such as a soccer field that can be used to play an actual game of soccer - scoreboard and all.
Players will also find NPCs to speak with in the Backyard Battleground, itself split into the plant side and the zombie side of Suburbia. On the plant side, players mainly report to Crazy Dave, and his hilarious DaveBot 3000 machine. For the zombies, the head honcho is the evil scientist Dr. Zomboss.
Speaking with Crazy Dave and Dr. Zomboss allows players to complete solo quests. From a gameplay perspective, these quests are actually fairly shallow and serve little purpose beyond teaching players some of the mechanics behind the game, but the rewards for completing them are gut-busting cut-scenes full of amusing sight gags and sharp humor.
Completing solo quests as well as any available multiplayer quests will also reward players with stars (mainly used to unlock chests in the Backyard Battleground), in addition to coins, which are used to purchase card packs. Like many of EA's recent games, Garden Warfare 2 has players purchasing these packs of cards in order to unlock new content in the game, such as characters and consumable items. It remains to be seen if Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare's controversial microtransactions will be added to Garden Warfare 2 post-launch as they were for the first game, but for now, players are only able to earn these coins and card packs through in-game means.
With no microtransactions (for now), the addition of solo quests, and the Backyard Battleground, Garden Warfare 2 is essentially a fully featured take on the original game. Along with the aforementioned improvements, the game also boasts improved split-screen functionality, with players able to play all of the different multiplayer match types in private lobbies with bots.
These matches can be customized with unique gameplay mutators, like lowering gravity or spawning everyone with extremely low health. These mutators make the private matches worth experimenting with, even for those that prefer to play against real people online. Speaking of the online multiplayer, as those that played Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 on EA Access probably already know, it is currently not possible to take split-screen players in online matches. If that weren't enough, playing in split-screen also makes the game's text virtually unreadable. Despite these limitations, the generally improved split-screen is much appreciated.
Players will also be able to appreciate the game's absolutely stunning visuals, which bring the franchise's quirky art style to life. The game's vibrant colors make it a real alternative to the dark, grim graphics that largely dominate the shooter genre, and the frame rate is as smooth as can be.
From its gorgeous graphics to its expanded gameplay features, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a clear improvement over the first game in every sense of the word. That being said, it still feels somewhat small in scale compared to other games in the genre, which may keep it from becoming a go-to title for shooter fans. A full-fledged single player campaign, split-screen online support, and an even larger open world could go a long way in helping the next game in the series reach the popularity of the genre's juggernauts.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.