Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 Preview

January 26, 2016

The original Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was a surprise hit. While there was some initial skepticism that the franchise could not make the jump to the shooter genre, the game’s cartoonish and wacky atmosphere, and solid mechanics made it a nice break from the usual Battlefield and Call of Duty favourites. More recently, EA Games released an open beta for Garden Warfare 2 on the PS4 and Xbox One, which gave players a substantial look at the upcoming sequel.

Upon starting the beta, players were treated to a first look at the game’s new hub world Backyard Battleground. Backyard Battleground is a suburban setting where half the town is ruled by each faction. There are various bits of humour throughout the world including a soccer field dubbed Pea Sports, branded in the same font as the EA Sports logo, and graffiti of Crazy Dave and Dr. Zomboss. AI Plant and Zombie characters also battle each other in the area, which makes the conflict seem more real and relevant. The final game’s hub world will reportedly contain secrets, mini-games and special single-player missions, but these were mostly kept underwraps in the beta.

In the middle of Backyard Battleground is a neutral zone which plays host to the new Flag of Power mode. This mode is inspired by King of the Hill-style matches where teams fight waves of enemies and prevent their flag from being captured. Players can choose to fight as the Zombies or Plants faction, and solo players will be be joined by AI recruits. The mode is frantic and at times insane, with explosions happening everywhere and players constantly being kept on their toes. Flag of Power easily rivals the original’s Garden Ops (which also returns in Garden Warfare 2) for co-op mayhem.

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Another new mode is Herbal Assault, which reverses the roles from the original game’s Gardens and Graveyards – this time the Plants go on the offensive and the Zombies defend checkpoints. To accommodate the switch, new Plant summons and Zombie “pot allies” have been introduced. Most of the summons appeared to be reskinned versions of existing assets. For example, the Plants can summon weeds which have pots on their heads, an obvious remodelling of the Zombie cone and bucket heads. While it’s disappointing the developers couldn’t come up with something more original, it does maintain the overall balance and give both sides equal footing.

The beta also featured the modes Team Vanquish, Vanquish Confirmed, Gnome Bomb, Suburbination and Gardens & Graveyards. These played the same as they did in the first Garden Warfare, and they will all be available from launch. At the time of writing there has been no indication that the Taco Bandits mode will be returning.

The levels in Garden Warfare 2 are more imaginative and wacky than the first game. An example is Moon Base Z which features light gravity. Players are able to jump higher on this map, meaning they can the extra height as a tactical advantage. There’s also the Z-Tech Factory map which has portals that warp you across the map and a giant Zombie-Mech, which rampages through the level and randomly shoots players. A lot of planning and care have been taken creating the maps, and it all adds to the game’s insanity and hilarity.

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One of the biggest features of the beta was the chance to try out the new characters. The Plants faction introduces the Rose, Citron and Kernal Corn character classes. Rose has a mystical charm, featuring a stylish cape, floaty jumps, goat-transformation powers and semi-homing thorns. Citron is a futuristic orange with advanced shielding, the ability to shoot lasers and transform into a speedy ball. Kernal Corn has the firepower of a military commander, calling upon butter barrages from the sky, firing corn cob missiles and leaping into the air for a rapid corn kernel attack.

It gets even crazier for the Zombie faction, with the likes of Super Brainz, Captain Deadbeard and Imp & Z-Mech joining the fray. Super Brainz is a Superman-inspired hero with Heroic Kick, Turbo Twister and Super Ultra Ball abilities. Captain Deadbeard wields a powerful cannon, hides in an explosive barrel and can unleash a parrot buddy which acts like the Catus Garlic Drone. Last but not least, the Imp may be puny in defense but makes up for it with incredible fire power, the ability to summon a mech to the battlefield and make use of double jump and jetpack perks.

Like the first Garden Warfare, each character has variants you can unlock via sticker packs. During the beta, Citron’s frozen variant was available. Like all ice variants, this had more attack power and could freeze enemies for a short period. Returning players will be pleased to know that any variants unlocked in the original Garden Warfare will carry over to the sequel.

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During our play sessions we did notice the Imp & Z-Mech character felt a little overpowered, and consequently was one of the more popular Zombie characters. Given it’s only a beta we’re hoping PopCap balance this before launch. Otherwise, the new character classes are a welcome addition to the existing roster and will add even more variety to the battlefield.

Garden Warfare 2 is planned to be released on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. WIth the last console generation no longer holding it back, PopCap has improved the game’s graphics. It still retains the cartoon look the franchise is known for, but the character models and environments are smooth, full of detail and have a lot of charm and flare. There were some noticeable frame rate drops when things got a little too chaotic on screen, but that was mainly an issue in the Flag of Power mode.

Overall, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is shaping up to be a worthy sequel. It expands on the hilarity and over the top gameplay by adding new gameplay modes, character classes, and an open world hub to explore. There are some improvements which could be made before launch, but otherwise you’ll be in for one hell of a time.