Remember the early days of online multiplayer shooters, when most players were too busy having fun to worry about things like stats or other players' performance or who your mother may or may not have slept with? Garden Warfare 2 remembers. In 2014 EA and Popcap games made a competitive online shooter for consoles and PC based on a wildly popular, mostly mobile defence game. Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare felt like a joke that had been taken way too far. What sort of overlap would there be between casual mobile gamers and online shooter fans? The question drove me to create a Venn diagram.
This image appeared in my review of the original Garden Warfare. That's me in the middle. And possibly you.
As it turns out, my Venn diagram was far from accurate. There's much more overlap between those two circles. The problem was I was thinking of shooter fans of the moment, the ones from Call of Duty or Battlefield, ready to rain down hell on anyone not playing up to snuff.
I didn't take into account the casual competitive shooter fans. Older gamers who were really into games like Unreal when it first dropped, when the genre was fresh and new and everyone was fumbling about at the same level and having fun doing it. The gamers who pick up a Call of Duty game to play through the story, then paw at multiplayer like curious kittens before being smacked away by the rolled-up newspaper of more hardcore players.
Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a game for those people. Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 doubly so.
It's hard to trash talk when you're a walking orange or a tiny bullet-shaped zombie twirling about the battlefield firing wildly. You're the baddest magic-tossing rose in the game? That's great. You're still a magic-tossing rose. All the building blocks of a good competitive shooter are present in Garden Warfare 2, but they're smothered in such a thick blanket of cartoon chaos that any derogatory comments are muffled to the point of unintelligibility.
The first Garden Warfare was a relatively bare-bones budget experience, not much more than a series of menus leading to online competitive multiplayer matches or a cooperative survival mode. Variations of four zombie characters and four plant species engaged in brilliant and chaotic battle across a variety of cartoon landscapes. Between rounds they'd retreat to the menu screen, licking their wounds and spending earned coin on sticker packs filled with upgrades, equipment and new character variations.
Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a full-priced game that fleshes (and fibres) out the original concept nicely. Instead of menus we get an explorable overworld called the Backyard Battleground. Plants on one side, zombies on the other, the Backyard Battleground serves as a hub for both sides of the conflict.
Here players can go on solo quests for each faction, earning badges and coin rewards for performing various tasks. Some take place on the Backyard Battleground map, others transport the player to multiplayer maps to defeat waves of enemies with AI partners (with the ability to take control of any character on their team at will.)
Playing through the various missions is an excellent way for players to familiarise themselves with the game's six new characters (three on each side) as well as the new competitive maps. It's no replacement for the pseudo tutorial we got for each character in the original game, but it's enough to get a new player up to speed for the main event.
Along with discovering secrets, participating in quests and taking on the horde mode survival battle that can be activated in the middle of the map, the Backyard Battleground also serves as a menu in physical space. There's a sticker shop, a mailbox for getting important missives or importing gifts and unlockables from the previous game and leaderboards. Players can invite their friends into their Backyard to play either online or local split screen.
See what they did there?
One of the most exciting additions to the game is the ability to create custom private and offline games, packed with crazy teams and even crazier modifiers, like extreme knockback upon getting hit or the ever-exciting explosive death. I can create a game with just myself, a host of AI plants and no zombies at all, and just spent the match wandering about looking at shiny things.
The AI plants get really antsy when there's nothing to kill.
There is plenty for the solo shooter fan to do in Garden Warfare 2, and most all of it will earn the in-game currency needed to unlock new sticker packs, the prime motivation from the original game. Between the various missions for either faction and the ability to earn coins (in smaller amounts) by setting up solo games and doing absolutely nothing in them, a patient player could unlock much of the game's sticker-based content (upgrades, new costumes and abilities) without ever having to go online.
With all of this solo content to play with, it's a miracle that I hit up the online multiplayer portal at all but I do, and I do it often.
Some of my favourite games have online multiplayer components that I never touch. I don't enjoy being yelled at, but lack the skill to avoid it in most cases. I watch my nephew excel at Halo 5 for an hour, he hands me the controller while he runs to the restroom, and by the time he returns I've completely ruined his reputation in the game forever.
But in Garden Warfare and now Garden Warfare 2, I am a shooter god.
Just kidding. I still suck, but it doesn't matter as much that I do. When the corn kernels, orange lasers, zombie mech missiles and decaying superhero fists begin to fly, there's no time to worry about who is killing who how many times. It's glorious cartoon chaos, amidst which I've been known to get a kill or two. And if I don't, I've still had a good time.
Are the classes well-balanced? Hell no. The new pirate zombie feels relatively useless, the magic-wielding rose demands a degree of finesse not many players seem to achieve and the older characters are overwhelmed by the flashy newcomers. But it's not like Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is aiming to be the next big esport. It just wants the nice people to have a good time shooting each other.
My nephew doesn't want to play Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. He's more at home with Halo 5 or Titanfall. As a hardcore shooter fan, Garden Warfare 2 is just too silly for him. Perfect. More fun for the rest of us.