Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare: The Kotaku Review

Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare: The Kotaku Review

The most rabid player of PopCap’s Plants Vs. Zombies series I know sat down next to me as I loaded up Garden Warfare for the Xbox One. After watching me play for five minutes, she stood up, said “I’d be so lost playing this”, and wandered off.

The rabid player in question is my wife-creature, Emily. She’s played Plants Vs. Zombies on every platform imaginable — PC, Xbox 360, iPad, iPhone, DS. She loves the free-to-play sequel. She spent months playing the Facebook spin-off, Plants Vs. Zombies Adventures. She collects the toys. She put a Plants Vs. Zombies bumper sticker on one of our cars.

When Emily first heard about Garden Warfare, she was excited. I told her it was a third-person shooter along the lines of Valve’s Team Fortress 2, and it didn’t faze her. In retrospect, I’m not sure she knows what Team Fortress 2 is. She simply understood that the people who made Plants Vs. Zombies, Peggle and Bookworm Adventures were making a new game.

Garden Warfare is not Peggle or Bookworm Adventures. It’s certainly not the corridor-based tower defence game she fell in love with. It’s an online-only multiplayer shooter. It’s Battlefield or Call of Duty. It’s the exact opposite of what she looks for in a video game.

If this game isn’t for the series’ biggest fans, then who is it for?

While Garden Warfare is indeed an online multiplayer shooter, I’m not sure how deeply the property resonates with the fanbase of series like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Despite Plants Vs. Zombies‘ roots as a PC title, I don’t expect there’s much overlap between the two player sets, especially with Plants Vs. Zombies 2 releasing exclusively on mobile as a free-to-play, microtransaction-based joint.

I fall in the middle of this Venn diagram, but I am a man of wildly diverse appetites (ok, a weirdo), a proud-but-small group that rarely gets marketed to directly. EA wouldn’t make a game just for us.

So Garden Warfare is not for casual gamers, it’s not for hardcore shooter fans and it definitely wasn’t made for a select group of strange people — who is this game for?

Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a game for everybody else.

Too action-packed for casuals and too bright, colourful and cutesy for hardcore, Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is an online multiplayer third-person shooter that spreads its leafy green arms wide to welcome the shooter curious into the fold. The pressure is light, the stakes relatively low, and the atmosphere is competitive in the friendliest sort of way.

The game taps into the magical formula that Valve created years ago with the debut of Team Fortress 2, applying cartoon style and sensibilities to a generally serious genre in order to effectively render it harmless in the eyes of the casual observer. It’s the Saturday morning cartoon to Battlefield‘s PBS war documentary.

That’s a double-sided comparison, mind you. A Saturday morning cartoon may be brighter, lighter and more appealing to the average person, but it’s nowhere near as deep, challenging and ultimately engaging as a well-made war documentary. There’s a lot of style and personality to Garden Warfare, but it’s not very deep, nor is it particularly smart.

For starters, there are four character classes for each side of the Plants Vs. Zombies battle (with five unlockable variants for each). The Plants have a pair of units — the Sunflower and Peashooter — who do the most damage while rooted in one place. They also have the game’s only melee class in the Chomper, who can do absolutely nothing to the Zombies’ roof-jumping Foot Soldiers when they are elevated. An all Chomper versus Foot Soldier battle would be over quite quickly.

There’s not much balance to the classes, and while PopCap did attempt to even out some of one side’s special abilities with counter-abilities on the other side, in the end it’s just a bit of a goofy mess — the sort of thing that might drive traditional shooter fans up the wall. For those who don’t care or are blissfully unaware of terms like “balance”, a good time is a good time, even if the Chomper just got you for the fifth time in a row.

In fact, being a fan of repetition is a plus when it comes to enjoying Garden Warfare, what with there only being three online game modes and a single offline split-screen multiplayer mode. There’s good old Team Deathmatch, aka Team Vanquish because “Deathmatch” is scary and half the players are already dead anyway. Gardens & Graveyards is an objective-based mode in which the Zombie team must capture points from the Plant team, leading up to a final confrontation of some sort. Finally we’ve got Garden Ops, a mode for up to four players, who as plants must stave off 10 random waves of Zombie enemies before escaping in Crazy Dave’s flying camper van.

The rule here seems to be that the Plants are always on the defensive, in keeping with the theme of the original games. In another nod to its ancestors, empty flower pots are scattered about the maps in Garden Ops and Gardens & Graveyards, allowing Plant players to grow supportive vegetation to act as additional healing or firepower during heavy assaults (Zombies can grow troops from bone piles in Gardens & Graveyards as well). It’s a far cry from the methodical planting strategy of Plants Vs. Zombies proper, but it might help make players that do brave the new genre feel a bit more at home.

Mind you, in order to plant crops you must first obtain them, which is where the game’s odd Sticker Shop comes in. As players battle through rounds, they’re awarded coins — winning a match, killing other players, and reviving dead teammates are just a few examples of coin-earning activities. Those coins can be spent between rounds in the Sticker Shop on largely random packs of random cards. Some cards are weapon upgrades or skins. Some are decorative accessories for character customisation. Some are plants to be potted, and the rarest of them all are pieces that come together to unlock variants of the game’s eight playable classes.

The Sticker Shop is a fun idea, but earning coins is soooooo slow you guys. Seriously, I’ve been playing for some 15 hours now, and I’ve only unlocked one class variant, and it’s a Cactus, which I hardly ever play. It’s almost a shame EA decided not to allow players to purchase coins for real cash in the game, because I’ve have dropped some cash in a heartbeat.

But that would ruin a major element of progression in Garden Warfare. When a player breaks out an electrically-charged Power Cactus, you know they’ve been through some s**t.

The only other means of telling how good another player performs is their rank. Instead of having rank based on experience points or kills, rank in Garden Warfare is determined by the cumulative number of levels a player’s Plants and Zombies have earned by completing class-specific challenges.

The rank system is actually a cleverly-disguised tutorial, meant to encourage players to play to the fullest of their abilities. For instance, one of the Zombie Engineer’s challenges is to use his sonic grenade to stun burrowing Chomper plants. It’s not an arbitrary task — it’s there to teach players that this is what they should be doing all the time. Other tasks might include reviving fallen teammates — it’s conditioning people to be better players. Maybe the game is a bit smart after all.

Ah yes, the review box. Note the hours played and rank achieved. I’ve played for two more hours and achieved rank 23 since I started writing this review early this morning. Despite the wonky class balance and lack of game mode variety, I have managed to sneak in two hours of play while I was supposed to be writing up this review. Even now I keep looking over at my Xbox One, which should probably be moved from my computer desk if I ever want to get work done again.

There’s just something so compelling and hopeful about this colourful conflict. It’s not just the collectible stickers — ok, a lot of it’s the collectible stickers. But it’s also the bright and cheery atmosphere. As with Team Fortress 2, it fosters what I like to call “cartoon confidence” — the feeling that I can succeed where I wouldn’t in a more serious setting, and if I don’t then who cares? I am an animated sunflower. You can’t cuss out an animated sunflower. You’d just look silly.

So I play on, not worrying too much about the lack of variety — surely there’ll be more down the line. The only time I’m really bothered is when the game won’t let me connect to its servers, which hasn’t happened much since the servers came down for maintenance on launch day. Otherwise I am not only an animated sunflower, but an animated sunflower wearing sunglasses — even my aloofness is adorable.

Some may call it Plants of Duty; others Battlefield Vs. Zombies. I like to think of Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare as Fisher Price’s My First Online Multiplayer Shooter. It may not have all the functionality of the real thing, but it’s vibrant, flashy, covered with stickers and gets the point across.

Emily still won’t play, but she likes to watch it. See? Saturday morning cartoon.


  • Been playing it since Thursday, while it is fun it does get boring after a hour or so being a bit repeatative and only a few maps

    • Are we playing the same game here? The maps are different in each mode and the gardens and Graveyards (the best) mode has long matches.

      Sounds to be like your playing only 1 mode and not completing any challenges. This is one of the best games ive played in years and its only 50 bucks.

      If any one is on the fence about it, i guarantee you will have a blast!

      • I have been playing both mode each mode like 2/3 maps and I’m level 20 so I have been doing the challenges not saying it’s not a bad game. No need to get all defensive about it

      • As a counter argument I have played a good 10+ hour of this game and can give the exact opposite advice. The servers have dropped me in the middle of games right when games have finished and when joined games, at least 1-2 times per hour, which has robbed me of around 10k + coins so far.

        The Maps for Gardens and graveyards is severely limited in that there is about 3 and the either everyone I play with (randoms) is utter shit at the game or its almost impossible to actually win while on the offensive. I have played about 15 games of it and won and lost without losing/gaining a single spot once each, Have surpassed or lost the 1 first defense point in about 10 games. Actually gotten 3 points on offence once and gained 2 twice.

        The game is also HORRIBLE unbalanced towards the plants. I’m not joking when I say my first 20 games in the beginner mode (no unlocks all basic stuff) was 19 plant wins and a single zombie win. The only reason we won that zombie (by about 3 points) was because I had 16 kills and 1 death.
        Even when you get out of the noob mode to the standard vanquish matches it is still at least plants wining 80% zombies the other 20%. Considering my sample size I would astounded if this was’t reflected across the board with EA’s stats.

        The main reason is that the basic characters are overly geared towards plants, they get a perma heal and an aoe on demand. The cactus is the most powerful character in the game and can sit across the map snipeing while the zombies version is a beefcake all star that’s football gun is awful at range, it lobs and doesn’t shoot straight. This is slight remedied with the unlocked characters as they are rather powerful but realistically most people don’t save up 40k every time like I have been.

        If you can ignore all of this the game is a lot of fun, it really is. But that is a huge ask, server issues are a PITA by themselves (why does it not use AZURE instead of shitty EA?) and for anyone remotely interested in “winning” being put on the zombie side will amount to rage when you get stomped on every time. In all honesty I have never in my entire 15+ years of gaming ever seen a game this horribly unbalanced.

          • It seems to have improved the last few days, only lost 1 game. Though I have come across a bug about 6 times, when your drones “die” as engineer or cactus about 5% of the time you never go back to your character and have to kill yourself, or the world will only partially recreate so everything bar the floor is missing.

            Managed to capture it on the XB1 which was nice, Love that dvr feature. I’ve also changed my stance, pea shooter is the most OP character. Now that i have played every mode more extensively and reached rank 33 with all characters at lvl 6/7 the pea is absurd.

            It has amazing upclose fire power with the crit for direct hit, it has the highest output ability in the game with its Gatling gun that works at long range and its bouncing bomb is better than every other explosive in the game because when used with hyper it can be thrown across the map, easily double and triple the distance of sticky bomb/imp bombs and has the largest explosive kill range of all. Not to mention hyper is basically zombie rocket jump on roids, combined with the peas tiny hit box it lets you run circles around any foe at close range take minimal damage and then retreat.

            It is the ultimate character for every situation, in garden ops its the pea, in vanquish the pea and even in gardens and graveyards the pea is a monster on both defence and offence because that bomb clears the entire capture point. Don’t even get me started on the acid fire or freezing variants either -_-, But still I’ve manged to get over the imbalance and am now loving the game.

    • Unlocking new characters is the appealing part for the wife and I.

      just unlocked the fire chomper and it has a flame thrower attack which sets zombies on fire, there’s enough variation to keep us replying especially when in a party of friends 😀

      $44 from JB, cheaper than dinner at McDonalds and the kids love it too

      • How do you use the new characters? I have unlocked 2 new ones but when I play multiplayer I only get to choose between the original 8 classes. Thanks

        • You can’t be in welcome mat you have to go in anything else but classic and welcome mat then where you select a class scroll with left stick to get the one you have unlocked

        • You move left or right on each character when choosing ur class. That will let u look at and choose the different types of plants

      • I know it’s been a while since I’ve been to McDonalds but a dinner there is more than $44? Things have changed there.

        • I have 4 kids and I actually asked them if they wanted plants vs zombies instead of take away night……we ended up with plants vs zombies 😀

  • 15 hours and you’ve unlocked one character?

    I’ve played for 2 hours and unlocked 3.

    Garden Ops earns bugger all coins, Team Vanquish is where you make the most coins, I’m averaging 4-5,000 a match. That equate to roughly 10 matches to unlock a new char.

    • You are not getting even close to 4 or 5k coins per vanquish match, that is an utter lie, you are getting 50% of that.
      Having played many myself, at most you earn 800-1300 coins + 750 or 1000 if you win or lose. In a rare occasion I have hit 3k coins. But I am at least half the time the highest scorer for my team and yet in every game I have ever played not a single person has even gone beyond 3.1k coins.

      You have not played for 2 hours and unlocked 3, you get 1 just for buying the game, unless you got very lucky with you free random packs and got 5 matching piece which is probably 1/1,000,000 chance. A regular vanquish match takes 7 minutes give or take (including downtime between matches).

      With an average of 1600 coins per match (which assumes you are always near the top and topping most zombie matches) 8.5 matches or 1 hour gives you 13.7k coins and that is being being VERY generous. I don’t know if you are trolling, just like blatantly lying or somehow actually think you are earning that much but you are wrong. Considering it cost 40k for a character unlock, it would take you 4 hours of continuous play to get one, if you have bought other packs like almost everyone, playing 15 hours of mixed and matched gameplay, having only unlocked 1 character is normal.

      So in short just stop telling BS.

      *edit just had my first full defeat on gardens and graveyards, funnily enough the only reason we lost as plants because by the time the game ended we had cycled through about 3 teams worth of players. I joined and it was already 3 flags down and outnumbered. The zombies just rambo’d the flags too so it was rediculous.

      though still yet to have a real defeat, maybe once people learn all you have to do is jump on the area. Though if the match actually ends that you you get about 6k coins (better than vanquish) for a loss or 8-9k for the win, which is about 50% more coins than vanquish in a 20 minute comparison.

      *edit just saw someone get over 4k coins, it was a very odd match though, lasted over 10 minutes and this guy had 26 kills. So you I will concede its possible, though to claim it is even an average or something attainable or that you get 4-5k every match is still a laughable lie, the same guy barely hit 2.5k in the next few games.

      • If you get 3 diamonds on the boss selection you get an instant 5.5k, but yeah otherwise agreeing with you other than the fact I have had two very high scoring games on garden ops.

        • Yeah thats garden ops, we were talking vanquish matches 😛 Which is the first to 50 kills players, the average for those matches is less than 2k.

          Graveyards and gardens depends on how long it lasts i’ve seen someone get 14k for a match but it took over 30 minutes, the other winners got around 9k and the losers 6k. It averages out that vanquish matches give the most coins per minute for average players right to the very best.

          Garden ops though is really luck based if you get the bonus coins on slots its the best money maker but if you don’t you get not much for the time sink, though i haven’t beaten it on crazzzy yet so i dont know its pay out.

  • Why is this listed under the PC category, when that’s the only platform its *not* out for yet? I’ve noticed this in a few articles (notably some GTA Online articles)… as though the PC category is simply the catch-all for articles when they don’t categorise them…

  • When Emily first heard about Garden Warfare, she was excited. I told her it was a third-person shooter along the lines of Valve’s Team Fortress 2


    • Thank you for catching this – its probably better to compare it to Monday Night Combat

  • “It’s almost a shame EA decided not to allow players to purchase coins for real cash in the game, because I’ve have dropped some cash in a heartbeat.”

    It’s because of people like you that we all get stuck with the BS of the gaming industry.

    • This was the exact comment that pissed me off. Fucking microtransactions… ugh. And begging for them… ugh…

    • yeah, what the hell! i never, EVER want to pay more for any part of game after i have paid to own it.

  • As a parent, I’d much rather let my son play this than any of the CoD games or whatnot. I know he has an interest in FPS/3PS games, but I can’t properly supervise it and am not entirely comfortable letting him go to town in quite so realistic a genre. Something like this seems a great gateway for the early teens, get ’em early.

  • I’m a 23yr male who likes pokemon and I also like the look of this flowery mayhem. Would buy.

  • All my game time on the weekend was devoted to this. I’m not that good at it, and seem to die a lot, but damn is it fun.

  • I think that this review is being somewhat uncharitable in its assessment of the game.

    While the classes might not be individually balanced, the sides are perfectly balanced – and that’s what counts. The melee Chomper being unable to attack the more mobile infantry is no different to an Assault-class soldier in Battlefield 4 being unable to counter a tank or fighter jet.

    And the game overall has a lot more depth than its being given credit for. Utilising the different classes, effective consumable use, effective skill use, different strategies depending on the garden being attacked/defended (routes of attack and deciding if it’s worth aiming to set up the teleporter mid-point), best team mixes… there’s a lot there, even if it’s in a candy shell. The comparison to Team Fortress is apt.

    And glaringly you didn’t mention the ‘boss’ mode – which is like BF4’s commander mode.
    Your wife-creature could be playing alongside you on a tablet (via smartglass), playing a simple 2d game (not unlike the original PvZ) where she collects suns (or brains) and uses them to power healing, scouting, bombs, etc across the game map you’re playing on.
    This is the PERFECT way to get your wife-creature involved in gaming with you!

  • It’s kotaku. This is one of the many cancers of video game journalism. This game is good clean fun and it’s extremely juvenile to bring up your wife in all of this. How about, I dunno, a game review. This ridiculous “review” gave me a tumor.. Why can’t you be a professional and ACTUALLY review the game for what it is, instead of comparing to what it isn’t. You’re bad.

  • I feel like buying it, since its only 15 Euros now, but i want ghosts too, it will be my first COD if i buy it, and I loved the game time for PVZ, but it started to get boring, I like realistic shooters more than Cartoon shooters, what should i buy?
    COD Ghosts or PVZ: Garden Warfare?

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!