While Splatoon (deservedly) received much critical acclaim in 2015 for being an accessible and fun tactical shooter, I believe Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare did something similar in early 2014. A bright and colorful third-person shooter, its gameplay takes a similar approach to Nintendo's ink-spraying game, presenting simple and enjoyable PvP and PvE action that's easy to get into, but has a surprising amount of depth – and I absolutely loved it.
Now, two years later, the game is back with a sequel that's currently in open Beta on PS4 and Xbox One until Jan 18th, ahead of its official launch on February 23rd. Is it worth playing? I think so.
The game has undergone some interesting changes this time around, most notably its Backyard Battleground – a new central hub that players can wander around and explore. This essentially replaces most of the original game's menu system, since players are able to access all aspects of the game through the hub, from entering online PvP battles to setting up local play, or even tackling the Backyard Battleground's shooting gallery.
It's more than just a gateway to the game's various modes, however. The Backyard Battleground is a customizable home environment where you can showcase any characters you've unlocked, invite other players to visit, and also play King of the Hill-type matches against increasingly tough waves of AI characters. Basically, the Backyard Battleground is split into two main areas, representing zombie and plant zones respectively. In between them is a no-man's land where you can fight the opposite faction of the character you're playing by defending a central area from attack by the enemy.
Six new characters join the action this time out, three for each faction. On the plant side, there's Kernel Corn, Rose, and Citron. Kernel Corn is an assault class character who has dual guns in the form of a pair of corn busters that have a high rate of fire. However, he's not particularly well armored, so while he has good offensive capabilities, care has to be taken to make sure he doesn't spend too long in the line of fire, otherwise he's toast. Rose is a support character who can turn Zombies into goats for a short period of time, as well as offer basic fire to help out her teammates, while Citron is an orange-on-legs who has a powerful laser-type attack, and can block incoming damage using his special ability.
The new trio of Zombies are a lot of fun. The Imp is a small and seemingly weak character with a basic gun – but he has the advantage of being fast and agile. However, activate his special, and he turns into a Z-Mech, a large robot that can fire devastating missiles that are ideal for blasting swarms of enemies. Super Brainz is a melee class who has a very powerful special move that sees him spin like a top, with fists flying everywhere. Time it right and jump into a crowd, and you can take out several enemies at once. Finally, there's Captain Deadbeard, whose weapons can be used for both long- and short-range damage.
This sextet of characters join the existing ones from the original Garden Warfare game to deliver a broad range of classes and playstyles. Additionally, like in the previous game, there are different sub-character archetypes to unlock, which is done by buying packs of cards with the in-game currency you earn by playing missions and engaging in rounds of PvP. Add to that the customizable nature of the characters, and you have around 4,000 different potential variations – assuming you manage to collect all the accessories and items available.
As well as new characters, there are two new gameplay modes – Herbal Assault, and Gardens and Graveyards. Both follow a similar pattern to prior Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare modes in which the zombies attacked nodes that the plants had to defend. This time out, however, it's the plants that are doing the attacking. Basically, plants assault a node and have to occupy it by standing in its presence long enough to take control of it. Once that happens, the node is considered conquered, and the game moves to the next node, and so on until all nodes are captured and the core node is destroyed to win the battle. Or, of course, the zombies successfully defend the nodes against the plants' attack.
With the game supporting up to 24 simultaneous players, the action is nicely condensed and pretty much relentless – which is exactly what you want from a game like this. The incoming characters bring new subtleties to the proceedings, and help broaden the type of gameplay styles on offer, from characters designed to get right into the thick of battle to ones that are best used by standing back and firing from afar.
Ultimately, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is a lot of fun to play, and offers the same kind of zany, good-natured, easy-to-pick-up action that defined the original. However, that's not to say that it's a superficial game that lacks depth. Far from it. It's just as intense and competitive as other shooters on the market – the difference is that it's a lot easier to get into, and gives beginner players more of a chance to be able to contribute to the action before they get destroyed by the opposition.
If you're interested in checking out the Beta, just boot up your PS4 or Xbox One and head over to the online store and download it. It's as simple as that!
In the meantime, expect a full review of Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 closer to its February 23rd release date.