Plants War offers up a fun, though fairly niche spin on real time strategy

The new RTS Plants War is an intense action-strategy game pitting you, at the head of the Plants, against the computer-controlled forces of the Beasts in a struggle for dominance of a post-human world. The basics of battle are simple enough to grasp in this fast-paced free-to-play game, but unless you’re willing to sink money or some serious grinding time into it, you can expect to have a very tough row to hoe.

Plants War is real-time strategy stripped to its barest essentials. There are no buildings to construct, no defenses to place, no resources to harvest or tech trees to follow. Maps are tiny and simple, the equivalent of a small field with a base on each side, and you don’t even get to array your forces as you see fit because they’re entirely AI-controlled and do exactly what they want, no more and no less. Instead of acting as a battlefield general, micro-managing your forces from on high, in this game you play the role of a single hero by the name of Leafy, and your job is not to lead the computer but to aid it as it battles… well, itself.

Plants War

The game world is divided into numerous small maps, each of which must be be beaten before progress to the next is allowed. You start by choosing your hero, either the “standard” Leafy or one of his unlockable, specialized sub-types like Quick Leafy or Muscles Leafy, and anywhere from two to six plant-like units of various sorts and abilities who will accompany you in the field,. After the battle begins, Leafy will rapidly gain levels, allowing you to improve his half-dozen abilities and stats. Your forces will attack the enemy as they see fit while you choose your own targets, doing your best to keep your allies alive and fighting or perhaps letting them bear the brunt of combat while you sneak off to launch an attack of your own against the enemy base or turrets.

But artificial intelligence still exists exclusively in the domain of the imagination, so “strategy” in the game tends to consist solely of enemy forces running into each other headlong. Choosing the right blend of units at the start of each round is vital to success, but since you can’t use weaker units as decoys or hold back the heavy hitters for a surprise strike, it ends up feeling about as strategic as “rock, paper, scissors.” Battles ebb and flow very quickly as the enemy forces and then yours are decimated, leaving you running back and forth across the battlefield, either behind your units or in front of the enemy’s depending on how things are going at any particular moment. And once the numbers have tilted decisively in one way or another, it’s pretty much game over.

The control scheme, which in all fairness is probably about as good as it can be, is still sometimes problematic and not quite up to the high-speed, rapid responses required by this game. The biggest problem is that even though the maps are tiny, you’ll need to zoom out in order to have any idea about what’s coming at you or where to best position Leafy. But zooming out naturally makes everything progressively smaller and more difficult to select and control. The nature of the game means that a single mistake can result in a rapid defeat and while practice makes perfect, be prepared for occasional moments of controller-induced frustration.

Plants War

The other, more pressing issue is that success appears to hinge largely on a willingness to pay. Like just about all free-to-play games, Plants War earns money via optional microtransactions, but calling them “optional” is stretching it a bit. Small amounts of healing and magic potions, in-game currency and other items you’d normally pay for are earned by winning battles, but hardly in the quantities needed at the higher levels. Unlocking more advanced heroes and allied units costs serious amounts of gold or “leaf,” the game’s secondary currency, and sometimes specific and very difficult accomplishments as well. You can eventually earn most of what you need if you keep grinding levels, but the real power is obviously intended for those willing to pay for it.

Music in Plants War is very martial and impressive, making it possibly my favorite part of the whole thing, but while the menus and loading screens are quite pretty, the actual in-game graphics are rather bland. There are also plenty of achievements with rewards and a leaderboard as well, although it stayed resolutely blank during my time with the game. And while I might be imagining things, I think I detect a certain effort at riding the Plants vs. Zombies glory train here, too. The title isn’t exactly subtle, after all, and I’m pretty sure that’s a pig I see front and center on the “mission complete” screen. Make of that what you will.

I suspect that the biggest problem facing Plants War isn’t that it’s a bad game, because it’s not – but that it is intended for a very specialized audience. By all reports it’s very similar to Defense of the Ancients, an old mod for the more conventional PC RTS Warcraft 3, which boasts a relatively small but fanatically loyal audience. Like the “big in Japan” DotA, Plants War could prove to be hugely popular with a small subset of gamers, but more mainstream audiences probably won’t get much out of it.