As I fly out of the cannon at the giant Sunflower lighthouse, it hits me: this is the most fun I’ve had in a game in a long time.
I land my Zombie soldier off to the side, managing to avoid the attention of the defending Plants. I look up at the massive Sunflower, a happy-to-see-you smile stretching across its face as it stares at the setting sun. I am a member of the Zombie team, and that Sunflower stands against everything I believe in. As my zombie hobbles forward, paintball gun in hand, a weird part of my brain echoes to me: “Mister Zombichev, tear down this sunflower.”
And then a Venus flytrap-like plant known as a Chomper burrows up from beneath me and promptly eats me whole. My team ultimately ends up losing. I’m not even mad though. I really had fun, and that’s really what kept me playing way later than I intended.
There’s a lot about Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare that makes the game as fun as it is. One of the biggest aspects is how seamless it is to work with your teammates. Any player can revive a teammate, and you get coins (more on that in a bit) from doing so. If I was killed next to a teammate, 90% of the time they would turn around and revive me. Also, the scoreboard only shows the number of kills a player has. The lack of visible deaths really helps keep the focus on the players who are doing well, rather than the players who may not be pulling their weight.
The friendly atmosphere of the multiplayer experience of course transitions well to the co-op experience. With a small group of friends, players can partake in the Garden Ops mode which has players defending a garden area from waves of incoming Zombies. In the spirit of the original game, the waves increase in difficulty the longer the players (playing as the Plants) hold out. While it is totally possible to play Garden Ops solo, I’d recommend playing with a few friends, as the difficulty can become overwhelming on anything but the easiest difficulty level.
With that said, I spent a fraction of my time in Garden Warfare playing the co-op mode. The vast majority of my time was spent playing online Multiplayer, particularly the Gardens and Graveyards gameplay mode. Reminiscent of Battlefield’s Rush gameplay mode, Gardens and Graveyards has the Plants team defending a number of pre-determined positions throughout a level. If the Plants defend a position long enough, they win. If the Zombies overrun the position, the Plants are pushed back to a new position further back within the level. The Zombies’ goal is to push the plants back to the last holdout and eventually overwhelm them there. The Sunflower lighthouse is one such holdout.
The Gardens and Graveyards gameplay mode is where Garden Warfare shines. The level designs within the game are superb, offering both teams multiple ways to assault/defend an objective and multiple layers of approach. Where one level has the Zombies shooting out of cannons to reach the distant lighthouse, another has the Zombies escorting a bomb in a golfcart through a golf course. The Zombies are always on the assault, and the plants are always defending. That’s just how it is in the Plants vs. Zombies universe, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Both teams are very well balanced. There are four main types of character classes for each team, and alternate versions of those four main classes are unlockable by using coins (I’m getting close to explaining them, I promise). Each character has three abilities, apart from their basic shooting attack. For example, the Sunflower can heal her nearby teammates, channel the sun’s energy into a powerful beam attack, and drop smaller sunflower plants around that will periodically disperse heals to nearby plants.
Just like character variations, ability variations can be unlocked using coins. In Garden Warfare, coins are collected by doing everything from reviving teammates to completing objectives. The coins are then used to buy booster packs which contain a specified number of random cards. The cards are randomly generated based on rarity and feature cosmetic add-ons, alternative abilities, ability perks, and player taunts. Also, some super rare cards are pieces of a new character; collect all the pieces to unlock the alternate form of a particular Plant or Zombie.
Players also have the ability to pay money to buy coins to collect cards faster. While it sounds like it could be pay-to-win…it isn’t. It’s just an option that PopCap Games and EA give to players who don’t mind paying a little extra for a few extra things. Because the booster pack contents are totally random, paying for them doesn’t give one player a direct advantage over another. Winning a game grants players around 5-8 thousand coins, and booster packs cost anywhere from one-thousand to forty-thousand for the most expensive packs (which has the best loot). Basically, booster packs are very easy to obtain without needing money to begin with.
Players concerned about other players paying their way to the top can rest easy knowing that Garden Warfare features “classic” multiplayer modes that restrict players to just the core team of characters with unlockables locked out.
Beyond the inclusion of the microtransactions within the game there is little else I had an issue with. Origin still has some work to do rooting out hackers, but they were only an issue within about three of the (probably) nearing-one-hundred games I played.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is easily one of the best games I have played this year. It’s a fun, boisterous, spirited shooter that never for a second lets you forget how adorable it is.