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A surprising and refreshing multiplayer experience

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    Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    A surprising and refreshing multiplayer experience

    Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare truly surprised me. When I first saw the game, I was conflicted. It seemed like an interesting concept and direction to take a franchise that has been rooted in tower defense. But there were doubts about whether PopCap had the ability to make a balanced and fun multiplayer experience in the PvZ universe. I am pleased to say that PopCap delivered on most fronts especially when you consider it is a $40 budget title.

    Garden Warfare contains a tower defense style "Garden Ops" that pits for plants versus a horde of zombies. The 10 rounds, especially on higher difficulties are very challenging when you add special boss waves into the mix. After you discover the perfect strategy and beat the hardest "crazy" difficulty there isn’t much reason to come back to Garden Ops. Although still the mode is fun and intense while it lasts and a repeat here and there can be fun.

    What will keep you coming back is the robust competitive multiplayer mode. The game now contains 3 game modes including a TDM style Team Vanquish and a King of the Hill style Gardens and Graveyards. PopCap recently added "Gnome Bomb", a free add-on mode based on planting and defusing a bomb. It’s good to know PopCap is actively supporting the game with new game modes and even variations and balance patches and free ones at that. This gives me hope that the game will only continue to improve. Players continue to learn different strategies and mixes of classes for each game mode, some of which are more effective than others. This is leading to swings in momentum in terms of the majority of victories. At release, the plants could never lose any game mode, but lately I rarely see them win a Gardens and Graveyards game. It’s clear that the metagame is still settling in and it will hopefully land somewhere in the 50-50 win percentages for each team.

    All modes pit 4 classes of plants versus 4 classes of zombies. Each class fits a specific role but the many unlockable variations create alternate roles that can change how you play that character. For example, the All-Star zombie class is for the most part a tank class. A certain variation of his "Imp Punt" ability allows it to travel extremely far and can turn him into a long range splash damage class. The classes on either side mesh together extremely well and it’s evident in the fact that teams with a mix of all classes are the most dangerous. Certain variations are definitely better than their original counterparts, but it’s too early to tell how the game will eventually balance out but so far for every strategy there seems to always be a counter which is a key factor in the balance of PvZ. The sheer amount of variations makes the balancing act seem very difficult so we’ll have to see how the game settles and how PopCap responds. Overall certain characters match up better against others so it’s up to the player to figure these out and use them to their advantage. Teamwork and playing to your classes’ strength are keys to victory.

    What makes this game fun and addicting is the currency and level up system. Every game awards coins that allow you to buy card packs which contain upgrades, character variations in the form of stickers, consumable plants and zombies as well as aesthetic items for your characters. Each game ends in you hoping for enough coins to buy the card pack you want and it is a strong motivator to keep playing. Many times I played "just one more game" in order to get enough for a rare card pack. Once you have enough coins, the excitement of opening the packs and acquiring a rare upgrade or piece of a character only continues to fuel this desire. The level up system is tied completely to each character individually levelling up. In order to level up a character, you must complete a number of challenges related to the character. This gives the player goals each and every game and offers a greater sense of achievement than simply levelling up by playing a lot. If you do come across a difficult challenge or one you just don’t want to do, you can spend a "skip challenge" sticker which prevents stalemates of levelling. Some of the challenges are quite ridiculous and because they are randomly generated as you level it’s always nice to have a skip handy. Consumable plants and zombies act as assistants in the Garden Ops and Gardens and Graveyards modes. It hasn’t happened as of yet, but I worry that certain attacks can be coordinated with a large sum of zombie consumables. The plants also have some strong consumables, but some of the zombie ones have an extreme amount of health and cause a huge disruption in terms of the plants defending. Without a limit to the amount of zombies you can summon, I can see this being a future problem even though it is not originating as of yet. The entire system is an incredibly intelligent idea and each small achievement makes you want to play more.

    Overall, plants versus zombies is the full multiplayer package. The visuals and characters all stay true to the plants versus zombies universe. Even though there are only three multiplayer modes as of now, I have yet to get bored of any of them. The cooperative Garden Ops mode offers limited, but concentrated fun. The pace is much slower than most modern multiplayer games, but this allows for much more positional strategy and intelligent use of abilities. Unlocking new upgrades and variations of both plants and zombies is highly addictive and earning currency is a constant goal. Levelling up through challenges give greater meaning to the number beside your name. I worry that this game won’t get the attention that it deserves, especially releasing close to Titanfall. But this game is worth owning and I truly hope that people give it a chance.

    In short:
    + Fun modes and maps
    + Addictive currency and level-up system
    + An extreme amount of character customization
    + Strong team dynamics
    + Variations of characters that change the way you play
    + $40 price tag
    + Already strong support by PopCap in terms of content and balance
    +/- Variation balance still a question mark
    - Threat of microtransactions looms
    - Momentum victory swings as balance has yet to fully settle
    - Certain consumable zombies seem too powerful
    - Limited single player and cooperative content

    Final Score: 9/10

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