Shortly after the release of the Xbox One, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was released and it provided a new, fresh take on the shooter genre as well as a departure from past PvZ games. Many players, myself included, found themselves drawn to the good shooting mechanics mixed with the fun, silly characters and environments. Now, Popcap and Electronic Arts look to up the ante in almost every way with Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. At a full $60 USD/£55 GBP this time around, is there enough to this game to give it a place with the heavyweights of the genre?

The original Garden Warfare relied heavily on shooting mechanics and bizarre, customizable characters to carry the load for the game. Aside from Garden Ops and multiplayer, there just wasn’t a whole lot else to do. In Garden Warfare 2, this is no longer an issue. Popcap has invested in this IP, adding in a single player experience and unique playable menu system to help fully round out Garden Warfare 2.

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Garden Warfare 2’s menu system is completely playable. Your character is dropped into the backyard for either the plants or zombies, depending on the character you are using at the time. From there, you can walk to the multiplayer portal, check your mail, take part in garden ops, look at daily challenges, or work on your single player campaign. There is also a station where you can switch over to the other side of the map by changing from plant to zombie or vice versa. The backyard area is also where you can purchase packs with earned in-game currency.

While in the backyard, you will also find opportunities to gain easy coin bonuses. For example, I was in the plants backyard as a sunflower, and spotted a dandelion with an icon over his head. I prompted conversation with it, and it proceeded to tell me that all it has wanted to see all day was a pea shooter. I walked over to the player change booth and changed to a pea shooter, went back to talk to the dandelion, and it was so happy it exploded into a very nice coin reward. Little things like this make the backyard aspect of the game a very welcome change in the series.

The other major option the backyard menu system gives you is the Backyard Battleground. If you aren’t feeling like multiplayer or campaign at the moment, you can go outside the gates of your team’s backyard and venture into the contested middle area of the city. Here you can engage in combat against the other side and earn both coin and XP rewards. This is a great way to attain many of your daily challenge goals too. If you push far enough into this area, you will find yourself at the gates of the enemy’s backyard. The Backyard Battleground addition in Garden Warfare 2 offers players a great option for playing the game, learning the mechanics, and earning coins without having to engage in multiplayer or work through the single player campaign.

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Garden Warfare 2’s campaign offers players the opportunity to play through both the plant and zombie stories. On each side, you are a new recruit when you begin and you progress through missions for various leaders who reward you with a patch when you have completed their quest track. Each leader’s quest track runs about five or six quests, and you will often be rewarded with access to a chest containing coins and an item for character customization when you have completed all of that leader’s missions.

All missions in the single player campaign are accessed in the backyard, and a yellow icon will direct you to your next destination. The campaign serves to introduce you to the playable characters you will have at your disposal, as you will complete missions for the orange, rose, and pea shooter on the plant side and the pirate, scientist, and imps on the zombie side. As you complete each side’s campaign, you will be rewarded with a trip to Infinity, in which you fight off hordes of gnomes to earn shards. Once you have met your demise, you cash in the shards for a very nice coin/item reward.

Aside from the unlocks you get and a nice endgame reward, the campaign is a largely repetitive experience. There are essentially three types of missions in Garden Warfare 2’s story mode. The first is to go to a location and find a character that is important to achieve the overall goal you are pursuing. The second is to go and find an actual item. This consists of following various leads and fighting enemies at checkpoints before finally finding the item. Finally, the third is a mini horde mode where you fight off three or four waves of enemies, including a boss wave. Unfortunately, this can get extremely repetitive and resulted in me just playing through it to get the unlocks and achievements.

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Garden Ops mode presents horde mode to the players, with some twists that can make it fun. You can set extra defenses at pre-determined points on the map that will assist you in fighting off wave after wave of the opposition, with each wave being more difficult with more bosses to fend off. The defenses you can set are determined by which consumable items you have, and those can be purchased in the sticker shop in the backyard.

Garden Warfare 2’s sticker shop allows players to purchase items for customization of characters, as well as full new versions of characters. In addition, if you enjoy Garden Ops or Backyard Battleground, consumable items will allow you to place extra defenses that will help you defeat enemy forces. Packs range in price up to 75,000 coins, with several packs to choose from. I found myself exclusively buying two types of packs – the consumable pack for 2,500 coins and the most expensive pack for 75,000. This pack is guaranteed to fully unlock a new character for you to use in the game. Keep in mind that you will not get a brand new character, but a different version of an existing one. Also, it is fairly easy to earn coins in the game – I was able to purchase two of the 75k packs and 15-20 of the consumable packs after investing about five hours in the game.

Multiplayer in Garden Warfare 2 is as smooth and fun as it was in the first one with more chaos and better environments. The best thing about it is that you have unlimited ammunition, so you won’t have to search for ammo, and special attacks simply require a cooldown period before using them again. Matches take about seven minutes on average, and most of the twelve maps are very well made. There are also a variety of modes to play in multiplayer: you can jump into Team Vanquish if you want a traditional deathmatch experience, or you can test your skill in modes like Turf Takeover, Gnome Bomb, or Suburbination. Turf Takeover is the largest mode, featuring a map that grows as you play and a mix of game modes. Gnome Bomb is the classic capture the bomb, get it to the enemy’s base mode. Both of these require more skill and should be played after you are more comfortable with the game and its mechanics.

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For players new to the game, I would very much recommend the Welcome Mat mode as a starting place for multiplayer. This is a good way to get your feet wet, as each time you are vanquished, you spawn with more health. It is also a very good way to gain XP and make your characters more powerful. XP can be gained in any mode in the game, including Backyard Battleground, but as is normally the case, multiplayer is the fastest way once you are good at the game.

A significant improvement on the first Garden Warfare in many ways, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 offers a healthy amount of gameplay options for players to experience. Unlike the first installment, there is still a lot to do here if you aren’t a huge fan of playing competitive multiplayer constantly. The Backyard Battleground mode is a very nice addition to this installment and it serves as a very nice hub for players, rather than having a generic menu system. At the $60/£55 price point, Popcap has invested enough in improving on the first game that Garden Warfare 2 is a worthwhile experience for the increased price. If you are looking for a fun, silly shooter with a good amount of options and customization, this game is a good option for you.