Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is an online multiplayer third-person shooter game, released in March of 2014 by Popcap and EA Games. The game offers multiple modes of play, including co-op (split screen), garden defense (tower defense), and many multiplayer modes where you can choose to be either plants or zombies.
Dixon’s Thoughts: Garden Warfare set out to do something that seemed impossible and almost pointless. The original Plants Vs. Zombies is a basic tower defense game with a very specific art style and sense of humor. With Garden Warfare, Popcap set out to translate this entire experience to a 3rd person, over-the-shoulder shooter, which, why? In my limited experience, the prime demographic of the original Plants vs Zombies was women over 50 and children. Odd pairing aside, PvZ: Garden Warfare is engaging, fun, accessible, and has almost infinite replay value. The game has two different play styles: Garden Ops, a mode where you can only play plant characters and fight off waves of zombies, and Multiplayer PvP, which itself has several different modes and allows the players to play either plants or zombies. Garden Ops is the only mode of the game that supports split-screen co-op play, which we’ll discuss later.
Regardless of which mode you choose, the gameplay is very simple: shoot the other team. Sometimes you need to do this in specific ways, or while accomplishing team based objectives, but at heart that’s all there is to it. When you first start playing the game, you start with the basic versions of each characters’ abilities. You will eventually also unlock the alternate versions of these abilities as well, allowing for some (albeit minor) character ability customization. As usual, some of the upgrades are must-haves, and others are actually worse than their counterparts.
In Garden Ops, a single player can search for other groups of players looking to join forces and defend the Garden base from increasingly difficult waves of Zombies. This mode most closely resembles the original PvZ game, as players can only control a Plant character and it involves randomly generated waves of specific zombie types. Every so often, a boss wave event happens, which itself has an element of randomness to it.
If you successfully complete all waves, you’ll have to rush to a location where Crazy Dave (the game’s only human) picks you up in what can only be described as a “Space RV.” This mode of play also supports split-screen co-op, however, there are significant problems with this aspect of the game. While it does allow you to play split screen, you cannot play online in this mode. The garden-ops games are geared towards groups of 4 players, so you’ll automatically start the game two players short. In addition, the “second” player is unable to use any of the game’s Potted Plants (items that you use as tower-defense like towers to automatically attack zombies). This is a pretty significant aspect of the game, and between that and the lack of online play, split screen garden ops is really not very fun. Not everyone agrees, however, so be sure and give it a try.
Fortunately, the game’s online multiplayer more than makes up for this flawed aspect. Multiplayer mode consists of several sub-modes. All the familiar game modes are here, deathmatch, capture the flag, and node control. The last mode, Gardens and Graveyards, is a bit different. In this mode, plants must defend a series of control points. The Zombie team’s only objective is to have more characters on the “flag” area, which will eventually capture it. Once captured, the garden turns into a graveyard and zombie players respawn from this new location, while plant players fall back to the next graveyard and attempt to defend that. This game mode has by far the largest maps, and it is here that strategy and map knowledge make a lot of difference for your team.
While the gameplay is both fun and engaging, PvZ: GW’s greatest features is arguably it’s extensive character customization. This is also where the game’s micro-transactions come into play. Win or lose, every player participating in a game gets in-game currency (coins) which can then be spent on a variety of “card packs”. These packs contain everything from consumable items such as summonable zombies or potted plants (both of which play off the Tower Defense roots of PvZ) to customizations like clothing and weapon skins, weapon upgrades, and new character pieces. There seem to be a phenomenal number of customized items. We’ve been playing the game for well over a year and consistently see other players wearing items that we’ve never seen.
There are 4 main plant variants and 4 main Zombie characters, each of which have a total of 5 class variants, so there are plenty of new characters on which you can spend your hard earned coins. Each class variant is significantly different, and as usual some are better than others. Almost all of them are more powerful than their original class, though the original All Star is extremely powerful in the hands of someone who isn’t terrible. Some of the variants seem almost broken after using them for a long period of time.
To expand on the game’s currency/reward system, there is a default value that every player will get for winning or losing matches. You are awarded bonus points for actions such as kill streaks, critical kills, repeated kills, killing an enemy while they are fighting someone else, killing an enemy who is on a kill streak, killing your nemesis (someone who has killed you at least 3 times in a game), healing party members, and resurrecting fallen players before they respawn. Additionally, players can earn “boasts” for having the most kills in a session, the longest kill streak, the most heals and resurrections, and the most assists.
If all of that sounds boring to you, but wasting your money doesn’t, you can chose to simply purchase in-game currency to then spend on card packs. We’ve never done this, however, it hardly seems worth it as the currency you can purchase is exactly what you get in-game, and does not unlock anything you can’t otherwise unlock by just killing a lot of people.
There’s something about this game, a certain charm or irreverence that makes it seem like almost a giant middle finger to the modern gaming industry. It’s managed to both refuse to take itself seriously (there is no single play mode and no plot to speak of) while simultaneously being a challenging shooter with a lot of fun elements. It’s got a dedicated player base, at least on Xbox One, and you will come to recognize and hate certain key players that you run into repeatedly. The core gameplay is so simple that anyone can enjoy it, but complex enough to reward effort and skill, and combined with fresh content and consistent updates, the game always gives you something to come back to. It’s easily one of our favorite games on the Xbox One, and you owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot. Who knows? We might see you there.