If you haven’t already guessed, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare--a game where teams of anthropomorphic flora take on the heavily armed undead--is not your typical third-person shooter. Sure, this spin-off from the Plants vs Zombies tower defense titles may borrow elements from established games like Gears of War and Battlefield, but it’s also trying to chart it’s own course through the crowded shooter market by creating an experience that remains true to the series’ offbeat, goofy roots (pun intended). At a recent hands-on session with the game’s offline cooperative mode, it also seemed clear to me that developer PopCap is trying to mix established shooter mechanics with a more newcomer friendly and, dare I say, casual approach to things like levelling up and unlocking new features or weapons. So in what ways does Garden Warfare try to creep away from typical shooters?
1) There’s no XP to be earned
In many shooters, gaining experience points is the main method for earning new ranks, and is also intricately tied to the process of unlocking new perks and abilities. In Garden Warfare, you don’t earn any XP at all. All of your level progress is tied to the completion of specific challenges (revive three teammates, rocket jump three times, or vanquish two opponents with chilli bean bombs, for example).
Outside of no XP, Garden Warfare sticks fairly closely to the recent shooter template when it comes to gameplay. Both the plants team and the zombie squad, for example, have different classes that are somewhat analogous to games such as Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield 4 (infantry, heavies, engineers, and support/medics, with each of those classes having the ability for further specialisation).
2) There’s no single-player mode
Franchises like Battlefield and Call of Duty may be best known for their strong competitive multiplayer components, but they also cater for those that like to play solo by including single-player campaigns in all of their games. Garden Warfare, on the other hand, will feature no solo story mode, and will be a purely multiplayer affair. Each of the game’s modes are multiplayer variants of classics such as team deathmatch, conquest, or horde, and need to be played online. If you don’t want to get online, Garden Warfare will also offer a split-screen co-op mode for two players.
3) The in-game store works like a collectible card game
Garden Warfare’s in-game store is the place where you’ll buy defensive plants for use in the game’s Garden Ops horde mode, new class variants for your plants or zombies, and cool gear to customise your plant/zombie squad. It’s also where Garden Warfare deviates the most from other shooters. Where other in-game stores lets you earn or pay for specific items in their respective stores, Garden Warfare randomises this process by using a collectible card-like system of packs. Buy a pack and you’re given a random assortment of cards, which will either contain defensive plants, stickers that need to be collected to unlock class variants, or other gear. Like other collectible card games, each pack will contain a set number of “rare” cards, although you can pay for more expensive packs that will guarantee better or more lucrative card types.
You’ll pay for card packs using in-game currency earned by playing through Garden Warfare. But how about microtransactions? A system where cards are earned randomly seems ripe for such a move, so will Garden Warfare go the way of some other recent console games and try to implement a microtransaction system? The answer, right now, seems to be a solid maybe. During my gameplay session, a PopCap representative told me that a final decision on the inclusion of microtransactions was still to be decided. They’ll have to make that call soon, though, with the game due for release on February 25 for the Xbox One and on the Xbox 360.