Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare is back, but this time the fight isn’t just for the front lawn, it’s for the whole town. Perhaps showing the same kind of fear of the number 3 that Valve are now routinely teased about, the third multiplayer shooter in the Plants vs. Zombies universe is Battle for Neighborville.
As grand as the new name is, things initially feel very, well, samey. This is still built on the remarkably solid foundations of Garden Warfare – let’s not forget just how easily dismissed this series was when it was first announced. Just as with the second game, it’s a triple threat with a mixture of versus and co-operative multiplayer built around a social hub area that allows for some more dynamic battling.
That hub is now bigger than ever before, with Zomboss’ base and Crazy Dave’s Manor on either side of Giddy Park’s fairground rides. Once you’ve done your bits and bobs at base, visiting the various daily check in points and customisation portals, you can seamlessly head out to meander on and between Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, and so on. You’ll have a smattering of basic NPCs to blow to bits, but this is a social hub, and players on the other side of the war between flora and the undead can come out for a bit of a fight.
It proved to largely be a passing distraction in Garden Warfare 2, but Battle for Neighbourville is taking that freeform design into the co-op side of the game. You’ll now have PvE regions, going from the desert canyons of Mount Steep, through the Town Centre of Neighborville and out the other side to Weirding Woods, and these are designed with free roaming in mind, featuring NPCs to meet, missions to take on, and more beyond the horde mode of previous games.
Our hands on time came with head to head multiplayer side of the game though, with Battle for Neighborville feeling like it’s hoping to be branded a hero shooter instead of a class-based shooter. The series’ roots came in asymmetry between defensive plants and attacking zombies, but this was largely evened up for Garden Warfare 2 with largely parallel classes, albeit with some differing abilites. For this game, PopCap have created a trio of new classes, a new frontline fighter in the fire breathing Snapdragon and the zombies’ Action Hero, the faster stealthy Nightcap opposite the electric rollerskating of the Electric Slide, and with the most direct parallel, the Oak & Acorn opposite the Space Cadet.
These final two are by far the most interesting, starting off as a faster small character who’s able to summon or transform a larger one. Turning into Oak and you have a much more powerful main gun, can spit out a rolling spiked log, and can even host up to three more Acorns atop your head like a walking tree tank. The Space Cadet is similar, able to summon a slow moving floating Space Station, with ultra-powerful beam attacks.
It all hangs together nicely, and PopCap are jumping aboard the latest trends in the games industry, namely a Battle Pass… except it’s free. The Reward Festivals are available to everyone and eschew blind box loot in favour of giving players choice to work through a map of unlockable nodes as you play. Conceptually it actually feels most akin to the seasonal content and challenges of Battlefield V, rather than the paid straight track of unlocks that we find in Fortnite, PUBG and their ilk.
Taking part in these Festivals, which kicks off with the game’s full launch on 18th October with the Lawn of Dune Festival and thematically transforms the social areas, will be the path to unlocking special festival specific customisation. Other paths to the game’s extensive customisation options are Mr. Reward-A-Tron 9000, which is based purely off in-game progression, and after launch, more cosmetics, Victory Slabs and emotes through Rux’s Emporium using the Rainbow Stars premium currency. The game will continue to grow and evolve through these seasonal events with more maps, characters, modes and features.
Except you can play the game even sooner than that. EA haven’t waited until six weeks before launch to announce the game, but have in fact announced and effectively released the game at the same time. You can buy the game now with a Founder’s Edition available for a discounted $29.99 price versus $39.99 for the final release on 18th October.
This is where I’m not terribly chuffed with Battle for Neighborville. It shouldn’t be necessary for the third game in a series, not to mention from a publisher the size of EA, to go through a foreshortened Early Access period like this, with a six week drip feed of additional modes and features throughout. PopCap say they want to tune the game with their most ardent fans, and perhaps that’s a good thing, considering the high profile struggles of Star Wars Battlefront II, Battlefield V and Anthem, but it shouldn’t be necessary. A good old fashioned open beta would do the job of testing and feedback just as well… but that doesn’t make you money, I suppose.
Still, I’ve been a fan of these Plants vs. Zombies spin offs since their inception, with PopCap having this magical way of twisting what was once a humble computer and mobile puzzle game into a great online shooter. Not only that, but each time they’ve managed to take some of the latest trends in the broad shooter genre and pull them off with aplomb.
So yeah, I’m sure I’ll meet you in the Battle for Neighborville over the next few weeks.