Oct 24, 2013
Plants vs. Zombies 2, the hotly-awaited sequel to one of the best games of the past decade, is finally on Android. The announcement that it would be free-to-play came with much trepidation, as PopCap’s parent company EA aren’t known for their free-to-play games being all that “free,” and because the original Plants vs. Zombies is a master class in game progression. The way that it iterates and slowly but steadily introduces new elements is genius, in that it appeals to both the hardest of the hardcore gamers, but allows casual gamers to understand and enjoy it just the same. Going to a free-to-play monetization could easily wreck that balance. Thankfully, PopCap has made a sequel that has all the compelling strategy while being a great free game too.
For those who haven’t played the original, the game is set up this way: there are five lanes that zombies will try to go down. Plants, which serve as this game’s towers, must be planted to do things like attack enemies and to gather sun, the game’s resource. Certain zombies are only weak to certain plant types, an aspect that gets taught to the player as time goes on. As well, the level layouts start to encourage different strategies given the hazards that they implement. It’s a gross oversimplification of the game, but the subtle way that the game builds upon itself is best experienced, rather than explained.
The biggest changes to Plants vs. Zombies 2 as a sequel are admittedly structural, rather than with the core gameplay itself. It’s the kind of thing where those who haven’t played the original in a while, like myself, may feel like nothing’s quite changed, though there are definitely new plants and zombies. But they all fit into the original, familiar workflow: get lots of sunflowers and set up proper defenses for the environment and enemy types coming in.
Where the new structure comes in is that levels need to be replayed to complete additional challenges that impose additional restrictions, such as not planting on certain squares, having to generate a certain amount of sun, protecting certain flowers, and more. Stars are used to unlock later worlds. Some star-offering levels are in branches of the main level paths that require keys, randomly earned in levels, to unlock. They include new plants and various requirements to earn the stars.
That the game’s big changes are structural is not inherently bad: Plants vs. Zombies 2 explores its concept to new avenues and degrees, and providing new ways to approach a certain enemy progression is fun. And really – more of the same is quite fine when it’s this fun.
Now, the much-ballyhooed free-to-play aspects. The monetization is largely designed around getting the dedicated players going for the difficult challenges who need advantages that the coin system offers. The super powers are best for the occasional emergency, or if absolutely necessary to save a challenge, and the game makes this apparent in those circumstances. There are certain plants which are only available by spending money, which is the only true paywall, which is a bit unfortunate, as there are some plants from the original only available by paying.
But all being told, this isn’t bad at all. The game hands out coins often enough to where the super powers or plant food can be bought periodically without worrying. There’s no wait timers. There’s no secondary hard currency. The main game definitely has that feeling of being actually free, like going free-to-play didn’t actually harm PopCap’s design sensibilities. The desire to pay only really kicks in for those who are very engrossed in the game and after a long, long amount of time. It’s not perhaps the ideal free-to-play, but it’s done in such a way that the need to spend just to play the game isn’t there. I think that the reaction to the game’s free-to-play is built around one’s personal biases: those who hate free-to-play will probably hate this, and those fine with free-to-play will love this. But really, it’s worth remembering just how much game is given away for free.
At its heart, Plants vs. Zombies 2 is more of the same great accessible strategy gameplay, while being a great free game too. Welcome back, Plants vs. Zombies, it’s been a while.