Category Archives: gaming

House of Wolves is Only for Those who have their Own Teams

The Terminus, an elevator to one of the House of Wolves' story missions (Polygon.com).
The Terminus, an elevator to one of the House of Wolves’ story missions (Polygon.com).

Note:  For those searching for the religious, or any possible biblical, aspect of Destiny, please see Destiny’s Story: The Nature of Evil and It’s Corrupting Influence.

Updated/edited on May 20, 2015.

If any of you have read my various Destiny articles, you might have guessed that I have a love-hate relationship with the game.  Well, you might walk away with more of the hate side of my feelings, but, I do LOVE the feel of the game.  I stopped playing it for a while because I had nothing else to do in it.  I don’t play the Crucible, and my son got tired of that part of the game, too, and I don’t do my own match-making in order to play the harder aspects of the game, so . . . there’s nothing to do in Destiny after a certain point for players like me.  And guess what, despite what the trailer may have said or implied, House of Wolves only makes matters worse.  You cannot level up without doing your own match making/team gathering.  At least that’s what is known right now.

I had recently started playing again (and my son followed suit), gearing up for the new House of Wolves dlc that was to come out.  I started a new character, too, leveling her up to 29.  We stopped leveling gear up since we didn’t want to waste our materials prior to the dlc.  So, my son has played today’s Destiny dlc a while this morning, checking out the new social area in The Reef, and doing a number of the dlc’s missions and strikes.  The new crucible matches, called the Trials of Osiris, are only available Friday through Monday, basically, so he has to wait for those.  He was able to get through the whole new story in a matter of hours.

Continue reading House of Wolves is Only for Those who have their Own Teams

Jaws of Hakkon, DA: Inquisition’s first Expansion, is Beautiful

Inquisition camps are now tree houses.
Inquisition camps are now tree houses.

If you’re a Dragon Age fan and didn’t purchase the Jaws of Hakkon dlc immediately, I’d be surprised. I’d love to hear from you as to why. The fan base for Dragon Age just seems so loyal. As for me, Inquisition was my first Dragon Age game, and I’ve reviewed it here. I wasn’t totally impressed, and after playing it through a second time, I’m very bored with it. But . . . I did very much enjoy the Jaws of Hakkon as an expansion.

First, a mild complaint. This dlc cost about $15, which is ¼ of the price of the original game. Perhaps I’m being picky about pricing, but the expansion doesn’t contain anywhere near ¼ the content that the main game has. It doesn’t really tie in with the main quest and it doesn’t have much new in the way of dialogue or cut-scenes, so I don’t know . . . why not charge $10? If Bioware can make the game with the huge amount of dialogue (and with all the options), relationship choices, maps, and more, then why charge so much for new content that has minimal dialogue and game integration?

Other than that consideration relating to the business of gaming today, the new map is gorgeous. It’s called Frostback Basin and it’s the only Inquisition map that has day and night. Well, it’s always day before you defeat the dragon, and apparently always night afterwards. Which is an odd concept, right? But I LOVE this map at night. It has burning lamps here and there and they naturally look better at night. There are crickets chirping and other delightful and mysterious noises and lights to experience at night there. Otherwise, Frostback Basin differs from other maps, too, in its vertical dimension. Instead of having lots of dungeons the region is filled with giant trees; the movement is upward instead of downward. The walkable roots are giant, too, and many inquisition camps are actually little tree forts. Who wouldn’t like that?

Regarding game play and content, they’re the same as in the main game, but some enemies are generally (and a couple are much) harder. The dlc’s story is a fun and engaging one, in my view, but I don’t want to spoil it for you so I won’t say more about it here. As with the main game, there is humor in the dialogues and codexes. As mentioned earlier, however, there is no real connection with the main game’s story. There are no new “romance” related scenes or added dialogue. It’s too bad that this additional Inquisition content isn’t integrated more, but it’s still a fun way to continue playing the third Dragon Age game.

Avvar enemies and weapons
Yep, there’s weird enemies to combat, so weird that they are mud-painted yet have glowy glowy weapons. This is the Avvar.

PS:  A new dlc is coming out August 11, 2015, called “The Descent.”  It will cost $14.99 and be playable any time after Skyhold is reached.   You’ll start feeling earthquakes and will go investigate them in the Dwarven Deep Roads, encountering Darkspawn, etc. The official trailer:

We’ll be doing a “Let’s Play The Descent” at Lingering Trees (my family’s Youtube channel).  And by the way, the developers even shared (on Twitter) that this will not be the last DLC.

A Christian’s View of Dragon Age: Inquisition

Solas
Solas: good, reasonable, rational, mysterious, sometimes annoying, and . . . .

The review below was originally posted (by me) at Christian Entertainment Reviews.  Since that site is up but no longer active, I decided to place an edited version of it here.  Enjoy!  A short review of the dlc is now up, too:  Jaws of Hakkon, DA: Inquisition’s First Expansion, is Beautiful.

If you’re familiar with the Dragon Age franchise (by Bioware), you’ve probably already made the decision to play or not to play these role-playing games.  For some, a game with swearing and “sex” scenes is simply crossed off the list of playing possibilities, and Inquisition (2014; rated M17+) is no different from its predecessors in that arena (except that the “sex” scenes are more “human” than ever before, according to fans).

But with a name out of Catholic history, perhaps you’re curious.  I was, and, having been fairly unfamiliar with the franchise (I didn’t know about the personal relationships aspect), decided to check out the newest installment.  Let’s clarify something up front before we move on, though:  viewing possible “sex” scenes is not part of any quest except voluntary “romancing”—a player can romance certain characters, or not—and avoiding romance has little impact on the rest of the game.  This game is not anything like an “X” rated film–more like an R in parts.  Certain characters who make up your party can be pretty much ignored, too, if desired.  On the other hand, there is no sex shown when romancing the traditional and humble Cullen, who is an example of someone who wants a healthy and permanent relationship.

Continue reading A Christian’s View of Dragon Age: Inquisition

Destiny’s Story: the Nature of Evil and Its Corrupting Influence

A Hive wizard in Destiny
A Hive wizard in Destiny

“I don’t have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.”
The Exo Stranger, unwittingly (or jestingly) explaining Destiny’s lack of in-game story

Destiny (2014), the wildly successful multi-player shooter video game made by Bungie, hints at having a story behind it, but so far it’s pretty much a mystery. Sure, as you go through the short-lived “story” missions in order to open all the game maps, you hear some people speak,[1] but you are forced to come to the sad conclusion that you’re being kept in the dark as to the meaning behind all the fighting you’re doing. I think it’s safe to say that most people, even professional game reviewers, were shocked and disappointed by the real absence of a story in Destiny.

Based on the Beta, which I played, I thought there’d be more of a story and perhaps it would even have more of a recognizably Christian basis. My hopes were deflated after playing the released game, however. Bungie’s own activities jaded me more to the idea of any Christian basis to Destiny, like: insulting XBOX users online and going out of their way to give Playstation users more product for the same cost, and celebrating Halloween but ignoring Christmas (EA’s Garden Warfare, in contrast, was a virtual Advent Calendar that freely gave players fun stuff every day before Christmas during December).[2] My point is, I was biased toward an anti-Christian story before researching Destiny’s lore more, so I found myself surprised at some of what I found.

Most story information, or lore, is found in virtual Grimoire cards that are unlocked, but not readable, as the game progresses. If you want to know what’s on the card, you must read it online. Most, if not all, of these cards’ texts are online so you don’t have to unlock them in-game to read them (but as many fans reasonably complain, who wants to take all the time to go somewhere else and read them?).

These Grimoire cards, in-game dialogue, and other sources were used to construct the story information here, but a note on “lore” language and quality–not much of it is written in a straight-forward kind-of way. Instead, there is poetic and mystery religion sort of texts, official reports, cryptic messages, and broken up conversations. The wide variety of information styles, considered alongside the absence of dates and characterizations, make deciphering the story difficult and very time consuming. The excuse for the dearth of relevant information is that humanity lost it between the Collapse and the present time.   However, humans are flying around in little space ships at warp drive, tiny flying robots called Ghosts in-game can reflesh humans and materialize and dematerialize things, Ghosts can access centuries old data, etc. . . . never mind, Bungie, never mind.

A bit about the game itself before getting to the story. Destiny is a shooter, not an RPG or adventure game, so shooting enemies as well as other players is what this game is about. And showing off rare gear—especially, it’s about showing off. But, why does everything in the game attack you? Why does no one ever try to dialogue with you? Why is it that everyone on “your side” is so mum about the history and meaning of it all? It doesn’t much matter, apparently, as long as you’re a good soldier who is willing to get his or her own gear. When it comes down to it, the in-game story seems to be nothing more than a loose construct to name enemies; but, considering the religio-philosophical web content and that at least one more sequel is coming out, maybe it’s worth trying to figure out the Destiny universe. “The Story of Things: The Basic Story” is followed by “The Story of Ideas: The Philosophical and Religious Underpinnings of Destiny’s Lore.”

Continue reading Destiny’s Story: the Nature of Evil and Its Corrupting Influence

Tales from the Borderlands at Christian Entertainment Reviews

Not all of my video game articles will be at Christian Entertainment Reviews, but when they are, I still want you to know about them here.  Over Christmas break my son and I decided to get the new episodic video game series from Telltale Games, Tales from the Borderlands.  Here’s my review of it – thanks for reading!

Beautiful, and therefore raider-free, town image from Tales from the Borderlands.
Beautiful, and therefore raider-free, town image from Tales from the Borderlands.

Tales from the Borderlands: A New Episodic Graphic Adventure Series

“Please stop shooting me.” Loader Bot

“If you have a pulse and aren’t easily offended, you’ll love it.”  VB|Gamesbeat (96/100 gamescore)

Most Christians may not be all that familiar with the Borderlands series of games, considering that they’re quite violent and gory. I’m not here to review or warn you away from the regular Borderlands video games, but I can tell you about the first episode of the new interactive story series, Tales from the Borderlands. This first installment of the five-part series came out on November 25, 2014, with the next episode (“Atlas Mugged”) planned for release during the last week of January 2015.

. . .  Episodic games are sort-of like a cross between reading a book or watching a show and playing a role playing game (RPG). The player is given choices in dialogue as the story moves along, and these choices define which branch of the storyline tree the player continues to move along. The storyline tree makes for built-in replayabliity.

To read more, please go to Tales from the Borderlands: A New Episodic Graphic Adventure Series.

Garden Warfare Review at Christian Entertainment Reviews

I was recently asked to contribute at Christian Entertainment Reviews, and I gratefully accepted.  Below is the beginning of my first post there with a link to continue reading.  Thanks for checking it out!  You might find other reviews to tickle your fancy there too.

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What’s the Best Shooter Ever? Garden Warfare (PvZ)

Ok, so saying that the childish-looking Plants vs Zombies game, Garden Warfare, is the “best shooter ever” might be a bit subjective, but I’m not the only one adult with that line of thinking.  Sprinkled all over the internet are almost apologetic expressions of this same sentiment from experienced gamers–that is, by older teens or adults.  But Game reviewers are less shy in praising Garden Warfare:

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare’s bright colors, cartoon graphics and humorous approach are the antithesis of most . . . shooters.  But don’t be fooled.  It’s as good as any out there – and very likely an awful lot more fun.  (Jaz Rignall at USGamer.net)

William Schwartz at AttackoftheFanboy.com also approves:

Garden Warfare is more deliberate, and involves more strategy than you would think, considering its cartoon exterior.  Digging into the different characters and the different special abilities for each, there’s a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay.

What exactly is Garden Warfare (PvZ)? 

Alien Flower, available from Legends of the Lawn downloadable content (free).
Alien Flower, available from Legends of the Lawn downloadable content (free).

Garden Warfare, rated “E” (everyone), is a third-person shooter—meaning that you see the back of your character as you blast away (a possible down-side being that the right-of-center site makes aiming less intuitive).  It’s populated by cute, weird, and . . .  [continue reading]

Don’t Buy Destiny . . . Unless

Despite the amazing beauty of Destiny's environments, it's a lousy game (as least for the cost).
Despite the amazing beauty of Destiny’s environments, it’s a lousy game (as least for the cost).

Note:  For those searching for the religious, or any possible biblical, aspect of Destiny, please see Destiny’s Story: The Nature of Evil and It’s Corrupting Influence.

Update of May 20, 2015, based on the House of Wolves expansion:  Don’t buy Destiny unless you are willing and able to make your own teams, period.  And have a mic to communicate with others with, too.  Despite the sound of the trailer, there is only one low-level match making in the Prison of Elders, and items and gear for leveling up will not be found at that level.  Unless you team up youself and like spending hours banging away at enemies, there is no point on spending your money on Destiny.  There is literally nothing else to the game.

Based on the beta, we pre-purchased Destiny with the two DLCs, or expansions, but everyone in our family is very disappointed with Destiny and Bungie, the maker of the game.  During the pre-purchase phase, as far as I am aware, Bungie never let on that to fully play the game players would have to assemble their own teams of six (and have microphones, which isn’t too surprising for an MMO).  Bungie has no customer service to speak of, either, so all in all, buying Destiny was a real waste of money.   Their marketing during the pre-purchase phase was deceptive, with a few players STILL referring to the game as an RPG, which at this point it very clearly is not.

Going back to the teams issue (the only way to be able to play the whole game):  in order to assemble your own team of six you need to have six same-console friends with the game (who have microphones) who are able to do a big raid (the “Vault of Glass”) all at the same time.  This was annoying enough as part of the original game, as purchased, but now – with the first expansion, The Dark Below – Bungie did the same thing.  There is a second such raid, called “Crota’s End,” that one apparently has to do in order to finish the DLC quest line (and there is no matchmaking).

Continue reading Don’t Buy Destiny . . . Unless

No players showing on Destiny locations

A crazy, multi-frame shot from right before battling the Vex and Sol Progeny.
A crazy, multi-frame shot from right before battling the Vex and Sol Progeny.

I don’t know the technology behind servers for video games like Destiny, but for quite some time now I have seen no other players.  I was on Mars for quite some time, gathering relic iron and waiting for a public event, and I didn’t see a single soul the whole time.  I went to Venus to gather spirit bloom and saw . . . not a single player.  I went to The Tower and saw no one.  But, right now, the little “radar” map in the upper left corner is showing people around me (blue dots and blue arrows); yet I see no one.  The radar on the planets never indicated that anyone was around the whole time.

I haven’t found anything online about this, so if you know anything about it I’d love to hear it.  I would also love to find a REAL place where a person can report bugs and tech issues to Bungie.  If you know of such a place, please leave a comment!  Also, if you’d like to do the special level 26 strike for The Thorn hand cannon, let me know–my son needs to get that finished and it’s a bit of a strain doing it alone.

Update.  This morning, the issue was still the same.  I went to the Bungie “help” page (what a joke), didn’t see a post with the same issue,  so reported it.  But, having the notion that Bungie wasn’t going to actually help, I took the disc out of the XBOX one, put in Garden Warfare, and played a round.  All was good – it’s not our internet settings or the like.  I then put the Destiny disc back in, signed in, and now I can see players.  This is just weird and we have not had issues like this with other games.  There is also a weird sound issue that is unique!

A Destiny Black Garden Photo Album

[Note:  For those searching for the religious, or any possible biblical, aspect of Destiny, please see Destiny’s Story: The Nature of Evil and It’s Corrupting Influence.]

Some photos taken while in the Black Garden.  If by chance you want to use any, you may as long as you include the url of this page.  If you want to know more about the game, you can see Destiny, A New Kind of Online Multi-Player Video Game and Destiny’s Notebook.  Thanks!

A crazy, multi-frame shot from right before battling the Vex and Sol Progeny.
A crazy, multi-frame shot from right before battling the Vex and Sol Progeny.

Continue reading A Destiny Black Garden Photo Album

Garden Warfare (PvZ) Gameplay: Hosting, False Flowers, and that Bomb Carrying Gnome

My customized Metal Petal.  Just a little creepy.
My customized Metal Petal. Just a little creepy.

Update 10-8-2014:  Yet another significant DLC came out on for Garden Warfare on 9-30-2014, called “Legends of the Lawn.”  Much of what this content added to the game is integrated into the article.  I also did some editing article and added a paragraph on game-playing balance.  Thanks for reading!  (For anyone who’s visited this page before, all the previous “updates” have been moved to the bottom of this article.)

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So how do you like my creepy flower?   I’ve been having fun playing PvZ Garden Warfare after introducing it at its debut in a previous post (Garden Warfare: The game for Christians (and others) who prefer bloodless mayhem).  In that post I shared that I didn’t like third person shooters but I’d give this game a go, and so I did.  It’s an addicting game (like any good game, unfortunately), though I’m not as good at the Multiplayer Modes as my son is.

The scenery in the maps is detailed, always fun, and I simply enjoy being in these environments; quirky humor can be found throughout, like with the billboard that advertizes “El Bano Taco.”  I don’t like all maps equally when it comes to actual game play, and players will discover on their own which maps present the best or worst situations for their style of vanquishing, team play (which garden might be best for Craazy! level), etc.

Gameplay Modes

There are two basically different ways of playing Garden Warfare: Garden Ops and Multiplayer (up to 24 players using dedicated servers), and there is no story or separate solo offline gameplay.  The XBOX One version has split screen capability, but not so with the XBOX 360.  The Zomboss Down DLC added a new “mute all” button option for XBOX  One.  When the PC version came out on June 24, it contained a new map, Jewel Junction; this map was added for XBOX versions on July 1 with the Tactical Taco Party Pack DLC.  This map is used in Garden Ops and Team Vanquish.  The “Crash Course” map was added in August.

Garden Ops.  Garden Ops is played with up to four players.  When you arrive at the map you will find three gardens to choose from to defend.  Each has its advantages.  With the Suburbination added content, if a “bonus” garden comes up as an option and chosen, the players will be rewarded with loot after each wave (however, it’s gained by whoever grabs the loot–it’s not distributed).  Also added with Suburbination is a new, very detailed map called Crash Course, which can be played in day or night modes (Jewel Junction, added with the Tactical Taco Party pack, has day and night options, too).  Different waves and bosses have been added to Garden Ops with Suburbination as well, including Vase Breaker, Baron von Bats, and the Treasure Yeti.  Baron Von Bats is a difficult opponent, as he moves A LOT and he spawns strong minions.  The Treasure Yeti also moves a lot and his little freezing yeti imps devastatingly come out in groups.

Garden Ops can be played in either invite only mode or public mode (if a game ends and you remain in the list, and the host changes to invite mode, you can remain in the game unless specifically kicked off).  Either way, Garden Ops is hosted by individuals and when you start a session, as opposed to joining someone else’s session, you start alone.  You may remain alone for quite some time, so be ready to go it alone if you start yourself; if you end up finishing yourself there is a 3,000 coin Solo Bonus given.  I have no idea how their system works; when a player searches for a session, they will be added to an active session immediately–but when you start your own session you may never have anyone come on.  To me, this is a head scratcher.

The upside to starting your own session–of you being the host–is that you’re less likely to be kicked out of the game.  Yes, this is a definite problem with Garden Warfare.  I get kicked out of games frequently and have seen others have the same problem–literally all the time.

In Garden Ops, you and the other players defend a garden until the session is over, and there are four difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Craaaazy!  This game, while it looks like it could be for small kids, can be very hard.  Neither my son nor I have gotten through the Craaaazy! level yet (my son really wants to since to do so would mean getting our last Garden Warfare Achievement).  My son says that getting through the Craaaazy! level is harder than playing Dark Souls.  That’s saying something.  And for any parent letting their little kids play when a team effort is needed . . . thaaaaanks . . . (waste of the other players’ time).  Which reminds me:  you can mute other players easily enough, and this is done individually on either XBOX version–but with the XBOX One an option to “mute all” will then appear.

While I’m in a complaining mode, I have two other pet peeves when it comes to Garden Ops.  One, if you’re playing public mode then don’t toggle kick people off for no reason.  Very rude and it wastes the time of the players that just got placed on your team by the system.  Go into invite only mode.  Geesh.  Two, flowers are the medics in the game.  They get quite a lot of extra points for healing, both players and the potted plants.  There’s no reason to play in Garden Ops as a flower but then play like a Pea Shooter.  I can’t express how annoying it is to know there’s a flower on your team that aggressively tries to get all the vanquishes while at the same time she doesn’t heal anyone.  To heal, a player only has to hold the left bumper down – no problem at all – you can do it constantly during game play to easily heal anyone around with barely even thinking about it.  Besides not doing something so simple, I’ve even seen flowers get in a spot that others can’t get to easily, so that they happily heal themselves – only.  Multiplayer would be a better option for such players, though it still wouldn’t be of any benefit to the other team players.

And just one more thing (while I’m adjusting my stance on the soapbox), if this is a fun game, why are something like 75% of the players so noninteractive and boring?  Honestly, it’s so much fun when players interact with the many gestures (some quite hilarious), try to jump on and ride the cactus’ garlic drone, break all kinds of things . . . you know, fun stuff.

Multiplayer

  • Welcome Mat (Classic only).  Free-for-all on one map only, for new players.  Only basic characters with no customizations are allowed here, which is what “Classic” means when you see it elsewhere..
  • Team Vanquish (plus Classic).  Free-for-all available on various maps, including Jewel Junction that was added on July 1 (Xboxes).  Whenever a team gets 50 points the session is finished; reviving a downed player takes a point away from the other team.  All characters and customizations allowed, unless you choose to play in Classic mode.  A new variety of Team Vanquish was added on July 1, called Vanquish Confirmed.  In this game your team has to grab the orbs hovering over a dead opponent, or a team player, in order to get the point or take a point from the enemy.
  • Garden & Graveyards (plus Classic).  Fun game of garden defense vs garden takeover.  Plants try to defend a series of small gardens against the zombies, and then a large garden and building at the end.  From what I’ve seen, zombie teams win more often in this game mode and the monetary rewards can be significant.  Can be played in Classic mode.  On April 15, 2014, a free DLC added the new Cactus Canyon map, where the zombies have to get a giant golf ball in a giant hole to win the final round.  Too fun.
  • Mixed Mode.  Either a session of Team Vanquish or Gardens & Graveyards is gone through, then without having to change lobbies, another game is begun.  It may or may not be the other game, however.  Gnome Bomb has not been added to the mix, but perhaps in the future?
  • Boss Mode.  XBOX One only.  You get to be a boss, flying around doing god-like things like airstrikes, and placing healing and spotting stations.  This mode is especially effective at the Cactus Canyon golf course, where zombies are normally grouped together a lot and winning the golf course for the plants is pretty hard.
  • Gnome Bomb.  15 minute crazy-making match.  The Gnome Bomb is sought, taken, and attached in its designated place.  Then the team tries to destroy all

    Gnome Bomb, up close.
    Gnome Bomb, up close.three bases of the opposing team.
  • Suburbination.  This is a three-spot win and defend map mode, commonly referred to as “domination.”
  • Taco Bandits.  Added in September 2014, Taco Bandits is a bit like “capture the flag.”  Instead of capturing a flag, however, plants defend a taco stand while zombies try and steal three tacos (so now we know for sure who the bad guys are!) and reach their Zomboss’ ship with them.  The tacos have to be stolen separately three times within six minutes in order for the Zombies to win.

Characters and Leveling

Currently there are four base characters in each of the plants and zombies groups, and each of these base characters has seven to nine more specialized subcharacters (besides the earliest added content, a cheesy chomper and scientist are now available to everyone; and on September 30 seven or eight new subcharacters were added, depending on your console brand).  For example, instead of using the base Sunflower, you can unlock each of these: Fire Flower, Shadow Flower, Power Flower, Mystic Flower (the way mine is currently outfitted, she’s more like a Psycho Flower!), Metal Petal, Sun Pharaoh, and Alien Flower.  All plants can use potted plants as well, like the Doom Shroom and Bonk Choy, and these are made available by buying Sticker Packs.  Zombies likewise have zombie assistants they can call upon in the same way.  After the DLCs that have come out, there is actually a large number of these fun helpers available.

Each flower, just like each other character, has a different way of shooting and it may have other unique attributes.  The Fire Flower may be the best in the game since its fire damage lingers over time.  The Metal Petal has fifty percent more health (150 instead of 100) than the others, but moves more slowly.  Since it also has more ammo it is a definite contender for the best flower in the game.  The Shadow Flower is also powerful, with its plentiful and more powerful cool blue goopy ammo.  And the Psycho, er, Mystic Flower shoots completely differently – instead of being like the other flowers’ automatic “weapon,” it shoots individual rounds that are more powerful, and it can build up a hugely powerful shot as a special ability.  It’s more like a cactus, and most like the Future Cactus.  You can feel and hear the difference while shooting, just as with other “shooter” type games.  The Ice Pea even makes a “tinkling” sound whenever it shoots, while snowflakes burst around.

A player gains levels (and concurrently, Game Rank) by finishing mini-challenges, or, by using Skip Challenge Cards to make it the same as if you did the challenge.  The cards are pretty much a necessity for those players (like me) who don’t do well in multi-player modes, since some challenges relate only to those modes and are quite hard in any case.  These cards are won in the Sticker Packs.  Every time you level up, up to level 10, you get a free sticker pack that is related to that character; after level 10 you get 10,000 coins at each level-up.  Also when a base character reaches level 10, the last subcharacter becomes available to unlock.

A note on balance.  Many critics say the game play is pretty well balanced, but I think this may be deceptive.  As it stands now, the Zombies as a whole seem more powerful.  The scientist is the healer in the game, but he has more abilities and a stronger weapon than the plant’s healer (the flower).  The Zombie aids are far more damaging or difficult to deal with than the plants’ aids.  For instance, a potted plant of course just sits there, and no matter how strong its attack, it is very easily destroyed from a distance.  This is not the case with the Zombie aids.  They move and some are armored with a very high health level, making them hard and time consuming to kill.  As you might imagine, if many of these are walking around, they really detract from hitting the Zombie team.  It amazes me that the plants ever win matches at all!

Customizations

You customize your characters by using items unlocked from the Sticker Packs, which are just like trading card packs (though virtual), purchased with the coins you collect from playing (you can also purchase game coins now and buy packs that way, if desired).  Just like with trading cards, the “stickers” are rated by rarity.

One odd thing about the game is that while you can see if your sticker is common or rare at the time of your purchase, this rating doesn’t show up in the sticker book where you can see stats, stickers, etc.  Gestures, of which there are many, are unlocked this way too.  The April 15 DLC made hundreds more characterizations available.  With the Suburbination DLC, the “Amazing Bling Pack”–with its crazy diamond encrusted and gold plated and bejeweled items–became available.  Now there are even MORE customization with the Legends of the Lawn DLC, including SETS.  Yes, sets, like the Panda set I’m looking forward to for my flower.  ^_^

(A word of warning about the bling pack:  It is relatively expensive, which might be expected, but it doesn’t always have the diamond encrusted items.  If you use real cash to buy packs, you might end up disappointed.  Individually, it would cost $1.99 for one pack, and when buying the most amount of coins a player can at one time for $10, you’d be able to by six packs and have change.  Considering how many characters there are, combined with the amazing amount of customizations available [which these bling are modifications of], the chances of getting a really cool item for your favorite character is low.)

With the flowers, you can add a hat, an accessory (like glasses), an organic (different “hands”), and a “tatoo”–with flowers it’s something on their face, but with cacti, it may cover their whole body.    The image at the top of this post shows a Metal Petal with a Sun Mask (combined hat and accessory), Razor Teeth Tatoo, and Happy Hands.  Plunger Hands, Purple Crystals, and Satellite Dishes are some of the few fun hands available for the flower.  The Cactus characters have the best customizations, in my view.  The Cactus has the biggest canvas–that is, it’s body has the most space to showcase designs–and its arms are also significant and obvious.  You can really have lots of fun customizing your Cactus, like with puppet or owl arms.  We have a lot of fun with this alone in the game, and with seeing how others have “done-up” their spike-shooting eccentric cacti.

Ending Notes

Lastly, coming from a Christian blog, you might want to know if I noticed anything Christian or Anti-Christian about the game.  I have found neither,* so it seems to me that the game makers are dedicated to presenting a fun game that doesn’t seek to promote or offend any faiths or lifestyles (I suppose pacifists may find it offensive).  There ARE some funny gestures that some people may take offense at, possibly–the cactus has a hilarious one that made me laugh out loud for a while, where he swivels his “hips” and says “Oooh la la,” and there’s another he does that seems to clearly mean “kiss my a$$.”  The cactus is quite the character.

*I did find a cross, seen in the picture below, which is from the scene in the character customizations window.  Even though it’s pretty big, it’s in the far distance and I

The arrow points to a cross in the background (no, it's not the house antenna).  I inserted the chocolate bunny  as sort-of my own Easter time "easter egg."
The arrow points to a cross in the background (no, it’s not the house antenna). I inserted the chocolate bunny as sort-of my own Easter time “easter egg.”

didn’t even notice it for some time.  I think my mind just thought of it as a telephone pole, until I started editing the images.

To sum up my thoughts on the game:  FUN; cuuuuute; quirky, certainly not just for kids; Garden Ops hosting is annoying; great AI; addicting; and, . . . it’s like playing in your favorite cartoon.  As the flower sometimes says, “Ahhhh, Boogie boogie boogie, Boogie boogie boogie!

OLDER UPDATES

Update, 08/15/14:  One large DLC, Suburbination, was released a few days ago (the article has been updated to include the additions), and new characters will be available from August 19 – September 26 via a special offer.  To receive the special characters, a new chomper and a new scientist, buy specially marked Cheetos at Target within the time frame given.  The Cheetos packs will also have a code for a free Craaazy sticker pack and for entering a contest to win either a customized Xbox One, Playstation 4, or customized controller.  If you don’t like Cheetos, then more for us – watch out, Target!  [Post-update info:  the contest didn’t work out too well, since many Target stores never received the Cheetos packs; shame on Cheetos!!  In response, however, EA made the new characters available to everyone in-game.]

Update, 06/30/14:  A new dlc will be available tomorrow for the Xboxes, and on the 8th for PC.  Tactical Taco Party Pack will  add significant content, AND it makes changes to the multiplayer party joining system.

Update, 04/26/14:  Microtransactions to purchase in-game sticker packs will begin next week.  This will only make content available sooner, not offer exclusive content to buyers.

Update:  A free DLC with significant new game content came out on April 15, 2014.  This article has been updated to reflect the new content.

This post was edited on 4/13/14 and again updated, adding new DLC information, on 4/15/14 and 4/20/14.  Images below are just for fun and will be rotated occasionally.  It was again updated June30/July 1 2014 with the release of the free DLC.  This content was updated regarding the new Suburbination added content on 8/15/14; some general updating and editing were also done.

Hot Rod Chomper with Band Punk hat, High Tide mouth, Garlic Cloves organics, and Squiggles tatoo (skin).
Hot Rod Chomper with Band Punk hat, High Tide mouth, Garlic Cloves organics, and Squiggles tatoo (skin).
Camo Cactus with 1969 Decor tatoo (skin), antlers, and Exceptional Puppets.  This cactus is exceptional!
Camo Cactus with 1969 Decor tatoo (skin), antlers, and Exceptional Puppets. This cactus is exceptional!
Shadow Flower with squid hat, spy glasses, future organics, and razor teeth.
Shadow Flower with squid hat, spy glasses, future organics, and razor teeth.