986893_largerLast week, we went pretty hard with the release of Plants vs. Zombies 2 [Free]. I mean, it's easily one of the biggest games of the year, so why the heck not? Going back a bit further, we played through a demo of the game at E3 back in June, and TA Play'd the soft-launch version of the game the following month. With the full release version seemingly not very different from the soft-launch version, we put out our full 5 star review as well as what our forum members thought about the game. Finally, we chose it as our Game of the Week last week, which isn't surprising.

So, we're back with even more PvZ goodness in the form of a guide to help you get the most bang for your buck out of the game. Plants vs. Zombies 2 is a free-to-play title, but as has been the common impression from just about everybody who has actually played the game, it's easily one of the most generous free games to come along in a long time–possibly ever.

That makes this guide sort of weird as, compared to something like our Real Racing 3 Guide, there's really no solid tactic to spend less money. The IAP in the game is strictly for "cheater" type items, like a selection of special plants and power-ups that are extremely powerful and will help you out tremendously if you're in a pinch. They are entirely optional however, as the game is completely beatable with just the plants and resources you are given during normal play. In fact, I'd say that for typical Plants vs. Zombies fans it would be less fun to buy any of the cheater IAP, as it really takes away any of the challenge.

screen1136x1136

The other form of IAP is for buying coins that are used to purchase in-game power-ups or keys which will give you access to the different worlds in the game. Again, though, you earn more than enough coins and keys to just naturally buy what you need and unlock the rest of the game during normal play, almost as if the IAP didn't even exist at all.

And that's the thing. The tip for getting the most game for the least amount of money is to simply not buy any of the IAP at all. Hot tip, right?

Well, it's not that simple. Plants vs. Zombies appeals to an incredibly wide audience, from hardcore gamers to casual, so there's bound to be times during the game where you're up against a tough challenge and feel tempted to buy your way past it. One of our forum members, Appletini, has been extremely active in helping other players in our forums with questions or just outright explaining the ins and outs of the game to those skeptical of the IAP.

Is IAP Necessary to Beat the Game?

Developers like Nimblebit, who make free-to-play games with unobtrusive IAP, have learned that designing the game and beta testing it with players without IAP involved whatsoever has been the most effective way to make a game that is fully playable without ever having to purchase anything extra. Once the game has been tuned through a beta test period, then you can add some options for IAP in order for people to fast-track their way through if they want but the rest of the game remains open to anyone who wants to experience it in its entirety.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 is very similar in that it's clearly been designed without taking into account the premium IAP plants or with having to purchase coins or keys just to progress through the game. In our forums, Appletini does a great job explaining exactly how the game has been tuned, based on her experience playing through the game:

  • "Each of the levels has been specifically designed so that you can complete it using only the fixed items/plants (if any) given to you in those levels, in addition to any plants you've gained access during the course of normal play; no level requires you to buy anything in order to pass it, IAP or otherwise."

screen1136x1136-1

Who Needs IAP Anyway?

In that same post, Appletini goes on to explain who the IAP is geared towards and which types of gamers are likely to buy (or not buy) anything in the game. Paraphrasing that information a bit, here's how it breaks down:

  • PvZ Veterans - You will not need the IAP, nor are you likely to need to use the powerups either (to be clear, the IAP currency is also earned in-game, and is only used to buy the one-shot power-ups; not plants, upgrades, items, or levels). These players may choose to buy the optional IAP plants/upgrades if they want them.
  • Average PvZ Players - You will also not need the IAP, although you might need to use a power-up now and again (although not nearly enough to warrant buying coins). You may also choose the optional IAP items simply because you want them.
  • Struggling PvZ Players - Those who choose to repeatedly brute-force levels using power-ups instead of skilled play might look to the IAP if they're spending money faster than they're making it in-game, but that's entirely their choice, and PvZ 2 definitely isn't designed or balanced around that concept/playstyle largely because it defeats the whole purpose of the game. Once again, these player may choose the optional IAP plants/upgrades, but those won't substitute for player skill.

Taking the "Grind" Out of the Grind

screen1024x1024Another big fear with a free-to-play game is a forced grind, where the game basically makes you earn a certain amount of the in-game currency in order to progress, and you'll have to get it either buy ponying up some dough for IAP or replaying levels you've already beaten to "grind" out enough to continue on. Replaying the same levels over and over can get pretty dull, but Plants vs. Zombies 2 does something very clever to encourage replaying previous levels. Once again, Appletini is here to explain:

  • Once you've completed the main path through a world, each of those core levels opens into a three-star system, with each star requiring you meet a different fixed challenge. Each level usually has a specific theme or concept attached to it that each of the challenges plays off, e.g. many of a specific type of enemy, or training you to use a certain plant more effectively. There are a lot of different levels, and you're not restricted to a specific route or order once you've cleared the main path, so you're free to move to another challenge if the one you're attempting is repeatedly kicking you in the Dandenongs.
  • For example, you might technically play one level three times to get all three of its stars, but the first time around you are limited to spending a certain amount of sun, the next time you can't plant in certain spots on the playfield, and the last time you can't let zombies cross over a column of flowers or lose more than three plants. In all three cases the required goals, zombie waves and playfield objects/obstacles will be different, so it doesn't feel like you're just playing the exact same level over and over.
  • There are also many minor paths that lead off from the central one that have even stronger themed challenges and provide new plants and upgrades. These paths require keys to unlock, which drop randomly from zombies through normal play. Some of the levels are also new "minigames", and there are also a number of more puzzlish levels that give you a set roster of plants to use, or provide a set amount of sun and basically require you to set up your entire defense based on the upcoming zombies you can see in the holding area before the round even starts.
  • The consumable IAP coins are also earned in-game, and are only used for single-shot last-ditch-escape powerups in the stages, not plants, upgrades or level unlocks, so anybody telling you that you need to "grind" for that currency is talking nonsense. Unless you're embarrassing yourself by trying to brute-force your way through the levels via powerups alone, you won't run out of cash, because that's all you can spend it on.

Coins and Keys Explained

The two big "currencies" in the game, for lack of a better term, are keys and coins. Keys allow you to unlock alternate paths and levels in each map, and are dropped randomly during the normal course of play. Since it's random I've heard people complaining that they didn't get enough keys the first time through a set of levels and had to replay some levels until they eventually got enough, and I've heard even more people say they had way too many keys and easily unlocked every alternate path along the way. Because the key drops are random your experience with how many you receive naturally will vary, but the important thing is that it will never be required that you buy keys in the game.

That leaves coins, the currency that drops while playing a level or bought in packs of IAP, which can be used for a couple of different things.

  • Plant Food - This gives the plant of your choosing a quick burst of extreme power. You'll initially start with 3 slots for Plant Food, meaning you can hold a maximum of 3 during a level, but as you play you'll unlock a 4th slot with a 5th slot available solely as an IAP, if you really need it. Chances are though that the 5 slots you'll end up with through normal play will be more than enough. The Plant Food is dropped by the glowing green zombies, or you can pay 1000 coins to fill one slot up. Again, this is never required to do, and more than anything is like a last-ditch type of thing if you're struggling during a level.
  • Power Ups - There are 3 kinds of power-ups in the game. One allows you to "pinch" the heads off zombies with your fingers, instantly killing them. Then there's a power-up that lets you lift zombies right up off the map and fling them away using your finger, again instantly disposing of them. Finally, there's a lightning power-up which lets you tap and hold on a zombie to start a chain reaction of deadly lightning which you can then drag and connect to even more approaching enemies. All 3 power-ups are very cool, and very fun to use but they're also extremely overpowered. Again, using them is almost like "cheating" in a way, and is never required. Each of the 3 power-ups costs a set amount of coins to use should you decide to.

Items Only Available as IAP

While the coins and keys are the consumables in the game, and for the most part are doled out sufficently during the normal course of play and are never required to progress, there are a selection of items in Plants vs. Zombies 2 which are only available with real money through the in-game store. This includes 6 plant types and a handful of different kinds of upgrades that give you an upper hand should you need it.

You can see the 6 plants that are available only as IAP in the following screen, along with their current prices:

iapplants

Substituting for Your Favorite Plants

If you're miffed that your favorite plant from the original Plants vs. Zombies is locked up as an IAP-only plant, Appletini has some great tips on replicating those same behaviors using the freely available types of plants that you'll come across in the game:

  • Torchwood - Torchwood does nothing but double the damage done by the peas that pass over him, so you can cover his role with any other damage-dealing plant, most notably the new Pea Pod, who can be repeatedly re-planted to stack up to five times in one space.
  • Snowpea - Snowpea's slowing ability is covered by the Iceberg Lettuce and Winter Melon (which is like an AoE Snowpea), the Chili Bean, and powered-up Wall-nuts and Tall-nuts. Using plant food on an Iceberg Lettuce or Winter Melon also completely freezes every zombie on the screen in place for a short time.

The other IAP-only items, as mentioned, are special upgrades which give you a leg up in certain areas of the game. This is the part of the in-game store which I feel is incredibly unnecessary to buy, as the prices feel pretty out of whack for what you actually get. You can see all the current purchasable upgrades in the following screen:

iappowerups

Just to break it down further, again thanks to help from Appletini, the Shovel Bonus gives you a bit of extra Sun back when you shovel a plant out of your grid, but you're already getting 50% of it back anyway, so this just barely gives you much more for something that you're probably not doing a whole lot during the game. At least I hardly ever remove plants. The Plant Food bonus gives you an extra slot for Plant Food, but as mentioned above you'll unlock more than enough of those just by playing, so this extra one seems really unnecessary. The Sun Bonus starts you off with 25 Sun in your bank right off the bat, but that's literally just one extra orb of Sun and really, really seems not that helpful. Finally the Bonus Seed Slot gives you one additional slot for a plant to choose prior to starting a level, for a total of 8, and I really doubt that anyone will gain a whole lot from that one extra plant type. I struggle just to use 5 or 6 different types myself.

Conclusion

It may have seemed like an impossible dream, but I think that PopCap and EA have really nailed the free-to-play model with Plants vs. Zombies 2. It's been proven that the entire game is beatable just using what the game naturally gives you and some skill, and if you have your heart set on a specific plant that's IAP-only you could do a lot worse than float a few bucks PopCap's way by buying a premium plant just for fun. But, you're not obligated to at all. Coins and keys are earned in abundance, and you'll only really need to buy IAP packs of coins if you're hammering away at your Plant Food or Power Ups trying to brut force your way through a level. If you are struggling at times, try some different strategies or hit up our forums for some advice on how to get past the hump before you go willy nilly with the in-app purchases. Finally, the "Upgrades" available as IAP seem just egregiously unnecessary, and I can't think of any reason to buy any of them.

  • ste86uk

    I keep seeing all the complaining in reviews about the IAP but like you've said here its not needed at all.

    I'm on the 3rd world haven't spent anything or used any coins yet, it feels like cheating...plus I'm a grinch.

    • swarmster

      Well, the availablity of IAP is very subversive to pure gameplay. I mean, just look at this article, which isn't about how to play the game to defeat zombies, but how to play the game to spend less real-world money. Is that the main drive you want behind your game?

      But the other thing that's been on my mind lately is, if the IAP is unnecessary to 'competent' or non-cheat gamers, then people like you and me are no longer the target market for the game. And who is? I'm not actually sure...super casual players? People who aren't as good at games? Is that a helpful or healthy direction for the industry? Is it a direction we should be comfortable or happy with? I honestly don't know.

      • greatnoob

        Exactly what I was wondering! Guides are there to help you progress through levels within a game NOT to show you how to spend your money on a game!

      • Brandon Rinebold

        I'm pretty happy with the PVZ2 IAPs. Honestly, I think they make the game easier but in a worse way. For people who aren't looking for the same level of challenge, I guess the IAPs might allow them to throw a few dollars at something frustrating them to make it go away. I really don't think having that option I'll never take advantage of *hurts* me in a single player game. As long as your game is single player and balanced around challenge instead of grinding or RNG, IAPs to reduce the difficulty level are acceptable to me.

        There are plenty of bad IAP models out there: cash to avoid grinding until your fingers bleed or pay-to-win competitive games but I think PVZ has one of the least intrusive IAP models behind pay for cosmetics games.

  • Eseres

    Why should you need to buy anything in this game at all? In PvZ2 you got the plant food, and thats really more than enough help, as far as i see it. On top of that, IF you are careful with WHEN you use power-ups, you'll do just fine. All you got to do is to simply play the game, collect those coins and plant foods and thats all.

    But on the other hand, since PvZ2 is free, i did buy every plant in the game just to support the devs on this one. After all, they did bring us a great game at the cost of absolutely NOTHING at all. And if the devs don't get any money to buy themself their daily meal, they might die and turn into zombies. Then all hopes for a PvZ3 will be forever gone... So be nice to the guys and buy a plant :) Just one :)

    • Samurix16

      I helped the cause and bought a plant

    • SEVEN341

      That's a great idea! I'm buying me some plants and coins in support of popcap! In thanks of making the game beatable without IAPs. Kinda ironic I know

    • BobGarrish

      Same here. Got a bit into the game, was really impressed, so I bought a few pieces of IAP.

    • hkiphone

      Ditto. The first few rounds in the 1st world were so dry and the music so bland I almost deleted the game. But once into the 2nd world, things revved up. Really love the multiple scenarios to keep things fresh, and thus parted real money to buy afew bundles and considering the snow pea too. Just because it looks nice :)
      Great game and worthy of some cash to support Popcap for making such a good game and taking a brave decision.

    • rewyan

      I'm going to buy a plant if the future levels are free. If they aren't, then I'm not going to spend a dime. Actually, I'll p

  • hemmojock

    I finished the game over a week ago, easy. Well, it was challenging but i had fun, no reason to spend unless you are a kid or newbie gamer. I would consider a purchase for support but its PVZ, theyre ok

    • mclifford82

      And they're ok because of people not like you.

  • Rirath

    "You'll initially start with 3 slots for Plant Food, meaning you can use it maximum of 3 times in a level,"

    Just to note, this is incorrect. Having three slots only means that you can store a maximum of three plant foods at a time, not that you can only USE a maximum of three per level.

    As an example, I frequently collect enough to fill all three slots, and then when a new plant food drops (from a glowing green zombie), I quickly spend one to free up a slot to grab the new drop.

    (and as a side note, plant food doesn't carry over level to level.)

    • Jake7905

      Caught that myself, it seems they combined (or confused) their description of the plant food slots with the slots for the plant seeds (the plants themselves).

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      Oops yeah I fumbled that, thanks for the correction.

    • dancj

      Plant food does carry over from level to level in the big endless-esque bit at the end of each time zone. Actually for those bits I'd argue that the game might be a bit easier if you have fewer plant food slots available, because when your plant food slots are full from the previous level (which is easier when you have fewer slots to fill) then it seems to always offer you loads of extra sun as one of the cards you can pick - and that is a REALLY big help.

  • wfsm

    Any guide for the special Chinese edition? As a PvZ veteran, I play it in pain and want to delete it due to the special IAP system, difficulty and five times disk space than the international edition.

  • Jake7905

    Since PvZ2 is balanced to be won without requiring IAP, the most wasteful thing to spend real money on is more coins (a.k.a consumable IAP). They're easily won through normal gameplay, without grinding.

    I also wouldn't waste a dollar paying to unlock either type of gate (star or key). Both are easily unlocked, again, through normal gameplay, without grinding. If you pay real money for these, you're essentially paying-not-to-play.

    The only two things that are truly locked behind a paywall are the extra perks and extra plants. While the extra perks would make the game slightly easier, not one of them will make up for a lack of skill, all are overpriced, and none are required or missed.

    And though I could say the exact same thing about the extra plants, if you're going to spend any real money on PvZ2, buying an IAP plant is probably the best choice. It's the only IAP that qualifies as extra content, and not some kind of in-game cheat.

  • ImJPaul

    There has been an abundance of appletini on the main page as of late. He must be flattered.

    • Jake7905

      I'm sure she is.

  • LM009

    It's not that it's that hard to beat w/o IAP but the game was much more wonderful and complete without it. I'd much pay a flat rate instead the IAP stuff. I mean to unlock Wild West I had to spend 30 stars on top of 15 stars to unlock Pirates and it just gets tedious to do so and not fun at all since the challenges are the same(less than x sun, don't plant on mold, never plant more than x, etc etc) You are merely going through the same dull monotonous motions.

  • SEVEN341

    Yup, totally agree! This time it seems popcap had EA reigned in pretty well. I'm 3/4 through the game and it appears totally beatable without IAPs. I am guilty of buying some though. One of those extra star levels needed me to produce 2500? Sun or something along those lines. I got the other two criteria met like three times and just missed the sun requirements each time. Ha ha! So I caved and dropped some plant food on my sunflowers. Big tip by the way. Plant food plus twin sunflowers equals a ton of sun! In any case I'm very satisfied and it was well worth the wait. I love the small size of the app for what you're getting but there's just something that makes it feel less detailed, darker, low res, or something. But that's all just superficial. It plays great

  • RelientKSoCal

    I beat all of the normal "story" levels pretty easily, no IAPs at all. I will admit, initially I was in the "I'd rather pay a premium price" crowd for this game, but it is still thoroughly enjoyable in its' freemium form. Also it's currently #19 on the top grossing games list in the App Store, so clearly this model has paid off (pun intended) for Pop Cap and EA.

  • araczynski

    wow, that's a wall of text if i've ever seen one around here.

    • PallaZ

      I caught myself reading the entire text. Man those ways to work could be very long.

  • Paumask

    I'm about to unlock the last world and I never bought coins, power-ups, keys, plants, anything. It's like cheating to me, and honestly it's not that hard to progress through the game without spending money (real and game-money). They made a good IAP method, so the player doesn't necessarily have to pay

  • FastPaolo

    Come on...it's a F2P game....they made this choice and then they deserve the judgement of the players that can be good or bad!
    Why a "guide" for it, they don't need a "defender"?
    ...and for the other anyway-well-done F2P apps, nothing for them?

  • http://www.nafna.com/ nadav bar kama

    cant understand this new trend ... a game like this costs tons to develop ... you get it for free and complain.

    • fleshman

      That's not a free game, it's a freemium game, not the same.
      It's like having a girlfriend who only have sex with you when you pay for her.

      • ijustmightbecrazy

        More accurately, this is like having a girlfriend you can have sex with, but if you want anything other than missionary you have to pay.

  • RexRox

    "but the important thing is that it will never be required that you buy keys in the game."
    Really?...
    I've just had to replay every single level in Egypt for the better part
    of 10 hours (over a few days) to get one last key to unlock Pirate.
    Now
    in Pirate I've completed every major star to the Cowboy gate & have
    started on all the new stars that have appeared and I HAVE NOT RECEIVED
    ONE KEY!!!!!
    Someone please explain how I can proceed through any of the sub-gates or main gate when the game has given me zero keys?

  • Flare_TM

    This game is too easy, want the winning tactic? (No IAP needed)

    Place double sunflower, place mine for 1st zombie, place 2nd double
    sunflower, place 2nd mine for 2nd zombie, use the freeze plant to delay
    zombies while your 2 double sunflowers rack up loads of sun, use the
    corn/butter throwing plant to slow zombies then use the other 2 plant slots for whatever you like...
    ...unbeatable, but boring.

    • dancj

      I'm not using the catapults so much, but other than that, that's pretty much exactly the tactic I'm using. The first couple of plant foods I get also go on the double sunflowers - and then after that I'm using them on the walnuts.

  • HisDivineOrder

    Can't help thinking that your definition of, "I think that PopCap and EA have really nailed the free-to-play model" is going to be different from EA's who will have beancounters that decide they haven't really nailed it because they aren't raking in money hand over fist. They'll look at numbers of users, grow greedy in their shriveled hearts, and begin making small changes to "encourage" free users to become paid users.

    Look at TOR. Same beancounters. It's a good idea to get some good press out at first, but in time... once the reviews are in and no one's really watching except users, that's when the real changes usually begin...

  • http://kevinmurphy.wordpress.com murph

    $4 for 25 extra sun? OMG people are so dumb.

  • rewyan

    I'm extremely good at PvZ, and of course I ran right through this game as well. It's actually more challenging than the first, but still too easy.

    Anyway, I have 76,000 coins and nothing that I need to spend them on, Zen Garden please?! I also have about 18 spare pyramid keys, and nothing to do with them. I hope the upcoming content solves this, and I will finally have stuff to spend my money on.

  • ckoerner

    I love PopCap and had fun playing (and paying for) the first PvZ. I'm befuddled that companies can release a game such as PvZ which is entirely playable without spending a single cent. Do they really make that much off the people who buy items with real money to off-set the scrooges like me? I hope this isn't some sort of 'bubble' that will put the good folks at PopCap out of business.

  • http://www.friv250.friv200.com/ friv250

    plants vs zombies 2

  • Timbre Thompson

    I am on th redoing of the levels where it reqiures earnibg enough points.... I dont know how points work.... It seems like im not getting enough zombies.. HELP

  • Guest

    Jared, please avoid using acronyms whose meanings have not previously specified in the text with a parenthetical explanation, i.e., IAP (in-app purchase) and AoE, whatever that might mean. Thanks!

  • Grammarian

    Jared, please avoid using acronyms whose meanings have not been previously specified in the text with a parenthetical explanation, i.e., IAP (in-app purchase) and AoE, whatever that might mean. Thanks!

  • erwinanciano

    Pfft too much love for pvz2's freemium model, but that's a load of baloney. Sure, it's finish able without the "premium" stuff, but in the original game we got ALL of that stuff for just I forget, $5?

    To get everything in pvz2 you need to spend upwards of $30. That's just pure greed, and really not cool.

    And to those who say, "you don't need them!" We'll guess what? I WANT them! The fun of pvz is to have a vast menagerie of plants to mix and match to tackle the levels. Enticing me with these plants in my face and yet telling me to fork over $30 for them is just plain sadistic, like a hot naked sexy lady dancing in front of you while you're chained to the wall in a straight jacket. It's inhuman.

    Big boo for freemium, and I don't understand all you apologists. I feel cheated because I didn't get "the full experience" and I need to spend $30 if I want it. Ugh.

    • Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

      You are too bitter, perhaps you have something sticking up there on your nether regions.

  • Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

    I am currently playing it on Android, though it is only available in Chinese (the whole game is in Mandarin lol) language so without guides I would totally be in the blind, so now I'm through like 50% of the game without having spent anything, so far so good!

  • dandirk

    Personally I think it is just inexcusable to have game content not available through some in-game earning system.

    Make everything purchase-able with coins and then allow coins to be purchased. Boom problem solved. You can earn everything eventually if you want or you can buy them easy.

    What I think is telling... the cost of all the plants/upgrades is ~$30. IAP is purely designed to not provide a good product for a good price but just to separate people from their cash in a way EA hopes they don't notice or can't do math. There is a difference.

    This type of game is not really worth that amount. Maybe half, though that is opinion. At $15, I would have bought it.

  • Pavel Drotár

    the task is for you to PRODUCE (via sunflowers only) at least XXXX sun.

    So, when you plant your first sunflower, after a few seconds it drops 25 sun and then another 25 every 15 seconds or so. A double sunflower drops 50 after a while, and then another 50 every 15 seconds or so.

    This is the PRODUCTION that counts, nothing else (picking the sun falling from sky does not count).

    Almost in all such levels, I needed to give my sunflowers at least 1 plant food to quickly get extra production (150 for normal sunflower and 300 for doublesunflower, I believe) -- this helps tremendously. In theory, if your objective is 3000 sun production, and you have 10.000 coins, you can simply buy 10 plant food and and feed it to your double sunflowers - and you're done.

  • Kiran

    Like Eseres, I feel a certain obligation to buy something from the producers of such a great game. I paid for the PC game when it came out years ago, and it somehow feels wrong not to pay for the iPhone game. Besides, buying extras might discourage intrusive adverts!

    For me, it's also a question of meeting new challenges. Having completed all four worlds and unlocked everything, I am trying to see how far I can get in the unlimited zone. I lost my first lawnmower at Level 38, and at Level 41 I find myself using power-ups and upgrades each time. I have today bought the jalapeno pepper and an extra seed slot, so that I can use the pepper to damage/destroy large numbers of zombies while the cherry bomb is recharging.
    Hoping to reach Level 50!

  • Kiran

    The chili bean isn't as much fun!