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How the Dark Ages could have been saved

Tecku August 14, 2014 User blog:Tecku

A week or two ago, I posted a rant about how awful the second half of the Dark Ages was. And.... yeah, I stand by my opinion. But recently, PopCap/EA ran a survey about Dark Ages opinions. That makes me think that maybe there is some hope for change. Or at the very least, hope that the developers will learn from their mistakes. That's why this blog post is dedicated to how the Dark Ages could have been great.

Problem 1: The Wizard Zombie

What's Wrong With It:

The Wizard Zombie is unfun to play against. The sheep cannot be dug up, leaving no room to put in new plants. And even if you can put in new plants, he'll turn them into sheep in the pause before the plant starts to fire. Furthermore, since he has long range with his spells, nothing is safe. In other words, nothing is reliable against him. Walls, spike plants, close range plants, heavy hitters, it's all useless. Heck, even instants aren't that great. The only instant (not counting Squash) garunteed to work without being turned to a sheep is Cherry Bomb. One plant is not enough to qualify for a defense.

But what really does it for me is how good of a supporter Wizard Zombie is. Jesters will deal with most projectile plants, while Knight Zombies deal with close range plants. Coupled with how great Wizard Zombie deal with walls..... yeah.

How To Fix It:

The simplist solution is the best: give players a plant that can counteract the spells, and let the plants be dug up. I'm just going to give you one of the countless options.

Let's suppose instead of turning the players to sheep, the Wizard Zombie forces them to sleep. The sleeping plants can be dug up, and they keep their form, so you can remember which plants are which. Spells do not work against walling plants, but can hit plants behind them, making the Wizard Zombie still a good support, but not eliminating all forms of defense. Better yet, the players get a new plant: the Coffee Bean. Instead of waking up mushroom plants, it can wake up sleeping plants.

This idea works because you kill two birds with one stone: the Wizards are less annoying, and you have another much needed plant for the second half. It doesn't have to be sleeping plants and Coffee Beans, but you have a lot of options. We're talking about magic here: get creative!

Problem 2: The Jester Zombie

What's Wrong With It:

It counters too many plants. No, really, that's the whole problem with it. It can throw back any projectile, which not only eliminates almost your entire arsenal, but it outright punishes you for using them. I understand why the developers did it: to enforce the usefulness of the Fume-shroom. But Fume-shroom is already an a great AOF plant that can shoot through graves: we don't need it to be any better. As it stands, no plant that costs more than 250 sun works against the Jester Zombie. In other words, we have NO heavy hitter plants. Forget that.

How To Fix It:

Make it a reskin of the Hammer Zombie. For those who don't know, the Hammer Zombie is from the Chinese version of PvZ2. It's the original zombie the Jester was based off of, except:

- It only destroys lobbed projectiles, it does not send them back

- Coconut Cannons can hit it without any resistance

- Its spin lasts a short while, then has a cooldown before it can be used again

This gives us heavy hitters we can use (Winter Melon, Coconut Cannon and perhaps maybe even Citron), and the cooldown lets us use other plants if we have good walling plants to block the returned shots. Heck, this will make players want to use Pea-nut more. Don't you want to make money?

Problem 3: The King Zombie

What's Wrong With It:

The King Zombie has a bad habit of creating entire Knight Zombie armies, and keeping them alive by replacing helms when they get knocked off. His granting ability has infinite range, and high frequency. Not counting Hypno-shroom, the only plant the benefits from tougher zombies is Sun Bean, and all the sun in the galaxy can't save you from the zombie that keeps getting another helm...... and another helm....... and another helm........

How are we supposed to stop it? Magnet-shroom? The helms will be replaced faster than they can be taken. Kill the King Zombie? He hangs out at the very back, and crushes spike plants when he lands. Coupled with Wizard Zombies and Jester Zombies covering his fat butt, you're hosed.

How To Fix It:

Give his granting ablility limited range (adjacent tile), and a much slower recharge. To balance it out, the Page Zombie he crushed could heave his lazy rear and his throne slowly forward, and munch on plants in front of him. This drags him into the line of fire, and makes him the center of a push instead of an untouchable rage inducer.

Also, DON'T MAKE HIM HACK, COUGH, AND WHEEZE WHILE I'M TRYING TO CHOOSE MY PLANTS! IT'S DISGUSTING, ANNOYING AND POINTLESS! Was there really someone clamoring for this guy to make bodily noises while the player is trying to make descisions? It's bad enough that the Jester Zombie distractingly hops about during these moments like he's having a seizure, but this?!? For land's sakes, guys, wisen up!

Problem 4: The Potion Levels

What's Wrong With It:

We can't plant on the potions. The plants can't destroy the potions. The second level has a segment where rising gravestones in the fifth column wrecks half your defense, then spawns a huge wave of necromancy zombies, including Jester Zombies and Wizard Zombies. It's a mess. It's an annoying, un-fun, rage-inducing, poorly-planned mess.

How To Fix It:

Instead of a bunch of vials, how about a few, select cauldrons of potion? The cauldron has multiple uses, but can be destroyed like graves (Grave Buster doesn't work, though). Also, the cauldron can only appear in the rightmost three columns. Furthermore, if there are already plants on the tiles, you don't push them off, you summon the graves further to the right. You only push plants off if there are too many plants, like the first game.


So that sums up Dark Ages's problems. What did we learn? Balancing isn't just about how the zombies affect the plants and vice versa. It's also about how zombies affect other zombies on the field. When zombies can counter another zombie's counter, it leaves the player without options. Don't misunderstand, zombies that can resist a counter are fine, but there must always be at least one combination of plants that covers all the bases.

If anyone from PopCap can read this: I love you guys. Even this level is better than many mobile games, but that doesn't mean I'll settle for mediocre work. Not me, not anyone else. But that's also because I believe you guys can do better. I sincerely believe that this level could have been saved. but what's more, I'm still eager for your next world. Good luck. 

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