The console beta for Popcap’s Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is live this weekend, giving players a tiny taste of the new maps and modes in next month’s shooter sequel. My favorite part so far? The free-roaming playground that’s replaced the first game’s menus.

The original Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is pretty great. Popcap spent more than a year supplying the budget-priced game with free new content, and its (generally younger) fanbase really seem to dig it. I liked it so much I glued the case to my ceiling over a spider that may or may not be completely dead.

For all of its bells and whistles and corpses and plants, Garden Warfare is sorely lacking in the presentation department. The bits of the game that weren’t actual matches are simply a series of boring menus and places to buy in-game currency to trade for stickers.

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Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 completely makes up for those boring screens with a feature called the Backyard Battleground.

The Backyard Battleground is a free-roaming hub map, packed with all of the bits that used to be stuck in boring menus and much more. It’s split into three parts—zombie side, plants side and a no man’s land in the middle

In the safe zones players can wander about, accessing various machines in order to swap out their character, change sides, purchase stickers, join online games or set up split-screen multiplayer—all of the game is playable offline with friends this time around.

The middle area is a battleground where players can battle against AI enemies (or potentially their friends). In the center of no man’s land is a flagpole that players can raise to launch a game of King of the Hill against AI enemies.

In between rounds of the original game there wasn’t much to do other than dress up your characters and unlock sticker packs. Garden Warfare 2 gives players a tiny little world to explore. That’s lovely. I’m much more inclined to stick around after a bad match when I’ve got someplace to blow off steam.

So far the multiplayer matches I’ve played have pretty much all been the same, which makes sense as there are limited game modes to engage in each day of the beta. Today’s was zombie-side defense on the moon, in which you’re the only adult in a team of 10 to 13-year-olds with hot microphones. You might hear them in the video.

I’ll probably turn off chat once the full game arrives on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC on February 23. In fact I’ll probably spend more time offline playing splitscreen with my wife, a fan of the original defense game that desperately wants to play this but can’t stand other people.

Contact the author at fahey@kotaku.com or follow him on Twitter at @bunnyspatial