Plants vs. Zombies was wildly successful in large part due to its accessibility: The strategy game was easy to understand, and had an irreverent sense of charm. You may have been fighting off waves of the undead, but it was funny. The upcoming Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare attempts to take this same mentality and apply it to a third-person shooter. This time around, it's a gritty action game filled with irreverent charm. And Popcap Games is hoping this sense of humor — not to mention streamlined controls and gameplay — will make Garden Warfare just as accessible as the original.

According to producer Brian Lindley, the key to luring in players who might not usually pick up a shooter is the plants themselves. "The challenge is really the characters, and getting those right," he told The Verge, "because that's where a lot of the humor emanates from." The development team at Popcap spent a lot of time iterating the character designs, from animation to sound effects, "so that they have that charm that you would expect from a Plants vs. Zombies character." And during a hands-off demo at E3, that charm was on full display. After letting loose on waves of zombies, for instance, a happy little sunflower turned to smile at the camera.

A happy little sunflower turned to smile at the camera

But cheeky charm can only go so far. While goofy zombies and cheerful plants might lure in fans of the original PvZ, Garden Warfare is still a third-person shooter, and one with added strategy elements to seemingly increase the complexity. During the section we saw, you’re defending a home base from groups of zombies by utilizing different kinds of plants with different abilities, just as in the original. But you could also take control of those plants (who, for some reason, can walk around) in order to more directly manage their offensive capabilities. And each plant, of course, has different skills, from the healing sunflowers to the garlic clove drones, which can call in popcorn airstrikes.

There seems to be a lot going on, but Lindley says things have been simplified to make the game more approachable. And again, it comes down to the characters. "I think we've tried to boil each character down to the things that they need to do and their role, with the most simplistic controls possible," he says. "So players don't have a huge hump to get over when they're getting introduced to the game."

Unfortunately, it'll be some time before we find out just how true this turns out to be: Garden Warfare isn't slated to launch until next spring, when it will debut on the Xbox One and 360. In the meantime, Popcap has been extending the franchise through a Facebook spin-off and an upcoming sequel on iOS. And if Garden Warfare is successful when it finally launches, we'll likely see a few more plant-themed shooters as well. "If we launch this thing strongly and it does well," says Lindley, "you'll probably see the continuation of Garden Warfare in the future."