Dropping the of War from the game’s title is indicative that the series starts to take on a new direction with Gears 5. The biggest change upends what you think these games can be, and that’s by making the environments larger and basically open-world hubs. They still lead to corridor-laden missions, but the overall feel is impressive and provides scale to the world, all the way down to the combat encounters. There’s a big budget movie feel here, and a lot of the cutscenes and moment-to-moment action make you wish you had popcorn at your side. Gears 5 is bigger, better, and more badass than ever.
Gears of War 4 was a reboot for the franchise, and it quickly became one of my favorite entries in the series. The story was a bit contrived, and the Swarm is a less cool name than the Locust, but everything else was so well done. There’s an incredible vehicle sequence, weather effects have visual spectacle and gameplay changes, the new characters were interesting, especially when interacting with the older characters, and boss fights that felt like you always had a chance. It was a game that told a story from J.D.’s perspective, but had Kait’s story running as the undercurrent. Now Kait’s story for Gears 5 is the lifeblood, and the thing you’re most interested in seeing develop, especially where things left off at the end of Gears of War 4.
The Coalition goes above and beyond to make sure that new players are brought up to speed. There’s a Boot Camp that’ll teach you everything you need to know in terms of gameplay. Veterans of the series will find little new here if they’ve been keeping up. Haven’t played the series yet? There’s a video that’ll catch you up by recapping the first four games. Now, if you either you played Gears of War 4 but forgot what happened or just never got around to it, there’s a specific refresher video for that purpose. The main things to know is that it’s 25 years since Gears of War 3. The Locust are back, but in a different way, now known as the Swarm. James Dominic “J.D.” Fenix, Kait Diaz, and Delmont “Del” Walker are the new Delta Squad, and Marcus Fenix, Damon Baird, and Cole are back from the old crew. And it seems that things are about to get a lot worse before they get better.
Sera is an incredibly beautiful planet, and The Coalition spares no expense to show that to you, and finally let you bask in it. The planet has reveled in the destroyed beauty for all of the life-cycle of the Xbox 360, but when it came to Xbox One and PC, Gears of War 4 changed that. Because for most of Gears of War 4, I kept thinking that it had amazing environments begging to be explored, but still followed the prior trilogy’s linear and tight, corridor-like spaces — Gears 5 has no such restriction. The levels in Gears of War 4 were vibrant, lush, and showed a world rebuilt. Gears 5 takes these splashes of color and vibrancy, and blasts these images into your eyeballs from moment one with a tropical beach-side town unlike anything you’ve seen in this series before. The places you go showcase different biomes, putting Sera on wonderful display. Indoor areas are so iconic, like the big, thick, heavy doors, the ornate decorations, and the technology. It’s all really fascinating, and you’re finally allowed to be a part of these places without being shuffled into the next fight so quickly. Sera has a history, and through lore via collectibles, you’ll begin to learn more about this world that was first revealed to us over a decade ago.
Mildly correcting an issue with Gears of War 4, is increasing the coop from 2-players to 3-players. While there were storyline reasons in the prior game that two players made sense, the series was known for its 4-player story coop. Though, the third person in coop plays a hovering robot, which serves as the game’s support character. So someone who doesn’t play shooters can feel a part of the action without too much demand. Though, anyone else will just feel left out of the action.
The Coalition has described the game as having five ways to play: Campaign, Horde, Versus, Escape, and the Map Builder (which is complimentary to Escape). These modes offer something for everyone, and give Gears 5 tremendous value.
The game starts off by being the Gears of War you know, and it does so by setting your expectations accordingly. Characters walk slowly while investigating things, combat ensues in narrow passageways and end with that very familiar stinger (link) sound effect. Then by Act II, the game really opens up, by presenting you with Primary Missions and optional Secondary Missions. This is free-roam, open-world in the way Uncharted 4 was in spots, which is to say that this isn’t The Witcher 3. There will be places where there’s no combat, and you’re just exploring a settlement, like you would in The Division 2. The dialogue of civilians is both impressive and expansive. The campaign does end a bit abruptly, leaving you clamoring for more, or at least closure. It definitely feels like the middle of a three-part story arc. That said, I can’t wait for what’s next
There’s a lot of changes to Gears 5 when it comes to gameplay, but there’s some other changes of note. There’s only four acts, instead of five. Which, this gives the impression that the game is short, but it isn’t. In fact, this is the longest Gears game yet, clocking in around 12 hours with doing all of the side content available. At no point did I ever feel like the game was overstaying its welcome. The next change, is more of a personal gripe: the game still features four difficulties, but has again changed the name of one of them. Hardcore is now Experienced, with the final one still being Insane. Lastly, your robotic companion Jack, has upgrades earned through secondary objectives and discovery. This offers a means to provide character progression. Now, it doesn’t make sense to apply an skill tree to characters you already know or play as, but it does for Jack. And in that, allows you to customize how you want to use him in combat to suit your playstyle. I found that the AI is less likely to revive you this time around, so building Jack up can help your survivability throughout.
The Gears 5 story goes places you think it wouldn’t, and explores some wild new ideas that is best experienced for yourself. It’s also a game that’s very entrenched in its own history dating back to the Pendulum Wars. Bits and pieces continue to be revealed, such as the UIR, the opposing faction to the COG. This is my favorite campaign in the entire series. You’ll laugh, cry, and be involved in these character’s lives in an intimate way.
In what is probably the best version of horde mode yet, Gears 5 improves once more. The core is the same, you and a group of friends or strangers work to survive up to 50 waves of ever-increasing enemies for bragging rights. There’s six characters, each with their own class. This includes the introduction of the robot Jack, who is also playable here like in the campaign. Not only are there classes for specific roles, but each character now has an ultimate that can be activated to help defense or offense when dealing with the tougher baddies.
New to Horde mode is the inclusion of bots that fill in for missing players in your group. The card system has seen improvements, and like a collectible card game, will prove to have successful and less successful builds to follow. Seeing shared decks for what people are using all the way through to wave 50 is going to be really fun. Seeing enemy health bars across all the modes but versus has been really helpful. That visual indicator of health is most times a relief, but on the harder ones, it definitely causes dread for how much more damage you have to do. Lastly, there are these stations called energy taps that appear every 10 waves for you to capture, and expand your effective and defensible area.
Getting through all waves requires patience, coordination, and communication. It’s never easy, but it’s always one of the best cooperative experiences outside of the campaign in Gears.
An entirely new cooperative mode this year is Escape. It’s a three-person cooperative mode in which you start at the heart of a Swarm hive, and work to, well…escape the facilities after placing a bomb to eradicate said hive. There are three playable characters each with their own abilities and weapons. The hive is an overrun COG base, so there are doors to section off each area. In those areas, you have temporary sanctuary as you scramble to restock all your weapons. There’s a ticking timer always going as the gas creeps its way through the base. Tensions rise when you close the final set of doors, which take an eternity to finally close. In that time, any enemies you’ve triggered along the way will be after you, and that final defense is the most crucial until the doors are shut.
As a new mode, Escape does really well at giving new life into the series with something you haven’t seen before. And it may not reach the successes of Horde mode or anything else, it’s worthy of your time.
Counted as one of the modes, there’s a map builder included in the game. You can create your own hive map for friends and not friends to partake in through the sharing feature. When searching for maps, you’re able to vote on maps and follow your favorite creators, which reminds me of Forza Horizon 4 creations. Then, you’ll be able to matchmake for featured content or group up in custom games to play Escape maps that other players devise.
I think this here will be what can extend the life of, and provide continued interest in this mode, is the fact that a majority of it will be in the player’s hands to create.
The jelly to campaign’s peanut butter is versus mode. A staple of the Gears series, and a polarizing online experience for some. You either love or hate playing it. The Coalition has done some work here to soften the edges by having ranked and unranked modes to cater to all players, whether they play Seriously or not. There’s also different gametypes, the classic elimination one-life per round Warzone, a limited respawn Team Deathmatch, Execution, King of the Hill, and even Dodgeball.
The game’s 12 maps are each unique, with the desolate views of Bunker or the neon-soaked District being the standouts. Gears 5 features the most weapons for the series, and you’ll be able to set your loadouts based on weapons you’ve unlocked. There’s plenty of characters and skins to select. But now you can rep banners from other Xbox games during loads, and even set custom bloodsprays. The customization to characters this time around seems less egregious, yet equally silly especially when you see the available bloodsprays.
Versus mode alone seems like the best offering of the series’ multiplayer yet, and it’s really fun to play on these maps. The subtle red or blue highlights on players helps with visibility issues, as a lot of the maps are either dark or feature a lot of shadowy areas. If you’ve never ripped a chainsaw through another person online, now’s the time.
PC Specs of Review System:
– Microsoft Windows 10 Pro
– Intel Core i7 6700k @ 4.2Ghz (Turbo)
– NZXT Kraken X61 106.1 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler
– G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4-3200 Memory
– EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 FTW 8GB GDDR5X
– Seagate 2TB Barracuda SSD SATA III 6Gb/s Internal SSD Drive
Gears 5 includes a benchmark on PC that can optimally test your settings, so you can make changes as needed. I installed the optional ultra textures running at 1440p on a 144Hz monitor with GSync and was getting 80-100fps with everything cranked to the max. The game’s install size is a lot more modest, despite everything of the open-world and it being a bigger game on all accounts. It sits currently at 62.8GB, which is down half the size of its predecessor on PC. This is game that feels like it belongs on PC, and not just a “port”. I even play the game on keyboard and mouse, and it feels natural to do so.
The Coalition have changed what it means to be Gears of War. The ambition, drive, and execution on all fronts is to be applauded, this is a Hollywood blockbuster at its finest. Gears 5 has an exceptional campaign that needs to be played. Once you factor in its versus and cooperative modes, this is a package of quality above its value. Gears 5 is absolutely best and most important game in the series across all modes. Do not miss this one.
An Xbox One and Windows 10 code for the Ultimate Edition was provided by the publisher for review purposes