by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
With the Gears series, you know exactly what you’re getting: a gritty, depressing story, absolute bucketloads of violence and gore, and intense cover-combat. You can count on a compelling story (that I still can’t make heads-or-tails of), or hit up the tried-and-true multiplayer experience. For me, it’s all about the campaign, but with friends. I haven’t played a Gears game since Gears 3, so thankfully there’s a “Previously on Gears” that you can watch if you missed out on content. It’s a franchise that knows exactly what it’s about, and is doing what it can to build up some new heroes. I appreciate it because while I like the old cast, during this lengthy, extended war, other people have to step up when our known heroes wear out. These new characters are fleshed out and have some pretty wild backgrounds. The landscape is gorgeous and is almost constantly covered in blood and intestines. For those of you that are squeamish, you can lower that blood content. But how is Gears 5 holding up?
In The Beginning:
When you start up Gears 5, you have to go through Boot Camp. This is a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I have not played Gears in years. However, it’s a third-person cover shooter; this is not rocket science, after all. What I do love about Boot Camp is that it sets up the characters and gives one of the new protagonists, Del, some background. His back-and-forth with Baird is solid as you learn exactly how to play the game, even if you already know how. It takes about fifteen minutes and is very thorough for gameplay. For the campaign? It’s brilliant. So on that front, the new-player experience is fantastic.
Mind, there is no advice or tutorials for multiplayer. You have to simply dig into the settings to see how to set loadouts for your multiplayer characters. Players can also set individual difficulty settings in the multiplayer campaign. This is something you’ll see in our livestream footage. Seamus wanted to play on a harder difficulty, but Colton and I did not. It was not clear exactly how this setting affected us, so some clarity could be added.
News From The Front:
I absolutely love the campaign for Gears 5. Parts of it made my blood boil with anger at how challenging it was. That’s not an indictment of the gameplay, just reflects my lack of skill in certain situations. I’m grateful that you can play multiplayer campaigns because of this, for sure. I want to talk about a new character, though: Jack (or Dave). You receive a robot pal who helps you out in many situations. He can fetch guns and ammo from a distance, and hack into terminals. Jack can also stun and shock, buff you, and do any number of useful things. I love this robot! It has a great design and offers more to the game than simply killing anything that happens to be in your path. He inspires exploration since you can find items to give him more skill points or Ultimate Abilities. So what’s so bad about this robot buddy? He takes a character slot in multiplayer campaign, making our party Del, Kait, and Dave the Robot. Perhaps with some time, Colton would have gotten better as Dave. He seems to shine in multiplayer Horde and Escape modes, but I would have rather seen a third human character in the campaign.
The game’s story is told across four Acts, where we see Del and Kait (mostly Kait) grow as people in this war-torn time. I will say one thing for certain: The Citadel know how to make a creepy, uneasy, and downright horrifying setting. There are story points that made me sincerely uncomfortable. They work well in the Gears storyline. In the first Act, the story is pretty straightforward and the maps are linear. Other than brief stop-offs to pick up ammo and collectibles, you move forward and kill anything in your path. This gave an impression of the first Act taking the role of another tutorial to get you ready for the game. As soon as you hit Act II, the game opens up. This is where it began to shine for me. The linear, grisly hallways of doom are fine, but being out in the world makes the game feel more genuine.
It’s at this point you receive a Skiff to skate around a frozen wasteland (not the only landscape in Gears 5). Though you do have immediate objectives given, you aren’t required to head to them first. You can instead take on side content, or explore other points of interest in the world. These will help you power up your robot, offer up more ammo and guns, and uncover other fun secrets. Del will even suggest you go exploring some, hinting that there might be useful things for you to discover, so take his advice. Some of these points are obvious, or will become visible through the course of the main story. These optional fights can be very challenging, but you’re rewarded for exploration. Overall, this adds a great deal to the game and made me feel more vested in these soldiers and their troubles.
Multiplayer modes (outside of the campaign) are not as fun for me, but they do have moments where you feel the rush of successfully fighting back a horde of foes with your friends. What I am grateful for is that Gears 5 has yet to offer a single pay-to-win advantage. No epic or legendary guns you spend real money on; just cosmetics and experience boosts. After how popular lootboxes have become in other retail games, the lack of real-money benefits makes me happier than I can express. There are skins and things to unlock for both the COG soldiers and the Horde. You can also support eSports with skins, flags to show off your country pride, and banners to display. None of this says “pay-to-win” at all, so I’m totally on board. Gears 5’s multiplayer also has what is known as a “Tour of Duty”. This is essentially a series of free Battle Passes, with challenges and rewards to unlock. Again, this is free and does not have a “deluxe” or “paid” track to worry about.
There are plenty of multiplayer options to explore. First up is Versus, which is the traditional match setting with Quickplay, Ranked, and Custom options. Quickplay will have a rolling match with squads of 1-3 players. Ranked has you playing against similarly skilled players for rewards on a weekly basis. Custom is, well, custom: you can set the match details manually to make your own fun.
However, if I had to pick a favorite non-campaign mode, it’s Escape. In this mode, three characters diving into a Locust Hive, and they are tasked with completely clearing it out. These Hives are all different, eerie, and suitably challenging. With how great a presence this force has on the planet Earth, I like this from a storytelling standpoint. If you’re feeling particularly bold or brutal, you can make your own maps for the community to do battle in. You have a budget of points to spend on the map and it’s very intuitive. This feature is still in the Beta Testing phase, but it’s so damn cool. I can see this being a lot of fun for livestreamers.
Horde Mode is the pride and joy of the Gears franchise, and is what I and many others know it for best. You team up with a group of players, pick a character and loadout, and survive 50 waves of the swarm. You start in a small area, and as you kill foes and score points, you can set out fortifications, put up dummies to distract and take shots for you, and more. The only downside for this mode for me is that 50 waves can really feel like a chore; but for the fans of the series, this is going to be hours of fun and gore.
The Citadel has made a seriously smart series of moves for their multiplayer. Rotating, fun Arcade Modes; a customizable, challenging 3-player Escape Mode; and of course Horde. No Gear Packs, No Season Pass, DLC maps are going to be free for matchmaking and private play. No loot boxes and everything is a direct purchase. It’s a refreshing change of pace, and while you can spend real money on cosmetics, I think this shift in monetization will see more players spending real money. There is no more juggling Season Pass/Map DLC, so perhaps people will be more inclined to spend and support a fairer system.
Another COG in the System: 4.5/5 (Great)
Gears 5 really shakes up the series in a lot of exciting ways. I don’t have to worry about spending money on map packs or DLC, and it has the largest campaign to date. It’s a story that really tugs on the heartstrings. I found myself quickly vested in the goings-on with Kait and Del. The gameplay is excellent, and The Citadel made serious steps to offer a fair monetization system. My only serious complaint in this gorgeous, grisly game is the third campaign player not being a regular character in the game. I love that robot, but I think the player experience would be better served by letting one player have access to the robot, and the third player being one of the COG soldiers instead. Gears 5 is an experience that has taken over a great deal of my life over the past week. The gameplay is fair but challenging, and even the default weapon, the Lancer, is incredible. You can execute foes, equip absolutely insane weapons, and stomp your way through hours upon hours of content. If that’s not enough, there is a near limitless amount of online gameplay to tackle.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
Gears 5 Gallery: