Gears 5 is everything I’ve ever wanted for the series. Continuing off the success and storylines brought forth in 2016’s Gears of War 4, the sixth mainline entry is exactly the type of video game the Xbox brand sorely needed. My personal experience with the series began around the time Gears of War 2 launched. I spent the launch weekend holed up with a friend as we finished the game and did the same thing as Gears of War 3 launched in 2011. For years, the biggest draw was gathering a group of friends and completing each campaign before moving onto the addicting and engaging Horde mode.
For the first time since God of War, I’m having a really rough time of putting the controller down. One more chapter I tell myself before pushing forward. Only it isn’t one chapter, it’s an entire Act I’ve just gone through and I need to sleep.
A COG in the Wheel
The Coalition, for the most part, focused on showcasing the multiplayer portion of Gears 5. This had me worried because as a single-player fanatic I wanted to know where the story was going after the revelations in Gears of War 4. Let me get this out of the way: Gears 5 is an evolution for the series and more than a few steps in the right direction for the series.
Gears 5 is a direct continuation of Gears of War 4 and picks up where we left everyone. We start out once again as JD Fenix and play right through the entirety of Act 1 as Marcus’s son. We see Del, Kait, Marcus and Jack follow JD throughout a series of skirmishes against the Swarm, before shifting focus over to Kait Diaz as Act II picks up four months later.
The world-building is a step up for Gears of War 4. I didn’t really notice this until hitting Act 2, which shifts the narrative forward four months and puts you in control of Kait Diaz and she heads to an Outsider settlement. It wasn’t until I was walking around freely, searching for collectibles and taking in where I was, that I found myself excited about where I was going.
Upon meeting her uncle Oscar in the village, the Swarm is pushing the settlers to the brink by attacking them each day. It isn’t until we catch up with everyone do things come to a head that Kait decides she needs to figure out who she is and why she’s been having these eerie visions and headaches, which have something to do with her heritage. Along with Del, the two friends decide to work together on solving the mystery.
For the most part, the story threads come together in Gears 5. In stark contrast to Gears of War 4, where we received little plot up until the final chapter, Gears 5 crams a ton cutscenes in-between set pieces, sometimes even leaving loose threads forgotten.
Born this Way
Since the beginning, The Coalition wanted us to know how ambitious the studio wanted to be with the next Gears game. Bigger, better, and focused. Once you hit the quasi-open world and gain control of the Skiff, the real fun begins. The Skiff is excellent to navigate and handles extremely well. Drifting through snow and sand never gets old when it looks so good getting around. Speaking of which, sidequests are littered around both open spaces and are nice, bite-sized things available to pad out your game time. These missions offer a ton of upgrades to both your team and Jack and include some exciting skirmishes against the Swarm.
The only downside is these open areas are barren and offer little other than a handful of sidequests littered. It feels like wasted space and unnerving quiet when moving about. If anything, it’s the exact opposite of the Gears experience. Each area serves as a gateway to some extraordinary set pieces because when you finally end up where you need to be, the real fun. If you’re playing co-op with a friend, then they have nothing to do if they are in the passenger seat. They sit there and wait for you to get to the next location, it’s a wasted opportunity to pump some encounters into the tundra before you.
One of my favourite additions in Gears 5 is the support bot Jack, a prominent member of the team. Using various skills laid out in a pseudo-RPG skill tree, Jack’s a swiss army knife that follows you around wherever you go. Want some ammo out of reach? Send Jack to get it. How about a weapon that you see? Send Jack to get it. Need to hack a terminal. Jack can do that, too. How about shock a wave Swarm enemies? Yeah, Jack has your back. Using components found around the campaign, Jack’s abilities are unlocked as you progress.
With Jack, using cover is now but one option in a suite of available tactics allowing your creativity to shine. Through a dozen abilities, Jack offers various playstyles. It’s up to you how you want to customize his abilities but be on the lookout for upgrade parts.
Combat is tight and substantial. It’s as you remember it being but that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Gears are all about using some big guns, lancers, and decimating the Swarm. For me, this is one of the few series where I experiment with every gun I find. My loadout across the 20-hour campaign never stayed the same and kept things fresh throughout, continually rotating each and every weapon I came across – my favourites being the Gnasher and Embar for added power.
This is also the first game in the series where diving into cover wasn’t the most viable option. With Jack supporting me and some of the weapons found in each level, I was able to be more offensive and tackle enemies in new ways. Cover is still smooth and the best we’ve seen, offering quick and seamless transition around the battlefield.
Visually this is one of the most beautiful games on Xbox One X. The wizards at The Coalition created a visual masterwork that runs at full 4K and 60 frames per second across every mode. Detail exudes out of every crevice, location, and the rendering is sublime. Gears 5 also offers several beautiful backdrops spread out through the campaign, each location boasting a unique art direction. Character models also stand out for being highly-detailed paired with wonderful lighting.
That Escalated Quickly
A key pillar for the series is multiplayer and whether you play casually or competitively, there is something for you here. The Coalition offers both Ranked and Arcade playlists. Arcade is a new mode to appeal to the masses who opt to play online. Through a series of pre-built loadouts, you’re able to choose from a dozen or so characters, each with their own abilities. Kait moves faster for example, while Marcus has improved cover slide. It’s a clever way to get casual gamers online by offering gameplay similar to Overwatch. Each round offers you the chance to purchase weapon upgrades, earned through Skulls – the currency you upgrade with.
If you die, any earned Skulls are kept but your Skull upgraded weapons are lost. This is a risk/reward system that offers an incentive to keep going but isn’t penalizing if you end up getting taken out. Also, it’s an engaging way to keep on your toes and be tactful against opponents and knowing when to spend your Skulls.
The Coalition revamped Horde Mode for Gears 5. You’re still facing off against 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies, earning power-ups and weapons, basically enduring the onslaught of the Swarm. With Gears 5, the Ultimate abilities offer a new way to play, each character equipped with their own Ultimate. Using Taps spread out through each map, you’ll need to gather these structures and activate them in order to build your own base up, the more you gain, the better you’re buffed.
Escape, a new mode in Gears 5, is fast and engaging. There’s no better way to describe it, where up to three players need to work their way through a level filling with deadly gas. Escape is an interesting idea and offers up a ton of replayability. Infiltrating a Swarm Hive and planting a Hivebuster bomb is the basis of Escape and you’ll play as either Keegan, Mac, or Lahni. If you play with the right people, the gameplay can be intense and offers another way to play Gears 5 – and you can even make your own maps via the map creator.
Escalation puts two teams of five against each other as they battle it out for three objectives on the map. Of course, some changes were made with new features and systems including limited respawns making things more difficult. Your team needs to score 250 points and each player is given five lives to make the most of it. If the team loses their lives, the round is over, and their count is reset and the respawn timer lessens. Halftime offers the chance to upgrade weapons or change loadouts or even ban a weapon respawn on the map.
The bread and butter of any Gears game lie within its multiplayer modes. In Gears of War 4, microtransactions were a big issue with media outlets reporting on them. Essentially, the microtransactions undercut progression for many players, leaving many upset over the amounts earned. In Gears 5, there is no Season Pass and all DLC is free for everyone. With the introduction of Tour of Duty, daily challenges earn new customization items (including skins). If it sounds familiar – it is, this is essentially a Battle Pass with seasonal content cycles.
While behind the scenes the Gears franchise has switched hands a few times, the care and attention to detail persist. The series is expanding and growing for the better, injecting much need change into the series’ veins. That said, while I enjoyed the new direction and heart brought on by the cast, the lonely open world needs some work, even though the Skiff if an excellent way to navigate. Gears 5 does a lot of things right and nails many of its ideas, but a few lingering issues need to be addressed in the future.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
[This post originally appeared on Console Creatures]