Gears of War 2 and its predecessor were revolutionary games in a number of ways. Delivering frantic action and gorgeous graphics, their biggest innovations came in the multiplayer space, with GoW2’s Horde mode becoming a new standard in c-op action. While the series has continued forward, altering and improving the formula in many ways, a lot of players, myself included, have sort of fallen away from the series and mode that delivered so much fun back in the day. Now, with the release of Gears of War 4 and Horde 3.0 it looks like I might be drawn right back into the classic co-op mode, because I got to try it at PAX West 2016, and it was pretty awesome.
The team at The Coalition have also taken a fresh look at Horde and its co-op roots
I really didn’t get into Gears of War 3 and its much vaunted Horde 2.0. This allowed Horde 3.0 to possibly impress me a bit more, because it incorporates a lot of the innovations that were introduced in that update. However, the team at The Coalition have also taken a fresh look at Horde and its co-op roots.
This means there are some things from Gears of War 2 and 3, but also some brand new stuff layered on top. This could have easily resulted in a mish-mash of ideas, ending up with a very wonky play experience. Instead it all feels tight, controlled, and really fun. Getting back into Gears of War and Horde was refreshing for me, as it had been a long time since I’d slaughtered enemies with a chainsaw.
The base premise is still the exact same, with five players (four in our case as there was a bit of a technical glitch) taking on wave after wave of enemies. Starting out, we went up against a brand new robotic enemy, which gave way to more traditional looking foes later on, though all the enemies seemed new for the series. What’s changed is almost everything surrounding this, at least in small ways.
Classes play a major role in Gears of War 4’s Horde mode, with players choosing between Soldier, Sniper, Scout, Heavy, and Engineer depending on what they feel will benefit the team, and work well with their play style. Gears takes a looser approach to its classes though, essentially giving each boosts based on what cards the player chooses to apply to this particular round of play, and then allowing players to expand however they want after that.
For example, I picked Engineer, hoping to do some tower-defense style structure building. This was a good choice, as the cards that were available to me gave discounts for purchasing high end defensive weapons, but anyone can build stuff, it just cost them more. I also had a repair tool that let me refill the ammo on turrets, or fix damage done by enemies. Aside from that I seemed to play the same as the more traditional Soldier class, though I started with a weaker weapon and had to scrounge one up on the map.
As far as what other players and I were able to build, it was pretty much your expected defense items. Starting off, after positioning the Fabricator (which acts as the shop of sorts), we were low on energy so we just built a couple of spike traps that slow down and damage enemies. As we got deeper into the waves we discussed it as a team and decided that a turret would be a huge help, so we started saving u energy, which is dropped by dead enemies. Once we had enough I purchased it, since my card abilities gave me a 24% discount, and placed it so that it was defended, but had good sightlines around the map.
As the difficulty ramped up we started working together more, calling out tough enemies, and asking for help when downed. Despite only having four players we reached wave 10, the last of the demo, but only a fifth of the way through a normal game. This is when a boss spawned, challenging us to use all of our defenses, as well as the terrain itself. Our turret went down fast, but dealt enough damage to push us close to victory. Aiming for the weak spot on the enemy’s stomach, we chipped away at his massive health bar, before finally taking him down. Cleaning up some remaining smaller enemies, we completed the demo.
Gears of War 4’s Horde 3.0 is a delightful mix of old and new, and is a definitely worthy successor to the Horde legacy. The original revolutionized co-op gameplay, and while this version has less lofty goals, it is set to deliver a fantastically frenetic and bloody time when it launches on October 11th for Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. We’ll also have an interview with Ryan Cleven, Lead Multiplayer Designer on Gears of War 4 up soon, so check back for that.