Game Reviews

Gears 5 Review

Gears of War 6 should be a banger.

by William Schwartz

When the Coalitition was formed to handle the Gears of War franchise, we had another Xbox franchise being handed off to a new team of developers.  While Epic Games handled the original Gears trilogy, the Rod Fergusson led Coalition team proved that they could continue the legacy.  Gears of War 4 was great.  While it was a safe play from Microsoft, what it did was kickstart a new Gears of War trilogy while giving the Xbox One generation its first taste of the popular franchise.  It was an absolute stunner on the visual front, and it played as you remember Gears from the past.  While The Coalition has dropped the “Of War” in Gears of War to name this latest release Gears 5, this is definitely a continuation of what was introduced in the 2017 release.  Gears 5 is another play it safe release from Microsoft, where the franchise makes only slight iterations to the existing formula when it comes to the single player story and a single new mode in multiplayer.

It worked for Halo 2 so why not do it with every game?

After playing through Gears 5, I’m somewhat disappointed with what transpired, because through the four Act, roughly ten hour campaign not much gets done on the story telling front.  There are some big moments that sparks more questions than it does give any answers, and it feels like the equivalent to watching a one hour show that ends on a cliff-hanger every two years.  Either more needs to be put into these games on the story front, or they need to come out more frequently.  With Gears likely such a massive undertaking it’s probably the former that needs to happen.   That said, you’re back in control of the crew that you were introduced to in Gears of War 4.  Marcus Fenix’s son James, Del, and Kait are the main figures in this game as well as a newcomer named Fahz.  You’ll learn a bit more about Kait’s role in the overarching plot, and there are some real moments in the game that make you question how narrative and story telling structure will be handled going forward.  For the sake of anyone that is excited to dig into this story, we’ll leave it at that.  We were unimpressed with what was delivered here on the story front, if just for how little it really felt like.  There were a few big plot points, but very little to expand on that.  When you look at everything that transpired in terms of story between the first three Gears of War games, this second trilogy really feels lacking after two games.

That’s not to say Gears 5 isn’t an enjoyable campaign, because it is.  It feels about on par with Gears of War 4 in terms of visuals.  The four act campaign has you travelling to some distinct locations in some of the biggest map spaces that we’ve seen from the series by a landslide.  Gears 5 campaign is a mixture of traditional Gears of War combat and cover-based shooting while they attempt to make things slightly less linear in big open spaces in the second and third acts.  These areas aren’t quite open world, or even sandbox areas, as they don’t even feature combat.  Rather they are a series of points of interest that you can find by exploring the map.  Each area within these open areas in these acts have a purpose, and that’s to deliver side mission content that rewards you with upgrades to your AI companion, Jack.  Regardless, each of these open areas is too big to explore on foot, and you’ll be given a Skiff to use.  Finding new areas you will get off of the skiff and what you will find is traditional Gears combat sequences which are rewarded with quest pieces or items to upgrade Jack. While these are technically the biggest areas we’ve seen in the Gears of War franchise, they aren’t filled with much.

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Alongside the less linear aspects of Gears 5, there are unlockable upgrades for Jack.  The drone can unlock multiple abilities that you can’t miss at certain points in the story, and then there are “Ultimate Upgrades” which makes these powers even stronger if you track them down during the story.  These abilities allow you to do things like ping enemy locations, give yourself a temporary health boost, lay shock traps, and go invisible. Each of the abilities serves a purpose, and each ability has multiple tiers that it can be upgraded with component collectibles that you’ll find.  Alongside the familiar collectibles tucked away in the world, these components will have you searching every dark nook and cranny of the maps.  The upgrades definitely change the way you think about combat in Gears 5, but they don’t really feel necessary on the default difficulty settings.  Jack’s powers definitely come into play when playing on harder modes, with the ability to go invisible or health boost come in handy against the tougher foes.  Regardless, Gears is still pretty much set-up as you remember it.  You can play either in cooperative or in single player.  With the cooperative mode giving you an additional way to play as Jack.  Which is as a helper to the team.

Gears 5 is less linear than previous games, but only slightly

Gears 5 still does third person cover shooting as good or better than anyone.  There’s a nice feel to the combat and cover mechanics.  There are some new weapons introduced and there’s an arsenal of familiar ones too.  There are big moments against massive bosses, calmer more reflective periods, and I think on the whole, the addition of the upgrades system gives you a better reason than the standard collectibles to explore the world a little bit more.  Gears 5 has a varied and beautiful game world, incredible character models, and some of the best over-the-top action that we’ve seen from the series.  The campaign is certainly worth playing for Gears fans, but probably will not make any sense at all to newcomers with so many loose strings.  There are some nice touches though for those that need to get brought up to speed.  There’s a previously on Gears montage of the events of Gears of War 4 prior to starting the game.  And deeper in the options menu you can find a “State of the Universe” section which gives you a complete rundown of everything that’s transpired since the first game.

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Alongside the campaign, multiplayer is still an incredible draw for the franchise.  If you put Gears 5 and Gears of War 4 next to each other on two screens I’d be hard pressed to pick out one or the other.  There doesn’t feel like there’s been too many risks taken here to change up the formula.  This is still the same Gears of War that was released in the last few iterations.  It’s largely a shotgun fest, with a very high barrier to entry for newcomers who will need to learn the nuances of this game to compete.  There are a ton of multiplayer modes to choose from, and ways to play.  There are quick play casual modes, ranked modes, and browsable online lobbies.  Whatever you choose, it’s likely going to be a brutal introduction to the wrong end of a Gnasher for those that haven’t been playing these games all along.  For those that have, it’s business as usual with things like wall bouncing and shotgun play feeling largely similar to Gears of War 4.  While the maps are mostly different, the weapons are familiar favorites for the most part.

Gears 5 multiplayer still feels like it’s all about that Gnasher

To keep you playing multiplayer, The Coalition appears to have adopted a rewards stream system similar to what we’ve seen from a lot of different games recently.  Made popular by Fortnite’s Battle Pass, Gears 5 rewards are going to be doled out through Operations that have ranks attached to each level.   Attaining a new rank will unlock new cosmetic items like bloodsprays, executions, banners, emotes, character skins, weapon skins, and premium currency.  Each rank will have different challenges attached to it, like getting a certain number of assists or getting eliminations as a specific character or with a specific weapon.  We didn’t see many uses for the premium currency, but the one that we did notice was that it was used to reset challenges.  If you don’t like a specific challenge for a rank completion, you can use the Iron currency to load in a new one.  The more you change the challenge the higher the iron cost.

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Alongside this reward stream or Operation system, there’s a global rank for you and you will also be leveling characters as you play with them.  On the weapon skins front, there are numerous skins to unlock for each gun and there’s a crafting system for cards that you haven’t unlocked.  And then on top of that, there’s an in-game store.  In this store there are numerous things that you can purchase with Iron from expressions, to skins, and bloodsprays and loadout packs.  There are boosters to help you along in your progression, there are flags, there are branded real world outfits.  Gears 5 is full of monetization opportunities and progression systems.  While a lot of it is completely ignorable unless you really want certain cosmetic items, we didn’t see anything that looked egregious other than the sheer amount of things to buy and unlock.

There are plenty of things to spend more money on in this game

The Gears of War series might have started out as just a campaign and multiplayer but it evolved to so much more.  There’s a reason why all other wave based modes are called Horde mode by default.  Slaying the Locust, Lambent, Swarm and Deebees, in waves has been one of the high points of each release since Gears of War 2 and it’s gotten better with each iteration.  Horde Mode in Gears 5 is once again a high point for the release, and there are some pretty big changes here.  Each character in the mode has a unique hero ability to use.  Kait, for example can go invisible.  JD can call in artillery strikes, someone can fly around the battlefield as Jack.  The core shooting and wave-based system are still pretty familiar, but it’s the way that each hero has a unique ability that really change the way you play.  Every 10 rounds you’ll square off against a boss, and across the course of the 50-round affair you will want to capture areas of the map which allow you to earn points that you can use to purchase upgrades that will help you get further and further into the mode.  On anything other than Beginner, Horde Mode is a challenging mode that really showcases the insane action of the franchise.

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The newcomer for Gears 5 is a mode called Escape.  At first I was a little bit unimpressed by it.  The mode has you looking for the exit of a map that is filling with a toxic gas cloud.  It’s straight forward co-op mechanics left something to be desired, but this mode is also going to allow players to create their own maps for everyone in the Gears 5 community to tackle.  It will be interesting to see what the community cooks up with this mode because there is a robust set of tools that can be used to design maps in Escape.  You’re basically using prefab map pieces and linking them together, placing enemies and weapons as well.  There’s a lot of promise in this mode.  If games like Mario Maker have taught us anything there are plenty of people out there that want to make impossible levels and watch people die over and over trying to make it through them.  There’s plenty of potential for that here.  It will need the community for this to happen though.  Without creative minds making new content, this will just be a feature that sounded cool and could’ve been great.

Regardless, there’s a ton in Gears 5 for Gears of War fans.  While the campaign didn’t give me all of the answers that I was looking for, there will be plenty to do for the next couple years as we wait for the next game.  Whether it’s competitive multiplayer or cooperative experiences you’re after, Gears 5 has it, and at the highest level when it comes to visual fidelity and presentation.  It doesn’t get much better than Gears 5 on the Xbox One when it comes to Microsoft exclusives.

The Verdict

Gears 5 once again feels like a safe bet by The Coalition.  You can start to see the developer thinking about new ideas and potential directions that the series can go, but Gears 5 feels largely familiar.  The additions of some new features and a new mode added to the fan-favorites that return make for a robust package though.  If you liked Gears of War 4, it’s hard to imagine you won’t like Gears 5.  If this is the first time you’re thinking about trying a Gears of War game you might be a little thrown off by the story, but this game features some of the best visuals and one of the best core multiplayer experiences in competitive and cooperative that’s currently available on the Xbox One.

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Gears 5

  • Available On: Xbox One, PC
  • Published By: Xbox Game Studios
  • Developed By: The Coalition
  • Genre: Third-person shooter
  • US Release Date: September 6th, 2019
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Gears 5 once again feels like a safe bet by The Coalition.  You can start to see the developer thinking about new ideas and potential directions that the series can go, but Gears 5 feels largely familiar.  The additions of some new features and a new mode added to the fan-favorites that return make for a robust package though."
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