Gears 5 on Xbox One
Back at E3 2019, The Coalition’s studio head, Rod Fergusson, told fans that Gears 5 would be “less safe” than Gears 4. It wouldn’t stick faithfully close to the tried and true formula that Epic Games laid down all those years ago, but build and develop on it further. After playing about 20 hours of Gears 5 over the last few days, I can wholly confirm that Fergusson wasn’t lying, and the changes make Gears 5 feel like a true next step for the series.
Gears 5 is built up of four main game modes — Campaign, Versus Multiplayer, Horde, and the new kid on the block, Escape — each bringing a slightly different take on the explosive third-person action the series is renowned for.
Campaign is the big headliner here, with significant changes that stop Gears 5 from feeling like a muddy-colored hallway shooter all over again. Following on directly from the end of Gears 4, Gears 5’s narrative follows two stories; one of Kait’s personal pursuit as she tries to uncover her family history’s mysteries, and another of all-out war with the Swarm following their resurgence in the last entry.
Kait’s story feels particularly ‘Gears’ with her finding herself succumbing to headaches and violent hallucinations as she begins to piece together that she’s a part of the collective Swarm hivemind. We won’t delve any further into the details here for the sake of keeping things as spoiler-free as possible, but this adds another layer of emotional depth to proceedings, while also bringing that ‘horror’ factor that the series has somewhat lost over the years.
For the most part, our protagonists are all familiar with Kait being accompanied by a combination of JD, Del, Marcus, Baird (over comms, of course), and the rare cameo of everyone’s favorite former Thrashball player, the Cole Train. However, there’s a new kid on the block in the form of Fahz, a no-nonsense British guy who doesn’t quite gel with the group initially.
By the end of Gears 5’s campaign, however, Fahz felt like he’d been part of Delta Squad all along, and perhaps that’s down to the fantastic writing here. Each and every line between Delta Squad and their extended ‘family’ perfectly encapsulates the personalities of the group, and the relationships that they’ve formed (or, in the case of Fahz, are forming).
Fahz isn’t the only new face, though, with Gears 5 giving Jack a fresh makeover to make him far more useful on your quest to take down the Swarm horde. Jack now has a range of Assault, Support, and Passive abilities that range from reviving you and your teammates, placing shock traps, taking control of enemies, and flashing them to lure them out of cover.
These are unlocked as you progress through the game, with the 100+ Component collectibles scattered throughout the campaign serving as your way of further upgrading these abilities to make them even stronger. Ultimate Abilities for Jack are unlocked by completing side missions, which conveniently leads me into my main point in Gears 5’s campaign.
The whole thing no longer feels like you’re simply running through a grey, dreary corridor, shooting a bunch of Swarm/ Locust, and moving onto the next. In two of the game’s acts, players are dropped into sandbox areas called The Valley – a snowy, icy landscape – and The Desert – … no explanation needed, really – that players can explore at their leisure on the Skiff.
Within these sandbox areas, players are free to check out Fallen Condor sites to excavate useful upgrades for Jack, ammo, or collectibles, help out random NPCs in side missions, or uncover Relic Weapons which add new abilities to your favorite existing weapons.
This certainly helps to flesh out Gears 5’s campaign, and gives you a reason to spend more time within the world than simply completing a level and being quickly hurried into the next Swarm-filled corridor, but if I had to nitpick one thing, they feel a bit bare. The sandbox areas and the side content that can be found within them subtly provides an insight into the divisions between man, even during times when they’re struggling against the Swarm, the COG is still hated.
Having explored both sandbox areas for a good chunk of time, once I’d cleared out the crashed Condors, completed a side mission or two, and found the hiding Relic Weapons, there wasn’t all that much more to do here. Enemies don’t spawn and side missions are fairly rare. It’s disappointing, because I can only imagine how fun gunning Swarm down as I effortlessly cruised across the ice on the Skiff would be, but it’s a step in the right direction, at least.
Thankfully, when you are in combat, Gears 5 doesn’t let up. A plethora of new weapons, including my personal favorite the Lancer GL (it has a grenade launcher instead of a chainsaw bayonet; yeah, it’s awesome), and Talon machine pistol help to further flesh out the arsenal of over-the-top weaponry with worthwhile additions. Enemy AI feels more intuitive and tactical when fighting against them, and I’m fairly confident in certain skirmishes against the Swarm, I was gunning down more of them then I ever have before (outside of those crazy Gears 2 levels. If you know, you know).
It’s the Relic Weapons, however, that are certain to put a smile on the faces of long-term fans. Taking classic weapons like the Longshot or Boomshot, Relics give these classics new perks. For example, the Longshot can fire two shots without reloading following a perfect active reload, while the Boomshot can fire three shots before it reloads period.
While I was disappointed there weren’t enemies in the sandbox to try these out against, the fact that your Skiff can stow weapons means you can take these with you to your next mission and add them to your inventory without having to drop an old faithful like the Gnasher.
The whole Gears 5 campaign is wrapped up with some plot points that players simply won’t see coming, colorful landscapes and environments (yes, color in Gears, it’s wonderful), and the typical badass moments and slapstick humor that the series is synonymous with.
Playing on an Xbox One X, Gears 5 truly felt like a next-gen experience. The whole thing ran absolutely butter smooth at a solid 60 FPS in 4K, and it’s definitely noticeable. Combat feels fluid and responsive, speeding through environments on the Skiff is breathtaking, and character and weapon models have incredible detail. When it comes to getting the most out of Microsoft’s powerhouse, The Coalition has succeeded, and it shows.
Of course, the campaign can be played either solo, or with two other players in three-player co-op where one players will take control of Jack, using his various abilities to support the two other players. It’s a novel way to get more players involved in the action, particularly if they’re a newcomer to the series.
I could gush for hours about Gears 5’s campaign, the changes, new enemy types, and how its collectibles further flesh out the world and lore that’s already been so well established by books and the games proceeding it, but it’s time to move on before my editor yells at me.
When it comes to the other pillars of Gears 5, The Coalition has changed a few bits up across both Versus Multiplayer and Horde, too. So let’s start with the brutal, fast-paced PvP action that is Versus Multiplayer.
This time around, The Coalition has opted to split things into an Arcade playlist, and Ranked playlists. Arcade is all about lighthearted, fun matches, with modes like Arms Race (think Call of Duty’s Gun Game, but team-based), and Arcade Deathmatch (Team Deathmatch but with unique character abilities and redeemable weapons with skulls earned by getting kills) leading the forefront.
These new modes are welcome additions to the lineup available in Gears 5’s Versus Multiplayer, and prevents every match from descending into a Gnasher Shotgun and Power Weapon meta. These weapons have to be earned in these new modes, and each character has three weapons they can unlock in Arcade Deathmatch, meaning you’ll want to pick wisely.
Then you’ve got the Ranked playlists which focus on four cored game modes — King of the Hill, Team Deathmatch, Escalation, and Guardian. These are your more typical Versus multiplayer Gears experiences, though The Coalition’s weapon balancing certainly feels noticeable.
It’s not just a case of equipping the Gnasher and hoping for the best. Picking off enemies from range with the Lancer now feels like a viable option. The Gnasher still looks and feels superb in close-quarters combat, but it’s certainly not the only way to play now.
In terms of connectivity issues and server performance, during the five plus hours spent playing online modes, Gears 5 ran seamlessly. Of course, things could change once the game goes live to the masses, but from our time spent with it, the servers seemed solid.
Add onto this the plethora of cosmetic items and customization options available to players with character skins, expressions, weapon skins, and marks all purchasable and unlockable by completing different tasks in the game and you’ve got a Versus Multiplayer experience that feels even further fleshed out and more balanced than Gears 4’s.
Horde mode, honestly, feels largely unchanged from what we saw in Gears 4, with the Fabricator still acting as your hub for dispensing fortifications and purchasing new weapons with Power, which is dropped by eliminated enemies. Waves ending in 5 and 0 act as boss waves, with the others increasing in difficulty. At the start of a new wave of 10, there’s a buff applied to the Swarm to make your battle even tougher.
That’s not to say it’s been entirely neglected. The Coalition has gone about adding in a Horde ‘setup’ to Gears 5, allowing players to add Skill Cards that improve their particular character’s loadout, as well as Passive and Ultimate abilities that can be used to turn the tide of battle. Utilizing these to their fullest potential still requires good communication, but considering this is a co-op mode, chances are you’ll be chatting with your teammates as you play anyway.
Additional character skill cards and cosmetics are unlocked by leveling up each character by playing the modes with them. Further, each of the nine Horde characters has their own unique weapons loadout which plays into their ‘Role.’ It allows you to take your Horde strategies one step further, with one player utilizing Fahz’s precision weapons loadout while another uses Marcus Fenix’s classic Lancer and Gnasher loadout to tackle enemies at close-range.
These changes add some further longevity to Horde, giving completionists 20 levels for each character to grind out, as well as a variety of cosmetics, skill cards that can be upgraded, and some that can only be earned by completing all 50 waves on higher difficulties, which is upped by choosing modifiers that affect enemy damage output, health, or no restarts.
Finally, we come to Gears 5’s new mode, Escape. Rather than going the endurance-style co-op affair that is Horde (with matches potentially going on for hours), Escape focuses on giving players a quick PvE co-op experience in 20-30 minute chinks. Players find themselves deep inside a Swarm hive with almost no ammo, and must escape, taking down enemies as they try and make it out before the poison gas that’s been emitted from a bomb you’ve planted catches up with you.
These are short-lived but frantic and chaotic. Hives are winding mazes you’ll need to navigate and this can be a task in itself. Add on top of that a bunch of enemies standing in your way and poison gas chasing you down and these can make for some great multiplayer moments with your friends.
The Coalition promises that additional Escape Hive maps will be released at frequent intervals following launch, but the four currently available, plus the ability for players to create and share their own Hive maps with others online will help to keep this mode feeling fresh and less easy to just forget about.
Similarly to Horde, Escape utilizes a leveling system, Roles, Abilities, and Skill Cards that all tie together to make each character feel unique and fit to a particular playstyle. It allows players to find a character for Escape that best suits how they play, and develop them further, upgrading Skill Cards to help them take on the higher difficulties that really are a challenge.
Gears 5 is the result of The Coalition taking its gloves off and not being afraid to reshape the series and bring it forward to the current generation. Its semi open-world sandbox areas in the campaign, side missions, Relic Weapons, and plot point that still has me somewhat shocked shows that, but that’s just in its campaign.
Each and every one of Gears 5’s four pillars feels like its been bolstered at the foundations with a fresh lick of paint that rewards players for pouring countless hours into a particular character or mode. Versus Multiplayer now has a plethora of modes that caters to both the newcomer and casual players, as well as the hardcore veterans. Horde gets minor touch-ups, but ones that make it feel like a more complete, comprehensive experience, and Escape is a welcome PvE co-op addition that won’t steal an entire afternoon to play through (we’re looking at you, horde).
The entire thing is then wrapped up lovingly with stellar visuals, a beautiful, emotive soundtrack, and breathtaking, super smooth performance that it gets really hard to pick out flaws in Gears 5 as a whole experience. There’s something for everyone here, whether you’re a newcomer or a long-term fan, and then when you think you’re done, there’s a ton more to keep you playing. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Gears 5 might well be up there as one of my favorite entries in the series alongside Gears 2. Having been a somewhat lapsed Gears multiplayer player, I’m excited to really sink my teeth into more of the Versus modes, play Horde with some friends, and truly get to grips with Escape’s map editor, as well as see what those far more talented than I am at level design come up with. With Gears 5, The Coalition took some risks, and it makes for one of the best entries in the series yet.
Score: 4.5/5 – Great
- Exceptional technical performance.
- Explosive campaign with strong narrative, plenty of laughs, and the occasional heartfelt moment.
- Combat feels better than ever.
- Multiplayer suit of modes offer a ton of replayability and grinding potential.
- Side mission content and open world areas flesh out the campaign. But…
- Campaign’s open-world sandbox areas feel a little underutilized.
Should You Buy Gears 5?
Absolutely. Whether you’re a newcomer to the series, or a long-term veteran, there’s plenty of content to sink your teeth into and the various difficulty options and multiplayer modes make it easy to finetune the experience to your abilities.
Gears 5 Platforms and Release Date
Gears 5 will release on Xbox One and PC on Sept. 6 for Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, with the official release then coming on Sept. 10.
Gears 5 Developer
Gears 5 is developed by The Coalition, the same team who worked on Gears 4.
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