Over the years the Gears of War franchise has managed to tell an original storyline over the course of an amazing trilogy plus a prequel to provide a little extra backstory and more recently the series even passed the torch to a younger generation of protagonists in Gears of War 4. Now three years later The Coalition has returned with a new entry in the series that packs plenty of changes to its campaign, dropped part of the title entirely, as well as refined its multiplayer even further. Have these changes made Gears 5 better or are they simply too far from the formula the series is known for?
Those who may have missed out on the story told in Gears of War 4, or may have forgotten bits and pieces of it, won’t have to worry as the first thing Gears 5 does is provide a solid summary of events that took place in the form of a recap video before throwing players right into the new story. Some time has passed since the events of the previous game and while humanity has mostly gathered back together on Sera, the Swarm remain a constant threat to those survivors. As such the Marcus, JD, Del, and Kait are searching for the remnants of a Hammer of Dawn satellite in an attempt to bring the powerful weapon that once helped change the tide of the war back online. Though all the while Kait continues to struggle with headaches and nightmares that have plagued her since the previous game and must go on a journey to learn more about herself.
Oddly enough, while the Gears of War story campaigns rarely felt like they were telling something that could easily be spoiled outside of one or two major events, or featured plenty of worldbuilding details in general, Gears 5 makes a major change in that regards and going further into the actual plot beyond this point would be spoiling some rather large events. This can be seen as a rather impressive storyline improvement over the previous entry that only offered a handful of new plot details and while the original trilogy had its fair share of emotional moments, the character-drive storyline found in Gears 5 makes for an emotional journey that puts Kait almost entirely in the spotlight.
That isn’t to say that the other characters are pushed to the back, instead they play more of a supporting role this time around though Del also gets plenty of time to shine as he tends to spend the most time with Kait in the game. It is also worth noting that while previous Gears of War games still gave us bits of information about the backstory of Sera and the people who live on it and the adversities they faced, most of this info was drip-fed through collectibles and little mentions here and there. While collectibles are still very present in Gears 5‘s storyline the game also delves far deeper into the history of the world and its people than ever before.
To think that numerous pieces of information and some rather large twists to an already established storyline could come in the fifth entry of a series is a bit surprising but a pleasant one to say the least. Filling in various plot holes from past games as well as offering players a look at the darker history of the world these characters are pushed in a number of unique ways we haven’t seen since the emotional events surrounding Dom and there is even a choice to be made near the end of the story though what that may be is up to the player to find out. That being said, don’t expect a very solid ending as this time around Gears 5 adopts an ending that is very reminiscent of the whole “finish the fight” aspect of Halo 2 where it ends in a cliffhanger. This will almost assuredly be answered in the next entry but be prepared to feel a bit let down in that regard.
There are many games that have managed to master a certain style of gameplay and the Gears of War series has easily mastered the cover-based shooter and that continues to be the case in Gears 5. Players will find all of their favorite weapons returning with a few new weapons being added into the arsenal, such as a grenade launcher attached to a lancer, a massive spiked club for close encounters, and even a weapon with a massive clip that fires more accurately the longer it is shot before misfiring. Sliding behind cover, taking a few shots at an enemy, nailing an active reload, and popping back out to try and take down another enemy still feels as smooth as ever and the new multitude of weapons, including plenty of time with everyone’s beloved Swarm slicing chainsaw lancer, all pack plenty of punch making the game’s gunplay feel like it really packs a punch.
In the single player campaign not only can players choose to play the game solo but they can play with up to three other players, one taking on the role of the other NPC in the story and the other controlling their robotic companion Jack. Jack is a featured far more than any previous robot assistant in previous games as not only does he have a skill tree featuring a number of skills that can be used in the middle of a firefight to make things easier but he can also be upgraded in various ways. While playing through Gears 5‘s campaign players will not only find the aforementioned collectibles but also components that can then be used to unlock various upgrades to Jack’s abilities such as having a stunning blast having a larger radius or recharging quicker, or simply being able to take more damage. In single player these new skills are quite useful at times and open up a new way to tackle some challenges and if you’re playing with a full team of three, the Jack player will appreciate a more upgraded unit to play as.
Aside from Jack’s upgrades Gears 5 also offers another new change to the campaign that takes the game in another new direction. For long stretches of the game players will still find themselves taking part in gloriously over the top action set-pieces with intense firefights featuring both returning and new enemy types, but the middle of the game opens up to an extremely large level style that allows for a more free roam style of gameplay. Players will be able to explore these open maps with a wind powered ski-sled called a skiff and while it is entirely possible to simply head towards the marked objective exploration not only rewards the player with short side-quests that often result in new dialogue as well as collectibles but also a few weapon variations in the form of relic style weaponry that have additional bonuses stacked onto them. This open world style of exploration may seem a bit uneven compared to the usually tight and narrow style of gameplay that fans may be familiar with but it’s handled well enough and offers some unique moments and surprise encounters.
Outside of the campaign mode those who loved Gears of War for its multiplayer will find that the game has still retained most of its greatest modes and added a few new things to spice things up. Players will still have the traditional Versus gameplay featuring a number of different game types such as the amazing Arms Race, Dodgeball, Execution, Team Deathmatch, and more as well as a new Arcade Deathmatch. Arcade features players on both teams selecting characters that all have different starting weapons as well as weapons that can then be purchased using in-match currency earned for kills, executions, and pity streaks for dying a lot in a row. This Arcade mode actually does change up the gameplay a bit and can be a nice respite from some of the more standard competitive styles found in the normal modes, as such Versus continues to offer a little of everything and then some.
Horde mode returns as well with a few new changes though remains true to at its core. Players will work cooperatively with one another to survive against waves of increasingly difficult enemies with boss fights occuring every five stages. Depending on what character the player is using, and their role of being a scout, support, etc, will vary what they can acquire from the Fabricator using energy dropped from defeated enemies. Crafting an elaborate death tunnel filled with turrets, arc-lightning, and floor traps can be a great thrill but be prepared for a challenge as even a full team of five will have their mettle challenged on higher ranks even on the easier difficulty levels, of which there are now many to select from.
Finally the brand new Escape mode features up to three players at a time taking part in a survival match that pits them up against a wave of death chasing them from behind and their only hope for survival being behind an unknown number of Swarm. These Escape matches may take a bit to get used to but they really can nail down the feeling of having to struggle against enemies at times primarily due to the fact that not only do players have to keep moving as the gas bomb detonated near the start of the mode will kill them if they are caught up in it, but ammunition is also kept to a bare minimum. Stealth kills and scavenging for ammunition or utilizing a character’s specific special ability that has to recharge over time can be a real thrill and some fights can be real tense. In fact, when playing with a solid team this mode can easily be found as a favorite for those who enjoy survival style gameplay. That being said, the modes can feel a bit repetitive at times since there are only so many variants available at the moment though since players can create their own Escape maps, it will be interesting to see what the community can come up with.
Visuals & Audio
The Coalition had quite the task for themselves when it came to one-upping what players saw in Gears of War 4 but they’ve certainly managed to accomplish it here in Gears 5. Not only are the character models as detailed and varied as ever, with the core cast undergoing a few style changes throughout the campaign and of course in multiplayer but the environments found in the campaign are absolutely stunning to see. The Skiff travel sequences can be absolutely astounding to see and of course the combat can is just as visceral and meaty as ever, though the real highlights are the high-intensity setpieces that will be hard for anyone to forget.
One must also give the voice actors, all of whom have returned to reprise their respective roles with new characters fitting right in, a lot of credit as the emotional impact of a number of the story beats wouldn’t hit nearly as hard if it wasn’t for their great voice work here. Alongside the astounding voice cast the game features a number of great pieces of background music that feel great when accompanying an intense shootout as well as some more somber tracks used for exploration or during the aforementioned drama.
Gears 5 breathes a breath of fresh air into a franchise that didn’t even need it by expanding the scope of the storyline into a more emotional realm and delivering plenty of new pieces of information that reveal more about the world the game takes place in while also expanding the gameplay world a bit by featuring a few more open areas that are bookended by the straightforward action packed set piece filled firefights fans love. With the tightest gunplay to date with a few new ways to take the fight to the enemy Gears 5’s multiplayer mode also continues to excel at giving players a little something of everything to try, with the new Arcade and Escape modes being great additions to an already packed offering.