Check out our video review:
After Gears of War: Judgment, the series was handed over to The Coalition who were primarily responsible for Gears of War 4. I like Gears 4 but I can’t say it does anything super interesting. In fact, the formula has basically remained the same since the very beginning. The sequels introduced some minor changes and refinements but I can’t say any of them have come close to being innovative. At least in terms of the single player experiences. However, The Coalition would strive for change with the next game in the series, Gears 5. Developed by The Coalition and published by Xbox Game Studios, Gears 5 was released for PC and Xbox One in September, 2019. For this review, I played the PC version. Gears 5 is the first entry in the series to drop the “of War” part of the title. From what I read, this is because Gears 5 sounds “cleaner”. A lot of players refer to these games as just Gears (Gears 2, 3, or whatever the game is), including myself so I guess the title change makes sense but, personally, I think “Gears of War” sounds cooler.
After the events of Gears of War 4, J.D. and Del were reinstated as COG soldiers and along with Kait, they make up the new Delta Squad. The plot primarily centers on Kait and her connection to the Locust and it touches on subjects like trust, loyalty, and friendship. New and returning characters are well developed and I particularly enjoyed the chemistry between Kait and Del. An additional campaign called Hivebusters was added in as DLC and acts a prequel to the Hivebusters comic book series. The plot centers on Scorpio Squad and their mission to destroy a Swarm hive. I like the campaign but I can’t say the story is as compelling as the Gears 5 plot.
I was pleasantly surprised with Gears 5. The developers actually took some risks and introduced some new ideas. If anything, it’s the Hivebusters campaign that feels more like your typical Gears of War experience. I can’t say the core gameplay is changed all that much but there’s enough new stuff here to make Gears 5 feel like a breath of fresh air for the franchise.
The campaigns can be played solo or cooperatively, on multiple difficulty modes and the Ironman mode from Gears 4 returns. Furthermore, you can play through the campaigns again in the New Game plus mode and activate modifiers to mix things up. What’s really cool is that you can also bring your online character and skins to the campaign. Plus, you can experience the campaign with David Bautista as Marcus Fenix because why not?
In addition to the campaigns is competitive multiplayer modes, the Horde mode, and the new Escape mode. The objective in Escape is for a team to infiltrate a Swarm hive and plant a bomb, then escape. You can even create your own Escape maps which is cool. As of this review, the multiplayer is still active and I was able to join several matches and I cannot say I experienced any technical issues. The Horde and Escape modes support class-based gameplay and each class comes with different abilities and perks. Classes can be leveled up and you can unlock skill cards with different bonuses to apply to the classes. As you play the multiplayer modes and complete certain tasks and increase your overall level, you’ll earn in-game currency to unlock various customization options like character and weapon skins, and banners and expressions among other stuff. There’s a lot to unlock and customize and the game does support microtransactions.
Based on my experience with Gears 4, the jump to 5 is pretty significant. The refinements and changes to the multiplayer are all great but I was more impressed with the changes and additions to the campaign gameplay. It comes with all the bells and whistles of a typical Gears of War game and then some. You’re given several opportunities to perform stealth kills, there’s a bigger focus on exploration, and you can even upgrade the Jack bot that accompanies you. The Hivebusters campaign, on the other hand, while good, isn’t as impressive because it feels more like the traditional linear Gears experience. The standout element here is that each character has unique abilities that can be upgraded.
Gears 5 showcases two ideas that, overall, work pretty well and are enough to make the experience feel somewhat fresh. The first is the Jack bot upgrade system. Jack is a flying bot that accompanies you on your journey and you can command him to do basic things like unlock doors, revive allies and fetch pickups. As you explore the environments, you’ll come across Components that can be collected and you can use these to upgrade Jack’s various abilities. You can assign one assault and support ability and switch them out with others on-the-fly. Jack also has several passive abilities that can be upgraded.
Upgrading Jack can become addictive and he can prove to be extremely helpful on the battlefield. This made me want to explore every nook and cranny for any components in addition to the typical collectibles and pickups you’ll find. Jack’s abilities can really change how you approach situations compared to the previous games. You can utilize the cloaking ability to sneak up on foes, deploy a shock trap, stun enemies with the Flash ability, and my favorite, Hijack enemies so they fight for you for a brief time.
The second new idea introduced is the bigger focus on exploration. There’s two points in the main campaign where you’re given access to a vehicle called a Skiff and you can pilot it around massive open areas. You can go for the story objectives or secondary objectives and that’s the cool part. You have the option to discover various locations and complete secondary objectives in almost any order you want.
Unfortunately, the open areas are more empty space than interesting. The locations you can visit are pretty obvious on the map you’re given and there’s not many. You get to a location, get out of the Skiff and proceed on-foot into the location to complete whatever the objective is. That’s all fine and good but the actual open areas themselves are uninteresting for the most part. The Skiff isn’t weaponized, there’s no enemies or enemy vehicles roaming around, and there’s nothing to see or do outside of visit the locations and complete the objectives. These areas feel like they’re open just for the sake of being open.
I like the concept of the secondary objectives and the rewards for completing them are definitely worth it, but the actual open-ended areas feel like a waste and simply pad out the experience. Luckily, the areas aren’t so massive that getting around feels like a chore, at least I don’t think so, but the lack of dynamic events feels like a missed opportunity. Plus, it’s not like there’s a ton of locations to discover, anyway. In some ways, it feels more like the developers were testing the waters just to see how it turns out. I don’t think a more open-ended experience is a bad direction to go in but I the open areas in Gears 5 are simply lacking. The secondary objectives are great but I think the concept would have worked better if you accepted them from hub area of sorts that would take you directly where you need to go.
The Hivebusters campaign is more of a linear experience and what makes it really stand out is the character abilities. You can play as any of the main characters, utilize their ability, and order the others to use theirs when necessary. Each ability has multiple upgrades which are found in the environments. Unlike the Jack bot abilities, you do not have the option to choose what ability to upgrade and when. The upgrades you find will be for specific characters and if you don’t take the time to look around, you can miss them.
Gears 5 does introduce some new weapons and enemies and, once again, the gunplay is excellent. You can use the Lancer GL Assault Rifle to fire laser guided grenades, freeze foes with the Cryo Cannon, and stun them with flashbang grenades. Gears 5 is another entry that lets you rip enemies to shreds and cover the environments in blood and body parts. The Swarm make up the primary enemy faction you’ll face but you will engage some DeeBees here and there. One new Swarm type is a Leech and on it’s own, it’s not much of a threat. But you’ll often encounter them in Flocks that fly around. Leeches can also possess DeeBees, turning the friendly ones against you.
Outside of the two big open areas in the Gears 5 campaign, the rest of the environments are more linear and then open up a bit for encounters in typical Gears of War fashion. However, there does seem to be a lot more branching paths and areas off to the sides for exploration compared to the previous games. One thing I did notice is the lack of set pieces and I assume it’s because of the bigger focus on exploration. But that’s not to say there isn’t any at all. You’ll get to mow down foes in weaponized Silverbacks, move through Windflares, defend a city from attacking Swarm, and ride a giant door down a river of lava.
There is, of course, plenty of objects and structures to use as cover during firefights and I found both the friendly and enemy AI to be competent. Friendlies will revive you and each other, take cover, and shoot to kill and I was able to utilize the friendly AI to flank and get the jump on foes in certain situations. The only problem I encountered with the AI was during the final boss battle. Without spoiling anything, I lost the fight a couple of times simply because friendlies died for reasons that seemed out of my control.
Gears 5 is a great-looking game and features good texture work, lighting, and character models. I think the cut scenes in particular look excellent and the presentation in general is rather colorful. There’s a lot of detail pumped into the environments from the decimated city with rubble and destroyed buildings to the more lush jungle areas of the Hivebusters campaign. This campaign also features several gorgeous backdrops. Gears 5 is another entry with a solid soundtrack and audio work. From the dramatic and intense soundtrack accompanying the action to the sounds of shouting, gunfire, explosions, growling and snarling – it all sounds great. I’m also happy to report that the game performed very well. The only bug I encountered was an NPC not moving where he was supposed to, halting progress, forcing me to reload the last checkpoint.
As you may or may not know, I’m a big fan of the Gears of War 2 campaign and despite the improvements and changes made in the sequels, the campaigns just failed to captivate me like Gears 2 did. Until now. Gears 5 is my second favorite campaign in the series. I still prefer the atmosphere and tone of Gears 2 but objectively speaking, I think Gears 5 does feature the best gameplay in the series so far. It’s also the game that finally feels like it breaks free from the shackles of the typical Gears of War experience. Or at least it tries to. It’s obvious the developers were trying to do something new and for the most part, it works. The Jack bot upgrades and bigger focus on exploration are great but the open-ended areas are lacking. It’s not a bad direction to go in. It just needs more substance.
I would absolutely recommend Gears 5. It gives you two great campaigns and breathes some new life into the franchise. Some of the new ideas introduced don’t reach their full potential but, overall, Gears 5 makes for a refreshing experience without compromising what makes a Gears of War game a Gears of War game. Gears 5 is definitely a step in the right direction and hopefully future games expand on was established here and continue to move forward with new ideas to keep things fresh and interesting.