Gears 5 Drops ‘of War’ Because It’s a Whole New Thing
Gears of War defined a whole generation of shooter gameplay. Tactical, cover based shooting, blocky, highly stylized characters, and a freakin’ chainsaw bayonet were enough to change the industry, thanks in part to brilliant marketing. That initial success continued through many iterations even if fan passion has gradually diminished, with Microsoft officially taking the reins from Epic with Gears of War 4. Gears 5 is just a week away, and this week I took a first look at the Gears 5 campaign.
Gear of War 4 was an unknown quantity before release. Black Tusk Studios wasn’t Epic, and the industry was treading lightly not knowing what to expect. Of course, Gears 4 turned out great. It was personal, intimate, and – to some – not quite at the bombastic scale of past entries. In speaking with The Coalition’s Matt Searcy this week, I found out why. Almost half of the development cycle for that game was dedicated to porting everything over to Unreal Engine 4, and making sure the core Gears of War experience was completely locked down.
Mission accomplished. Sales, acclaim, and success rained down from Xbox fans around the globe. Studio Head Rod Fergusson and the studio now known as The Coalition delivered a hit, and then returned to the mines to work on Gears 5: the biggest ever change to the Gears formula. The goal? Challenge expectations, enhance approachability, and above all else deliver the biggest and best Gears of War experience ever.
A lot has changed, and campaign was the perfect place to poke around Gears 5’s new systems. Kait Diaz – the protagonist you didn’t actually play as in Gears 4 – takes centre stage. We played slices of Acts 2 and 3, showcasing frozen and desert environments that soundly reject the shades of brown style of the 360 era. It’s a beautiful game, running at full 4K, 60 fps on the Xbox One X. Detail is off the charts while still retaining the signature Gears style – in the words of the aforementioned Rod Fergusson, they’ve always strived for believability over realism. Still, I was blown away by the render quality on display.
I joined Kait alongside Del and Jack, the latter of whom is actually a playable character now instead of a mildly unsettling ghost bot that only materializes to cut sealed door hinges while waves of enemies attack. With approachability a primary concern, it’s a brilliant idea. Jack is invisible while stationary and relies on mostly AOE attacks, meaning those likely to stumble across the game on Game Pass have a low barrier to entry to give the franchise a shot. Releasing on Game Pass seems to have heavily influenced the design process overall, and players are going to have a larger range of experiences available to them.
Going back to accessibility for a second, Gears 5 has it. A lot of it. Microsoft is arguably the leader in approachable gaming, especially with products like the accessibility controller, and Gears 5 has a full menu of options. Single stick navigation, full button remapping, screen shake options, and even the ability to tone down the foul language if it bothers you. It’s fantastic to see, and a trend I hope all developers start to follow.
So the story: Kait is looking for answers, and it’s going to take the largest Gear map ever to find them. Linear sections and that signature Gears pacing are here, but instead of forcing the issue The Coalition has chosen to, well, give players choices. Large, open hub spaces were present in both Acts I played. Although they felt a bit devoid of points of interest on the surface, in true Gears fashion, taking a closer look revealed more detail. At one point, I piloted Kait’s skiff past a crashed ship, inciting a conversation amongst the crew. It sounded interesting, so I went over there. The mission itself was basic – take out some Swarm in exchange for some goodies – but the fact I was detouring at all felt like a nice palette cleanser. What’s more, I’d chosen to take it on.
That choice extends to individual combat scenarios as well. Instead of encounters being predictably triggered right away upon entering an area (something I’d been worried about), there’s often an opportunity to get the drop on enemies by playing stealthily, or to set up more tactically before engaging. It’s too soon to tell how deep that’s going to be, but for the few hours I played I didn’t run out of interesting ways to approach battle. Jack’s abilities lend another layer of Destiny/The Division feel to things with powers on a cooldown timer. Dropping shock traps and getting health boosts were crucial to my success.
Why, you ask? Well, scarcity of resources is something I felt more in Gears 5 than previously. Maybe I’m just rusty (ok, I’m real rusty alright), but bullets were tough to come by in spots, and Jack’s powers helped grease me through otherwise overwhelming feeling odds.
There’s plenty more to talk about with Gears 5. I’m sure we’ll cover those areas in our review, but for now that should give you a taste of what The Coalition is going for. If the rest of the campaign pans out, it’s going to be an interesting fusion of the Gears formula with elements from titles like The Division 2 and Tomb Raider. Will it pull back the Gears faithful and those on the fence as well? We’re going to find out in just over a week.