Gears 5 Horde Offers a Fresh Face
It’s hard to start writing a Gears of War articles without considering the past and discussing the bonkers number of concepts the franchise pioneered. I did it in my Gears 5 campaign preview, and I’m doing it again here. Horde mode. Today it’s ubiquitous. A style of gameplay that’s almost expected of a big budget multiplayer title, and a mode that wouldn’t exist without the Gears franchise. I took a run at Gears 5 Horde mode this week, and yup, it’s just as fun and intense as ever.
In case you’re unfamiliar, here are the basics. A squad of 5 characters tasked with holding out against progressively stronger waves of enemies. Between each wave, there’s the opportunity to fortify your position, and resupply with whatever you can find on the battlefield. Every 10 waves, a nasty boss enemy of some kind shows up to really mess with your squad.
In almost every way, Gears 5 Horde is exactly that. In the first few waves I was worried about getting bored – after all, not a ton has changed with Horde – but quickly ran into the frantic intensity I remember so fondly from many years ago. The beauty of Horde is that it’s possible for any level of player to find that intensity. Difficulty can now be tuned much more granularly, with options to adjust enemy health, damage output, and more individually. Practically, it means that players who are great shots but terrible at taking cover can produce an experience that’s uniquely challenging to them, but also that Gears 5 becomes a game that’s easier to stick with and grow into.
One of the things that I’d classify as a bigger change is the characters. Instead of being cosmetic skins, characters are now hero-esque, much like in Black Ops 4. Characters of course have roles to fill and associated classes like Scout, Engineer, Offense, Tank, and Support. Team balance is more of a consideration now – something my squad neglected to think about – as you’ll definitely need an engineer, and you’d be insane to have a squad that didn’t include Jack. I played as Marcus (what can I say, I’m old school), and although I had the blinders on a bit too often, loved the heck out of his ultimate ability. When active, every bullet you fire is headshot. In the words of Mr. Fenix, “nice”.
Unlike past iterations, where higher wave counts and difficulties became ALL about the engineer, the team has put a lot of energy into balancing out the classes and making sure everyone can contribute all the way through a 50 wave run. For example, power now gets automatically distributed amongst the team regardless of who picks it up. It gets rid of the tendency for people to race out beyond the wall when they shouldn’t – now, hopefully, your scout will fill that role as they ought to.
Each of the characters has a unique progression system you’ll work through as you play, globally leading to unlockable skill cards, and with unique perk trees in each match. Don’t worry, there’s no abusive loot box garbage here. You’ll earn the skill cards honestly, and anything that’s purchasable is well labeled in the store. What’s more, you won’t be able to pay to win – unlockables have to be unlocked by playing.
In Gears 4, one of the things the Lead Multiplayer Producer Otto Ottosson noticed was the tendency to play it safe. To offset that trend, Gears 5 Horde adds in a territory control component. After a certain number of waves, a power tap spawns somewhere on the map. It’s high value, and definitely worth controlling, but it might be nowhere near your base. Do you uproot your base? Build a satellite station and try to control multiple areas? It’s up to you, and it adds another layer of flexibility to a mode now in its fifth revision.
So mechanically, what’s the deal? Well, it’s Gears. It feels smooth, runs excellently on the Xbox One X, and at a first glance looks remarkably close in render quality to the outstanding campaign mode visuals. The Gnasher shotgun still satisfyingly explodes enemies, communication is still critical, and clearing a tough boss wave is still insanely rewarding. In short, they didn’t change the things that have always felt awesome in Horde, and have added in a ton of progression and tactical options that are fixing to make Gears 5 Horde the best iteration yet. Will that feeling hold up for a whole bunch of matches? It’s too soon to tell, but our review of the final product will most definitely have the answers.