You wouldn’t be accused of thinking that the latest game in the Gears of War franchise belongs in the middle of the trilogy’s Locust War. Shooting good reptilian monsters, exploring ruined labs, and chainsaws of other players are the things Gears does best, and Gears 5 is squarely focused on strengthening those core elements. The foundation of the series hasn’t changed much in the sixth installment, but the Coalition adds lots of new ideas in its second game since it took over the reins from the Gears of War franchise. This is our Gears 5 Review.
Gears 5’s story is mostly obsessed with the past, and to some extent, the Gears of War franchise as a whole remains there, but the new additions help to breathe new life into the best old ideas in the series.
Gears 5 Review: About
- Platform: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Developer: The Coalition
- Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
- Genres: Third-person shooter
- Release Date: September 6, 2019
Gears 5 Review: Official Trailer Video
Gears 5 Review: Gameplay
While the new elements don’t stop Gear 5 from feeling true to the earlier games in the series, at least in its 12-hour story mode, there’s also a lot of ground being reviewed. The grasshopper is back, but they’re now called the swarm. For some time, you will try to convince bands of surviving people to join forces with the fascist COG army to fight the Swarm; however, these people are no longer called the Stranded; they are outsiders. Most of the game involves bringing a franchise superweapon, the Hammer of Dawn, back online to use against your enemies.
The story takes after the events of Gears of War 4, in which JD Phoenix son of the series poster boy Marcus Fenix and his friends Del and Kait discovered the swarm threat and were out to stop it. You’ll usually just run around shooting different groups of Swarm monsters from behind the scenes in much the same way as in previous games. Still, Gears of War 4 breaks things with a few variations on the gameplay that improves over its predecessors.
Rather than focusing on JD and his relationship with Marcus as in Gears 4, the sequel addicts on Kait, who lost her mother to the Swarm at the end of the last game. The end of Gears 4 suggested that Kait has a connection to the Locust horde that helped Marcus in the genocide 25 years ago, and a good part of Gears 5 is about investigating that connection and uncovering secrets long buried by the COG government.
The open areas won’t take you too far out of the Gears standard – you won’t be accentuated by stray forces or stuck in a shooting in the middle of the wilderness. When you get to an interesting point, you’ll usually get a short mission exploring a building or entering an arena full of enemies. They’re like mini Gears levels that you can take or leave, often with an ambush to confuse you and some weapons, upgrades, or a little surrender at the end.
But what’s tempting about these areas are the many small moments they allow between the characters. Act 2 finds Kait and Del on their own as they explore Kabar, a frozen alpine area full of old COG labs and fortifications where you’ll look for Kait’s answers. But the whole segment is fleshed out by a series of character-building conversations between Kait and Del as they hang out together, basically on a trigger-happy road trip.
Kait offers an exciting alternative to the procedure as Gears 5’s protagonist as well. She’s mostly an outsider in the sense of her anti-COG education, her somewhat weapons-slim relationship with the city boy soldiers she fights with, and her apparent ties to humanity’s greatest enemies. The game doesn’t necessarily spend a lot of time exploring that idea but in the conversations between the Delta team members.
Unfortunately, the rest of Gears 5’s story is uneven. Although Kait’s desire to find out more about her connection to the grasshopper is a strong urge to push the story forward, Gears 5 pretty much wraps up what feels like her inner urge in the middle of the game. The rest is just about Delta crossing around completing various tasks to combat the growing threat from the Swarm, while more personal equipment is left to linger on.
Exploring the devastated desert facilities of the COG’s ancient human enemies, the UIR is a fun diversion full of fierce battles. Still, as far as the characters are concerned, nothing more impactful happens than a bunch of big action pieces. Gears 5 plays out its best story moments in the beginning, and it ends without much to do with the revelations and turning points it does create. The story ends up feeling a little truncated and meandering, but the campaign is still fun to play. Some crucial changes in the structure do a lot to offer new possibilities in the old framework.
Because you explore areas at your own pace, you often come across unconscious swarm soldiers looking for ammunition or preparing for a fight, which gives you the chance to get something out of it secretly.
Gears 5 Review: Multiplayer Mode
As with the campaign, The Coalition doesn’t reinvent the standard multiplayer of the series in Gears 5 but sees many of the enhancements aimed at adding customization and support for a variety of gameplay styles. The usual competitive multiplayer of the franchise is back, where two teams of five players face each other, with options segmented into more casual Quickplay and more hardcore ranked playlists.
Gears 5 multiplayer doesn’t solve what’s not broken – it’s striking how competitive Gears 5 modes feel, like Gears of War 3, and are fun in the same way. You’ll still spend a lot of time in cover, dancing around other players with shotguns and sprinting for the power weapons at the start of each game. Maps are symmetrical, with teams spawning on both sides, with tactically superior high ground on one side and lower, tighter areas on the other. Because it doesn’t change the core of the gameplay, The Coalition has expanded it to include more multiplayer options so you can find the modes you like and meta-game progression systems to make your time feel more meaningful.
Quickplay includes several different game modes to match the Gears framework, while you’ll need to play a little differently in each game. The modes include classics like King of the Hill, as well as Gears of War 4’s Arms Race and Dodgeball, in which you can’t respawn unless a teammate kills an opponent. Ranked mode, on the other hand, plays things right with simpler modes like Team Deathmatch.
Specializing In Co-Op
The bigger refinements come in Gears 5’s co-op modes. Here, Gears 5 promotes an emphasis on teamwork and specialization, and the live service influence is also clearly visible here. Horde mode returns, in which five players work together to take on 50 waves of enemies while building reinforcements and buying new weapons between each round. It sees some adjustments to the rules, with elements such as shared resources.
New to the cooperative scene is Escape, in which you race as a team of three through a Swarm Hive and try to dodge deadly gas as you find your way out and kill enemies along the way. Escape differs from the other modes in that you have limited weapons and ammunition, forcing you to look for more resources as you go and to work together to stay alive, especially at more significant difficulties. Both modes add more ways to get started with Gears 5, and they share their own live service-like progression systems that allow you to level up characters, customize their abilities and loadouts, and generally make them more of yourself.
Gears 5’s additions make the whole package feel closer and more engaged, even if it is still very similar to Gears games in the past. To a certain extent, there is almost too much progress to deal with; it’s a lot to learn and keep in mind, and it takes a while to build up well enough extras that your characters start to differ from each other. But what makes Gears 5 work well is that those additions feel like a useful evolution of Gears’ basic concept, even if many of these ideas, like an engaged character progression system or a Battle Pass-like reward scheme, become commonplace among shooters as well.
Gears 5 Review: Conclusion
Gears 5 is a return of the best elements of Gears of War, but with a focus on feeling that the game adapts a little more to your way of playing. Whether you want to campaign or co-op, Competitive, or Quickplay, there’s an option for you in Gears 5, and plenty of gear to reward you for the time you’ve spent and the skills you’ve acquired. Gears 5 may suffer some of the same narrative slips as its predecessors, and it may not be far from the past, but the new ideas it brings to the series are all excellent reasons for fans to return.
Gears 5's story is mostly obsessed with the past, and to some extent, the Gears of War franchise as a whole remains there, but the new additions help to breathe new life into the best old ideas in the series.