Platform: Xbox One/PC
Release Date: September 10th, 2019
Developer: The Coalition
Disclaimer – The review copy was provided by Microsoft.
The new take on the established Gears of War franchise has paid off in the latest game, Gears 5. There were some real positives with the new additions and for the most part, increased the level of enjoyment I got out of the game. Gears of War, now just ‘Gears’, has always been a story and world that was unique. As the series progressed, I became more invested in it, but I noticed that it wasn’t changing all that much. New characters were introduced and new plot points came in, but the tone and style stayed consistent, as well as the gameplay. Fans began to want more of that initial uniqueness that the first Gears of War gave them. In order to do that, the creators of Gears of War, The Coalition, needed to make some changes for Gears 5. Thus, Gears 5 was the first in the series to include massive changes, mostly to the campaign. The gameplay is the same in terms of cover, shooting, rolling, etc. but they made some significant changes to the structure of the game.
This review will not contain major spoilers.
As a long time fan of Gears of War, I am familiar with the story, characters, key locations etc. But even if you’re not, you should have a fairly easy time understanding the plot. It’s clear from the beginning the motives of each character, and you can easily pick up what they’re all about. As the story progresses the newer characters have a clear arc and development, while the older characters stay static. Kait, Del, and even Fahz have natural character development throughout. The one that doesn’t, is JD. His journey seems out of character, so much so that it doesn’t fit at all. I won’t get into spoilers, but he changes drastically in a very short amount of on screen time. JD isn’t a bad character by any means, but they could have been more deliberate and careful with his arc. The other three honestly had very solid development. Kait and Del are searching for answers about whats been happening to her, and along the way you can see their relationship strain and grow. They both are trying to understand what is going on, and they rely on each other when times get rough. Their friendship grows, especially in the second act. When Fahz links up with the crew, you can see him slowly warm up to them and vice versa. He has to take some crap, and gives plenty back, before he fits in with the gang. The game tries its best to add in playful banter and jokes, which usually work out and land. There are a couple that don’t, but generally the dialogue between the characters has some humor. As for Marcus, Baird, and Cole, they all pretty much are their normal selves. There is only one time during the story that Marcus gets a touching moment, but not much else. Baird is still the sarcastic wiz and gets some jabs in with the younger crew. Cole is exactly the same, but unfortunately he doesn’t have much screen time. I’m glad they didn’t try and reinvent the older characters. They are already so lovable that it would be wrong to change them too much. Not much more can be said about character development without getting into spoilers.
As long as you stick with the main missions of the campaign, the story is engaging from beginning to end. There is little to no filler cutscenes or unnecessary exposition. They get right to the meat of what’s going on. As I mentioned before, you don’t need to play the other Gears’ games to know what’s going on. It will help, but isn’t a necessity. There are a few names and call backs to events and people of previous games, but they tell you enough to know what’s happening. Overall the story was great, except for two concerns I have. One is that it wasn’t long enough, especially the fourth act. The other is what happened during the fourth act. Basically the fourth act was lackluster. You are presented with a choice near the end of the game that I found displeasing. I won’t tell you what it is, but it is concerning for future games. Also, the last Boss was sort of boring and plain. Typically, Gears has had challenging and unique bosses, but this last one was terrible. It seemed more like a mid-game boss. Not one that is deserving of closing out the game. By the end, the story is left so wide open it’s a little alarming. It seemed like a weird, random place to end a game. When the credits rolled, I thought back on what happened and released that I only saw the main antagonist on screen for about a minute. They created and shaped fantastic protagonists, but they fell short on providing that character that challenges them. Every exceptional story has a complex antagonist that drives the story forward by providing the conflict. The main concept of this game is finding out answers about Kait, and solving her issues. That’s the conflict, but it wasn’t dynamic enough to base an entire game off of. It would have been better to resolve that conflict mid game, and then focus on the antagonist their plans. The Coalition is most likely saving that bit of story for the next installment of Gears.
Gears 5 offers players new ways to experience story telling than previous titles. A slight open world aspect was introduced, and it worked pretty well. Well, at least for the most part. It gave the player more freedom, and didn’t force them to follow a linear path. Having the option to go find relics, collectibles, and components was a welcomed addition. Unfortunately, the world was pretty empty. It wasn’t horrendous because you didn’t have to explore and could hop on the skiff to go to the next mission. Really, all they needed to do was throw in some random encounters and it would solve their problems. Putting enemies out while driving would make it seem less barren all the time. Just something to fill the space. The rest of the areas were great. Once you enter into a building or mission area, the world livens up a lot. The mission areas all have original designs, and no areas look or feel the same. I’m glad they didn’t stick with the linear campaign like previous Gears games. Next time, I hope they can execute it better and add a few more features to really make the world feel full.
PVP and PVE Modes
My experience with versus and horde in Gears 5 has been one of the best in Gears history. The modes you have to choose from are horde, versus, and escape. Versus is standard and similar to versus in Gears 4. As you might expect, the Gnasher still dominates in PVP. The assault rifles such as the Lancer are decent, but they are still secondary to the shotgun. Right now, there are only a few versus game types out. As time goes on, I hope more versus options become available, but for now the amount of content is perfect. Horde functions a little differently with new characters and modifiers. You get to pick your character and each one has unique passives and ultimates. You can also level up your characters and give them perk cards to assist in any future Horde matches. Horde is still very challenging, especially with all the modifiers active. I think this horde could be the hardest we’ve seen in the series so far. The other mode is escape, which also has a map builder. This mode isn’t anything special, but some may find it entertaining. My only concern with multiplayer is not gaining experience after completing a match. It’s not a game breaking issue, but one I hope is fixed soon. This has only happened to me a couple times when I’ve played horde.
The biggest, and most disappointing issue of Gears 5 is the lack of audio during cutscenes. I played through the campaign on PC with headphones, and there were certain cutscenes when the dialogue was so quiet it was inaudible. As soon as I noticed the problem, I looked up fixes on my end of things, but found no solutions. I restarted my game and PC, and tried using speakers instead of headphones, but still had issues. Luckily, I had subtitles on so I didn’t miss any plot points. This will probably be fixed soon, and really wasn’t that bad. It was just annoying at times. I don’t hold it against them because there are bound to be bugs at launch. Other than that, the game ran almost perfectly. The only other performance issue I had was during zone changes. The frames would stutter. The rest of the time I had graphics on high and was pushing 120 frames. From a technical standpoint, this game is insane and has really utilized resources well. The detail in the world building was incredible in missions zones and cutscenes were some of the best I’ve seen. Gears 5 is graphically the best game I have seen and played. The crazy part is it apparently runs smoothly and looks amazing on Xbox One X as well. Well done for those at The Coalition for such a beautiful and stunning game. More games should strive for this level of graphical fidelity for in-game and pre-rendered scenes.
Gears 5 is one of the best in franchise history, but I wouldn’t say the all time best. The campaign had great gameplay variety and mechanics. The emptiness of areas was a downside, but truly not as bad as it could have been. Thankfully, driving the skiff was fun enough to distract from the lack of content in those areas. The story was solid, but a little short and could have been fleshed out more. Having a more involved antagonist would have solved that problem for me. Multiplayer is strong and has almost no launch issues, which is incredible now a days. This is likely one of the best games we have seen visually, and will be among the top best looking games this year. Overall, The Coalition did an amazing job on Gears 5. Sure there were aspects that could have been improved upon, but it did majority of things right.