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Disclaimer – The review copy was provided by Microsoft and does not contain spoilers.
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 levels of enjoyment. Gears of War, now just ‘Gears’, has always been a story and world that was unique. As the series progressed, fans became more invested in it, but noticed it wasn’t changing 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 the first Gears of War gave them. 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 the developer made some significant changes to the game's structure.
Familiar and unfamiliar fans alike should have a fairly easy time understanding the plot. It’s clear from the beginning the motives of each character. 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. He changes drastically in a brief amount of on-screen time. JD isn’t a bad character by any means, but The Coalition could have been more deliberate and careful with his arc.
The other three had solid development. Kait and Del are searching for answers about what has been happening to her, and along the way players can see their relationship strain and grow. They rely on each other when times get rough. Their friendship grows, especially in the second act. When Fahz links up with the crew, fans can see him slowly warm up to the others and vice versa. He has to take some heat, 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. There are a couple that don't, but generally the dialogue between the characters has some humor.
As for Marcus, Baird, and Cole, they are all pretty much 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. The Coalition's decision to not reinvent the older characters is a blessing; they are already so lovable it would be wrong to change them too much.
As long as players stick with the campaign's main missions, the story is engaging from beginning to end. There is little-to-no filler cutscenes or unnecessary exposition. There are a few names and call backs to events and people of previous games, but there's enough explanation to know what’s happening. Overall, the story was great, though, there are two concerns: it wasn’t long enough, especially in the fourth act; and something that occurred during the fourth act. Basically, the fourth act was lackluster. Fans are presented with a displeasing choice near the end of the game.
Moreover, 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 deserving of being a closer. By the end, the story is left so wide open it’s a little alarming. It seemed like a weird, random place to end. When the credits rolled, players will realize they only saw the main antagonist on-screen for about a minute. The Coalition created and shaped fantastic protagonists, but it fell short on providing a character that challenges players. Every exceptional story has a complex antagonist that drives the plot 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 serve as the basis for an entire game. It would have been better to resolve that conflict mid-game, and then focus on the antagonist's plans. The Coalition is most likely saving that bit of story for the next installment.
Gears 5 offers players new ways to experience storytelling than previous titles. A slight open-world aspect was introduced, and it worked pretty well for the most part. It gave the player more freedom, and didn’t force them to follow a linear path. Having the option search for relics, collectibles, and components was a welcomed addition. Unfortunately, the world was pretty empty. It wasn’t horrendous, because gamers don’t have to explore and could hop on the skiff to go to the next mission. Really, all the developer 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. The rest of the areas were great. Once players enter a building or mission area, the world livens up a lot. The mission areas all have original designs, and no locations look or feel the same.
Multiplayer in Gears 5 is some of the best in the franchise's history. The modes gamers have to choose from are horde, versus, and escape. Versus is standard and similar to versus in Gears 4. As one 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, more versus options should become available, but for now the amount of content is perfect.
Horde functions a little differently with new characters and modifiers. Fans get to pick their character and each one has unique passives and ultimates. Gamers can also level up their characters and give them perk cards to assist in any future Horde matches. Horde is still challenging, especially with all the modifiers active. This horde mode could be the hardest the series has seen 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.
However, a multiplayer bug plaguing the game prevents players from gaining experience after completing a match. It’s not a game breaking issue, should be fixed soon. For the moment, it seems to be an infrequent occurrence that only persists in horde mode.
The biggest and most disappointing issue of Gears 5 is the lack of audio during cutscenes. Even playing through the campaign on PC with headphones, there were certain cutscenes when the dialogue was so quiet it was inaudible. Typical troubleshooting methods didn't solve the problem, though, having subtitles on prevents one from missing any plot points. This will probably be fixed soon, and really wasn’t that bad, just annoying at times. There are bound to be bugs at launch. Other than that, the game ran almost perfectly, despite some freezing during zone changes where the frames would stutter. From a technical standpoint, this game is insane and has really utilized resources well. The detail in the world-building was incredible in mission zones and cutscenes were some of the best yet. Gears 5 is a graphically stupendous title.
Gears 5 is one of the best in franchise history, though, maybe not the all-time best. The campaign had great gameplay variety and mechanics. The emptiness of areas was a downside, but 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. Multiplayer is strong and, despite having some launch issues, The Coalition managed to fix it up pretty quickly and also compensate players with some in-game currency for cosmetics, which is an awesome gesture to the community. This is likely one of the best games visually, and will be among the top best-looking games this year. Overall, The Coalition did an amazing job on Gears 5.