Preview: Gears 5Tech Test: What We Liked and What We Didn’t

Screenshot: Gears 5 Gears 5, the fifth game in the Gears of War franchise, is set to release in September, and it's a highly anticipated addition to a very popular series. For some players and for us, the fun already started though, with a tech test that spanned two weekends. There was wall bouncing, chainsawing, and shotgun action galore, and despite some technical hiccups, we had a blast. Here's some of the best of what we saw in the tech test.

The Good


First off, Gears 5 looks really good. Some commenters on the internet seemed to criticize Gears 5's graphics, but thought it looked great when we actually got the chance to experience it hands-on. The Swarm in particular look fantastic, with every bump, scale, and spike looking crisp and clean. Hopefully this means that at launch it will look even better, just as Gears of War 4 did.

The Swarm

One of the criticisms aimed at Gears of War 4 was the relative lack of personality the series’ new enemy - the Swarm - had in comparison to the previous antagonistic force, the Locust Horde. That has been taken to heart in a big way, and the Swarm have way more character, look much better, and are far more menacing than they previously did. All the Swarm are now outfitted with improvised armor, adding further diversity to the look of the various Swarm enemies. They also speak more frequently in multiplayer, with their utterances of “Fear me!”, “Dead prey!”, and “Filthy hominid!” followed by malicious, guttural laughter after killing an enemy player--adding to their character and overall level of malevolence. Screenshot: Gears 5

Arcade Mode

Gears of War is a notoriously difficult series to really get into when it comes to multiplayer. Gears of War multiplayer is traditionally competitive, and with mechanics that have a high skill ceiling. This can lead to the multiplayer feeling like it has a high barrier to entry, with players quitting when they are outmatched by more skilled opponents. Gears 5 seeks to address this with an Arcade mode. Arcade is a much more casual, somewhat hero-shooter inspired playlist. Arcade mode during the Tech worked like this: you have the choice of five different characters for both COG and Swarm, with each character having different passive abilities and weapon loadouts that encourage different play styles. As you get kills or assists in Arcade, you accumulate skulls--a currency which you can use to buy weapons. Each character has three different weapons they can buy, with more powerful weapons requiring more skulls. Classes are mirrored between sides, so the Swarm Grenadier has the same passive abilities and weapon upgrade path as Marcus on the COG side. In addition, the cooldown on wall-bouncing (a technique in the Gears series that allows players to utilize sliding between pieces of cover as a means to avoid incoming fire) has been increased, giving inexperienced players a chance against veteran Gears of War players. Put together, this mode means you’re almost guaranteed to get access to a power weapon in a round and more chances to thwart domination by better players, making the mode far more chaotic, but also more welcoming to those new to Gears multiplayer.   Screenshot: Gears 5

Increased Customization

The tech test showed off just a tiny slice of the forms of customization available in Gears 5. There will be emotes, although the only two available in the tech test were a thumbs up and a “Thank you” voice line, but the tech test trailer showed off throat-slitting and “come at me” style emotes as well, which I’m sure will get plenty of use. There will also be customizable blood sprays, which will appear under enemies you kill, leaving your mark when you down opponents. Finally, there are multiple executions for every weapon, something I’m really excited about, as Gears of War is notorious for its over-the-top executions. The more executions the merrier, I think.

Return of Team Announcers

Something that was missing from Gears of War 4 was the Team announcers. In Gears of War 3 this duty fell to the faction leaders: Queen Myrrah for The Locust and Chairman Prescott for COG. This feature was missing in Gears of War 4--presumably from a lack of clear leadership on either side for that game. It made its return in the Tech Test, with some interesting implications. Minister Jinn will announce for the COG side, while Niles Samson announces for the Swarm.


New to Gears 5 are hitmarkers, a mainstay of most other multiplayer shooters, but it's a feature that has not been in the Gears of War series until now. Hitmarkers can provide valuable feedback, and is definitely something we welcome. Hitmarkers can help gauge how much damage you've done to an enemy, too. This is most noticeable with the shotguns, which now show how many pellets from a shot made contact with an enemy, making it much easier to judge how many more shots you’ll need to take them out.

Removal of Gnasher Shotgun Active Reload Damage Boost

One of the unique mechanics in the Gears of War series is active reloading, a mechanic that allows you to reload more quickly by hitting the reload button at a specific time during the reload process. In addition, getting a perfect active reload usually confers some kind of bonus to the weapon, like a damage boost or increase in rate of fire. This is a fun mechanic that adds another layer to skill to the game, but it can become frustrating to go into a fight and lose because you missed that active reload. Gears 5 has tweaked this a bit. For instance, the active reload for the Gnasher shotgun has had its active reload damage boost removed, making the active reload only confer a faster reload time. I found this took away from some of the frustration I would have from lopsided shotgun duels. Screenshot: Gears 5

The Bad

Nearly Unplayable at Launch

The first day of the Gears 5 tech test was incredibly rough. Now, as a tech test, that sort of situation is understandable. But for something we had such limited access to, the frustration was real. It was almost impossible to even enter the tech test to being, and even after you finally got into the menu the matchmaking didn't work anyways. This got gradually better over the first weekend, and by the second weekend it seemed that all the problems with servers had been ironed out. Hopefully the problems that were had during the tech test means we will have no problems at launch.

No Gore Upgrades

Gears of War is known for its over-the-top violence, and it can get pretty gory. I mean, just saying "chainsaw bayonet" invokes grisly imagery. However, in recent years we’ve seen games like Doom 2016 really up the ante on the detail of its gore, and in comparison Gears 5’s is somewhat lacking. The best example is the chainsaw, which when used just kind of clips through the enemy, with the enemy only actually falling in half after the animation has ended. I know this probably isn’t something they can add to the game before it launches, but the lack of gore is something that just kind of bugs me. Those who don't get their catharsis from exploding meat pinatas should not be affected by this, as it doesn't negatively affect gameplay in any way.  

Final Verdict

Besides the ridiculously rough launch, the I felt the Gears 5 tech test was a success. The weapons felt good, with the new hitmarkers giving valuable feedback. Personally, I could use a little more gore. But overall we had an absolute blast with the Gears 5 tech test, and we can’t wait for the full release on September 10th--September 6th if you pre-ordered the Ultimate Edition or have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.   If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more.
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James Brod

James Brod recently graduated from Dominican University, with a degree in political science. Ironically, he had previously considered majoring in journalism, but didn’t want to write for a living. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it? You can find him wandering the northwest suburbs, or on Twitter at @JamesBrod12.