Review: Gears 5 is a High Point for the Series
Gears of War is a series famous for its roided-out protagonists, and infamous for its extreme violence. Gears 5 is definitely a high for the series, with an expansive campaign, a large suite of multiplayer options, and even a map builder for when you want to take a shot at making your own death-inducing escape routes.
Gears 5’s story follows Kait, introduced in Gears of War 4, as she searches for the truths behind her mother’s Locust cross pendant, her connection to Queen Myrahh, and the origins of the Locust–the antagonists from the original Gears of War trilogy. You’ll travel from COG settlements to Outsider towns located in the corpse of a massive Riftworm, as well as frozen tundras and massive deserts. Gears 5’s campaign really is the one that Gears fans have been waiting for, and adds in a ton of changes that make the game a far deeper experience without losing sight of its identity.
The first of these changes is the switch to Kait as the main protagonist, which was a great move on The Coalition’s part. One of the main reason Gears 4’s campaign felt so lackluster was that one of the main goals of your squad was to find Kait’s mother, but you only played as JD. It made your journey feel less important and less personal, and was a real detriment to the enjoyablity of the game. Switching to Kait as the main protagonist makes all the sense in the world because it’s Kait’s journey, and you should experience it through her eyes, figuratively speaking.
Second is the inclusion of Jack, your lovable floating robot buddy. Players of the original Gears trilogy will remember Jack as that floating tin can who could only respond to the command “Jack, rip that door!” and occasionally give a sassy beep, but this new Jack is more than just a glorified locksmith. He is now an active part of your arsenal, with a variety of abilities that you can use to turn fights in your favor. There are both offensive and supportive abilities, for a total of seven. All of Jack’s abilities can be upgraded with Components, which are scattered across levels. You can also acquire Ultimate Upgrades for six of your abilities, which give them a massive boost in power and turn Jack into a nightmare. These include Flash which stuns enemies, the armoring bestowing Stim, and Cloak, which turns Jack invisible. These add an extra layer of strategy to the game, as you have to think about which ability will be most useful for a situation.
The final addition are semi open-world levels. Acts 2 and 3 have you navigating large open maps with the use of a skiff, and include side missions and locations to explore and loot. This is huge, not only because it adds a ton of content to the game, but because it’s just fun to explore these huge maps and discover secrets and collectibles. It’s made even more enjoyable because, for the first time in a Gears of War game, there is a vehicle that is actually fun to drive. The skiff is a blast to ride, and jumping off sand dunes and snow banks is unadulterated fun. As another added bonus, the campaign can be played with two of your friends, either in couch co-op or online.
Screenshot: Gears 5
Gears 5’s campaign isn’t just great because of how it has looked forward and changed, but also because it has looked back to previous entries in the series. You’ll find yourself in locations you’ve visited before in the original Gears trilogy, and interacting with characters that you might not have thought would get another shot at the main stage. I won’t say who or what these might be, just know that if you loved Gears 2, you’ll get an especially big kick out of these. Not only does it take you back to settings from previous titles, but it’s full of little (and sometimes big) references to the rest of the series, making it feel like a culmination of the series’ best moments. At the same time, Gears 5 doesn’t rely on references, with the new cast of JD, Kait, Del, and the newly introduced Fahz really coming into their own as the new protagonists.
If you’ve finished the campaign and are looking to put your newfound Gears skills to work against actual players, Gears 5 has a number of different multiplayer modes to choose from, including classics like Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Guardian, Arms Race, Escalation, as well the new Arcade mode. Currently, multiplayer feels a bit…”off”, to put it best. Gears of War is about gunfights, and players having to duck and dodge while they try to take each other out.I really haven’t felt that so far. The starting weapons are surprisingly powerful, especially the Gnasher, meaning that advanced techniques like wall bouncing don’t seem necessary because the Gnasher kills in one shot at a surprising range.
Horde mode, Gears of War’s well-known wave-based survival mode, has once again gotten a large update from Gears 4. In place of classes in the previous game we now have heroes–Gears characters who have been given specific loadouts and a selection of skill cards, also returning from Gears 4. However, this means that classes are locked to characters, which is a real bummer. Third-person games are all about being able to see your character, and if you’re forced to play as a character you don’t like to take advantage of their particular skills, it defeats the purpose. Another huge change is how skill cards are acquired. In Gears 4, the only way to acquire skill cards was through buying loot boxes and praying you got the card you wanted, or creating them with scrap, which is also used to make character skins. Not only that–it wasn’t even possible to make a base skill card with scrap, making loot boxes the only way to unlock new skills. This system has been trashed in Gears 5, and you now naturally unlock skill cards as you level up your character, and you always get duplicate skill cards for playing matches of Horde, allowing you to upgrade your skills. In addition, classes have seen significant balance changes, and skill cards have had their effects significantly weakened, meaning strategy and skill are bigger factors in how well you do in Horde. Besides character-locked classes, Horde in Gears 5 is a huge upgrade, and has actually been my most played mode so far, besides the campaign.
New to the series is the Escape game mode, which has you and two others playing as the Hivebusters, a team who specialize in infiltrating Swarm Hives and destroying them from the inside with a lethal gas called Venom. There are three different Hivebusters you can choose from: Lahni, Mac, and Keegan, each with a different ultimate and skill cards. Every Escape match starts with you and your teammates planting your Venom bombs, which countdown until they release their deadly payload. Once you plant the bomb, it’s up to you escape the Hive, fighting off the Swarm inside while also avoiding the encroaching Venom cloud. You start with only a pistol with limited ammo, meaning scavenging weapons and conserving the ammo you have are key to success. Escape is okay, but I didn’t feel it had the same staying power as Horde. At the same time, it wasn’t really designed to be as deep as Horde, with games lasting a much shorter time. However, it’s been confirmed we’ll get frequent updates, so that should keep it fresh.
Finally, the way you obtain customization has been changed drastically, and for the better. Gear Packs (lootboxes by another name) are gone, with characters, weapon skins, emotes, and everything else being unlocked through the Tour of Duty, Gears 5’s version of a battle pass. This is a huge step up, because you know what you’re working towards, but because the supply drops that you do get can’t be bought, and are given to you as you play the game. In addition, all post-launch maps will be totally free. This change alone is enough to put this game above Gears 4, whose grindy progression system was one of the main reasons I stopped playing it for nearly 6 months.
Overall, Gears 5 is a fantastic game. It has one of the best campaigns in the series, a fresh new Horde mode that really brings skill back into the mix, as well as the new Escape mode. Multiplayer is a mixed bag, as it feels like the weapon balance isn’t where it should be, but the game just launched so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. If you’re on the fence, it’s also out on Xbox Ultimate Game Pass, meaning that if you have Xbox Ultimate Game Pass you already have access to Gears 5. So go ahead, give it a shot.
Gears 5 is available now on Xbox One and Windows
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. Patreon.com/3CR