The war has changed.
When Microsoft announced that a new Gears game was coming I was in the same boat as a lot of people. Sure I knew it would be a good game, but I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit for a new entry in the series. Gears 4 felt safe. It was the first game from the Coalition, and while it was a quality experience, it just felt like more of the same. I was hoping the team would really evolve the series, take it to the next level. Gears 5 feels like that game. It expands the game play, it takes chances, and it delivers on everything I wanted (and hoped) the series could eventually become. It needs more time to simmer, but Gears 5 could easily end up being my favorite in the series.
The campaign in Gears 5 was the thing I was most excited for. After the cliffhanger from the last title I wanted to know the fate behind Kait. One thing I recommend before diving in is a quick recap of all the original games, plus an extended previously on Gears that lays the foundation for this entry. It really refreshes where the game has been as well as where it is going. It is a nice refresher considering we are now 13 years removed from the release of the original game.
MSRP: $59.99 (free with Game Pass)
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PC
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
Gears 5’s campaign is exceptional. It is the longest in the series history and it brings changes to a lot of the core formula. It starts off in traditional fashion with themed areas running down a pretty linear path, but once it opens up, the biggest and most welcome changes to the franchise shine. Chapters become areas to explore, with each one featuring a new biome. Think of it like Metro Exodus. These areas are large,with side missions to discover and areas to explore. It isn’t quite an open-world game, but it is larger than any previous title in the series.
The open levels are not the only new thing added. Jack comes along for the ride again, and he can now be upgraded. He earns a host of active abilities throughout the campaign, and starts off with some passive ones. These can be upgraded by collecting items throughout the campaign. There are also ultimate abilities that can be earned through side missions. This, in addition to the collectibles, creates a solid reason to explore every nook and cranny.
The story of Gears 5 is one of the best to date. It is full of compelling characters and plot twists and turns. I thought the new crew was decent in the last game, but Gears 5 expands on them in ways that make them feel really interesting. It also really fleshes out the old favorites. Seeing Marcus as a grizzled veteran concerned with the safety of Kait really rounds out that character. Cut scenes actually kept me interested instead of glazing over having me scramble for the skip button. The voice acting and dialogue help. Every performance is nailed and it keeps a pace that makes things interesting all the way through.
Of course, Gears is always about so much more than just the campaign, each new iteration also continues the trend of its incredible suite of multiplayer modes. Everything is back again, with the addition of a brand new mode continuing its trend of being one of the premiere multiplayer games available.
One of the bigger changes to Gears’ game play is the new recoil system on the guns. It now uses a standard pattern in shooting similar to other shooters. This creates a more skill-based system that awards players for strategizing their shots. In competitive multiplayer this also makes it feel more intuitive and fun. I am terrible at competitive Gears, but I did OK on the test servers before launch. I imagine after launch I am going to get destroyed, but PvP has never been my strong suit in these games. There is an Arcade mode for more casual players like myself that features heroes with unique loadouts and skills which can balance out the fight.
The Coalition has also laid claims that their new matchmaking system should alleviate some of the problems, matching players against the more equally skilled opponents as well as a host of other criteria. With a game like Gears it will certainly be supported and tweaked over time, but I am excited to see how it pans out once the public manages to get their hands on the game.
I have always preferred the PvE portions of Gears’ multiplayer suite. Horde returns and is as fun as ever. I still do not enjoy the card system. It feels exactly like what it is, a way to sell loot boxes with new items. It is also confusing with how many items you get, the ability to construct new cards, and one-time use items are just not my cup of tea in online games. Let me earn skins or some type of cosmetic item. I don’t enjoy dealing with the excessive menus and loot box mechanics when it comes to these types of modes.
The new PvE mode is called Escape, and it involves three players infiltrating a Hive and detonating a bomb, then as the name implies, escaping before getting overrun. It is an intense mode that is a fun diversion from the rest of the suite. Overall Gears multiplayer modes are once again a cut above the rest. The campaign alone would be worth the price of admission for some games, while the online suite also worth it. It is nice to have a game that spends so much time making both facets of the title worthy for those that enjoy them.
We can’t talk Gears 5 though without discussing its ridiculous technical achievements. This game is absolutely stunning. The campaign runs at 60fps and feels so damn good. Combine that with the gorgeous HDR implementation and 4K output and this is one of the best looking games I have ever seen. Each new biome is chock full of stunning detail and this is easily the most colorful the series has ever been. I was taking screenshot after screenshot as I played through the campaign. The game is just that gorgeous. Audio is equally impressive with some big punch behind it. Hearing it in Dolby Atmos on a solid pair of headphones is just sublime. As I mentioned earlier it is complemented by an outstanding voice cast. The presentation of Gears 5 is second to none.
Gears 5 is incredible. A true renaissance for the series. The changes made to campaign are exactly what I wanted the series to be. The multiplayer suite has something for everyone. This is just an incredible package that deserves its praises. I am excited for the franchise yet again. Gears 5 rekindles the magic the first three games delivered in their prime and it has me excited to see where the series goes in the next generation. This is one of the best games Microsoft has put out this year, and quite possible one of the best games of 2019.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.