Gears of War 4 Lead MP Dev Talks Player Choice and the Importance of Co-operative Play in Horde Mode 3.0

Gears of War introduced a brand new mode of multiplayer, Horde Mode, which set the title as a game changer as much as its chest-high walls. Horde Mode is one of the most popular multiplayer modes in the Gears of War franchise, and because it has done so well, it hasn't changed too much with the various sequels. With Gears of War 4, because Sera is faced with an entirely new threat and there are completely new faces in the COG uniform, it was time for Horde Mode to be something new as well. 

Ryan Cleven, the Lead Multiplayer Designer for Gears of War 4, wanted to take what was done so well with the Gears of War 3 Horde Mode and expand upon it while still keeping it in that same Gears vein. After playing it myself at PAX West, I can attest that this Horde Mode is unique enough from previous Gears titles to definitely earn the Horde Mode 3.0 name.

"We took what Horde Mode was in the original games and worked to grow it," Cleven emphasized.

I can also attest that Cleven was really excited to finally show off his product. The entire time I spoke with him, he bubbled with enthusiasm.

One of the biggest changes Cleven implemented was the focus on player choice. No, there aren't decisions for players to make in the middle of a Horde match. That would be weird. Instead, the choice revolves around making the particular character fit in with the player's preferred play style. For example, Gears of War: Judgment introduced the concept of classes, but these classes were tied to the characters. Baird was an Engineer, who could build barricades and fix broken turrets and the like. Now, anyone can be an engineer. 

"In fact, you can make a team of five Engineers, but I wouldn't recommend it," Cleven joked. 

The five classes that will be available in Gears of War 4 include the Engineer, the Heavy (that is what it is called), the Scout, the Sniper, and the classic Soldier. Any character can be any one of these classes, and each class has a unique loadout and set of skills. The Scout is fast and is perfect for picking up fallen energy. The Engineer can repair broken fortifications. The Heavy moves slowly but carries a rather damage-inducing mini-gun.

In addition, the player has cards they can assign to their character to boost certain skills. It's these cards that further tailor how the character can fit into the player's personal style. Some cards deal more damage with certain weapons, others allow characters to take more damage, some let the character carry more grenades, etc. At first, players can only utilize three cards, but as they level up, they can gradually use more cards. 

"We brought in the cards, because we didn't want one class to have a distinct advantage over another," Clevens explained. "We wanted player choice to adapt each class to fit their needs. We want players to argue over which class is best, because the player design determines which class could be the 'best class.'"

Any time players play the multiplayer portion of Gears of War 4, they will earn credits they can use to buy more skill card packs. If the pack has duplicate cards, those can be used to upgrade the skill. These card packs can also be purchased with real money, but since the skills are for customizing your particular character, those who purchase the card packs really aren't at an advantage over those who do not.

"You can't buy your way to win," Clevens emphasized. "That was very important for us."

Horde Mode 3.0 is unlike previous Horde Modes in a few other ways as well, and it's not just because there are new enemies to fight, new maps to fight on, and new characters to fight with. At the start of the match, before the first wave begins, players have to find a fabricator and move it to where they think will be defensible. Once the fabricator is set down, the countdown begins for the first wave of enemies. When enemies die, they leave behind energy. That energy can be picked up and taken to the fabricator, and if players collect enough energy, then fortifications can be built. If a teammate falls in a wave, they can be brought back in the wave if their COG tags are collected and brought back to the fabricator. The fabricator brings in a whole new level of strategy for Horde Mode. Where it is placed is important as players will and should run to it often.

The fortifications are also far more important than they have ever been in previous games. Oftentimes, they were a nice little thing to have, especially if you could lay those spikes in the direct path of those Tickers. This time, the fortifications are rather varied, and most importantly, you can move them after placing them. If you laid the spikes in a path that wasn't utilized as much as you anticipated, you can simply move them.

Because the fortifications can be moved, because teammates can be brought back to life in the middle of a wave, and because players can be whichever class they wish, working co-operatively as a cohesive unit has never been more important in a Gears of War Horde Mode. Your team must figure out who will be the Engineer. As we didn't talk to one another as we set up to battle out our ten waves, no one was an Engineer. I think we had one Scout and four Soldiers. It's honestly amazing we made it through all ten waves, because we couldn't repair anything. We could still build turrets and other barricades, but we couldn't repair them. We had to save a ton of energy in order to purchase a repair tool in order to fix any of our turrets. 

While Cleven really wanted to bring in that element of player choice to Horde Mode, making Horde Mode 3.0 the most co-operative Horde Mode ever was the ultimate goal.

"When we brought in the idea of player design behind class, we also wanted to force players to use these classes to work together," he said.

Well, bravo, good sir. I know in the future I won't want to play Horde Mode 3.0 without a team that is willing to communicate and work together. And I won't have too much longer to wait, as Gears of War 4 releases on October 11, 2016.