Gears 5 shows that the franchise is finally evolving

Released one year into the Xbox 360’s lifespan, the original Gears of War was the title that made Microsoft’s second console worth owning similarly to Halo and the first Xbox. This might be hard to understand now, as a generation of third-person shooters aped its cover system, but it was an innovative action game back in 2006. Since then, we’ve seen the series become so associated with the Xbox brand that Microsoft bought the rights to the series from Epic Games and formed an entire studio dedicated to bringing the series back to its former prominence. The latest step in that process is Gears 5, which shortens the series’ name and looks like a fresh start in many ways despite it being a follow-up to 2016’s Gears of War 4.

While the original has aged quite poorly due to many of its innovations becoming commonplace within the genre, the series doesn’t get enough credit for how much it changed gaming. Not only did its lock-on cover system change how developers approached shooters, but its multiplayer Horde mode popularized that type of cooperative multiplayer and has birthed dozens of clones. Despite how far Gears of War redefined the third-person shooter genre, it has been in a bit of a slump. This isn’t to say anything about the games being bad, as even Gears of War 3 and Judgment are fine games, but they lack the innovative spirit of the originals. It had just become a series that played things safe and stuck to the formula rather than looking to build something new, which is something that Epic had seemingly noticed and why it was willing to part ways with it and allow other developers to work on it.

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Thankfully, Gears 5 shows a marked difference in design philosophy when compared to The Coalition’s previous title. If Gears of War 4 was the developer proving that it could do an Epic Games-style Gears game then Gears 5 is the studio putting its own stamp on the franchise. It’s a game that is built upon the type of confidence that you see when a game becomes a success and the sequel builds upon it in every way. It’s why Uncharted 2 is leaps and bounds better than the original and why Mass Effect 2 was the best in its series. The second crack is often when a developer is at its most ambitious.

Gears 5 features a fully realized world

Gears 5

The campaign’s structure is the biggest difference from Gears 4. Sure, players can still go through it with friends cooperatively, but it’s a much more open world like the ones you’d expect out of a single-player action game. Gone is the linear mission to mission structure, as players now have the opportunity to explore the world at large and get to know their place on Sera.

This added ability to explore leads to a more rewarding player experience thanks to The Coalition’s attempts at adding more world building. While the cast of Gears has never been one-dimensional, and they have even had some rather emotional moments such as in Dom Santiago’s character arc, the world has often just served as a backdrop to the war between the humans and Locust. Regardless of if you were deep into its lore, there wasn’t a ton to dig into from just the stories that the games told. That’s all different now as exploring areas will get players a ton of collectibles that come with important lore, and more care has been put into building a world that is lived within rather than just fought upon.

There is a great reason to explore the world too as Gears 5 introduces many role-playing game elements into the shooter. From a map littered with icons to upgrading your drone’s capabilities by using abandoned technology you’ve collected, there is a lot more going on than simply shooting at anything that moves. The drone, which series veterans will know as Jack, has a number of features now beyond opening doors as he can find ammo for the team, stun enemies, and even create stealth fields. This adds a lot more strategy to the action and gives players more reason to experiment while going through the story either solo or with friends.

Gears 5 shows a series evolving rather than stagnating

Gears 5

Side quests also flesh out the world as protagonists Kait and Del help out some of the people they come across. This is a sizable but optional portion of the game, as doing all of it will nearly double your play time. There are plenty of rewards for doing so as there are rare weapons that can be found within the world that have special properties attached to them, and players will get more of Gears‘ cinematic storytelling out of it. This is a bonus for both fans of gameplay and narrative, as it will allow players to experience Gears of War on a grander scale than ever before. While there have been giant monsters and worms, the series hasn’t expanded its narrative in the same way.

It is rare to see a series shaking up its own formula this many sequels into the franchise. While there is the occasional Resident Evil 7 that shows it is possible to do, these games often just stick with what currently works like Madden and Dynasty Warriors. This sort of ambitious development is a good sign for the future of the series. All of these additions might not pan out as being a huge success, and there will surely be things that The Coalition will clean up next time out, but it is great to see the developer, and Microsoft, at least trying something new.

Gears 5 could have just been yet another Gears of War game and that would have been a fine reason for players to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass for another month. Instead the team at The Coalition is looking to make the best game it can, and have completely reinvented the Gears of War franchise. It’s a huge move and one that shows that Microsoft can’t be counted out in the future.