Our GEARS 5 review is here to power you through all four main components of the new game: Campaign, Horde, Escape, and Versus. Does this series deserve to keep on living its high-protein diet and pushing its “No Leg Day” policy, or should it finally be laid to rest (day)? Developer The Coalition appears to believe that Gears in 2019 fits perfectly, like a too-small T-shirt. After 20+ hours of sitting down exercises, here’s our complete review.
Gears 5 Review | Fenix down
A mandatory tutorial quickly runs players through the basics, which I appreciate. The next step for most will be the game’s campaign, either as a solo or up-to-three-players co-op experience. The new robot character boasts unique support-based skills and is more suitable for newcomers.
The campaign’s story follows on from the events of Gears of War 4, with James Dominic Fenix and his squad continuing to take the fight to the Swarm. Some events occur early into the game, and suddenly you’re in control of Kait, as she tries to figure out her personal story. It was her mysterious heritage that left players with questions at the end of the previous game, and it’s in this sequel that we get them answered.
Unfortunately, despite a promising start, the inner turmoil that Kait is suffering is solved too early into the game. If Kait’s struggle was replaced by something even more interesting and exciting, then I wouldn’t be complaining, but the unique plot points fizzle away and don’t return.
Even though the story falls short of its potential, the campaign is still massively enjoyable. When you focus on the gameplay, Gears 5 is a treat. The shooting and executing is broken up by optional stealth moments, RPG-esque abilities and upgrades, and well-performed banter among the squad.
Gears 5 looks damn good, too. I feel like this franchise has low-key always pushed hardware to the brink, with visuals that wow without needing to castrate the smooth frame-rate.
The Gears 5 story takes place across four acts, all of which have unique settings. You start on a lush island, before heading to a settlement, then on to a frozen wasteland, before visiting a desert plain. These locations are wonderfully varied, each boasting environments tailored to epic gunfights against countless Swarm, while also hiding tight corridors where the game’s horror aspects shine.
The optional ultra textures on PC put Gears 5 up there as one of the best-looking titles, albeit with the odd pre-release crash and texture problem hampering my immersion somewhat. Aside from that, the game runs brilliantly well, with options that should make all PC gamers feel catered for. The sound design is stellar, too.
Gears 5 Review | Mad (open) world
One of the main questions that I think players will be asking at launch is: “Have they really made Gears of War open world?” If I had heard that before playing it, I would have also balked at the idea, disappointed to hear that my fast and frenetic third-person shooter had shoehorned in an unnecessary massive open world. However, I’m actually a fan of what The Coalition has done with the larger levels.
Now don’t go thinking that Gears 5 has suddenly gone all Skyrim, as it’s more like God of War and Uncharted, which give you primary locations to explore, alongside secondary objectives and points of interest. It’s not a proper open world that will add tens of hours to your journey. No, these are just small barren landscapes that you spend 30 seconds traversing to get to the next location. It’s not a big deal and I commend the developers for taking a risk.
It was after I had completed all of the second act’s side missions when I suddenly felt that these expanded levels helped make the game better. A map marks points where collectibles and upgrades can be found, and these are always worth getting. Fans of the series will love the little snippets of information, which help to develop the universe’s lore, while newcomers will appreciate the upgrades that help to give abilities a boost.
Ultimately, the more open aspects of this game don’t do any harm. If you’re rushing through the campaign, then you can skip everything but the primary objectives and still get your typical 8-10 hours of gameplay on the default difficulty. Embrace the side missions and you’ll get an additional 4-6 hours of content, with collectibles pushing things further.
Gears 5 Multiplayer Review
We begin our Gears 5 multiplayer review with Horde. This mode was born in 2008, with Gears of War 2’s kickstarting a new wave-based survival trend, teaming players up to fight increasingly difficult groups of enemies from a fortified position. Over the years, Horde mode has been improved to encourage replayability. In Gears 5‘s, players can now use new fortifications, control the Jack robot, and take advantage of unique Ultimate moves and character upgrades. This mode is playable across all 12 multiplayer maps, with Map Builder support promised for sometime after launch.
The Coalition has done enough to keep Horde interesting, but the formula is largely unchanged. Honestly, I’m fine with this “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, and I feel like the devs have done enough to make Gears 5‘s Horde the best version of the mode so far. I’m especially happy to see friendly A.I. teammates filling empty player slots, as the additional firepower really helps in those later rounds.
Completing matches of Horde will result in Skill Card rewards. These allow players to give their characters a boost, to be more effective during the next session. Knowing that you’re playing to grow your characters encourages replayability.
Gears 5 Review | No escape
Unlike Horde, Escape is brand new to Gears 5, and while the former is good for mindless killing sprees, Escape requires a more careful and considered approach. You see, the player (or players, with up to two others in co-op) starts at a disadvantage, with only a pistol and limited ammo, so the first objective is to secure resources in order to fight back through the enemy base.
In addition to the initial scarcity of weapons and ammo, the player’s character has set off a poison gas bomb to completely wipe out the base. Depending on the speed of the poison, players can’t hang around, with time also fighting against them.
At first, I found this mode to be pretty difficult. Perhaps I’m too used to having practically limitless ammo and a wide variety of weapons to use. However, after a couple of rounds of learning the ropes, I started to utilize stealth and safe rooms more effectively. Then, I finally made it out and closed the door behind me. Mission accomplished and Skill Card upgrades received!
Helping to make Escape less of a one-and-done experience is the Map Builder. This is a huge addition to Gears 5, as it allows the community to build their own Escape maps, with Versus and Horde map support coming later. It works incredibly well, allowing for different shaped rooms and connectors, enemy types and ambushes, as well as power weapon and ammo cache locations. With post-launch support from the developers, and new content added regularly, I can see the Gears community loving this. Hell, at launch it’s already wowed me!
Gears 5 Review | The main event
I know Gears fans are split when it comes to which component they love most in these games, but for me it’s Versus. PvP is what had me sinking hundreds of hours into the original back in 2006, and it’s still got me hooked 13 years later. There just isn’t a game that can satisfy in the same way as the spine-splitting executions and intense close-quarters shotgun combat of Gears of War.
With each iteration, the Gears multiplayer experience has evolved to feature dynamic maps, more ambitious modes, and new weapons to master. Gears 5’s major addition is Arcade Deathmatch, which assigns each character with specific weapon choices and upgrades, as well as unique strengths. Players will want to choose a character that matches their playstyle, while also considering the starting and upgrade weapons. It’s a respawn mode with a class-based twist, working well to give all players the chance to use powerful weapons without the need to camp spawn points.
Arcade Deathmatch and the other respawn modes help to keep the game accessible to newcomers. However, the more hardcore Warzone is back to keep veterans happy, with death meaning a wait for the next round to begin. It truly feels like there’s something for everyone here, with Quick Match, Ranked, and Custom options all ready to go at launch.
The highlight of my Versus experience was a King of the Hill match on the Asylum map. It’s a classic shooter mode, forcing both teams to capture a moving zone. It came down to the final point, with us narrowly beating the opposition to win 180 to 179.
I still prefer the simpler Gears of War modes, where there’s a heavier focus on teamwork and utilizing power weapons at the right time. Of course, the default weapons are also important, with both the Lancer rifle and Gnasher shotgun feeling as though they are in the right place balance-wise, with the latter consistently gibbing enemies in a single close-range hit from an active reload.
Cross-play support also brings a smile to my face, but that could be because I’m on PC, enjoying 144 FPS gameplay and wielding a mouse and keyboard against controller users… PC versus console balance issues aside, it’s fantastic to be able to play Gears 5 on PC with Xbox-owning friends. It keeps the community together in a big way, and it also means that I’m not forced to get an Xbox One. Solid stuff!
Gears 5 Review | Sera’s Vegas
During my time with the game before launch, the premium Iron currency has not been available to purchase, but it was at least there for me to acknowledge and potentially factor into my review and score. Rather than sneak microtransactions in after the review and launch periods have passed, The Coalition has been very open about how it is going to monetize the game post-launch. There will be no season pass and no “Gear Pack” loot boxes. What’s more, new DLC maps will be made available for free within matchmaking and private modes. (I’m hoping those include some Gears 1-3 maps!)
It looks like the greater evils of paid-for randomized drops, and content which segregates the playerbase, aren’t coming to Gears 5, with premium cosmetic items featured in a rotating store and XP boosters being the main sources of revenue instead. While there’s no season pass, players can expect regular content drops through the “Tour of Duty” reward system. It all seems to be above board for a multiplayer game releasing in 2019.
With that said, there are upcoming “Hero Characters” who will impact gameplay, and it will be possible to buy these outright using Iron or through grinding in-game. I’m expecting this to play out like Rainbow Six Siege’s operators, but it isn’t fully clear just how big of an impact these Heroes will have in multiplayer modes.
It was initially very jarring to see the “Daily Bonus” messaging pop up, contributing towards a “Supply Drop,” combined with all of the colorful Skill Card rarities. I thought to myself, “What have they done to one of my favorite shooters?” However, while I’m not massively into the presentation here, it seems like The Coalition is doing it the right way, with mostly cosmetic microtransactions that the majority of gamers will be okay with.
Gears 5 Review | Quantity and quality
With Gears 5, there’s a lot to love. The campaign is solid, making bold pushes in brave directions, and continues to be a hoot with friends. The story ultimately failed to fulfill its potential, but compelling gameplay keeps things moving. Horde continues to be a brilliant binge of violent goodness, with new mechanics and rewards that help boost longevity. Escape is a worthy addition to the roster of modes, oozing potential for more creative players to realize. Versus is back in a big way, helping newcomers find their feet, while still keeping loyal fans of the franchise happy with classic game types and the thank-god-it’s-not-terrible shotgun. If you’re any kind of shooter fan, this game has earned your attention.
Gears 5 was reviewed on PC (Ryzen 7 1700, 32 GB RAM, RTX 2060) with code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One.