Gears of War has been one of Microsoft’s most important franchises. Despite the fact that it has gone through several iterations, the core gameplay has remained pretty much constant. Gears 5, then, stands out from the rest of the series. Not just because of the name, where it has dropped the “of War,” but also because of formulaic changes to the gameplay.
This isn’t that surprising, to be honest. Microsoft and The Coalition have to do something to make the series relevant again. Gears of War 4 failed to meet expectations or make a major impact. So, Gears 5 has a lot to do to rekindle the magic of the franchise.
Although there have been some changes, the core mechanics are the same as ever. Gears 5 focuses on the idea of getting into cover and blasting apart your enemies. Refinements to these basic mechanics, though, change them to their most satisfying form ever. New weapons have also been carefully blended with a selection of old classics. The end result is an action-packed experience that is possibly the best from the entire series. The developers have even removed some of the linearity present in older entries. Although much of the action still takes place in confined spaces, there are lots of expansive environments to explore as well.
A small but important addition is the ability to upgrade your robotic companion. Jack has several skills that you can add to its standard set of abilities. Previously, collectible items didn’t do much other than award achievements. Hiding away upgrades that actually do something gives the player more motivation to go out and explore. Especially when the abilities are actually quite helpful. For example, one can give you a temporary boost to your health while another electrocutes enemies.
Multiplayer now has a rewards system like free-to-play battle royale games. The more you play and gain experience, the better the rewards you have access to. Standard game modes you would expect to find are present, alongside a brand new mode called Escape. Microsoft promoted this new feature heavily before release. It is a co-op focused mode packed with adrenaline-inducing sequences. They are great fun to play through and are a refreshing take on the Gears of War formula.
Although Gears of War 4 may not have been all that remarkable, it serves an important role. The previous game introduced most of the main players in the current campaign. This time around you take control of Kait Diaz. The story features her, along with JD, Del, and Marcus Fenix, forming a new Delta Squad in the COG army.
Gears 5 easily tells the most mature and interesting story in the franchise’s history. It is refreshing to see the writers willing to explore darker, sometimes political, themes. The game examines the brutalities of war in detail. In particular, it puts the actions of some of the series’ heroes under the microscope to face criticism. There are also some genuinely scary moments, reminiscent of the horror elements from the very first Gears of War game. Unfortunately, many of these more serious moments lose their impact when they are followed with sillier scenes.
Making Kait the protagonist was an inspired decision. She is an engaging and relatable character, full of charisma and empathy. Essentially, she makes the perfect lead role. Some of this series’ previous characters have been empty vessels. The likes of JD and Marcus can be dull, flat individuals that have no depth to them. That isn’t true of Kait, who develops as she progresses through the campaign. From the sidelines, the rest of the cast also has the opportunity to express themselves more.
There is no argument that Gears 5 is one of the best looking games on the Xbox One. Wide-open environments allow for more exploration, giving a better sense of the barren and alien world you inhabit. Rendered in terrific detail they look gorgeous, especially on the Xbox One X. While it is true that the voice acting is not exceptional, it is better than many other games. It’s certainly good enough to not detract from the rest of the presentation. Like the rest of the series, Gears 5 features an excellent musical score and impactful sound effects.
But a major issue comes with the number of technical problems that persist to this day. Strangely, most of them aren’t to do with graphical glitches or framerate issues. Instead, the main problem is crashes. Gears 5 seems to restart more often than any game I can remember in recent times. Such crashes are not only annoying but can also prove costly, as they set back your progress.
Gears 5 is arguably the best entry in the series since the very first game. Without a doubt, it is the most innovative and refreshing installment in a franchise that has threatened to become stale. The Coalition has also taken Gears of War to a darker and more mature place. With a powerful story and lots of new gameplay mechanics, this feels like a proper evolution. Finally, the series seems to have once again found its identity.