If you asked me ten years ago which franchise was the front runner on Xbox, I would’ve said Halo. When the Xbox One launched in 2013, fans were excited to see the next big outing starring Master Chief. Then Halo 5: Guardians came…and went. Meanwhile, the Gears of War franchise changed direction, moving down a more plot-oriented track. Gears of War 4 came out in 2016, and while the fan reception wasn’t as strong as the previous trilogy, it was a step in the right direction. Enter Gears 5, the next big entry in The Coalition’s chainsaw-roaring series.
Gears 5 starts where Gears of War 4 leaves off, even reminding the player of the events in the previous game. JD Fenix, Marcus Fenix, and Delmont Walker are reinstated in the COG Army and outsider Kait Diaz is recruited. While the first act has a focus on JD, the story progressively shifts to Kait, concentrating on her inner demons, literally. Taking place over four very distinctive acts, the narrative does a good job of investing the player. Following Kait’s story hits all the right beats, providing tragedy, mystery, and the theme of independence. We’ll try not to spoil too much, but Gears 5 arguably has one of the stronger stories in the series.
As mentioned before, each act takes place in a mostly unique setting. The first act takes players to the ruins of Azura, a facility deep in an isolated jungle. About halfway into this act, players will tour the civilized city of New Ephyra. Act two takes place four months later as Kait and Del travel to Riftworm Village, an Outsider settlement in the frozen tundras. Fans of the series may recognize this location from Gears of War 2. Act three then takes players to the red sands of Vasgar, heating things up a bit. Finally, the climactic last act returns home to New Ephyra, giving players another taste of war in the city.
While Gears 5 offers variety in the environments, it takes a new step for the series in a couple of them. The new Skiff vehicle is brought to the table in open areas that the player can traverse. Think like the Jeep sections in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End or Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. These areas are large, easily being the largest environments in Gears history. It changes the pacing quite a bit, though it’s mostly filled with optional content. There’s always the main quest the player can take on if they want to advance quickly. Otherwise, they can explore freely, gathering collectibles, completing sidequests and more as they ride in style on the Skiff.
One of the advantages of making such a grand adventure is the amount of lore to explore. Gears 5 adds a lot to the history of the franchise, some things more notable than others. Regardless, it’s always great to see more world building, especially in a world as interesting as Gears of War. Collectibles give a lot of details, but the story takes center stage in revealing secrets for fans. Not only does the lore expand, but the characters develop so much more, especially Kait. Her relationships throughout the campaign build her up and tear her down, but she thrives on.
The performances in the game are honestly stellar, with Laura Bailey returning to voice Kait Diaz. Her acting is as solid as ever, providing a relatable sense of emotion and pain, not to mention Kait’s drive to uncover the truth. John Dimaggio returns as the grisly older Marcus Fenix, delivering his gruff tones in expert fashion. Liam McIntyre reprises his role as JD Fenix, delivering a certain charm, though JD’s personality changes quite a bit after the first act, changing the delivery of Liam’s lines to something more strict. Eugene Byrd also returns to voice Del Walker, providing the literal voice of reason in nearly all scenarios. While Bailey’s performance is the main focus, I do want to point out fantastic delivery from McIntyre and Byrd particularly toward the end of the story.
Aside from the voices, the sound design in Gears 5 is well done. For those that have a subscription to Dolby Atmos, they can take full advantage of the spatial sound in both the story and the multiplayer. Regardless, the game still sounds good without it. Bodies have a great meaty sound to them when they explode and the chainsaws whir in a satisfying tone. The music especially has great moments, upping the tension during combat while being soft and serene during the quiet moments. It’s especially well executed during the scenes that focus more on the horror elements. It allows Gears 5 to not only be a solid action title, but even a commendable horror piece. Of course, the horror aspect is toned down when you’re wielding big guns and accompanied by AI companions.
Speaking of the AI companions, they aren’t winning any awards here. While the robot Jack returns and is super helpful, the other AI characters are hit or miss. Sometimes you’ll end up in action-packed situations where they just don’t follow you. Others, they’ll be right there on the front line, throwing frag grenades and eliminating enemies. It’s not exactly consistent, but it’s enough to notice it could be better. Luckily, Gears 5 offers not only online co-op, but also local split-screen. Even better, they made it for up to three players rather than the traditional two-player split-screen. The Gears of War series has honestly been one of the better franchises to reinforce local co-op. At least the AI does better in other areas like Horde mode.
The campaign is overall a great component to the game, offering a good story and exciting action. It brings a lot of variety and even a few surprises, not to mention a major choice for the series. This choice may directly affect the next game in the series, but only time will tell. I do wonder what will happen next for Delta Squad, and I look forward to seeing Kait continue to grow as a protagonist.
Graphically, the game is easily the best looking in the series, even surpassing the already impressive looking Gears of War 4. Character models are detailed and animate well, and environments look fantastic. Various effects like the ice storms and lightning look great, not to mention the iconic Hammer of Dawn blasts. The series has also grown a bit more colorful while still maintaining the gritty tone. Say what you want about the Gears of War style, but it’s fitting and very consistent. The visuals may have improved, but it still looks and feels like Gears. It will all look even better for players using an Xbox One X or a good gaming rig on PC.
Moving on to the multiplayer modes, Gears 5 has three very distinct experiences. Versus delivers eight different modes of classic death match styles. Horde mode returns, now with character specific traits and leveling up. Finally, the brand new mode, Escape, tasks three players to work through procedurally generated enemies to make it out of a hive alive. Don’t want to deal with the random maps? You can even try custom player maps, or create one yourself and upload it for other players. All three modes will have players earning unlockable items to further personalize your characters.
Versus mode will offer the standard Team Deathmatch as the most common mode. After that, you’ll have Arms Race, Dodgeball, Escalation, Guardian, King of the Hill, and Warzone. All of these modes are eventful enough for fans of competitive multiplayer, and they’ll keep players coming back for more. Gears 5 introduces the Tour of Duty, acting as a sort of season of time where players can earn exclusive aesthetic content. The Tour of Duty works across all modes, setting various missions to complete to advance.
Horde mode is back and bigger than ever, allowing up to five players to work together through 50 waves of enemies. With multiple difficulty modes and a variety of ways to fight, Horde can easily satisfy fans. Even if a player leaves, an AI character will take their place. Dying allows another player to pick up your tag to deliver it to the Fabricator, allowing for a respawn. The Fabricator can also sell players weapons, ammo, traps, and more. Every ten waves will consist of a boss and also increase difficulty. These difficulty modifiers essentially give enemies more health, better accuracy, and allow them to deal more damage. Now that each character has specific skills, it adds a lot more depth to the mode. I personally took a liking to Del and his machinery abilities.
Finally, we get to the new mode, Escape, where players infiltrate a Swarm hive and activate a Venom bomb. It becomes a mad dash for three players to make it out of the hive alive. Like Horde mode, Escape has players select a character with unique abilities to work through co-op areas. The maps offer twists and turns and makes it crucial to stick together. Players will have limited ammo, though skills and cards will easily help with that. Playing the mode more will not only level up your characters, but also gain you more cards. It offers a more unique multiplayer mode that values teamwork but offers its own challenge as well.
Each of the three modes offers something different, allowing for quick matches or long cooperative sessions. Either way, they give players a deep enough experience to enjoy if the campaign isn’t their focus. There are loot boxes, though it mostly delivers aesthetic content. Without purchasing them, there are supply drops earned from playing, and they’re given pretty frequently. Overall, Gears 5 allows you to pick a favorite character and deck them out with your own personal flourishes.
While Gears 5 may not reinvent the wheel for the franchise, it does a lot right for the series. Building the world up and bringing more surprises to the table make for a pretty eventful action title. Even better are the new open areas to explore, making the game have a lot more to offer. On top of the strong campaign are the three equally strong multiplayer modes, making the game a great option for that competitive itch. Gears 5 continues to take the series in a different direction, and I can’t wait to see where it heads next.