managed to pleasantly surprise me, both in terms of its gameplay and its story. For a series that’s now six total entries deep, that’s impressive. The Coalition pulled it off by taking the time to develop its trio of young heroes beyond the foundations established in Gears of War 4 and having the guts to alter the course of the series in a way I didn’t expect. And while it makes no attempt to fix what isn’t broken with the rock-solid cover-based shooting gameplay, it does augment it in interesting ways and experiments with an open-world structure.Combine all of that with a broad set of multiplayer modes that range from the trusty old stalwarts to bold and spicy new takes on both co-op and competitive gameplay, and what’s presented is a tremendous package that stands as one of the year’s best action games.
We’ve got in-depth reviews of both the single-player and multiplayer modes. First, here’s what we said about the campaign:
Gears’s third-person action has evolved slowly but steadily from one entry to the next, and in Gears 5 the bulk of what’s new flows through Jack, your handy floating robot companion. He can now snag weapons from the battlefield for you and unlock safes, among other actions, and you’ll earn new abilities for him to use in combat, such as flash-blinding your foes, reviving you and your allies when you’re down, cloaking you, and more. Upgrade components are littered across the world, so you can decide to hyper-specialize in a few areas or have a little bit of every ability. I appreciated the extra tactical layers he offered, and while I did vary my selected Jack ability depending on the situation, I was particularly thankful for the healing power of Stim in the latter part of the campaign, which saved me from dying more than once.
[And] boy oh boy does Gears’ combat still feel good. This may be the only series where I’m always happy to have the default weapon – the trusty Lancer – in my loadout at all times, just in case I get a chance to chainsaw a bad guy in half. The Overkill shotgun returns from Gears of War 4 and packs a potent punch, while classics like the Longshot, Boomshot, and Mulcher are still around to satisfyingly chew your foes into little fleshy chunks. New weapons like the Claw manage to feel unique but fit right in, too; Gears 5 does a tremendous job of balancing the old toys with new ones.
Also new is Gears 5’s open structure of its middle two acts. You’ll roam the area on your wind-powered Skiff, free to tackle optional secondary objectives that vary in duration and challenge. Usually your reward is Jack upgrades, so they’re very worth doing. This is a nice change of pace for Gears, just like it was for God of War last year — who’s to say whether that was by intention or coincidence, but the fact that the first of these sections is set in a frozen tundra only makes it harder to ignore the similarity). Multiple varied boss fights also help Gears 5 feel fresh throughout.
Campaign score: 8.8
Arcade is the standout of Gears 5’s iteration of Versus. This new mode is a more casual and chaotic game type that welcomes those who feel they’re always the Gnashed, never the Gnasher, with open arms. Instead of starting everybody with the standard Lancer/Gnasher loadout, you’re given an arsenal based on your character, which can be changed at any point between deaths during the match. Don’t expect to see premium weapons littered on the map with a timer attached to them, either; instead, you buy special weapons and equipment like a Markza MK1 (my weapon of choice) or incendiary grenades with skulls earned by downing and killing enemies. You’re even rewarded with a skull if you die a lot, which can help prevent the feeling of being stuck in a dead-end loop. Your skulls persist through deaths too, giving people who don’t necessarily excel at getting consecutive kills a chance to get a fun piece of equipment. There’s also a lobby for co-op versus against bots, so if you’re bringing a new friend into Gears there’s a place for them to learn how to ease into competitive play instead of just tossing them into the meat grinder.Read more about multiplayer from Miranda Sanchez’s multiplayer review (or watch the video version above).
The most exciting of the [Horde] characters, though, is Jack. Your robot buddy from the campaign is a key support character in multiplayer too and is a ton of fun when facing off with your team against wave after wave of fodder. Instead of equipping weapons, Jack has a built-in laser he can use to stun and damage enemies and a repair tool that can heal allies and rebuild fortifications. Better yet, his ultimate ability allows him to assume control of an enemy unit for a limited amount of time – which is enough to do cool stuff like take control of a Bastion and have it self-destruct in the middle of a bunch of Swarm. At first glance he seems like the character you’d assign to a less experienced player, which is not a bad idea because he can hang back and lend a hand without taking as much direct fire. But in the hands of an experienced player, he can be used to pull off some really awesome strategies, especially since he automatically goes invisible after being left alone for some time. I’d use his increased mobility to flank tough enemies and to collect important weapons for my teammates.
Multiplayer score: 9.0
In multiplayer, Gears 5’s progression system is extensive, confusing, and feels designed to turn all of us into gears, each grinding away endlessly to try and collect what are, ultimately, a collection of pretty underwhelming rewards. Fortunately the microtransactions barely affect it
There’s an in-game store that lets you purchase skins, markers, bloodsprays, emotes, and other cosmetic customization features with a premium currency called Iron. 100 Iron equates to about a buck, and the price of an “Epic” rarity level skin is about 1,000 Iron. So if you’re looking to buy anything significant, you’re looking to drop at least $10. It’s not cheap, but also not essential.
The only thing you can buy that affects gameplay even slightly are experience boosts that last one day, seven days, or 30 days, for 250, 600, and 1,200 Iron, respectively. I have no idea why you’d ever want to do that given that in Gears 5’s leveling system, levelling up is largely meaningless. Even the rewards for “Reupping,” or reaching the max level and then resetting your level back to 1 in order to do it all again, amounting to little more than a new bloodspray. So you can spend money to do that faster.
Everything else in Gears 5 can’t be bought and must be earned by playing through the grind heavy Tour of Duty, which is essentially Gears 5’s version of a Battle Pass (except it’s free). You’re given three Tour Objectives to complete per day that each offer a certain number of stars. The objectives themselves are often nothing to scoff at, like killing 90 Drone Elites, but are still generally obtainable within a few hours of play – and you’re given the option to swap a hard objective out for a random one, but the more you do this the more Iron it costs.. Progression feels alright, but only for a little while: you only get three challenges per day, so if you wanted to take a day and just plow through them to earn stars, you can’t.
Once you collect enough stars to move up a rank you collect that rank’s reward and move on to the next one, in typical battle pass fashion. Unfortunately, the rewards are underwhelming to say the least. For the first eight ranks you get nothing but lame banners, bloodsprays, a salute emote, and then finally when you achieve the rank of Sergeant III, you get your first skin: Fahz in his desert armor from the campaign. It’s not even a new skin! It’s just a recycled skin from the campaign, one that would fit right in if it was available right from the start.
This holds true throughout the entirety of rewards in this first Tour of Duty. There are a bunch of banners and bloodsprays (few of which are any better than the ones you start with), basic emotes, recycled campaign skins, a few new executions that you can’t preview, and a grand total of 500 Iron — not even enough to buy a single skin from the store.
So all together, Gears 5’s microtransaction system feels like even more of a mess than what’s come to be expected. The rewards in this first Tour of Duty don’t match up with the absurd amount of time that would be required to earn them, and the items that are only purchasable in the store don’t feel special enough to warrant an extra $10 per pop on a game that already costs $60.