I began playing Gears 5 during the early access release between September 5th and 6th and have been eager to write this post ever since.

The first weekend of the game’s life had several connection hiccups, mostly attributed to the huge influx of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate players joining the fight roughly around the same time. Unfortunately, those issues weren’t isolated to versus multiplayer but also affected Horde, Escape and worst of all, Campaign.

However the team at The Coalition stayed vigilant through the early access period and consistently deployed hot fixes to have the game in a suitable state by the time the world wide launch occurred on Tuesday, September 10th.

Campaign

Despite these issues, my wife and I were able to finish the campaign in it’s entirety on our first day. We made sure to take our time, completed all of the side missions for Jack’s upgrades and even checked a good few nooks and crannys for collectibles (though we didn’t come close to finding them all).

Combined with around an hour break for dinner, the entire process left us at completing the story in roughly 12 hours which was a significant bit less than what was quoted online around launch (15-20 hours). I’m not sure if those larger quotes were accounting for finding every collectible, playing on a higher difficulty (we did normal) or some other aspect that we may have missed but thankfully, time didn’t really seem to matter in our play session and we found the day had flown by as we watched the credits roll.

Gears 5 takes several steps forward when it comes to innovating it’s story mode but the story telling itself seems to be the biggest leap out of them all. The game takes time to answer a lot of questions players of the original trilogy may still have and builds a bigger world with open areas that I enjoyed but wish had more in them, specifically additional quests with their own cut scenes and side stories.

The character development in this game is also a solid win as I found myself caring about each and every cast member – including those who come off as huge dick heads and a little bot who can’t speak excluding a few beeps and clicks.

It’s fairly straight forward when presenting facts and events so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything that you need to research. The exception being the return of a character from Gears of War 4 which is explained in the novel that connects the two games, Gears of War: Ascendance which will also be receiving it’s own article here in the near future.

While I can’t speak for solo play, the co-op campaign is a blast from beginning to end and the inclusion of Dave and Jack being playable is a welcome addition that seems to have permanently changed things up for my wife who mains the little bot in Horde. Watching her zip across the battlefield with a Hammerburst or Boomshot in tow while rounds and explosions are going off all around her will probably never fail to make me laugh.

By the time the campaign concluded I found myself wanting to know what happens next and I’m already awaiting the next entry to the series which will be made easier by all the delightful multiplayer options that have been included.

Escape

Escape is the newest entry to the franchise and this 3 player co-op adventure tasks you and two friends with deploying venom bombs in the heart of a Swarm Hive. But to get there you have to get yourself eaten by a Snatcher which is terrifying in and of itself and soon after you’ll be cutting your way out of a Juvie Pod, planting a venom bomb and then rushing towards the enemy with only a pistol in hand.

At launch there are four main hives to play. One featured ‘challenge’ hive and three ‘past’ hives. Each one features it’s own unique maze like layout and is filled with various enemies. You can also visit the lobby browser and play other player’s custom maps which can be really fun, or really frustrating depending on how much of a masochist the maker is.

The three main characters for Escape are from Scorpio Squad – Keegan, Lahni and Mac. The DLC characters Emile, Kat and Sarah Connor are also available for those that own the applicable packs though I won’t be covering them here. Each character has their own unique ability and skill cards that help fit your play style.

Keegan has the ability to drop an ammo box that regenerates ammo to players close to him, Lahni’s ability allows her melee to shock and stun enemies (which is incredibly useful for soloing Wardens), and Mac’s ability deploys a large shield in front of him allowing him to lead the charge, or cover his team mates while they recover.

I’ve found that each character is fun to play and any of them can get the job done but personally Lahni is my favorite. I’m a fan of the ‘in your face’ play styles and being able to wall bounce around a Warden or Scion while knifing them to death is just really, really fun to do.

As you make your way through a hive, you’ll find several safe rooms that contain ammo, weapons and/or cog tags that improve your squads clear time. It’s very important that you and your team work together to ensure everyone is stocked up on ammo. If a single player hogs all the boxes, they’ll be the only one shooting at that surprise flock near the end of the hive and that usually doesn’t end well.

When you reach the end of a hive, you’ll run out onto a helipad and pull a lever to begin shutting the door, locking in the swarm in with all the venom you detonated.

This usually queues one last wave of enemies to fend off until the King Raven arrives to evac your squad and in my experience some of the best moments come from this final showdown. I often like using my ultimate or breaker mace to meet the enemies in front of the door and hold them off until there’s only a sliver of time left to hop back through the door to safety. So far, I haven’t screwed myself on this play and have netted the team a hefty helping of points but I’m sure my time to mess up will come.

Escape is a great co-op mode to play in shorter bursts compared to Horde which can often take several hours to complete a run. It’s also great for speed running to see how fast you can get from pod to exit – just be sure you don’t leave your squad mates to die while you make your mad dash to the finish line.

Horde

Horde 4.0 is my favorite version of the mode. In Gears of War 4, I often found myself getting bored in the early waves due to the repetitive and slow nature of fighting Deebees. Thankfully, the AI for Deebees has been tuned up in Gears 5 (and with a canon reason behind it!) and they don’t appear quite as often as before.

In fact, outside of the mini-boss waves every 5th wave beginning on wave 15 and the major boss waves every 10th wave, I’ve yet to discover an exact pattern to enemy spawning and there’s usually a good mix sprinkled throughout the match.

This version also seems to encourage team work and cooperation more than previous entries by insisting on one character per match, meaning you can’t penta-down on Del and just have an armada of max turrets to destroy everything for you. The ‘one character per game’ design decision has received mixed reception, but I appreciate and support it. The diversity of abilities, skill sets and voice lines in a game of Horde is far greater than it was before and I’ve found it brings more balance to game play.

That being said, I do believe a Kat or Del are still a necessity for higher difficulty levels. The fortifications are extremely helpful, particularly when defending power taps – which are devices that appear every ten waves that your team can capture and use to boost up your power levels.

Personally, my favorite character to use in Horde so far has been Kait. Her upgradable skills include shotgun damage and movement speed. Zipping around the battlefield to body drones and grenadiers well into the late waves never stopped being fun – though I’m glad we had a Jack to grab me when things went wrong.

The bosses also seem to diversify more than Gears of War 4 and each of them can be fun to fight in their own right, but the Matriarch really takes the cake for me. This massive berserker beast can ruin all of your hard work in just a few seconds and isn’t that what it’s all about?

Overall, Horde is still the same basic concept it’s always been. Group up with four friends (or randoms who leave within the first 5 waves), settle in and fight for your life for the next two or three hours. Only this time, it’s better than ever.

Versus Multiplayer

Versus multiplayer is the bread and butter of Gears to me. I’ve been actively playing Gears of War games online since Christmas of 2008 with Gears of War 2 so I’ve been through almost every meta from two piecing to retro lancing to just gnashering no matter what.

Gears 5 seems to have finally found a balance between all of that.

Yes, a lot of the community is up in arms about players using the lancer because they aren’t able to just run across the map with a gnasher in hand and blow away the competition. Instead, they’re being forced to think before they act and that concept can be difficult to those who have just wall bounced into a body for years and years.

I’ve found myself using a healthy mix of lancer, gnasher, longshot and whatever else I can get my hands on because every single weapon (excluding the talon pistol and boomshot) feels fine tuned to the situation they are meant for.

Despite a few frustrating percentages, I feel like hit registration is the best it’s ever been and more often than not my shots land perfectly to dome or body my opponent and the satisfying crunch of a skull popping or squish of a gnasher obliterating my foe still feels so damn good.

Versus thankfully hosts several different modes for players to take part in including the new Arcade which I adore to run as Fahz or the Swarm Sniper to help brush up my sniping game. My all time favorite mode, Guardian, also makes a return with a shiny new Jinn-bot as the head of the Coalition and she looks ridiculous.

The maps are also all original, which is a nice change of pace after that plethora of remakes and variations in Gears of War 4. They also all feel like Gears of War maps with Bunker and Exhibit standing out to me the most, a concept that is hard to explain but when you’re playing, you just know.

Tour of Duty

The last piece of the puzzle is The Coalition’s new Tour of Duty system. A free battle pass like feature that tasks players with earning stars through game play by completing daily challenges and larger medals to unlock in game cosmetic content.

I’ve seen a lot of folks complaining about how heavily this feature is tilted towards microtransactions and I just don’t see it.

At the beginning of this article I stated that I’ve been playing Gears 5 since the early release period began and I’ve already unlocked the ‘Chill’ weapon set without spending a dime. I work a full-time job at fifty hours a week and haven’t felt rushed to complete any tasks.

The Tour of Duty runs alongside ‘Operations’ which last for three months, so players have until December to complete their tour of duty. They can do this through the various daily challenges (of which you get 1 free re-roll a day so you can complete 4 instead of 3) and by completing the medals which are more often than not, based around basic game play like obtaining a certain amount of damage or winning matches.

The fact that we’re not even a full week into the games official launch and players are upset that they haven’t completed an active tour of duty that runs for three months is mind boggling to me.

But who am I to tell people what they can or can’t be upset about?

In the end, this post is about my opinion on Gears 5 and I adore it.

I don’t have any issues with the Tour of Duty or the in game shop (though I wouldn’t spend $10 on an emote) and I’m happy that the game will continue to receive free post-launch support such as maps and new heroes.

If getting several new battlefields for free at the expense of not owning every cosmetic in the game, I think I’m fine repping all the other free stuff I got in the process.

Gears 5 is a huge bundle of content for it’s $60 price. Most players, myself included, get to access that content for even less by subscribing to Game Pass or Game Pass Ultimate. The quality and polish of the title gives me renewed hope in the future of Xbox Game Studios as a whole and I’m excited to see what comes next.

Want to check out Gears 5? Grab it digitally or by getting game pass at one of the links below!