As credits rolled on the Gears 5 campaign, I couldn’t help but reminisce on the franchise as a whole. I have so many fond memories of the series and the incredible action, story, and lore. I frequently think about how well this series juggles serious storytelling and over the top action set pieces. I argue that Dom’s storyline in the original trilogy is one of the most gut-wrenching stories in modern gaming. The original trilogy ended so perfectly – the good guys overcome insurmountable odds and save the world.
When Gears 4 arrived, I reluctantly jumped back into the series. How could they continue the story that had such a definitive end? Are we going to care about the new characters as much as the original cast? How will they explain the rise of a brand new enemy? Well, all my doubts went away as I played through every act. It was the ultimate Hollywood blockbuster in video game form. The new cast was easy to love, the cameos were perfectly, and I found myself catching my breath as I piloted mechs, survived the storm, and made my escape on choppers. Admittedly, I was expecting the same feelings after I wrapped up Gears 5. Yet I’m struggling to find them.
Did The Coalition do anything wrong with Gears 5? On the contrary. The game itself is something that the team should be 100% proud of. The game is a technical achievement, both in visuals and sound. The gameplay has never been better. Multiplayer is just as fun and rewarding as it has ever been. The addition of Escape mode is a breath of fresh air. The voice talent is on point and brings to life the dire straits that they are in. It’s absolutely a must-own for Xbox owners.
But for some reason, I didn’t love it as much as I wanted. By all accounts, the game is really good, yet left me wanting. I’m not disappointed by any means. Instead, I can’t shake the feeling that Gears 5 is simply a transition game in the series. It feels like the focus was on setting up a far grander future instead of focusing on how the story played out. The story, while good, felt uneven because big reveals did not hit their mark as they should have. While some of the main story elements felt uneven, a lot of good came out of individual conversations between characters like Kat and Del. Instead of the main story moving along, we got more character development, which made me happy.
Despite some unevenness to the story, I can’t help but feel thrilled about where the franchise could go. The addition of open-world areas and RPG elements has me eagerly anticipating the next installment. I think The Coalition did a very smart thing in not going overboard with these concepts. It feels like they wanted to try something new and wait for fan feedback before going all-in on open world and RPG. Instead of making a full-fledged open world with characters with robust skill trees, the development team only added to open-world areas and kept the RPG elements to your friendly neighborhood robot companion. It was a brilliant move in my opinion.
Your droid companion, Jack, has unique upgrades that make your life a whole lot easier. Things like radar pulses, health boosts, cloaks, and shields can be upgraded by finding components throughout the game. Each ability can be upgraded 3 times, with a 4th upgrade available if you find them in the open-world areas. I never found a shortage of components and upgraded everything I needed to for my playthrough.
The open-world areas are a surprise addition to the franchise and a welcome one. I want to point out that they are not true open-world like GTA or Skyrim. Instead, they are large areas with a little bit of structure. You can visit places to complete side quests that provide additional upgrades to Jack and explore the Gears lore. In this case, the open-world areas work really well in providing context on how large the world is. It also gives the art team a chance to shine, as these areas are absolutely stunning. You can easily avoid the side missions if you want to focus on the main campaign.
I’m very curious if The Coalition will take these new elements any further in the next game. Will we be able to upgrade gear and abilities for our characters? Will there be a central hub and fast travel mechanic that will allow the team to have a true, organic open-world concept? Only time will tell. Based on many reviews that I have seen, I think the development team knows that fans really liked these new additions to the otherwise solid gameplay.
As I mentioned above, you can easily spend days and days playing Versus, Horde, and Escape modes in Gears 5. The variety of game modes is very refreshing. Unfortunately, there has been some online connection issues that hampered my ability to dive really deep into multiplayer. I hope to add more thoughts as I play more multiplayer, but so far I love everything I see. Despite the connection issues, the gunplay is crisp and accurate, which is a huge plus for me. Escape mode, if given regular content, is my favorite of the multiplayer game modes. It’s fun and very challenging on higher difficulties.
I also need to mention that Gears 5 is one of the best looking games you can play on the Xbox One X. I had stunning detail in every scene and the framerate was perfect for consoles. Based on how loud the fan was, the game pushes the X to its limits. Obviously, the PC version will have some higher framerates and detail, but I was very happy with the presentation on the console. I can’t wait to see how Gears 6 will run on the Scarlett!
Gears 5 feels like a transition to something with enormous potential. Sadly, that leaves the campaign feeling a little empty compared to other entries in the franchise. But technically speaking, Gears has never been more beautiful and features some of the finest gameplay in the franchise. If the campaign is a little lacking, then at least spend time with the robust multiplayer options. Gears 5 is a must-own for Xbox and sets up potential gameplay changes that will alter the franchise forever.
Note: GameOctane editor Ryan Welch received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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Open world and RPG elements are welcome additions
Variety of multiplayer modes
Story is a little lacking
Technical hiccups at launch