STAFF REVIEW of Gears 5 (Xbox One)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Gears 5 Box art It feels like it’s been far too long since I’ve enjoyed a Gears of War game. Matter of fact, Gears 4 released back in 2016, so it’s been longer than I expected. To say that I’m a gears fan is a bit of an understatement, as I own an obscene amount of merch, including two full size lancers, so the wait for Gears 5 has been a long one. But the day has finally come and the wait is over, and now that Gears 5 is here, there’s a more than enough content to keep even the most hardcore fans busy for quite some time.


I’ve enjoyed every Gears campaign to date, but Gears 5 is easily my favorite so far for numerous reasons. While Gears 4 focused on a narrative revolving around JD, Marcus Fenix’s son, essentially passing the torch to a new generation of COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments), as Marcus, Cole and Baird are much older now, yet can still fight. Gears 5’s narrative starts with you playing as JD, but eventually shifts to Kait Diaz, which had a pretty substantial plot twist at the end of Gears 4.

Kait has a unique connection to the enemy, and Gears 5 will explore what that is and how dangerous that can be, not only to her, the COG and everyone else, but Sera itself. As you uncover her origins, alongside Delmont (Del for short) and Jack, the trusty robot we’ve had alongside us in previous games. Campaign is now playable with three players, with one taking the role of the unique Jack. You can play online or splitscreen co-op alongside your friends, and it’s a complete emotional rollercoaster from beginning to finish. I really don’t want to spoil any of the main plot points, but it’s easily my favorite Gears campaign, and I believe, also the longest if you factor in the open world segments free exploration


Are you one of the new players to the Gears series, or simply haven’t played in a long time and are quite rusty? This is where Boot Camp comes in. Acting as a tutorial for the basic mechanics, you’ll learn the ins and outs of the signature Gears core gameplay. Not only will you learn how to fire your weapons and use the active reloading, but how to duck behind cover, utilize advanced techniques and more. Sure, a Gears vet will know all of this already, but it’s a great addition for those new to the series.

Gears 5 also supports crossplay with PC and Xbox players, so finding a team for a campaign run or a Horde match shouldn’t ever be a problem. While the core gameplay is mostly unchanged, veterans will be pleased to know that there are some new additions and tweaks that should be welcomed. One I really appreciate is the fact that some weapons can have more than one execution animation, or that there’s open world segments in the campaign.

Even better, there’s an Ally system in place to encourage you to play with others on your friends list. Yes, every mode can be played solo, but each is enhanced when playing as a team together. The more you play with specific friends, the more honor you’ll earn for doing so. As this raises in ranks, you’ll earn more XP when playing together, so there’s now a true incentive to play together, more so than just not being lonely.


Gears 5 seems to have gone more than just an extra step with accessibility, and for good reason. Given that Gears 5 is part of Game Pass, this may very well be the first foray into the series for many people, so many options and additions have been included to cater towards all types of players. You have Adaptive Controller support, controller remapping, subtitles with a ton of options including font sizes, narrated menus and UI and even a friendlier Beginner option for aiming, for those not well versed in shooters.

While aim assist is nothing new to console gaming, as it slightly helps you aim at enemies to line up shots on a controller easier, this new option ‘snap to aim’ is geared towards very new players, acting as an extreme aim assist. With this option toggled, you can simply aim down the sights at an enemy, and it will generally lock onto it for you until you stop aiming. This allows for 'automatic' headshots, and during boss fights, even locking onto their normally hard to hit weak glowing spots. While some may think of this as ‘cheating’, not everyone is very versed in shooters, and if this optional inclusion means that more people can enjoy the franchise I love as well, then I see that as total win-win.


Jack, who’s been a part of the squad in previous gears games, finally gets his time to shine in the spotlight. Previously, he simply would open doors and do mundane tasks, but now in Gears 5, he’s a fully playable character and has quite a few abilities that changes the typical Gears gameplay. Jack can now utilize a number of new abilities, which you’ll learn as you progress through the campaign and complete sidequests. Can’t get passed a fire patch on the ground? Have Jack boost your shield so you can briefly run through it unharmed. Can’t sneak by some turrets without being seen? Jack can turn your squad invisible for a short time. Becoming overrun and need some help in battle? Jack can hack enemies and turn them against the Swarm for a short time as well. These are just some of Jack’s abilities and he’s a great help in battle by being able to stun enemies and revive downed squadmates.

Not only does Jack make gameplay feel much more tactical in Gears 5, as a well-timed ability can change the outcome of a tough battle, he actually feels like a real part of the team and has a lot of interaction with the main characters throughout the narrative. Truth be told, he turned out to be my favorite character in all of Gears 5 by the time the credits rolled. Sorry Kait, you’re a close second.


Another drastic change for Gears 5 is the inclusion of the Skiff. While Gears has always have vehicular sections, they’ve always been on rails and was simply a way to change the gameplay for a short period. Now, with the Skiff, you can freely explore some open world sections of the world. Generally in Gears, you’re give a very linear line of travel from point A to B, but now with these chapters where you get to control the Skiff, you can freely explore and even do side missions should you chose.

The Skiff is basically a sled that utilizes the wind to propel, like a kite board, but on land. In these sections, you can freely explore however you wish. I was totally expecting there to be some sort of combat element to it as well, but thankfully there wasn’t. This meant that I knew I could relax and simply speed around to my heart’s content across vast desert or ice tundra’s, depending on the chapter. While it’s simply a fancy way to navigate around a vast area, it feels slick, fast and I’m hoping it’s a trend that stays come the inevitable sequel.


Versus, the online player versus player matches return, obviously. Of course, your ranked matches that people flock to returns, but as expected, is filled with nearly everyone using a Gnasher shotgun and wall bouncing so much it looks like a pinball machine. Fans will surely enjoy it, which is fine, but thankfully, for those less hardcore, there’s a versus mode for you here as well, aptly titled Arcade Versus.

In Arcade, things are changed up, which makes for an interesting take on your typical matches you’d come to expect. As you take out enemies, you’ll earn skulls, which in turn can then be used to spend on new weapons. What’s more interesting is that just like Horde and Escape modes, each character is unique in their loadout, so it actually matters who you choose, as they each only have access to specific weapons. While it’s an interesting twist, there’s some strategy to it as well in relation to spending your skulls. Do you save more and wait for a better weapon, or spend less and more frequently on lesser weapons? This less hardcore-like version of Versus is a welcome change for those of us that aren’t aspiring pros or enjoy using the Gnasher.


Horde mode makes a return in a big way, but with some drastic changes as well. Every character has their own special ability, like an ultimate that charges over time, and is meant to fill a specific role and play style, locking them into a role essentially. For the uninitiated, Horde mode because quite popular when it was introduced, having you trying to survive 50 waves of enemies, with each 10th having a boss of sorts to best as well. It’s a simple premise, but fans took to it, and it’s been a Gears staple ever since.

Surviving progressively difficult waves sounds easy on paper, but execution is much more challenging. Luckily bots are able to fill empty spots finally, but you’re going to need some serious communication and teamwork if you want to tackle the harder difficulties. Each character isn’t simply a re-skin of one another, as they each play uniquely to their loadout, perks, abilities and ultimate. Engineers are the defense builders, scouts can zip around quickly, tanks take the brunt of the damage and others are your ones for taking out the enemy. One feature I absolutely detest though is that you can’t have two players playing the same character in a match.

I myself only play Jack, as I love his support playstyle and unique abilities like being able to hack and take over an enemy with my ultimate. If I join a match and someone else is Jack, I’m forced to play someone else, which makes me simply leave the game entirely. If you’ve played Overwatch before, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but when characters make progression, I’d rather focus on the one I like and want to play, rather than being forced to play a class or character I don’t enjoy.

As you down enemies, they’ll drop energy that can be picked up. This energy has a multitude of uses, such as building fortifications, healing others, repairing or even purchasing perks for yourself between waves. Do you hoard all the energy for yourself to boost your own gameplay, or deposit what you’ve gathered into the team base for all to share?

While Horde mode is generally a defensive game type, there are new Power Taps that allow for a little more aggression and risk taking. These are extra points on the map, which if captured, will generate more energy at set intervals. Enemies will try and destroy these as well, so do you use them as bait, or spend more energy and build defenses nearby as well? This will depend on your team cohesion and strategy.

What I enjoyed most about Horde though is the progression your characters make after it ends as you earn XP. Each character has certain perks or abilities that are equipped with cards. As you begin at level one, you can only equip one card, so you much choose wisely. As you gain levels, you’ll unlock new cards and the ability to equip more at once. You randomly gain new cards after matches, and if you get duplicates, you can actually level up the cards themselves, making them more powerful and effective. Horde has changes, for both good and bad, but overall it feels a bit more accessible, even for newcomers, yet has the long term progression for those that decide to stick with it.


Escape mode is something completely new for the Gears franchise, and I’m still not completely sure how I feel about it. In essence, it’s almost like an opposite to Horde, as a group of three players are tasked with escaping from a hive. The catch is that there’s a time limit, as you set a bomb and must get out before it explodes. Like Horde, each character has their own abilities, ultimate and loadout, but don’t expect any of your favorite Gears cameos here, as it’s generally the lesser known characters on the D-list.

While the premise is simple: Get to the extraction alive and close the door behind you before the bomb goes off, it can be anything but depending on the players you have with you. Having a teammate rush ahead, or lag behind, can be a death sentence for success. Even worse, you may have someone that doesn’t share the weapon pickups or ammo. I highly suggest playing this solely with friends.

What is very cool though is the ability to create your own Escape Mode map. With a simple to use map editor, you can create custom maps for your friends, or even upload and share them online for everyone to try out. There’s some interesting ones out there already, and I’m curious to see how creative people become with this in the future. There’s even a weekly featured map to challenge yourself with and earn rankings for should you enjoy the mode.


I’m going to go out on a limb and straight up announce that Gears 5 is easily the most visually impressive title on consoles to date. Playing in 4K, 60 FPS and HDR lighting (on an Xbox One X) is nothing short of stunning. The facial animations in the cutscenes during close-ups looks damn near realistic from the main characters, character models are extremely detailed and the vistas and environments vary and all have their own tonality. Gears has previously been known for its very dark, drab and grown color palette overall.

Gears 5 completely gets rid of that stigma and infuses a gamut of colors based on where you are in its world. You may be exploring a lush green forest, a tundra filled with white and blue hues or a desert filled with a deep red sand. The color infusion is what the series sorely needed and it’s never looked better.

Audio is just as impressive. The voice work from the whole cast is completely flawless and more than believable. Not only do the facial animations enhance their performances, it’s actually got some humor included that made me chuckle more than once. While the weapons don’t sound as impactful as they once did in previous games, that simply may be just my memory playing tricks on me. When the wind hits the Skiff’s sails, they unfurl and you can hear the poof of them as they fill with a gust of air. Small audio details like this breathe more life into the experience and enhance the world of Gears even further.

While some may not welcome the changes and tweaks, I’ve completely fallen in love with Gears all over again because of them. The Microtransactions are vastly improved over Gears of War 4 with the removal of random loot boxes, but the prices are still insanely expensive and disheartening. I’m not paying $5-10 for a blood spray of country flag, but obviously others will. For any negative I could think of, I can easily list two or more positives that I absolutely fell in love with. For example, Jack being playable completely changed the strategicness of the core gameplay, as does the Skiff opening up the open world gameplay and offering sidequests.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had Gears on the brain, and now that Gears 5 has been extremely addictive and taking a large chunk of my time lately, I’m glad to say that not only is Gears back, but better than ever with a slew of additions, changes and improvements. Kudos to The Coalition for taking the risks they did. I’m no longer worried that one of my most beloved franchises are in safe hands going forward.

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.8 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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