No one really knew what was going to become of the Gears of War franchise with Microsoft – following Cliff Bleszinski parting ways from Epic Games. It’s been over three years since we’ve seen a Gears of War title but Xbox fans marvelled in unison joy at the sight of the Gears of War 4 2015 E3 trailer debut. There was still a lot of scepticism surrounding this as the third Gears of War wrapped the story with a nice pretty bow, but in truth… the world in which Gears of War resides has a lot of potential towards the expansion of its story and lore. No Mr Rod Fergusson now leads Microsoft’s Coalition Games in this newest chapter into the Gears of War franchise, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Developer: Gears of War 4
Publisher: The Coalition
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also Available On: Xbox One/PC
Release Date: Out Now
Gears of War 4 pays a lot of respect to his predecessors with some backstory elements to some of your favourite characters, bringing them to life once again (even if for just a moment). The excellent part of these moments is that they don’t linger long. As much fun as it is to see things return from the past, the nostalgia of them doesn’t need to carry on. Players want the saga to move forward, and Gears of War 4 delivers on that. If you have seen any media regarding Gears of War 4, you will already know that Marcus Phoenix makes his return but in no way hinders how the story and it’s new characters (James “JD” Phoenix, Delmont “Dell” Walker, and Kait Diaz).
We come into this new chapter where the world of Sera is under control of the COG (Coalition of Gears). Learning more about the world that now exists, some twenty years after the conclusion of Gears of War 3, you soon become introduced to this chapter’s threat – The Swarm. Looking like Locusts but not enough Locusts, this new threat produces a different transition towards how much we don’t know of the world of Sera that surrounds it. Within the blink of an eye, this seemingly totalitarian controlled society gets flipped on his head with a swift kick in your butt opening revealing so much more than you bargained for.
All of our old favourite game mechanics and weapons have returned, like the Chainsaw Lancer (complete with new functions) and other toys to enjoy. There’s the running vault where players can engage in a rally run towards an obstacle and slide over with fluid motion. Enemies hiding behind cover can be kicked after the vault staggering them for a free shot. You can drag an enemy from the other side of the barrier in a dazed state providing an excellent opportunity for an instant melee kill.
My personal favourite weapon so far is the Dropshot, which is direct path flying grenade – which you hold your trigger until it reaches your target then release a projectile and drive it down to the ground with an explosive strike. A new semi-automatic rifle called the Markza MK.1 is a new edition that works like a traditional rifle, where it sounds off with a spring release when the clip is empty – good on damage but your accuracy should be fairly on point to be effective with it. There’s a new sniper rifle called the Embar that has wicked damage but has a slower firing time. Unlike the Longshot that is a simple, quick shot sniper rifle, the Embar works in reverse where the shot has to charge for heavier damage and you must hold and then release much like the Dropshot. With heavy weapons, there are two new weapons, the Buzzcut and the Rocket Salvo. The Buzzcut is a high powered circular saw firing gun that ricochets its shots to at least two deflections and can cut down enemies if lined up perfectly where larger targets will require a significant number more direct hits to take down. The Rocket Salvo is brought to you by our new flying robotic enemies called Sentinels. These high powered drones pack a lot of punch with either their Salvos or their Tri-Shot cannons. Once you take them down, you’ll be able to pry from the cold robotic wrecks this rocket blaster. It doesn’t carry a lot of ammo but does make a good dent into heavily armoured enemies. The last new weapon to mention is Shock Grenades. These seem to do more damage to robotic enemies rather than Swarm targets, but in either case, targets are slowed down in the area of effect as the grenade explodes into a pulsing radius of electric damage and prevents enemies from attacking in the field of the explosion.
Besides the obvious returning modes, there are new Player vs. AI modes that mix up the various modes of play only against bots. This appears to be a method to encourage players to form teams for more competitive styles of play, plotting out strategies and such to compose a more solid team. All of these modes can be played in regular player vs player modes or against AI.
The various game modes are hugely familiar to fans of the series; you have you standard versus modes such as Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill, then there’s Horde mode. There’s also new Player vs. AI modes that work much like the standard Team Deathmatch, only here it’s players banding together to fight AI Bot enemies. This appears to be a method to encourage players to form teams for more competitive styles of play, forming out strategies and such to compose a more solid team. Not to mention they give players a break from just possibly blaming other players from cheating and perhaps just make them realise more that they have to polish their gameplay skills.
Escalation, which was previous named Annex in earlier instalments of the series, fashions players to control moving points around the map for points. Arms Race is a new addition that relates to Call of Duty‘s Gun Game mode, except here it’s not a matter of gain kills to evolve to the next gun level; rather every three kills changes everyone’s weapon. Lastly, there’s Dodgeball – as in the days of older generation’s youth puts players in a 5-on-5 match where if you eliminate an enemy, one player from your team will return to the game. The first team to eliminate the other team completely wins the match. All of these modes can be played in regular player vs. player modes or against AI.
Diving further into Horde mode, a visible change is the class system – no longer is it about getting the most kills but the role of which you play. The Class System is broken into five roles, the Engineer, the Heavy, the Scout, the Sniper, and the Soldier. Each with their designated set of skills and starting base weapons/advantages to particular tasks or qualities given. Heavy is as you would believe it to be. More efficient with explosive weapons like Boomshots or Torque Bows, turrets, and strong defence. Scout builds power in damage and protection for a limited time by collecting orbs that are dropped after a kill is made, so it is important for Scout players to continue on the move to maintain their bonus. Snipers are as you expect as well with stronger damage output to headshots along with bonuses to accuracy. All classes can mark targets, but snipers can score more so than others to help other players locate enemies where they cannot be seen. The Soldier is the general class gaining moderate defence bonuses with a lighter enhancement to damage. Soldiers are also more efficient in assisting other class roles with discounts in building defences cost, a higher percentage of cash and power up drops, and they can earn more top grenade carry and plant capacities. The Engineer is about what you would expect it to be. All classes can build defences and fortifications, but the Engineer is the only one that can repair them. Actively composed and capable teams may not need an Engineer as a good team will always be able to manage their funds in their Fabricator if a particular defence is destroyed or broken, it can be immediately replaced. The high benefit to the Engineer comes from their role as a banker for the team managing the Fabricator.
The Fabricator is a mobile bank that players can carry to their desired location to setup a base of operations. From there, the team can purchase some defence items to fortify the area. All of these items come at a cost, and the Engineer is the one that has the keys to the store earning bonus discounts in purchasing defences and reduced costs in repairing defences as they wear down with the repair tool. After all, it is cheaper to repair defences than it is to buy new ones. With Horde mode, it can all boil down to money management. All players can pick orbs dropped by enemies, but no one can buy anything unless deposited into the Fabricator. It’s a giant pool of money all players feed off of and depending on the role you play, you can either make some great friends of other players or become spending hell beasts that just squanders everyone’s cash. Players can “hoarded” it and never touch the Fabricator to deposit the money, but players will drop whatever money they carry if they are killed and can be swept up by anyone. The Fabricator itself does upgrade over time so it is beneficial to build defensive items and maintain them so the Fabricator can improve upon the existing defensive. It also offers weapons in a general sense allowing players to purchase ammo for primary weapons but the community views purchases like this as emergency purchases since ammo can be scavenged for about the area after enemies have been killed.
As other games have implemented, Gears 4 introduces an enhancement system with the use of cards adding bonuses to your class in Horde mode and enable unique traits to those classes the more legendary or epic cards. Cards can be obtained to earn weapons and player skins, and emblems to customize your online profile with but do not give any added bonuses. Bounty cards that can be enabled to help advance further in level by achieving certain tasks within gameplay. And just to point out the obvious here, the more challenging the bounty, the higher the experience or Epic coin reward is.
Earning levels doesn’t do much other than earn you Epic coins that can be spent to purchase card packs to unlock more abilities and skins. The misleading part in this that isn’t disclosed is that you can earn doubles of cards even legendary or epic cards. The saving grace to this is that you can “destroy” cards you earn to craft cards you may need to advance a particular skill or bounty. The cost does vary depending on the rarity of the card warranting more salvage cost to you, and it is also important to mention that as skills advance in level, so do their costs. The rank of skills isn’t that high, so if you’re a frequent player, you can build these skills fairly quickly on perhaps one or two particular classes. For those of you that are casual players, I would suggest either stick to one class to advance levels faster, or if your focus is general multiplayer, you’re in luck because you can earn cards and bounties there too. It’s rather gratifying that Coalition Studios did an excellent job of enabling all types of players, ways to earn experience, cards, and abilities in a wide number ways that cater to all sorts of play styles.
There are many things to think about when it comes to franchises such as Gears of War since established series like this are held to a different standard with expectations to meet certain criteria so not to disappoint the fans. Gears of War 4 is an excellent ride and great offshoot to what the series can evolve more so to be. In many ways, it won’t be the best game you’ve ever played, but it’s a lot of fun. If you’ve never played the series before at all with this being your first introduction to it, some small things may confuse you but overall you should enjoy this pretty well and may interest you to purchase the previous games which are also compatible on Xbox One. Gears of War 4 is, for the time being, allowing those that buy Gears of War 4 to download all the previous instalments of the game from the first Gears to Judgment so that you can catch up on all the backstory. For the price tag given on this, even if you don’t buy the season pass, there’s a lot of Gears of War 4 offers that makes it a great pick up and addition to any Xbox One owner’s library.