Gears of War is the one video game some of us own an Xbox (the only other being Halo.) The first GoW came out thirteen years ago and has made millions. I still think most of the popularity is due to the Mad World commercial. I played the original three games but never was to interested in the several spinoffs. To me, the franchise was finished and my high school ditching, mountain dew drinking, immature joke telling self was content with the story I got. When the fourth game was released in 2016, I didn’t play it. Through a series of fortunate events I was given 4 and 5 for free and so my girlfriend and I decided to play through the co-op campaign of both games… we played nonstop for seven days straight. After beating both of them, we fell in love with the franchise again and cannot wait for the inevitable sixth installation.
One of the things that Gears of War does better than most other video games is their co-op campaign. Very few games bother for it it at all (and I know first hand how much more work it is.) GoW 5 puts in that extra effort and it pays off. The cinematics and gameplay for the split screen are the best in the series. There were moments one character was separated or trapped and the other character had real fear and urgency to help. There was another story element that made the split screen cool, but we’ll get to later in the spoilers section. Several other elements were added to the sequel that I enjoyed as well. There was a skill tree feature introduced in the form of Jack the Robot that actually felt useful and changed the gaming experience as well as many new weapons and tweaks to the gameplay. The biggest addition was the open world style levels.
Many single player games are making the move to open world maps in order to increase the $60 dollar value. The Zelda and God of War franchises are some games that did this successfully; Gears was not equally successful. Out of the four acts, there are two in the campaign that have an open world element; one was an artic area and the other in a Gears style desert land. I appreciated the effort they put in; I genuinely got excited the first time I stumbled across one of the secondary missions. This was a good way for them to introduce levels that possibly wouldn’t have made it into the story. A lot of these secondary locations were very difficult and often rewarded an upgrade for the Jack skill tree. Ultimately however, the actual open world areas didn’t fit the story. It felt like you stopped playing Gears of War and started playing a cheaper Borderlands, only there were only five areas to explore with a whole lot of nothing to do in between. By the time we reached the end of the arctic world, we were just bored. Through it most of the interactions of these open world felt more like chores and less like exploration for fun. this wasn’t helped by the fact the Act in the arctic world had the least interesting section of the story.
(Spoilers for campaign following.)
The fourth game started a new story in the GoW universe. JD (the son of Marcus Fenix), Kait (the granddaughter of Queen Myrrah,) and Del…. just some guy are the new ‘Delta Squad’. The three of them go on an adventure together as a result of the Locusts coming back, this time being called ‘The Swarm.” It did a great job at getting me excited to be back to the universe, introducing new characters to build connections to, and showing how the world recovered after the war that engulfed the first three games. But then Gears of War 5 ruined a lot of the momentum that the previous title gave me. I felt they were building JD to be the main character, having his relationship with his father and personal turmoil between being a COG and freedom make a compelling story. But after the first Act of GoW 5 he was taken off screen and the two less interesting characters took the stage. I don’t hate Kait or her connection to the Locust queen. I just don’t find the Darth Vader (bad guy is the main protagonist’s parent) all that interesting, especially in a game designed around wars between nations and species. The entire second act, snow level, dragged on way too long and just made me annoyed with both Del and Kait. The co-op screen features were awesome when Kait would have a headache see something that wasn’t real, or when she took control of the Swarm soldiers, but it didn’t feel like this was the game for that element and they abandoned it halfway through the game. I appreciated the backstory on how Queen Myyrah came into existence, but I never thought that should be the main focus of these stories. In the final act, when they force you to make a choice to save either Del or JD, it didn’t feel like either made sense. Kait and Del spent most of the game hating JD, so why would she save him over the guy she’s actually been travelling with. Alternatively why would you have Marcus lose his son to Kait’s mother to save Del, someone with no actual personality or importance to the story. I played both endings and they are almost identical so there wasn’t really a point aside from making the player feel guilty.
Although I had some serious issues with the story, and don’t think a lot of the game play was executed well enough, I still loved playing this game. Like I said, Gears 4 got me back into the universe and I am now invested to see where it goes. I choose to believe the Del death ending is cannon. It means a lot more to the characters, Baird and Jack liked him more so their Hammer of Dawn actions make more sense. Hopefully we will get to see JD’s character develop and grow from this experience. I don’t love Kait as a main character but still want to see her kill her mother… again… Now that I’m thinking about it, if she did her job in the fourth game none of this would be happening. But I’m not going to put that much thought into it. I will just wait for the sixth game to come out and in the meantime be chainsawing grubs in half with my lancer in Horde mode.
Video game played and review written by: Troy Smith