Gears of War is the definition of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and rightfully so. The hardcore cover-based third person shooter has built itself a loyal following for its punishingly hard skill-based multiplayer gameplay. It’s a game that allows its game engine to speak for itself through the insanely detailed graphics and gameplay mechanics. This is a game that harkens back to older times when games were about “high risk, high reward”. Gears of War is also a franchise that has unabashedly been imbalanced, evidenced by the community’s admiration for the gnasher (aka the shotgun).
At the same time, the series has seen itself falter a bit and slowly lose its relevance due in large part to the story of the campaign. If any were to ask a fan of the franchise where it might have gone wrong, more often than not Gears of War 2 would be pointed out in an instant. The storyline went for a more personal, soap-opera like feel that alienated some of the fanbase: this was a franchise about war, going in guns blazing, and less about the horrors and ramifications of war. Personally, I loved that the story had gone that direction, as I felt Gears of War 3 did a decent job examining the cost of war not just on those still alive, but on the planet itself. It was a mature step that I believe brought the game in the right direction.
That said, it’s anybody’s guess as to how Gears of War 4 will go, or the direction it will take campaign wise. However, given the recent Gears of War 4 open beta, there’s a hint as to how the multiplayer is going to go. After having played roughly 10 hours of the open beta, here are some impressions I received from the game:
Gameplay feels familiar, but different
With a new studio taking the reins of the Gears of War franchise comes some new changes that don’t detract from the familiar. After all, the franchise’s foundation was built on a solid cover-base system with plenty of weapon variation ranging from close-quarter to long range combat. This was a game that also rewarded skill and luck: downing an enemy allowed players to embarrass opponents by using them as a meat shield or various forms of execution (one of them, the curb stomp, became a feature other games would use). Moving corner-to-corner, or performing the deadly combo roll to shotgun were also large components of gameplay.
The Coalition (once Black Tusk Studios) tries to find a way to incorporate new mechanics into the formula, with some mixed results. One of the biggest parts they’ve reduced is the reliance on corner cover: the ability to smoothly move from cover to cover. There’s a feeling of lag and an increase of frames it takes to start moving from one corner to the other. That half second delay, while sounding short, can feel rather long when it comes to tight situations. This forces players to not only have to adjust their playstyle from being able to exploit the corners, but adds a new dimension in approaching an enemy behind cover. I noticed players more often taking a wider angle to ensure they’re out of range for the gnasher. This mechanic feels both frustrating and refreshing; frustrating because of the all-too-often close calls and refreshing in the clutch maneuvering out of death’s grasp.
Another new feature The Coalition added was the ability to pull enemies from out of cover and in front of players, stunning the opponent long enough to begin saying their last words. However, this new feature is also a dual-edged sword: while players can pull opponents out from cover, missing the opponent when trying to grab them leaves a player wide open. This means that the enemy can deal punishment for a player’s risk taking.
Gears of War 4 also feels like it rewards more team play than individual, but still provides moments of epic single player comebacks. As in, the nuances of multiplayer feels geared towards more strategic team fighting rather than individual, lone-wolf style of play. A lot of the games I was able to win were through team flow and play; fluid, aggressive pushing while also effectively and strategically flanking teams, all of it feels like it adds a new dimension of challenge to the game. At the same time, if players are left as the last man standing there is plenty of opportunity to be able to pull a comeback and shift momentum.
Gears of War 4 introduced a brand new team deathmatch style game variant; dodgeball. The rules are simple: each team has a total of up to 5 lives (1 per each player). If a player dies, they have sit out in spectate mode and watch the game. However, if a teammate were to kill an opposing opponent, a teammate is then revived. The fight goes on until the other team is out of lives. Dodgeball feels to Gears of War 4 what Griffball was like to Halo: although griffball was a completely different playstyle than typical Halo multiplayer, it created a new, fun and exciting game variant to enjoy. Dodgeball does the same thing, and became the game variant to enjoy!
That’s the refreshing aspect of this new Gears of War: it embodies what the franchise has always been about while injecting fresh blood. At the same time, it can be argued that The Coalition played it safe by keeping Gears of War 4 within the same mechanics as its predecessor. That said, this is a game that still demands the same skill and luck as it has before, but also takes out the reliance on cover being a player’s best friend. Games feel a lot faster, requires quicker reaction time and thinking on player’s feet. It feels like a natural evolution, and it’s definitely more than welcomed.
The Weapons Have Never Felt As Fun, or felt as Natural
Gears of War 4 also introduces changes in gameplay – particularly, the weapons, both new and old, felt natural and like their respective type. The gnasher, while still having a decent range, actually feels and sounds like a real shotgun. Whereas the gnasher often felt more like a mid-ranged weapon that was disguised as a shotgun. This time, the gnasher feels more like a close-quarters weapon that can be used for ranged shots – but not enough to deal the significant damage previous predecessors had.
The assault rifles also feel like they’ve been given a boost in terms of the amount of damage they deal and their range. Whereas the lancer and hammerburst (the former being the Coalition’s assault rifle, and the latter the Locusts’) were once just a decent gun for providing cover fire, can now actually get the kill if utilized right. Even when being used for cover fire, the guns feel like they actually deal out punishment for an enemy’s mistakes. It makes strategizing for matches pivotal in order to win.
Gears of War 4 also introduces a new weapon that, while fun, I think will certainly have to be nerfed in power (power reduction). The dropshot, which is similar to a grenade launcher, allows players to fire a grenade towards an enemy. The shot hovers as the player holds down the right trigger and only comes down when the player lets go. Once it does, it deals heavy damage in a circle killing enemies near it instantly. While only having three shots, and requiring picking your shots well, the gun sometimes felt like it had too much power over the momentum of the fight.
In the end, the weapons feel fresh but familiar. It’s as if The Coalition studios knew they had to carefully craft the game to fit their perspective of Gears of War while maintaining the core feeling of it. It’s easy to say they were solid in execution.
The Bounty System Feel Unneeded
Another element of the game Gears of War 4 introduced was a bounty system, which rewards players for hitting a certain objective with experience points (EXP for short). For example, one of the cards would offer +50% EXP for netting 5 kills in a single match. Another would reward 2x EXP for netting 2000 points in a single match.
While it certainly helped to boost players in level progression, the Bounty System feels like it’s just tacked on as an added feature. There is not as much weight or enough importance on it to make or break the overall experience. If The Coalition do decide to end up keeping it in the final product for Gears of War 4, hopefully they’ll find a more meaningful way of implementing it.
The Tier System is Broken
One of my biggest gripes, and biggest detractions from the experience, was the new tier system Gears of War 4 is trying to implement. Specific to this beta, the tier system was based on both the number of games won and the number of rounds won vs. lost. Depending on the players winning percentage, they would be placed in one of the following tiers and in numbers 1,2, or 3: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Diamond, Platinum. These tiers can change daily based on the number of matches and rounds won in the previous day. Sound familiar? Yes, it does. In fact, it sounds close (but not that close) to trying to mirror League of Legends.
The tier system felt broken immediately from the onset. For example, if a player has been on the beta for a few days, increased their win percentage and their “Kills versus Deaths Average” (KDA for short), they could remain stuck in the same tier for all that time. However, if a brand new friend were to join, not play as well in terms of KDA or in Win/Loss, they could end up in a higher rank than their friend. There were also reports of people never having improved in their respective tiers even if they improved on their KDA, versus some who did on fewer wins and kills. ‘
The Tier System also felt imbalanced in that some players should have been in a lower tier, and some in a higher tier. There were plenty of matches I found myself playing people that felt like they were still learning the game, and those that felt like they played this game for a living. For a game that is supposed to reward skill and winning, the tier system never felt like it rewarded players for doing so. It felt broken, inconsistent, and irritating. I understand this was a tier system specific to the beta, but if it’s a taste of what’s to come it doesn’t sit right. It also leads me to another concern: the extra concentration on making Gears of War a household e-Sport feels like it’s detracted from the game.
Hopefully they’ll find a way to fix this, otherwise this is definitely going to be a major factor that’ll impact the game’s online lifespan.
Gears of War 4 is a welcomed change
For better or worse Gears of War 4 is a shift in change and thought for the franchise. It eliminates the abundant reliance on cover and forces players to rely more on their skill and luck to survive. The guns feel more balanced and natural, creating a even playing field for both teams to capitalize on. However, with a broken tier system and a bounty system that feels unnecessary, The Coalition clearly have some more polish to do before the final product is ready.
Overall, Gears of War 4 feels like as much homage as well as a welcoming of a new age. It has a lot of the qualities the franchise is known for, but feels a little bit different. Given how early it is until the game is released, only time will tell if the game will be able to usher in a new era of Gears of War or fall flat trying to meet expectations. For now, it’s a welcomed change of pace that can hopefully bring Gears of War back to prominence.
Overall Time Played: 10 hours