A Disappointingly Empty Grind
Reviewed in the United States on 30 September 2019
This is a game that had some opportunities to do something really, really great but ultimately fails to follow through with them, leaving us instead with a grindy pseudo-open world that lacks content and interesting gameplay. It's clear that they wanted to focus on multiplayer, which is a shame because Gears of Wars has ALWAYS been a franchise that was built around a campaign (with varying degrees of quality, but the series has always been built around story, not MP).
For a TLDR, the game starts off strong, with two solid chapters that give you the classic Gears combat and push the story along, but the game rapidly falls apart after Act II. It is a very pretty game whose biggest draw for someone that has no interest in multiplayer, is the amount of detail and lore that exists within the game. The highly touted 'open world' is little more than two large, empty levels with sidequests that amount to collectible hunting and upgrade hunting for the biggest change to the gameplay; your robot.
All in all, there's not enough actual campaign content in Gears 5 to justify a full price. Wait until you can grab it for half price or less.
For my longer thoughts...
There's only half a game's worth of campaign here. The semi-open world levels are simply padding to make the game longer than it actually should be, and was a complete mistake. If you were to condense the game and remove those sections, along with ALL of the other empty sections within the actual mission areas themselves, then Gears 5 would be half the length.
And as fun as piloting the Skiff may have been, it doesn't make up for having huge empty levels.
The gameplay is nothing new, played one Gears game you've played them all. There aren't even any new memorable weapons to use in the campaign and the only major change is JACK, though he's not entirely free of the padding curse this game has. While they did an excellent job at making all of JACK's abilities useful in combat (I used every ability at least once beyond their scripted in-game tutorials), it's still got the same cover shooter mechanics it had in 2006. Without JACK, the only other change is the inclusion of 'Relic' weapons, which pretty much ties in with the gameplay padding as they're linked to the open world and you cannot take them with you across levels. These weapons don't do much to alter base gameplay all that much and again, they're in the game to pad it out, enticing you to spend time looking for these weapons instead of charging through the campaign. They feel pretty gimmicky, to be honest.
The firefights themselves are not all that enjoyable. On top of the old gameplay, each fight feels way less intense than it did in the original trilogy. And on top of that, depending on what kinds of enemies you're fighting, they feel very bullet spongey, as if again designed to pad the game by making fights take longer. There's no real unique gameplay sections (not even with the Skiff) to make sections stand out, and the big boss fights are just more grinding-based padding. They're not entertaining to fight and take a long time to complete, especially if you die at any point.
The biggest strength of this game is the worldbuilding. This is the singular area in which Gears 5 shines. The Coalition has an excellent team of creatives, and while the actual plot of the game falls flat at the end of Act II, they have done a great job at filling in story holes that Epic chose not to reveal in the original games. It is very satisfying to know the answers to questions I've about the story since 2006. Adding on top of the characters being far more likable this time around, having lost the cringe, Whedonesque dialog of Gears 4. I wasn't actively rooting for the new characters to die for dramatic effect this time around.
Story-wise, again, good to have answers to very long standing questions, but there's no true sense of urgency in what you're doing, and in the end, amounts to nothing. The few new plot beats are clumsily done and make no sense, given the events of Gears 4 and don't do much to push the narrative forward. It doesn't take enough risks with the new stuff and the story pretty much falls apart by the end of Act II. There's an arbitrary choice tossed in your face near the end of the game and has little impact for how poorly it is executed. If this had been entirely a cutscene with a pre-determined ending, then the imapct would have been higher.
The levels that the art team has created are gorgeous. Easily one of the best looking games I've ever played and that was on a bog-standard Xbone. The details they put into crafting these areas and making them stand out is commendable, but I truly didn't feel as though any of them stood out in my mind like the locations and play spaces of the original trilogy did. Again, gameplay wise they levels are letdowns, but lore-wise they do a pretty good job at showing the larger world.
I've yet to be impressed by The Coalition's music, and the same goes for here. There's nothing new on display here, no new tracks that ear-wormed into my head. There's not much to say about the gun sounds, given there's nothing new on display. Voice acting is better than the last game, but the focus on Kait and her voice actress Laura Bailey is a little silly. Laura Bailey isn't bringing anything truly new to the table that you haven't heard her do better in other games (like the great job she did in Shadow of RAAM DLC years ago). If anyone deserves to get top billing for the game, it would be Del's voice actor. Del is much more likable this time around and you can tell the VA is truly trying. All the other characters are fairly eh in delivery.
All in all, Gears 5 is a severely underwhelming game for someone that only plays campaign. The Coalition has failed to find and create interesting combat experiences and needs to sit down and really study Epic's level and encounter design. The story falls flat way too quickly and there's just not much there.
Two, three at the most, stars out of five for Gears 5. Wait until you can get it for half price or cheaper because that is about how much the game is truly worth in terms of good content.
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