Although Gears 5 is the first main game in the long-running series to nix the “of War” suffix, make no mistake: The Gears world is still at war. The third-person shooter is the sixth entry in the franchise and a direct sequel to Gears of War 4, continuing the story of the Coalition of Ordered Government’s (COG) fight against an enemy force, known as the Swarm. Gears 5’s captivating storytelling, solid mechanics, and excellent graphics far outweigh this PC game’s merely average multiplayer modes. It’s an easy recommendation for longtime players of the Gears of War series and newcomers alike.
Gears 5 Campaign and Characters
As Gears of War 5 is my first foray into the series, I was initially unsure how well I could pick up on the story details, given the number of previous entries. Gears 5 smartly accounts for new players by recapping Gears of War 4’s story at the start of the campaign and by including an optional detailed recap of the Gears of War universe in the Extras section of its main menu. The events of Gears 5 are easy enough to follow without this prior knowledge, but a deeper understanding of the series’ history enriches the game’s content. Playing the previous games will undoubtedly help you make more sense of the world.
In case you decided to play Gears of War 4, I’ll try to be as vague as possible about the premise of this latest entry. In Gears 5, the story resumes with the Swarm, a grotesque, resurgent strain of the Locusts (an enemy in past Gears of Wars games), continuing to attack COG settlements and independent civilizations on Sera (the Gears universe’s home planet). You mostly play as Kait Diaz, a Gear (COG soldier), who embarks on a campaign for answers about her ties to the Swarm after the events surrounding her mother in the previous game.
The campaign is structured in four acts, broken up into distinct chapters. I did not complete the entire campaign, but played into the game’s fourth act. The gaming benchmark website, How Long to Beat, places the campaign at 11 hours. Your playtime may vary depending on whether you choose to find all of the collectibles in each area and the difficulty level you choose.
Gears 5’s characters are much better developed than most run-of-the-mill third-person shooters. Kait, for instance, has complex, independent motivations that do not always align with those of the other Gears. Kait’s mysterious, excruciating headaches and visions also offer insight into her personal misgivings and struggles with understanding her (and her mother’s) relation to the Swarm. These qualities help craft her self-reliant and rightfully guarded image. Marcus Fenix, a character who has been around since the very first Gears of War title, serves in several capacities—part guide to Kait, part father to JD (another Gear and the protagonist of Gears of War 4), and part foil to Jinn (the COG leader).
Third-person shooter games often focus on just the action at hand or use some half-baked plot devices about good and evil to contextualize characters, but Gears 5 excels in creating characters who actively live in and shape their universe. Also, it’s hard not to appreciate Jack, your friendly, flying, robotic companion who can help out by unlocking doors, setting shock traps, and even granting you invisibility. You can upgrade Jack’s capabilities by collecting components throughout the campaign.
Gameplay and Multiplayer
Gears 5 is a third-person shooter, so most of your objectives involve clearing out an area of Swarm enemies with your weapon of choice. Gears 5 requires you to use the game’s cover system heavily, since even a few seconds of direct enemy fire can be deadly. The semi-linear environments in Gears 5 do allow you to approach enemies with some flexibility, which I appreciate. This setup also makes the cover system feel more dynamic, especially since some barriers are destructible. Still, the gameplay can get a bit stale when you learn to expect Swarm enemies at most junctions.
In some cases, you can sneak up behind enemies, such as the Swarm-controlled DeeBees (automated robots) and take them out before they notice you. Or you can slash at enemies head-on, which can be an effective tactic for a stranded Swarm enemy. Another cool mechanic (in later stages) is that you can drown enemies by shooting out the ice beneath them. This tactic can be useful for when an overwhelming horde of Swarm creatures approaches.
Other gameplay mechanics are at play, as well, most of which require you to use Jack’s capabilities, but these take a backseat to the firefights. For instance, you must use Jack to open certain doors or call upon him to break a power generator with a shock trap. Gears 5 handles in-game travel well. I enjoyed drifting and sliding through the icy plains of Mount Kadar and the red deserts of Vasgar using the Skiff, a hybrid vehicle that combines elements of windsurfing and sledding. This travel option allows you to explore a few sites that are not required by the campaign.
The weapon variety can be overwhelming, but you get plenty of chances to try out all the weapons as you progress. Plus, you get to carry three different weapons at a time, as well as a few grenades. I advise you to choose a weapon suitable for your current situation. For instance, if you are trapped by a sniper, it’s wise to throw a grenade in your enemy’s direction or flip the tables and try to take them out with a sniper rifle yourself. Jack’s ability to shock targets is useful in this case, too. At other times, when you are fighting a formidable, bullet-soaking Swarm bosses, a highly explosive launcher take these enemies down more quickly.
Throughout the Gears 5 campaign, you face plenty of different Swarm enemies, most of which have distinctive attacks. For instance, Poppers explode themselves as they get close to you, while Pouncers fire deadly projectiles from their tails. Swarm Carriers spawn waves of smaller attacking creatures, called Cankers. Boss battles work the same as in most other action games; they have an exploitable weak spot you can target, between their offensive attacks. I wish the game was less upfront about the bosses’ weaknesses; sometimes within the first few seconds of an encounter, an AI-controlled teammate explains how to defeat it.
If you get seriously injured during the course of action, you can sometimes revive yourself or get an AI-controlled teammate to bring you back to full health. If one of your companions or Jack goes down, you should return the favor and even up your fighting numbers against the Swarm attackers. That said, if an enemy rips your limbs apart, there’s really no way back from that, and you need to restart from the last checkpoint.
Gears 5’s gameplay resembles that of Wolfenstein: The New Order in that both benefit from a relatively no-frills approach with plenty of fun weapons to try and very clear objectives. Simple mechanics (such as hacking a keypad or cutting through a barrier) provide alternative gameplay, but both games are first and foremost third-person shooters.
In addition to the campaign mode’s split-screen co-op options, Gears 5 offers several other online multiplayer modes. None are as impressive as the campaign. The Versus mode is a typical team-based multiplayer affair with both casual and ranked matchmaking. The Escape mode matches you with teammates as you attempt to escape an environment filled with Swarm enemies as quickly as you can.
The last mode, Horde, tasks you and your teammates with protecting a fabricator device from waves of oncoming (and increasingly dangerous) Swarm creatures. This last mode is very similar to Metal Gear: Survive’s co-op mode, which similarly has you protect a digger from waves of Wanderers. You earn points and gain levels as you compete in multiplayer matches, but the leveling system is convoluted; after I completed a match, for instance, half a dozen different metrics, bonuses, and unlocks flashed across my screen without sufficient explanation.
Graphics and Environment
Starting with the character design, the COG suits have impressive detail, while player animations look natural. Characters are not generic clones of each other either; each is recognizable and personable. Enemies are sufficiently grotesque and visually distinct from one another. The game’s vast landscapes look spectacular, with distinctive natural features and vivid colors. The industrial interiors of labs, corridors, and hangars also feature appropriate lighting and a consistent aesthetic. For comparison, Gears 5 looks just as cinematic as the latest Tomb Raider games.
Gears 5 has its share of impressive gameplay effects. For instance, lightning storms—complete with chaotic particle effects—can cause giant shards of ice to crash down into your path. The flying flocks of Swarm leeches pulsate and shimmer in a visually alarming fashion.
Although each inhabited location you visit in Gears 5 features similarly impressive architecture and character, I would have liked more reasons to explore them, perhaps by way of a few side quests. For instance, when Kait and fellow Gear, Del, navigate the Outsider (not COG-controlled) village led by Kait’s uncle, the lack of environmental interactivity was somewhat disappointing. Bioshock Infinite, by comparison, expertly weaves interactivity and discovery with the main story. You can interact with tons of people and all kinds of objects as you explore Bioshock’s unforgettable floating city of Columbia. With Gears 5, I was more compelled to complete mission tasks than to stick around.
Gears 5’s background music is completely instrumental and sounds good, but it’s not overwhelmingly memorable. As in other classic action games, the music corresponds to in-game events. For instance, the music ramps up during a firefight and fades out once you’ve taken care of all the enemies in an area.
The voice acting is surprisingly good; each character delivers lines that match up with their personalities, and conversations flow naturally. There are even a few genuinely humorous moments. You still get canned, repetitive voice lines during battles, but that’s a given for the genre. Characters’ mouth movements sometimes don’t sync up well with actual words coming out of them, which can be distracting in cut scenes.
Swarm enemies screech and roar with reckless abandon and can sound terrifying, especially in groups. Weapons and explosions sound impactful, with distinct, concentrated bursts of noise. The howl of winds and shattering of lightning across ice and desert landscapes help sell the danger of the game’s environments as well.
The Engine Driving the Machine
For the PC, you can purchase Gears 5 for $59.99 via the Xbox app or Steam. The game is also available for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. Alternatively, you can get Gears 5 through the Xbox Game Pass for PC subscription service for just $9.99 per month. Notably, the game’s Xbox version supports 4K and HDR at 60 frames per second. Gears 5 is an Xbox Play Anywhere title.
Gears 5 recommends a gaming PC equipped with 8GB RAM, either an AMD Ryzen 3 or Intel i5 Skylake CPU, and either a Radeon RX 570 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 GPU. My gaming PC has 32GB RAM, a Ryzen 7 1700X processor, and a Radeon 580 graphics card. I didn’t have any issues running the game but needed to update my GPU drivers to get rid of an initial error message.
My PC managed to run the game’s benchmark at around 70FPS at 1080p resolution using the recommended mix of ultra, high, and medium settings. For reference, the game’s install size on my PC sits at 60GB. I installed it on an HDD and noticed some long loading times, so you should install it on an SSD if you have the space. During gameplay itself, I did not encounter any lag or stutters; Gears 5 is impressively optimized.
I started out with Gears 5’s beginner difficulty level and found the game’s challenges very easy to manage. After experimenting with other difficulty levels, the intermediate one felt like the best balance between enjoyment and challenge. Gears 5 allows you to filter gore, mature content, and profanity (in voice chats). The game does not become non-violent with these options enabled, mind you; it’s still rated M-17 and is not suitable for younger audiences. You can change the difficulty settings and the aforementioned filters at any point. Gears 5 also includes a color-blind mode and both text-to-speech and speech-to-text capabilities.
Gear Up for Battle
As a newcomer to the Gears of War franchise, I didn’t know what to expect from Gears 5’s storyline and gameplay. I was pleasantly surprised by its coherent narrative and refreshingly easy-to-pick-up mechanics. Gears 5’s performance is great, too, especially given its excellent graphics. That said, I would have appreciated a little more gameplay variety and more compelling multiplayer options. Still, if Gears 5 is enough to draw me into the series and make me consider picking up previous titles, I imagine that long-time fans will be even happier with this new installment.