On name recognition alone, Gears of War 4 is one of the biggest games being released this fall, but for some reason, there doesn’t seem to be as much hype for it as there’s been for past entries in the series. The franchise has been going strong ever since Cliff Bleszinski and his team at Epic Games put out the first installment on the Xbox 360 back in 2006, although the most recent game, 2013’s Gears of War: Judgment, was considered by many to be the weakest of the bunch. Based on what’s been shown so far, current franchise developer The Coalition Gears of War 4 looks like it could be a return to form for the series after the missteps of Judgment and could very well be a game of the year contender if it doesn’t prove to be too derivative of past entries in the series.
Look, I have no idea if Gears of War 4 is actually going to be any good, but as someone who has enjoyed the franchise quite a bit up to this point, I do think the game deserves more attention than it is currently getting, especially since the franchise celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Here’s why:
10. A New Beginning Of Sorts
Diehard Gears fans are already sold on the new game, but newcomers or even people who have only played one or two of the previous Gears games may be a bit wary of jumping into the fourth numbered sequel in the franchise. Fortunately, Gears of War 4 developer The Coalition is aware of this problem, which is why they’re positioning the game as a jumping off point for a new story in the Gears universe. As Studio Head Rod Fergusson tells Windows Central, Gears of War 3 was the end of a trilogy and the new game introduces a new cast of characters and storyline, so while returning fans will benefit from callbacks to previous titles, it won’t be difficult for newcomers or people who have totally forgotten what the premise of the Gears franchise even is to pick the game up and not be totally lost.
9. eSports Focus
eSports are becoming increasingly popular and lucrative with each passing year and Microsoft has been making a big push into the market as of late. Halo 5 already has a strong following but Gears of War 4 is also being positioned as a real eSports contender. In fact, when the game launches on October 11th, it will kick off a ten-month, international Pro Circuit that will award a million dollars in prize money at eight live regional matches. What makes the whole thing even better is that the tournament is being aimed at both hardcore, professional players and amateur players alike, so the contest really is wide open. Even if you’re into Gears but could care less about eSports, you should be excited about Gears of War 4 trying to become a big title in the space because if it’s successful, it will help keep the Gears community vibrant and well-supported with frequent updates and new content.
8. New Enemies
Gears of War 4 is set to introduce two new enemy races that will change the game’s combat encounters up in subtle, but interesting ways. First off is the Swarm, an alien-type similar to the Locust from previous Gears games, but with some noticeable differences. Whereas the Locust would spawn out of emergence holes in the ground, the Swarm come out of nests that can be used as cover, as well as the mystery bag-like pod cover, which will explode after taking too much damage and may house nothing inside or contain an enemy combatant ready to tear you apart.
In addition to the Swarm, there’s also a robotic race called the Deebees and while not much is really known about them yet, they will bring some interesting new weaponry to the table, including the Overkill, a double blast shotgun, and the Buzzkill, a gun that shoots high velocity buzz saws (okay, that one isn’t actually a Deebee weapon, but it’s too cool not to highlight). In practice, the new enemy types don’t look like they’re all that different from what we’ve seen before in the Gears series, but they do change the combat up just enough to make them a welcome addition all the same.
7. Dynamic Weather
Gears of War 4 will be the first new game in the series released on current generation hardware (a remake of the first game was released last year) and while the game has been given a noticeable visual overhaul over previous entries in the series, The Coalition is using that extra horsepower for more than just the graphics. One of the most important new gameplay additions comes in the form of dynamic weather, which will create dangerous environmental hazards for players to overcome. So far we know of two different kinds of extreme weather in the game — Windflares and Stormwalls.
Windflares dramatically change the dynamics of a firefight, as powerful wind gusts fling all sorts of debris around the environment. Even your weapons can be affected by Windflares, as grenades and even some projectiles can change course and come back and hit you. Additionally, Stormwalls will drop giant bolts of lighting that can leave pools of instant-death electricity, turning the battlefield into a minefield of sorts. The Coalition is referring to these new weather events as mini boss battles of sorts and it’s not hard to see why.
6. New Mechanics
At this point, it’s difficult to change too much about the core Gears of War gameplay without completely redesigning it from the ground up, but Gears 4 does introduce a few new mechanics that will change the franchise’s combat in subtle but important ways going forward. The two most meaningful additions are the Yank and Shank and Vault Kicks, both of which change up how the game’s cover mechanics work. In past Gears games, sticking to cover was the safest thing you could do and while that’s still true in Gears of War 4, you’ll now have to worry even more about the enemies right in front of you. As the name implies, the Yank and Shank move allows you to grab an enemy who’s on the opposite side of a piece of cover and pull them over to your side to be shanked. In contrast, the Vault Kick allows you to be a bit more offensive when trying to attack an entrenched enemy, as you can jump instantly over a piece of cover and take the enemy out with a kick to the face.
5. Xbox Play Anywhere
Gears of War 4 represents one of Microsoft’s first big releases since launching their Xbox Play Anywhere initiative earlier this year. What this means is that anyone who purchases the game on Xbox One will also be able to play the game for free on Windows 10, and vice versa. This is great news for PC players who have missed out on the Gears series up until now because of its Xbox exclusivity, as Gears of War 4 will be a true graphical powerhouse on PC and should show off the capabilities of high-end rigs quite nicely. Additionally, Gears will support crossplay between Xbox One and PC, with players on either platform able to play with one another across all of the game’s modes. It will be interesting to see if the controller vs. keyboard and mouse issue leads to some balance problems in the game’s multiplayer, but as Microsoft’s biggest game of the year, Gears of War 4 will be the litmus test to see whether Xbox Play Anywhere is boom or bust.
4. It’s Feature-Rich
The gaming industry is admittedly overly concerned with content and how much content a game has, whether it’s worth the money etc. but it’s hard to deny that Gears of War 4 is a feature-rich experience brimming with things to do. Once you complete the story mode, there’s still the surprisingly deep co-op Horde mode to dive into (more on that in a bit), and for the competitive gamer, Gears of War 4’s online multiplayer offering is being positioned as a deep experience meant to compete with the most popular competitive shooters on the market. Of course, having a ton of content doesn’t automatically equate to a great game, but the value proposition presented by Gears of War 4 is certainly hard to resist.
3. An Xbox One (And PC) Visual Powerhouse
While Gears of War would never have made it this far it didn’t have solid gameplay mechanics, it’s also a franchise that has marketed itself as a visual powerhouse that showcases the capabilities of its respective system. Gears of War 4 looks to be no different in that regard, as it is easily one of the most visually-striking games out there and will be an impressive technical demo for both the Xbox One and Windows PC. Graphics are certainly not everything and it’s much more important if a game is actually fun to play, but if you’re someone who wants to play the very best looking games with the cutting edge visuals, Gears of War 4 definitely needs to be on your radar.
2. Horde 3.0
Ever since it was introduced back in Gears of War 2, Horde mode has been an integral part of the Gears experience and has influenced similar modes in countless other games. Unsurprisingly, Gears 4 will have its own Horde mode and it’s looking like it could be the greatest and deepest offering yet. Dubbed Horde 3.0, the most important new feature being implemented is permanent progression. Players will unlock various upgrades for their characters as they play, with the game employing a card system similar to Halo 5’s REQ packs and how many cards you can equip will depend on your level.
Horde 3.0 will also introduce a class system that will allow for more tactical approaches to combat. Players will be able to choose between Engineer, Scout, Heavy, Sniper, and Soldier classes, although you can also opt to go classless and just select a standard Gears of War character if you so choose. The Coalitiion are clearly hoping Horde 3.0 will be something that players will want to stick with for a long time and it certainly seems like they have the features in place to make it a truly addictive experience.
1. Actual Split-Screen Gaming
After the Halo 5 split-screen debacle of last year, it’s refreshing to see that Gears of War 4 will maintain the series’ tradition of allowing players to bring a friend along in local split-screen. And like in previous games, split-screen support will extend to each one of the game’s modes, meaning that you can play locally with a buddy in story co-op, Horde mode, and competitive multiplayer. The only real downside is that the game’s frame rate will drop from 60 fps to 30 when playing in split-screen, but that’s a compromise that many will likely be more than happy to make in a market that increasingly ships games with no split-screen functionality whatsoever. Oh and the PC version also supports co-op play.