Note: Our Gears 5 review only covers the campaign.

Gears 5 is one of the best installments in Microsoft’s ever-expanding saga. There’s humor. There’s adventure. There are heartbreaking moments and there are moments of levity. The issue with Gears 5 is that it tries to be something it’s not. Gears of War 2 was the pinnacle of the franchise. Gears of War has never been an action-adventure game. While it’s fantastic that The Coalition took some risks, some simply don’t work. The open-world segments are the latter. While seemingly fun at first, it gets old quickly. Kait, however, is a fantastic protagonist. This is a risk that really works. She’s the heart and soul of Gears 5, and from a story perspective, the game doesn’t disappoint. The transition from JD as the hero to Kait as the heroine is seamless.  This is where Gears 5 shines. It’s a thrilling adventure of self-discovery and self-realization; a search for identity. This is something that everyone can relate to. This is where Gears 5 excels and why it works so well. Gears 5 is the Gears that we deserve, but not the one we need right now. While it is a great experience, there are a few things that hold it back from excellence.

Story

Gears 5 Review

Kait’s heritage was revealed at the end of Gears 4

Gears 5, at its heart, is a story of self-discovery. It’s a search for identity and this is an allegory that can apply to so many things. The story is where Gears 5 excels. While some may be skeptical, Kait makes for a great protagonist. The transition from JD to Kait works so well from a character perspective. It’s clear that this was always the plan, given how Gears of War 4 ended. However. The way it works is clever, which is a nice touch. It’s not as if Kait is suddenly thrust in as the hero of the story. JD is playable in the first act, and then from the second act on, you play as Kait. The story is very much about the search for one’s heritage. It’s about family; those bound by blood, and those that you choose. The bond between the four squadmates are like links in a chain, or cogs in a wheel; if one’s broken, so are the rest. This is a metaphor for the story of Gears 5 and why it is so great. This is a different kind of Gears compared to previous titles, but it works. While, for example, Gears 2 was the height of the series and the ultimate summer blockbuster-like title, Gears 5‘s tone is much more serious; and dire. It may sound as if this isn’t really Gears, but it works.

Gears 5 Review

Kait at one of the most crucial junctures of the game

Gears 5 is a more personal story, and it’s all about the characters. Each character has a level of depth unseen in previous titles. That’s not to say that previous installments in the series didn’t have character depth; it’s simply that each character has their own moment in this game. While Kait is the link which holds everything together, JD, Del, Marcus, Baird, Paduk, Fahz, and even Jack have depth. This is why Gears 5 has the best story in the franchise, even if aspects of the campaign make it feel a bit disjointed. Even Cole Train has his moment to shine; twice in fact! Jack cements himself as the R2-D2 of the series. Kait as the hero was one of the risks that The Coalition took, and it paid off; tremendously in fact. I want to play it through again, simply to experience the thrill of the story. I haven’t felt that way since Gears 2, even if aspects of the campaign are annoying. The game is emotionally gripping; there’s a point where it splits based off of a pivitol choice you make in what will be one of the most iconic (and emotional) scenes in the Gears saga. What will be interesting to see is how they handle it in Gears 6. There are moments of levity in the game though, and classic Gears banter is back, and with a vengeance. That being said, the game ends on a somber note, yet there’s a determination that drives a yearning for the next installment in the saga.

Gameplay

Gears 5 is graphically stunning

First and foremost, it must be said that Gears 5 is a beatiful-looking game, and perhaps the best looking game on the Xbox One. While it’s stunning from a visual standpoint, it still suffers from framerate hiccups. It also has some visual glitches, such as lighting issues and floating debris. There are also glitches that can cause you to have to restart from your current checkpoint, which is very frustrating. While these may be few and far between (it happened to me three times, which is concerning), it’s an issue that cannot be ignored. The gameplay in Gears 5 is somewhat hit-or-miss. There are gread additions, such as a fully upgradeable Jack, which is one of the highlights of the game. The open-world experience, however, doesn’t completely land. It’s fun, no doubt, and a really cool addition to the Gears experience, but it gets repetitive and the rewards don’t make it appealing enough to play through 100%. The glitches are inexcusable, and hopefully will be fixed with a Day One patch, though some of the issues aren’t so easibly feasible. Your ally AI is incredibly stupid, moreso than usual; at least this was my perception. It may be because I was trying to rush through the game to complete it for this review, but, it’s still an issue. All too often it took too long to get revived, or my allies simply weren’t helping (even with spotting.) There was one time Del was sitting around with a pipe during a critical boss battle. That was laughable. I found spotting enemies was more of a hindarance and I was better off without doing so.

A lighting glitch

Floating debris in Gears 5

The controls are somewhat mixed around in Gears 5. Holding down B is no longer your chainsaw; that’s RB now. B is pure melee with your knife. It takes some getting used to, especially if you used to melee with your gun; you can’t do that anymore outside of the Lancer. The problem is that mashing B is still how you win a chainsaw battle, so you have to be quick to shift gears (no pun intended.) After 11 years or so of playing the series, it’s like trying to re-wire your brain. That’s not easy. There are some cool new gun additions, like a Lancer that can shoot missles. One of the new lines after defeating an enemy, at least in the first Act, is “terminated”, which is yet another Terminator tie in. Jack is now a character on his own (playable) and fully upgradeable. There are three combat abilities, four support abilities, and multiple passive skills. Combat and support abilities are unlocked as you get further in the campaign. This is actually really cool, and you find components to upgrade Jack as you manuever through each Act. In addition to these, there are also unlockable upgrades. There are also a ton of collectibles to find. There are so many things to do and so many places to explore. In a 14 hour playthrough, I only had a 53% completion rating, so there’s a lot of replayability value. There are new locations which make way for new destructible gameplay mechanics (such as blowing holes in the ice to take out enemies.) This is really cool, though it can be used against you as well, so you have to be careful.

The skiff is one of the coolest additions in Gears 5

Acts II and III are open-world conrasted to Acts I and II, which are classic Gears. This is a hit-or-miss scenario. I can respect the fact that the developers took a huge risk, but, there’s simply not enough incentive to 100% the game unless you’re playing co-op to fully upgrade Jack. I like that they didn’t add XP or skills to unlock for your main characters; that would have been disasterous, but a trend that is all too common place in games today. Exploring on the Skiff is a ton of fun and perhaps one of the best additions to the game. It adds a nice break between combat scenarios, though admittedly Gears has always been full-throttle, full speed ahead action. It still is, especially in the first and last Acts, which are mostly linear. You visit new locations and there’s a ton of lore and world building that’s impressive, but within those, there are also old locations that longtime Gears fans will recognize which gave me goosebumps revisiting. There are obvious hits and misses with the semi open-world aspects of the game. There is one particular story mission which makes use of the Skiff and the open world, which is super cool. It’s not all bad; it’s a really fun single-player or co-op experience, but if you’re playing to 100%, it’s best to take breaks, as digesting it all at once will get repetitive. That all being said, Act IV is one of the best acts in the entire series. It hits all the notes: epic, emotional, and fun, with some twists and turns you’ll never see coming.

Music

The best aspect of Gears 5 is its music, and this isn’t to take away from anything; it is simply that good. Iranian-German composer Ramin Djawadi is the best in the business and is known for his work in Person of InterestGame of Thrones, and Westworld. His Gears score may be his best work yet. Yes. It is that good. Kait has a hauntingly beautiful theme, which doubles as the main theme for the game, and there’s a very cool variation of the main theme from Gears 2 and 3. The theme is also heard in key moments of the game, but, it doesn’t overpower the new motifs. It’s said that the music is “perfectly perfect in every way.” Gears has always had great music, but this takes it to an entirely different level, and hopefully Djawadi is retained for Gears 6, because he has exploded as a star in the television and film industries, but it’s only fitting that he composes the music for what may be the final installment in the mainline saga.

One of the Strongest Installments in the Saga

Microsoft Will Win E3 2018

Gears 5 teeters towards excellence, but doesn’t quite reach that level. It’s held back by too many technical issues and design choices, though admittedly, the former can be fixed with patches and updates. The ally AI is so stupid it will drive you nuts, but the co-op experience promises to remedy that. It’s an incredibly ambitious game and takes a lot of risks; some work, and some don’t work as well as they could, but they in no way compromise the Gears experience (such as adding XP, which would be the definition of stupid.) That I can respecct. The Skiff is a cool addition, but the side missions don’t have enough incentive, which is hopefully fixed in Gears 6. On the flip side, Kait is a fantastic protagonist. The transition to Kait as the heroine is organic and works tremendously. It sets up for Gears 6, where she should take up the rains again. Her and Marcus have a paternal relationship which is awesome to observe. The game has moments that shock you, and there are so many twists and turns. It’s a different kind of Gears, but not in a bad way. At its heart it’s a search for an identity and about the family you choose rather than family bound by blood, which is presented with such subtlety. Ramin Djawadi is as on-point as ever, and delivers what is perhaps his best musical score ever. Gears 5 is the Gears we deserve from a story perspective. From a design perspective though, it’s not the Gears we need right now, and it’s not something The Coalition wasn’t ready for. That’s okay though. It simply means when Gears 6 rolls around, everything will be refined. Gears 5 adds a freshness to the series that Gears of 4 simply lacked, and is the best installment in the saga since Gears of War 3.

VGCultureHQ reserves the right to change our review score based on future updates to the game and patches to the game.

Thank you to Microsoft for providing a review copy of Gears 5 to VGCultureHQ.

Gears 5 Review - The Gears We Deserve, But Not The One We Need
Gears 5 teeters towards the edge of excellence but doesn't quite reach that level. It's an epic game with the best act the series has ever known, and is the best Gears since Gears of War 3. Some risks work, some don't, but that only means once Gears 6 rolls around, they'll have refined the experience.
Pros
  • The music. The music. The music.
  • Kait is an excellent protagonist
  • Epic story
Cons
  • The open world doesn't quite work as well as it could
  • Glitches, some of which will make you restart from your current checkpoint, which is annoying
  • Story feels disjointed due to so many missions in Act II
8.7Superb
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
10.0

About The Author

Founder/Editor-in-Chief

Morgan Lewis is a Video Game Journalist and is the Founder, Owner, and Editor-in-Chief of VGCultureHQ. He has been writing about games for over five years and has written over 1,500 articles during that timespan. He first fell in love with gaming when he received A Link to the Past for Christmas when he was six and is the guywazeldatatt. He also loves anime and anything that has to do with gaming culture and Tetsuya Takahashi games. He is also a huge anime and Star Wars fan.

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