Gears 5 Analysis


Gears 5 kait
Kait Diaz in Gears 5. (Image by Tim Bowman)

Gears 5 firmly establishes a new face of the franchise but also adds a bad microtransaction model for its multiplayer while struggling with limited content during a rough post-launch period.

The fifth installment in the series apparently dropped the “War” part of the franchise’s name, so now Gears of War is just plain Gears. This is the third Gears game developed by The Coalition (formerly Black Tusk Studios), the Vancouver-based developer who took over the franchise after Microsoft obtained the series from Epic Games in January 2014. Epic Games sold the franchise to Microsoft because Gears of War 4 would have been too expensive to create. The Coalition now solely focuses on development of the Gears franchise for Microsoft. The studio started with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, a remaster of the original game that released in August 2015 for the Xbox One and later on PC. The studio’s first original take on the series was in Gears of War 4 that released worldwide on Oct. 11, 2016.

Leading up to the release of Gears 5, the E3 presentation during Microsoft’s conference this past June was pretty bad. Rod Fergusson, the head of The Coalition and the director on Gears 5, talked about the game on stage at E3. Fergusson was also the executive producer on the original trilogy, starting back in 2006 on the Xbox 360. The company only showed off the new Escape mode in Gears 5 with a CGI trailer and there was no real gameplay presented for it. That’s almost never a good sign for the final version in the actual game. A few WWE wrestlers were apparently trapped underneath the E3 stage being forced to play Gears 5 too, which was incredibly goofy. Nothing at Xbox’s big presentation on the main stage was about the campaign. With only three months until its launch, I thought that wasn’t a good sign for the quality of the final game based on the little information that was already put out there. In some ways Gears 5 didn’t turn out as bad as I thought but in other areas it’s a lot worse than I expected.

Gears 5 is still just one of the few major Xbox first-party games to be playable day-one on the Xbox Game Pass service, joining games like Crackdown 3 (February 2019), Forza Horizon 4 (October 2018), State of Decay 2 (May 2018) and Sea of Thieves (March 2018). Gears 5 is definitely the biggest release on the subscription platform so far since its start in June 2017. The standard and Ultimate Edition of the game are playable on Game Pass and Ultimate Game Pass. The standard version of the game retails for $59.99 and the Ultimate Edition goes for $79.99. There was (and still is) a promotion running where you could get a one-month trial of Xbox Ultimate Game Pass for $1 or two months for $2 instead of $15 a month. The basic Game Pass subscription is $10 a month. Much of the advertising for the game heavily promoted that it’s on Game Pass. Gears 5 is also one of the first Xbox Game Studios titles to release on Steam, with Age of Empire I: Definitive Edition released this past August. The Definitive Edition of Age of Empires II released on Nov. 14. Age of Empires III as well as Halo: The Master Chief Collection were also announced for the future, with the Halo package launching on Dec. 3 starting with Halo: Reach. Going forward all Xbox Game Studios releases will launch on Steam at the same time as the Microsoft Store version.

Gears 5 continued the bad trend in gaming of paying to play it early, with tiered release dates that made its actual launch somewhat confusing. The game officially released on Sept. 10 but it was first playable on Sept. 5 with the Ultimate Edition. The Xbox team stated that there were an overwhelming number of people playing the game at launch, in large part due to Game Pass. There were reportedly over three million players during the game’s launch window on Xbox One and PC, according to an official Xbox press release. This was viewed as a big success for the game’s launch. That player number is double that of the launch of Gears of War 4, which wasn’t on Game Pass when it first released. For a brief time period Gears 5 even topped Fortnite as the most played Xbox game.

The Gears of War franchise isn’t entirely new to Xbox Game Pass. Gears of War 4 was a full retail release and didn’t join the Game Pass library until December 2017. In Gears of War 4’s lifespan, 40 percent of its players experienced the game for the first time through Game Pass, according to Ben Decker, the head of gaming services at Microsoft. All the games in the series are also currently available to play on Xbox One consoles through Game Pass.

Gears of War was one of the Xbox brand’s top franchises during the Xbox 360 era and can still be considered one of the key exclusives under the Microsoft banner. The original Gears of War launched for the Xbox 360 on Nov. 7, 2006 and sold over one million copies worldwide two weeks after its launch. By January 2007 the game had sold over three million worldwide. Gears of War 2 launched on Nov. 20, 2008 and sold over two million copies its opening weekend, eventually selling over five million by May 2009. Gears of War 3 sold over three million copies worldwide during its first week after launching on Sept. 20, 2011. The franchise also passed over $1 billion in lifetime sales at that time. When Microsoft bought the Gears franchise in January 2014, the series had sold 22 million copies across the first four games (including the prequel Gears of War: Judgment that launched in March 2013). Gears of War: Judgment’s sales were severely down during its March 2013 debut, estimated to have only sold around 425,000 copies in the U.S. that month.

Gears of War 4 debuted as the third-best selling game of October 2016 in the U.S. (not including digital sales), behind Battlefield 1 and Mafia III. During the following month it fell out of the top 10 games sold for November. There’s a continued decline in the franchise’s sales with Gears of War 4 but the exact numbers are hard to come by, especially with how Microsoft changed the way it gives out sales figures, instead focusing on player engagement and other metrics. Some numbers for that month’s retail sales in the U.S. could place Gears of War 4 at around 415K copies sold or 505K with an Xbox One console bundle, a significantly lower debut than Gears of War 3. Estimates for the physical release sales of Gears 5 in the U.K. are way down compared to just Gears of War 4 (that was itself lower than the classic games), selling just around 25 percent of what its predecessor did. Since Gears 5 is heavily promoted as being a Game Pass title and digital downloads make up such a large percentage of sales in 2019, retail numbers are only part of the story surrounding the franchise’s decline. Gears 5 was the third best-selling Xbox game in September in the U.S. (out of the top 10) behind Borderlands 3 and NBA 2K20. It was the seventh best-selling game overall for that month (out of the top 20), which included both retail and digital sales of Gears 5 except for Steam. In October the game fell out of the top 20 highest selling games in the U.S. Gears 5 also dropped to 10th place as the best-selling Xbox game for that month, with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Oct. 25) and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (Oct. 4) taking the two top positions. As of November there are between 100-200K owners on Steam.

There were (and still are) a lot of technical issues in Gears 5 for a major game release and the biggest Xbox game of the year. Friday night on Sept. 6 there was an Xbox Live server outage and people couldn’t play most of the game modes, even the campaign. If you bought the Ultimate Edition to “play the game early” you couldn’t even do that. There were issues of the game crashing, collectibles in the campaign not registering, checkpoints not saving correctly and other problems. European players had a period of about two months with having a difficult time online, with high ping counts in the 100s, lag and connection issues.

I played Gears 5 on PC after signing up for Xbox Live Gold and converting my subscription to Ultimate Game Pass. The Ultimate Edition comes with 30 days of Boost and the Halo: Reach character pack (that also comes with cosmetic items) and had four days of early access to the game. I sold my Xbox One console last year because I hardly played it. I have a gaming PC and can play all the Xbox games on it anyway. Most of the people I know are on PlayStation 4. The Xbox brand has really failed to deliver exclusive content that made it worth keeping the console for. Hopefully with the next console cycle the Xbox can bounce back. The Game Pass is ahead of the curve and a fantastic value for what it offers, creating a digital library of games on a subscription platform. Putting its biggest holiday season game onto the service on day one (along with games like The Outer Worlds that launched on Oct. 25) is Microsoft trying to aggressively establish Game Pass as one of its key arms of the Xbox brand for the future.

(My PC specs: GTX 980 Ti, 16GB of DDR4 RAM and i7-5930K 3.50GHz)


I beat the Gears 5 campaign, which took me a little over 13 and a half hours playing through it by myself. I played the Gears 5 on the “Experienced” difficulty, which is one step below Insane and is supposed to be for people familiar with the Gears gameplay and franchise. Aside from parts here and there, I mostly don’t remember anything about the Gears of War 4 campaign. That game’s story takes place 25 years after Gears of War 3 (2011). Gears of War 3 is one of my favorites on the Xbox 360 and has a fantastic campaign. That game essentially ended the franchise, so when The Coalition took over for Gears 4 the team had to get creative in continuing the story. The Coalition introduced a new cast of characters and COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments) fighters, most notably JD (James Dominic) Fenix, the son of Marcus Fenix. They also introduced robots called DeeBees (DBs for short), created by Damon Baird and DB Industries who guard the new world after the Locust had been eliminated. A new threat called the Swarm replaced the Locust, who emerged from the burial sites of the Locust and still follow a similar organizational structure and attack pattern. Gears of War 4 was essentially a long introduction to Gears 5, where the new characters and story starts going somewhere.

Gears 5 looks phenomenal. It’s an amazing looking game and easily one of the best I’ve seen. The lighting is incredible. I wasn’t playing on a 4K or HDR monitor and the game still looked fantastic. The game has a lot more color than the bleak original trilogy. The colors in Gears 5 really pop out. The characters look realistic too, apart from everyone looking like they’re on steroids. The visuals in Gears 5 are just awesome and are one of the strongest positives of the game.

The gameplay style established in the original games is still present and a lot of fun. At its core Gears 5 is still a cover shooter. The Gears-styled running into cover and bouncing from wall to wall is still there and hasn’t been drastically changed. The player will enter an area and Swarm will be patrolling or already prepared to attack the team. Gears 5 features two player co-op, or three people with the newest playable member to the team.

The new gameplay mechanic introduced in Gears 5 is with Jack, the flying robot companion from the old games, who now has expanded capabilities and is actually part of the core gameplay. Besides just opening doors, Jack is now an important part of the game’s combat scenarios. Jack is equipped with abilities that can assist the team in battle, like shocking enemies, giving an armor boost or scanning for all the Swarm in the area.  Jack’s abilities can be upgraded through a set path for each of the three categories, assault, support and passive skills. It’s not that deep of a system though. In combat he can also revive downed players when one skill area is fully upgraded. A third player can control Jack during co-op. Jack can also grab weapons and items for the player scattered across the game world. He still opens doors too and continues to take a long time in doing so.

Throughout the campaign components hidden and scattered that the player can accumulate to upgrade Jack’s different skills. There are so many of these components. Sometimes you might pick up several at a time. There didn’t feel like a shortage of these components where Jack become useless in combat because you struggled to upgrade his abilities. A lot of them you won’t even end up using towards the last chapters of the game. There are special upgrades for Jack that can be unlocked by completing a set of similar side missions. Jack will also gain certain new abilities throughout the story progression from Baird, whose character is always experimenting with new technical advancements. One of these is the ability to hijack enemies and turn them against the rest of the Swarm. Playing the campaign solo I actually relied on Jack a lot. I ended up using Jack to freeze enemies (a special upgraded skill) or to get a temporary health boost in tough combat situations. Temporarily frozen enemies can get taken down in a few shots, which greatly helps clear out an area.

Gears 5 jack menu campaign
Jack has three categories for upgrades that can help during combat. (Image by Tim Bowman)

The new cast of characters introduced in Gears of War 4 just don’t match the people in the original trilogy. The new characters of the Delta Squad like JD, Kait Diaz and Del Walker simply lack a lot of their own personality. They come across as generic people who have tons of mostly empty, generic conversations throughout the game. Kait is primarily the main playable character in Gears 5. Voiced by Laura Bailey, she is the game’s center focus after the events in Gears of War 4. That game revealed her grandmother was Queen Myrrah, the former Locust head leader that Marcus Fenix and the COG defeated at the end of Gears of War 3 (2011).

Before Gears 5 I would have a hard time explaining the difference between the Locust and the Swarm introduced in Gears of War 4. I probably couldn’t do it. From a gameplay standpoint the Swarm are essentially a different take on the Locust. The enemies in Gears of War 4 and its sequel aren’t that much different than what players were used to in the classic games. The story in Gears 4 and Gears 5 explains that the Swarm are an evolved form of the Locust. In combat they mostly follow the same attack patterns as the Locust too, so from a gameplay perspective both bad guys are similar to the previous games.

I did like the aging aspect in the game, which was also part of Gears of War 4 given that the game was set 25 years after the original trilogy. Baird is bald with a goatee now. Marcus is still a grumpy old man but with gray in his beard and concern for his son. Cole is still the Cole Train though. It’s all a continuation of the franchise’s events that started 13 years ago. Gears of War is one of the few franchises with the ability to show these changes and have the characters show growth over time. In Gears of War 4 and now Gears 5 there’s the established, mature characters in combination with the youth movement in the new Delta Squad that works really well.

There’s also a new character introduced in the Gears 5 campaign named Fahz Chutani. He’s a COG soldier who comes across as a huge jerk, especially when his part in a controversial incident involving some protestors in a COG settlement is revealed. He always has to be the best at everything and constantly put others down with insults. Kait is primarily the star of Gears 5. During the game she will have these headaches and visions of the Swarm, with her connection to her family’s past worsening as the campaign goes on. She always brushes them off to the rest of the team but they get progressively worse into the campaign. She has a lot more depth in Gears 5 than in the previous game, which focused a lot on JD and setting up the post-Locust world. In Gears of War 4 she wasn’t as established, even though part of that story was about rescuing her mother from the Swarm.

Act 1 of the campaign starts off real hot. You play as JD for the first act. The game begins with the team (JD, Marcus, Kait and Del) looking for an early version of the Hammer of Dawn at the abandoned city of Azura, an island where scientists and researchers were once held during the Locust War. These initial areas look incredible, especially with nature regrowing all over and parts of the facility destroyed. Later on the team returns to New Ephyra after the starting mission only to find out the Swarm are invading the city. Act 1 ended with a lot of action that the previous Gears games are known for. I thought Act 1 was fantastic, especially the sections in New Ephyra that had some intense combat situations.

In Act 1 you start to see some of the openness attempted in Gears 5. Returning to New Ephyra lets the player briefly walk around on their own before advancing the story. Later on in the city there are living complexes with endangered citizens the player can explore in between battles. These were minor details that added a bit more depth to the story because the world didn’t feel as empty. Gears 5 follows the pattern of big combat scenes with an immediate cool down section afterwards where you can explore a bit. The character you’re controlling will also make comments about different things in the environment that adds another nice effect to the story taking place.

A cool aspect of the campaign was that the DeeBee robots introduced in Gears of War 4 get infected and taken over by a new enemy called Leeches, which the COG ends up calling Rejects. Another new enemy called the Flock is a big swirling mass of Leeches that can do serious damage to the player. Later in the campaign the Swarm start evolving again, changing their weapons, wearing armor and becoming more aggressive. There are new weapons in Gears 5 like the Lancer GL, which comes equipped with a side airborne grenade launcher. There’s also a line of Relic weapons that are variations to the game’s main guns with different features. I ended up using the Overkill Relic a lot, which is a variation of the Overkill shotgun used by the DeeBees that has auto fire.

Act 2 switches to Kait and Del in a frozen world, which starts with the two reaching out to an outsider settlement to recruit them for the fight against the Swarm. In Act 2 Kait and Del also try to find the secret facility of Niles Samson, a scientist who would have answers about Kait’s past. I liked the areas with Niles’ facilities a lot. You get a history of the Locust and more about Kait’s ties to that side of her story.

Instead of constantly bouncing from objective to objective in a linear path, Gears 5 introduces a more open world approach in Act 2. Unfortunately that open world in Gears 5 feels empty and shallow. At first this idea reminded of God of War (2018) on the PlayStation 4, which changed that franchise’s design. However in God of War the freedom given to the player is way more robust and detailed. Initially I figured this expanded scope in Gears 5 would be meaningful but it disappointingly just isn’t that interesting. After a battle in Gears 5 you can explore a bit before moving forward. The beginning of the chapter might let the characters walk around and talk to people. I did like the outsiders settlement Kait and Del go to in Act 2. It’s a small village built around this huge Riftworm skeleton filled with markets and people all around talking about their lives. It had a lot of cool details. In the marketplace is a sign for fresh fish but there’s flies all around them. Kait makes a sarcastic comment how she’s so happy to be there as you observe the food stand.

Later in Act 2 you can drive a vehicle called a Skiff, which is a sort of sailing ski that uses the wind for energy. You can drive the Skiff around the open world sections. There will be some areas on the map that can be explored, with some places being part of a side quest. There’s really nothing to the side missions either, which are only a handful in the second and third acts. Most of them just involve an area that needs to be cleared out of enemies. At the end of it you get an upgrade for Jack or components to build Jack up. A lot of the world map where players are given the freedom to travel around is just empty. There’s simply not much going on in most of the open world.

Gears 5 introduces another new enemy called a Warden, which is this big creature carrying a new Breaker Mace weapon who can’t take any physical damage to its body and can only receive headshot damage. The story tells you his appearance is a sign that the Swarm are trying to turn a location into a Hive. The Hives are like a base of operations where the Swarm capture people and breed different types of Swarm. The fights with a Warden increases intensity, especially given the damage he can do with the Breaker Mace. Act 2 also features a lame protecting mission trying to escort Jack, which everyone just loves in video games.

Check out images from the Gears 5 campaign:

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The partner AI in the campaign is subpar at best and extremely frustrating at worst. There was one boss fight in Act 2 where the AI-controlled Del did not fire a single bullet. He literally didn’t shoot any of his weapons the entire fight. This happened multiple times because I kept dying and facing the boss again with no help from my supposed partner. Gears 5 is obviously designed to be played in co-op mode with a real person helping you. During the escort section in Act 2, Del just refused to protect Jack. He actually stayed in a corner far away from combat and did nothing. I had to restart this section several times because Jack would get destroyed by the Swarm.

I felt like there were a lot of long-range fights during the campaign that changed the dynamic of the combat. You end up staying in cover and using guns like the Lancer a lot more. During some of the battles in Act 2 you can shoot the ice and the Swarm will fall into the water to their deaths, which was a cool feature and actually helpful during some of the more intense fights. Playing on the Experienced difficulty did have some frustrating and annoying sections. There were a lot of one-hit kills and deaths by random grenades. Some sections I continually died on, which probably wouldn’t have happened if I had a competent co-op partner.

There’s some deeper story in the Gears 5 campaign about the COG being the bad guys, shooting protestors, unethical scientific research and rewriting the history books. Characters like Kait, Del and JD begin to seriously question their role within the COG but not to the point where they actually fully rebel against the institution. The Gears mythology is actually really cool and something I always enjoyed in the old games too. Exploring Niles’ old laboratory and learning more about the history of the Locust were some of the better parts of the campaign.

Act 3 of the campaign felt too long and dragged on. It wasn’t a strong section. Without getting into too many spoilers, the squad is tasked with putting the Hammer of Dawn weapon back online by gathering some parts in an old rocket hanger located in this red desert area called Vasgar. The stages throughout Act 3 aren’t that interesting and primarily take place inside the rocket hanger and other old buildings. Most of Act 3 is basically a game of fetch. While Act 3 has a big open area to ride the Skiff in like Act 2, it’s just as empty. The side missions in the area revolve around restoring parts of the world back to normal for the local population but it’s so basic and lacking any depth. You basically just clear out certain areas of Swarm. These side missions features NPCs speaking a fictional language that’s not translated at all, so you just end up not caring about what they’re even saying. It was actually confusing why their dialogue wasn’t translated given that Act 3 goes on for so long and they appear many times throughout Vasgard.

Some of the campaign’s story isn’t expanded upon well either. Kait was going through these personal changes tied to her family history, then it just drops midway through the game. It would have been interesting for them to push this concept further, especially towards the end of the game or into Gears 6. JD’s personality changes and character development happens off-screen when he was away from Kait and Del in Act 2. When he comes back to the group during Act 3 everything is just somehow cool between everyone after a brief conversation. Besides his new look of a shaved head and beard, JD has apparently gone through a major transformation. Fahz also somehow becomes the lovable jerk whose still a fascist under it all though. Del never has any sort of real character progression. He’s literally just a guy that’s there as support. There was a great line JD said after clearing out the Swarm following one combat scenario that was hilarious. I don’t want to spoil it because it was probably one of the best lines I can remember him saying in either game. I never got that feeling with Del. He was an alright companion with Kait but was definitely one the weakest of the main characters that lacked serious depth. The new Delta Squad also isn’t near the level of the old team of the classic games. Marcus wasn’t a big focus in the Gears 5 campaign, instead acting as radio support for a lot of the story mode. OG Marcus Fenix from the Pendulum Wars (as one song created for Gears of War 3 called him) did have some great and hilarious lines in the Gears 5 campaign though. His gruff, hardened voice is still done by John DiMaggio. The Coalition hasn’t created a character anywhere close to as iconic as Marcus.

The final Act 4 picks the action back up. Compared to the rest of the campaign’s acts it only has one chapter. There is no open world exploration and the game takes the player on a continued path of action that the previous Gears of War games all did extremely well. There was a ton of fighting going on. You do feel a sense of urgency and desperation. There’s also a major storyline decision that comes up in the last act, which will impact future Gears games. It came out of nowhere, especially considering there were no other big player choices in the game from a storyline standpoint. The decision is a pretty easy one to make though. This was another aspect of Gears 5 that wasn’t really done that well and seems to be more for shock value than anything else. It actually felt forced and unnecessary. Like in some other parts of the campaign, there was one fight in Act 4 where I repeatedly kept dying because there was an overwhelming amount of Swarm. The AI-controlled team members barely contributed anything so I had to essentially clear out the section by myself. While Act 4 kept escalating in its action, the last fight didn’t feel like the game’s final boss. I thought there was going to be something else afterwards but the game finishes up. The campaign doesn’t even have proper or real strong ending. It ends with a straight cliffhanger. By the end of the game I did end up liking Kait a lot, much more that I did in Gears of War 4. I’m interested to see what they do with the characters and storyline in Gears 6.

It has taken The Coalition two full games to expand upon their version of the Gears world. The original Gears of War kind of had that same ending of wanting more after the final boss. However by the end of it going into Gears of War 2 (2008) you were already hooked on the franchise and its story. Comparing Gears 2 to Gears 5 is a big difference in terms of where each campaign was. I feel like after Gears of War 2 there was this huge anticipation for the third game while with Gears 5 it feels like this new story arc is just getting started. It’s taking a lot longer to get where the studio intends the story to be considering there’s already two new games into this different era. It feels like the story in the two latest games has been mostly held back in some ways. The Coalition needs to bring it full swing in Gears 6. The next sequel should be where everything goes crazy. The Gears 5 campaign is definitely an improvement over Gears 4 though and a lot more memorable. However it still isn’t on the same level as the classic games.

A lot of the new ideas The Coalition added to Gears 5 are just surface level. The exploration and side missions are pretty weak. The open world elements are empty and lack significant meaning. After initially feeling like it was something potentially awesome, there’s a sense of major disappointment to the open world additions. Other games have done it much better. In Gears 5 it actually hurts the campaign by slowing down the franchise’s traditional action too much. Gears of War works best when it’s following a linear path with tons of intense combat and engaging scenes. The Jack system does add a new layer to the Gears gameplay and combat but his upgrade model has been seen before in many other games. The campaign is noticeably longer than the other Gears games but a lot of that’s because of the exploration options. I felt the campaign started strongly and then went up and down in quality as it went on. Gears 5 does have a solid campaign with a lot of great action. It’s definitely worth checking out and playing with a friend. I do want to see what happens with these new additions in Gears 6.

As an example of how buggy the game can be, I somehow didn’t unlock the “Discovered the True Threat to Sera” Achievement (complete all acts of the campaign on any difficulty) even though I beat the game. Great.


Escape is the new multiplayer game mode from The Coalition introduced in Gears 5. There’s really no in-game explanation as to what’s going on. The character is purposely captured by a Snatcher and taken to a Hive base. A bomb is planted that sets of venomous gas that spreads throughout the map. The goal is to get to the extraction point in the fastest time and with the most points possible. You start with just one gun and extremely limited ammo. There are safe rooms with ammo supplies and weapon caches. There are eight different difficulty levels from Beginning to Master that come with different challenges. Escape is played with three people, unlike Horde mode that is up to five.

Each character has a specific special Ultimate ability. Skill cards can be equipped for each character that give gameplay bonuses and abilities for the match, like extra health, increased points earned for the team or increased duration of their special. The skill cards can be leveled up using Scrap earned in the game. There were three playable characters available to everyone at launch and three extra characters, one from the “Terminator: Dark Fate” movie with Sarah Connor (that released in theatres on Nov. 1) and two taken from Halo: Reach (2010), Emile-A239 and Kat-B320. A fourth character in COG Gear is available to anyone that unlocks the male and female model in-game or directly buys them in the store for $5. The three all-new characters in Gears 5 introduced in the Escape mode are Mac, Keegan and Lahni. Keegan is voiced by Dave Fennoy, who notably portrayed Lee in Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. There’s no story to any of these three characters in the Escape mode. They don’t appear in the campaign and there’s little backstory about them given to the player.

Gears 5 mac escape character selection
(Image by Tim Bowman)

There were four Escape stages available at launch and it’s up to 13 total for custom games. A new Escape map is put out almost every week as the main stage to play on, each also bringing extra rewards like experience bonuses and a Hivebuster weapon skin based on the player’s progress. Some of the earlier maps can also be played over again by specifically selecting them for public matchmaking to earn the rewards but otherwise the rest can only be played in private or custom games. Most of the Escape stages can usually be completed in less than 10 minutes on the intermediate difficulty (the second difficulty level), and sometimes a lot faster. There’s also player-created Escape maps. The several times I tried searching for them during peak hours on the weekend I couldn’t find any games available to actually play though. Many of the ones highlighted were also created for Achievement and Tour of Duty grinding as evident by the names and descriptions of the stages.

I liked Escape but I can see how it could get boring fast. Even on intermediate difficulty it can be challenging though. The game does take a long time to load as well, so you have to watch the character get captured by the Snatcher and then watch them plant the venom bomb before you can even start the match. Escape doesn’t feel like a full-on mode compared to Horde or the competitive multiplayer. The way that Escape was marketed as this robust new mode being put into Gears 5 doesn’t match the final product. Escape feels very supplementary to the other main offerings in the game like the campaign or versus multiplayer. The player-created maps could also be where there will be some lasting appeal if the community stays strong enough. I lost interest in Escape after the few first maps and it’s not something I could see myself committed to playing extensively.

Horde Mode

I don’t really play Horde too much in Gears games because of how long it takes to finish a full match. Horde is a big time commitment. Playing a game mode where you can’t pause or stop for two hours or more isn’t for me. There’s still 50 waves of enemies for Horde mode in Gears 5. You really need a dedicated group of friends to play this mode. Horde can be a lot of fun but it’s not a mode I can play regularly.

Similar to a game like Overwatch, each character in Horde has special Hero skills that is unique to them. Each character also now falls under a specific class, like offense, scout, tank, engineer or support. This Hero model in Gears 5 is new to the Gears of War franchise. Unlike the previous games, in Gears 5 a class is character specific, so the person you like playing as might not have the kind of Horde gameplay you want to do. You can level up each character, with each one having specific skills along with Ultimate and Passive abilities assigned to them. For example, Marcus has an Ultimate ability called “Living Legend” that temporarily auto fires at the heads of enemies in sight and allies will have the same power. Another character like Kait has temporary camouflage. You can also equip skill cards for gameplay bonuses in Horde, like increased fortification health for Del. There are character-specific skill cards too. Skill cards are earned once the match is over. Scrap is also used to level up the skill cards. You can’t have multiple characters of the same hero during the same session though. If there are two Kait’s picked, one of the players will be assigned a different character at random once the match starts.

Gears 5 fahz horde character selection
(Image by Tim Bowman)

There’s also a lack of playable characters in Horde mode, with only five characters from the multiplayer and a sixth member in Jack available at launch (nine if you had Sarah Connor, Emile-A239 and Kat-B320). With the addition of extras like COG Gear and Grace from Terminator: Dark Fate there are up to 12 playable characters in Horde at this time. The Coalition have discussed that Escape characters could also become playable in Horde mode and vice versa. One of the reasons behind the small character selection is that according to The Coalition, it takes time to balance the character skills and abilities across the different online modes before adding new characters. This is also one of the reasons that seems to be slowing down content released for the competitive multiplayer as well.

Forcing only one character in each session will also encourage more people to quit the game because they’re made to play as someone they either don’t care for or haven’t leveled up much. It also leads to people not knowing how to play as that character, so you might get someone in the match as Del who isn’t building fortifications or repairing barriers or turrets. Playing with random people will most likely turn bad, with someone either quitting or not performing well. If someone quits the rest of the players are stuck teaming with an AI character. They also need to remove the scoreboard staying on the screen after every round finishes. It’s super annoying because of how long it takes up, which they did finally reduce a bit on Nov. 15.

Versus Multiplayer and Microtransactions

I played around 22 hours of the versus multiplayer. The first night I jumped into multiplayer was Sept. 25. I usually always wait until I finish a game’s campaign before fully getting into the competitive side. I was never a hardcore Gears of War competitive player, but I always enjoyed the online multiplayer in previous games. There was always a toughness to it that made you want to try to get better. All of the Gears 5 multiplayer features teams of five versus five in a variety of objectives. Right now there are some serious flaws with the game’s unlockables and current available content in the multiplayer.

While there are no addicting loot boxes that encourage virtual gambling in Gears 5, there’s a system that’s maybe just as bad. Gears 5 takes cues from titles like the free-to-play Fortnite, Apex Legends and mobile games for how it handles its unlockables. This actually limits content in Gears 5 while making it appear that players are getting a lot of “extra” things after the game’s release.

The Coalition has a poor track record with handling microtransactions, unlockables and cosmetics. Gears of War 4 had a loot box system that was bad, especially during the game’s launch and several months afterwards, so this type of monetizing design isn’t new for The Coalition. Players could buy “Gear Packs” in Gears of War 4 with real money or in-game earnable credits that includes cards featuring randomized unlocks of characters, weapon skins, emblems or challenge bounties that reward players when completed. These cards also had four different colored rarity levels, Common (green), Rare (blue), Epic (purple) and Legendary (gold). For Gears 4 the studio put out loot box packages purchasable through the in-game store called the “Starter Airdrop” that has 17 packs for $20, the “Deluxe Airdrop” of 40 packs for $50 and the “Ultimate Airdrop” that included 100 packs for $100. Each bundle included packs called Elite, Operations, Versus Boosters and Horde Boosters. Each pack is specifically for character or weapon customization, Horde mode or a combination of them. These packs could also be purchased individually for $4.99 (Elite), $1.99 (Operations, all random but guaranteed one customization card) and $0.99 (both Boosters) and included five cards. Even further there’s an option to buy set packs of each type of card. On top of all these packs were something called Feature Packs, which had special and limited timed content. The Feature Packs originally cost $9.99 or 4,400 credits. Free packs given to players included three cards. Cards could also be turned into Scrap in order to craft other desired cards to unlock the customization items like new characters,  different outfits and weapon skins.

There was largely negative player feedback to this system about the slow, earnable speed of the in-game economy, the randomization and the real cost of the loot crates. The Coalition actually lowered the in-game credit cost on the packs by 500 before Gears of War 4 even had its worldwide launch in response to the community who played the Ultimate Edition four days early. Before the real money and credit cost was lowered by over half for the Featured Packs (and decreased for Operations and Elite by half since launch) in January 2017, one poor guy actually had to play 10 straight hours of Horde mode just to be able to afford a measly five card packs with the in-game currency. The sheer disappointment he had because he still wasn’t able to get the character he wanted hilariously sums up how player-friendly that system was. While it didn’t influence the competitive multiplayer, the system actually directly impacted how people could play and progress in the 50 waves of Horde mode based on equipping different abilities and perks gained through the cards and loot boxes. Gears of War 4 also has a $50 Season Pass that includes private match ownership of the multiplayer’s 24 versus maps put out as downloadable content (they’re all free in public matchmaking that are routinely rotated out, which was actually a good move from the studio) 165 cards and access to weekly bounties. Gears of War 4 didn’t become part of Game Pass until over a year after its release, so issues with the in-game economy and loot boxes were in a full retail game that launched at $60.

At first look the microtransaction system in Gears 5 is just super confusing. There are several layers to the online ranking system and how to unlock cosmetic items. The premium in-game currency is called Iron, which can only be bought with real world money. The game’s free currency is called Scrap, which players can use to craft certain cosmetic items and upgrade skill cards for the Horde and Escape modes. Then there’s the game seasonal battle pass called the Tour of Duty, where each “Operation” lasts for three months and includes both long-term and daily challenges. Completing challenges earns the players stars toward their Tour of Duty rank. There are 52 medals of long-term challenges. Completing challenges in each section of the online modes gives the player stars toward their rank along with unlocked cosmetic items like character skins, weapon skins and other cosmetic items for each completed challenge set. The unlockables in Tour of Duty can only be gained during that current Operation and will be removed once the next season starts, which will add a whole new set of challenges and unlocks. The three daily challenges don’t change until they’re completed or you spend Iron to swap them for a new one. It’s only free one time per day though. You have to spend 10 iron, or 10 cents, to get a new challenge after the initial free swap. The cost of swapping out for a new challenge increases by 10 iron per day. The Tour of Duty has 43 ranks, starting from Private I all the way to General. The higher the rank, the more stars it takes to advance to the next level. To complete the first Tour of Duty each player must earn 508 stars from the daily and long-term challenges. Then there’s the general multiplayer rank that’s gathered across all online game modes. The player can Re-Up after reaching level 100, which puts the person back at level 1. Re-upping gives players a Blood Spray for the first time and a weapon skin from the Desert Camo line for additional completions.

Supply Drops give players randomized items like Banners, Blood Sprays, Marks, Expression emotes, Executions, weapon skins and character outfits. Every week the Coalition adds a batch of new items to the Supply Drop pool. Banners give some personality to the multiplayer and are behind the player in the lobby as well as for the MVP player at the end of a match. These replaced the emblems in Gears of War 4, which gave players the option to stylize their identity next to their Gamertag in the lobbies. Marks can be placed above an enemy player’s head when they’re spotted to help identify their location on the map for several seconds. Blood Sprays are supposed to be shown on the ground after an enemy player is executed. Every item in the game has a rarity to it, which includes Common (green), Rare (blue), Epic (purple) and Legendary (gold).

Iron can be bought in different increments, ranging from 500 ($4.99), 1,000 ($9.99) and all the way up to 10,000 ($99.99). The items put into the in-game store can only be obtained with Iron. Boost can be bought to double the experienced gained across all online modes and the increase the Supply drop speed. Boost is sold in the store for one day (250 Iron/$2.50), seven day (600 Iron/$6) and 30 day (1, 200 Iron/$12) increments. Boost runs out in real time instead of total gameplay time, so if you activate the bonus but aren’t able to play Gears 5 in that specific time period then it will be gone. I was playing with Boost enabled for a majority of the time because the Ultimate Edition came with 30 days worth and I had more than that added to my account, which must have been given out to players at some point. Every week The Coalition puts out five new items in the store for sale. Up until Nov. 12 the studio were also putting out a single item for sale on a daily basis. All the items taken out of the store are “vaulted.” Once these items are removed from the store they aren’t purchasable anymore. Iron can be earned through the Tour of Duty but only nets players 500 total after achieving different rank milestones. Scrap is earned from getting duplicate items in the Supply Drop. Scrap is only used to craft some of the free customization items put into the Supply Drop and can’t be used to buy any of the content in the store. The Supply Drop system itself can be viewed as a form of loot box, giving players randomized items the more time they put into the multiplayer or a single session of gaming. You get absolutely nothing for playing or beating the campaign mode, which the classic Gears games did. You don’t unlock any skins or other cosmetic items. So even if you finish the story on Insane difficulty there’s no reward or unlocks for the multiplayer side in Gears 5.

gears 5 iron
Iron is the premium currency in Gears 5 used to buy items like weapon skins in the store. (Image by Tim Bowman)

The Coalition has at least a six month roadmap planned out for Gears 5 content centered around its Operations. According to the studio, “Gears 5 will have the biggest and most extensive post-launch support in Gears history.” The first three months includes four new characters with abilities for Escape, Horde and Arcade mode, over 200 customization items and new weekly content in the multiplayer events, supply drops and Escape levels. In Operation 2 there will be new competitive multiplayer and Horde maps, new characters with abilities, new versus modes, new Escape levels and map builder content, over 200 customization items and new weekly Supply Drops likely like in Operation 1. The Tour of Duty items cannot be bought with Iron or crafted with Scrap and must be earned during the current Operation.

After close to a combined 27 hours across the multiplayer modes (versus, Escape and Horde) I reached level 100, Re-Upped, went to level 50 and got to Officer III (24th rank) in the current Tour of Duty. This is with Boost enabled for double experience points and taking advantage of a “Double Star” event on Saturdays.

At this point the playable multiplayer characters in Gears 5 are still severely lacking. At launch there were only eight core characters for the COG and seven for Swarm side in versus multiplayer without the special Terminator: Dark Fate and Halo: Reach characters. The Swarm roster increased to eight if you counted the Terminator T-800 Endoskeleton. Out of the eight playable characters on the COG side, all three Escape characters are in the competitive multiplayer. This left just five people from the actual Gears universe or campaigns that people would be familiar with. A lot of the cool characters from the Gears 5 campaign aren’t playable, like Garron Paduk, Elizabeth Carmine, Oscar Diaz, Augustus Cole or the older Damon Baird. There are also no legacy characters from the classic games like Dom, Anya, the young Baird, Carmine or other fan favorites seen in the previous titles. The Swarm side feels extremely lacking. There are three Swarm skins locked behind the Tour of Duty. There aren’t any Locust or Lambent alternatives and most of the “unlockable” or buyable skins so far focus around the COG side. On the Swarm side the lack of options is pretty noticeable. It would also be cool to play as one of the infected robots introduced in the campaign for the Swarm. Hardcore and casual Gears of War fans who have played the previous games or maybe even have been with the franchise since 2006 can’t play as a lot of their favorite characters in Gears 5 multiplayer.

Gears 5 cog launch characters versus
This was the small lineup of launch characters for the Hero side in the versus multiplayer modes. (Image by Tim Bowman)

Gears 5 is also severely lacking in new outfits for most of the characters, especially compared to Gears of War 4. “Scarred JD,” another main character skin in the campaign who is literally on the game’s cover box and featured artwork, isn’t playable until it’s unlocked through the Tour of Duty by its 23rd rank. Unlocking the Winter and Desert Armor Kait skins seen during a good chunk of the Gears 5 campaign are also only possible through the Tour of Duty. All of the current skins for the COG locked behind the Tour of Duty are ones that were featured in the campaign. These skins should have been playable at launch or at the very least unlocked by finishing the story mode. A character like Marcus still only has one free skin available for a majority of players (“Gilded Marcus” was only earnable before the game’s launch). The first new skin for Marcus was added on Nov. 5 and sold for 1,000 Iron ($10) in the store. There were also a lot more skins for each playable multiplayer character in Gears of War 4, so it’s a noticeably low amount in Gears 5. The Coalition had to actually clarify what the description of a character actually means, which tells you about how great this system actually is.

Then there are special characters like Dave Bautista from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the WWE wrestling world, who is an alternative skin to Marcus Fenix that also has his own voice acting and catchphrases. “Batista” (his wrestling name in the WWE that the company has the trademark for) was unlocked for all Gears 5 players who jumped into the game between Sept. 15 and Oct. 28. The Terminator: Dark Fate movie features Sarah Connor on the COG side (voiced by actress Linda Hamilton) and the Terminator T-800 Endoskeleton for the Swarm as separate characters in Gears 5, which were unlockable for free by pre-ordering the game or playing it before Sept. 16. The two Halo: Reach (2010) characters are playable in multiplayer as well. As of right now there’s no way to buy the Halo: Reach characters separately in the store as they only come with the Ultimate Edition of the game. Seeing the opposite team full of Terminators got tiring fast. I feel the Terminator is always chosen because the Swarm side is noticeably weaker in terms of characters and customizable outfits. Having five special characters at launch when the core Gears universe characters are so weak in comparison is another example of the developers focusing on the wrong type of content for Gears 5 so early on into the game’s lifespan.

Gears 5 launched with only seven versus multiplayer maps for ranked matches, compared to the 10 that launched in Gears of War 4 (with nine of them being original stages). The maps selections feels lacking too. Having just seven maps at launch hurts the game. It’s not just the low number but also the quality of them. I didn’t feel like there were any killer maps. One of the seven maps is called Training Grounds, which was the tutorial stage when the game gets booted up for the first time. It feels cheap to even count that as a new map, even though it technically is. I did like “Asylum,” which makes for a competitive contest with all the different corners and a great King of the Hill map with the way the rings get positioned. You do end up playing the same two or three maps all the time in rotation too, which is one of the drawbacks of having so few maps available at launch. The “Vasgar” map based on the Act 3 campaign is a decent stage but hardly ever comes up for voting. Even before reaching 10 hours playing competitive I was already feeling fatigued by the maps. Boredom was increasingly starting to settle in. Some of the daily challenges might be to win a game on a certain map. It then feels like that particular stage somehow takes forever to come up in rotation to even vote on the possibility of playing it. There are five maps returning from Gears of War 4 that are described as being enhanced versions updated for Gears 5 but up until recently these could only be used in custom private games. These maps included Dam, Reclaimed, Forge and Harbor and Foundation. It doesn’t make sense why they weren’t all there to begin with at the game’s launch if the new maps were going to be so lacking.

The studio announced on Oct. 4 they would start a trial period and add one multiplayer map from Gears of War 4 to the public matchmaking modes through fan voting, which they did based on player feedback to the map situation in Gears 5. The Foundation map from Gears of War 4 ended up being chosen with 50 percent in one poll of over 16,000 votes. It was added to the public matchmaking on Oct. 22. In the weekly update The Coalition stated, “By beginning with one map, we are giving all our players the opportunity to continue to provide feedback. We know our audience goes way beyond who we talk to online, and we want to take everyone into account. If the response is good, we’ll look at adding more classic Gears 4 maps into the matchmaking pool!” This is such an odd statement to make about adding a single map to a multiplayer mode that’s desperately lacking maps to play on. It’s almost like a passive aggressive jab to all the players criticizing the launch maps in Gears 5. I can’t imagine anyone saying Gears 5 has enough maps and they don’t want The Coalition to add any more as soon as possible. The quickest way to remedy this is by adding the Gears of War 4 maps that are already in Gears 5 anyway. Even if the Gears of War 4 maps are considered “old,” it at least mixes up the ranked multiplayer rotation until the next batch of original Gears 5 maps are released with the next Operations season. The people giving feedback online are the players that are going to be supporting the game months after the launch. This other audience they seem to be referring to isn’t going to be sticking around with Gears 5 like the dedicated fans will. More maps already need to be put into the multiplayer and ranked versus modes because of how stale and limited the launch maps are. If the issue goes on for too long then the game starts to lose its community and player base. They later announced on Oct. 25 during a developer stream that Dam and Reclaimed would join the public matchmaking on Oct. 29. Gears 5 is in bad need of new, original maps though. Launching with only original seven maps and expecting players to wait until the second Operation in December for more of them is just too long. It’s particularly bad because the community is consistently playing on these stages all the time, especially with the way the map voting works and how some of the maps don’t always appear in rotation.

Gears 5 is still a Gnasher (shotgun) focused game in competitive multiplayer but weapons like the Lancer are now a lot more balanced and used more by players. The Lancer can actually be used as a main weapon and take out a lot of opposing players. This is especially the case with the way the versus maps are designed with more open space and wide-rage combat. A map like “Icebound” really puts the focus on the Lancers. In a mode like King of the Hill, it has strategic positioning points above the ground floor where teams can just pick off people on the map who are attempting to capture one of the rings right in the center. This obviously changes the dynamic away from anything but the Lancers, which can be annoying. Best of three rounds versus modes like King of the Hill and Team Deathmatch can be intense and so much fun. These are modes I could keep coming back to. King of the Hill is a frenzied, chaotic mess trying to capture and hold rings on the map, which feels competitive. Team Deathmatch feels competitive too based on the limited number of respawns. I do like playing Guardian as well, a mode where you have to protect the team leader and if they get killed your side runs out of respawns. Escalation and Execution are two modes that really aren’t my thing. Escalation just takes forever to finish. There are 13 rounds in a best of seven match where each team has to capture three rings simultaneously on the map with only five respawns per player. After each round the teams can choose new weapon spawn placements on the stage. As the name of the Execution mode suggests, the opposing team can only be killed by using a weapon’s finishing attack on a downed player. Dodgeball, the new multiplayer mode introduced in Gears of War 4 where players are respawned by someone on the enemy team dying, isn’t in ranked mode and only playable in Quickplay.

Quickplay and Arcade are more casual multiplayer modes. The new Arcade mode is introduced in Gears 5 for a much more casual versus experience. Arcade has unique skills, different weapon loadouts and specific weapon upgrades for each character on the Hero and Swarm sides. Headshots do more damage in Arcade mode and it’s way easier for players to get a headshot kill. Every elimination in Arcade gives the player a skull that can be used to buy stronger weapons. Skulls are easy to get so players can continually keep getting stronger weapons throughout the match. Headshots really pop out and are so much easier to obtain too. Some of the skills in Arcade are that Marcus gets health for damage he deals out, Kait has movement speed increase, JD can spot enemies that damage him, Mac has explosive damage reduced and Keegan receives stim for kills. The Swarm side basically mimics the abilities of the Heroes. The Arcade skills actually aren’t that deep of a system. You can have duplicate characters in Arcade mode and if a player quits they are replaced with a bot. Even though I did have some fun with it, the times I played Arcade felt slower and not challenging enough for me, so I mostly stuck to the ranked modes. Arcade is much more casual. It actually turns the multiplayer into more long-range combat, especially with the way the game’s maps are designed. There are way more grenade kills than ranked multiplayer, almost like a Call of Duty game, because a character like Marcus can buy two frags at time with only four skulls. The skills of the players themselves are noticeably different too, so if you played any sort of online multiplayer for a good amount of time you’ll probably end up smoking most people in Arcade. I’m not a pro by any means but I was consistently at the top the leaderboard in every match. Arcade is actually a pretty decent mode but it’s the exact opposite of what Gears multiplayer has traditionally been for the past 13 years. The tone of an Arcade game is totally different than what you experience in ranked. It’s fun to pop into but the core multiplayer in Gears is the ranked competitive.

The multiplayer gameplay itself is fine and can actually turn into some really fun versus matches. However there are a lot of complaints about various gameplay aspects of the multiplayer on the Gears of War official forums and Reddit community. From a gameplay perspective there are a lot of complaints that The Coalition changed aspects of the franchise’s multiplayer for a more casual audience. That discussion is way above my expertise level when it comes to shooters and online multiplayer but many of the hardcore player base have been turned off by Gears 5 so there’s something to those criticisms. There were legitimate complaints about crazy aim assist, bullet spraying and weird damage counters in the ranked mode. I know I’ve had a lot of instances where the opposing player should have been dead but somehow I got killed first. It doesn’t make sense when the game tells you that the opposing player took 98 or 99 percent damage in one hit from a Gnasher but didn’t die, instead killing you in return. A lot of times there were instances where I’m not even sure how I got hit in combat because on the kill cam it looked like the opposing player was just shooting wildly in my direction. The executions take too long to perform as well. You have to hold down the B button to do the animation so those several seconds spent waiting and then actually performing it opens you up to getting killed. There was also an issue with melee, with the opposing player essentially lunging at you from a small distance and able to down you in a few quick hits, especially after the initial attack. The melee was too overpowered at that state and was pretty annoying but it was tuned down on Nov. 13.

The in-game campaign and multiplayer stats are terrible too. Basic gameplay statistics aren’t available to check out in-game. For example, you can’t see your full kills, kills with each weapon, your losses, a detailed breakdown of each mode you play, how many times you were the MVP or the ribbons earned through the game. It gives you such an extremely basic list of your average statistics for each versus mode that’s so bare bones for a multiplayer game in 2019. This is also confusing because Gears of War 4 has a detailed in-game list of all the versus statistics, including the total number of headshots, revives, total rounds played and even the full list of all the game’s ribbons. Gears 5 is a major step backwards in this area. There’s also one bug in the versus modes where one or more of the players will basically turn into the Silver Surfer, losing their actual character model and becoming a full silver skin that looks like an action figure before it’s painted. I saw this many times in the versus multiplayer. How does this even happen? Recently one time a person chainsawing me to death were doing so as the Silver Surfer skin and without the Lancer showing on screen, which looked hilarious. It wouldn’t surprise me if The Coalition at some point ended up selling this as a legitimate character skin in the store.

Gears 5 silver surfer in multiplayer
No, Marvel didn’t team up with Xbox to include the Silver Surfer in Gears 5. (Image by Tim Bowman)

Since the game’s launch the ranking system in Gears 5 has been broken, which isn’t an exaggeration and has been confirmed by the studio that there were major problems with its functionality. I didn’t understand the multiplayer’s competitive ranking system. It made no sense. The ranking system felt completely random with some weird reasoning behind it. It seemed like the points you gain for each completed match all adds up to your total rank for that particular versus mode. Each round of a ranked match is supposed to get points calculated towards that game’s overall final score. This final score was based on your individual performance, how the team performed and also if your team was favored to win that match or not. However even if your team won and you had a great performance in each round your overall score could still decline. There are six ranks to the competitive side, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Onyx, Diamond and Masters. Each rank also has tiers to them. I initially got to Silver 2 rank in Team Deathmatch and Silver 1 in King of the Hill. On Oct. 3 they first “fixed” the ranking system by adjusting everyone’s total scores so many players lost tons of points. I didn’t see any effect of this until I played on Oct. 11 and lost between 1,500-2,000 points to my Team Deathmatch standing from earlier in the week. There were many reports of players losing drastic amounts of points even after getting MVP and winning matches as well as going down complete ranks even after just a few games. This appears to have nothing to do with readjusting the tier’s scores. One person went from Diamond to the lower ranks after a couple matches even after performing well. The ranking system was so frustrating. I could personally be doing great but my team still loses the match so I end up losing like a few hundred points off my rank. In one ranked King of the Hill game, my team actually won the match after the third round. I was right behind the match’s MVP in terms of score. I also had a ton of eliminations (close to 50) and ring captures (again, some of the most in the match). I somehow lost over 800 points to my rank. In another similar game I lost 989 points, even though I was a key part of helping my team win and had great stats. How does this make any sense? This has happened to me many times. I’m also not a Gears of War multiplayer professional by any means but I do fairly well and still couldn’t get out of the Silver ranking. I’ve been put into Team Deathmatch games where less than a minute in we are already down five kills before I could even do anything. It was really noticable a few weeks ago, much more than usual. I don’t know what had changed. We were obviously playing against people of a higher skill level and my team was getting slaughtered. In the past few weeks I’ve gone on a string of losing games due to bad teammates and an obviously higher-skilled opposing team. It seems that since players lost full ranks because of the broken system, they were being putting into games with other people of a lower skill and just absolutely destroying them. The broken ranking system is another aspect that probably drove people away and dropped the player count in multiplayer, especially the dedicated Gears of War fans. People can always go to the Quickplay or Arcade modes but Arcade is such a different experience that players used to the competitive Gears multiplayer are pretty much stuck playing ranked.

Gears 5 king of the hill ranked losses
Before the ranks were reset players would lose large amounts of points even with strong performances. (Image by Tim Bowman)

The Coalition announced on Oct. 25 that the Gears 5 ranked system did actually have some core flaws to it that the studio is working to fix with a very high priority level. Points earned after each ranked match weren’t being calculated right and didn’t reflect the player’s actual performance, players were seeing huge decreases to their ranks based on the incorrect scoring, people weren’t being put into the correct ranks and some were even having trouble getting out of the Silver ranking. The ranked system in Gears 5 simply hasn’t worked since the game launched two months ago. It’s broken. A working ranked system is something so basic that every competitive multiplayer game needs to have at its fundamental level. It’s absolutely baffling how this happened to Gears 5.

On Nov. 1 the studio announced it had created a fix to the Gears 5 ranking system that’s causing the post-match points and rank changes for each versus mode to be so drastic. However for The Coalition to implement this fix, the studio had to wipe every player’s ranking and skill points in the game, essentially starting over from scratch. Every player in the game will now have to finish five matches in each versus mode to determine their new ranks. Many players had played the ranked modes heavily trying to reach the top rankings and also unlock the rank-specific weapon skins. Now those players will lose all their progress with the rest of the Gears 5 community. If another major multiplayer-focused game had to wipe every player’s rank or statistics and start over two months after the game’s launch, there would be so much outrage. Can you imagine this happening to Overwatch or the latest Call of Duty? While everyone who plays Gears 5 after the update through the end of the first Operation gets a free Blood Moon Imago skin, it reflects so poorly on the game that this even had to happen. The Coalition had stated in this Nov. 1 update, “We know Ranked in Gears 5 has been a frustrating experience so far, and we’ve been working hard to rectify the issues as quickly as possible.” Two months after a game’s launch is an extremely long time to finally start making major updates towards getting a functioning ranking system for a title so multiplayer-focused.

The update for the rank reset was supposed to come out on Wednesday, Nov. 6 along with the game’s second title update that included various improvements. After the initial posting on Nov. 4 of the release date, it was announced on Nov. 5 that along with the second title update the rank fix would be delayed until Thursday, Nov. 7. At the same time the game’s second title update was put out on Nov. 7, The Coalition announced the rank reset wouldn’t be happening and would be delayed again until Nov. 13. The reasoning behind the delay was that some other important improvements were discovered at the last minute that caused the studio to postpone the update for another full week rather than putting it into the game. So for a few weeks there was no point in playing the ranked multiplayer because the studio announced that rank resets would be coming to Gears 5. At the time when the game seriously needed a positive boost the studio frustratingly fumbled again.

The fixed ranking system put out on Nov. 13 has a few different ways it figures where to put players after the five placement matches. Dana Sissons, the director of communications for The Coalition, talked about how players are being put into their ranks (the discussion starts around 19:40 on the Nov. 14 developer stream). The first is how you perform relative to the placement matches that the rest of the population has. The second is your old ranked data before the reset and your general performance. The third has an element of a grind-based progression system. Players might be placed below their actual rank so they can level into their general performance placement. The ranked matches are based on individual skill and doesn’t entirely look at if you won the game or not (the discussion starts around 1:03.10). After my five Team Deathmatch placement matches I was again placed in Silver 2. I feel like I could get higher since I was rusty from not playing ranked while it was broken and did absolutely terrible in every game. The studio will continue to look at the ranked data and make adjustments if there are still issues later on once more players get placed into their ranks. Having a broken ranked system makes it feel like your progression isn’t being recognized properly, which leads to disinterest in continuing to play. Time will tell in the next few weeks if the studio fixed the ranking system or if it will continue to have fundamental issues.

There’s supposed to be an esport focus to the series with pro gamers (who always play on consoles rather than PCs for tournaments and events). Gears of War 4 had a $1 million prize pool for its esports competition. There was a Gears 5 tournament this summer called the “Gears Summer Series Invitational” hosted by ELEAGUE featuring some of the top players. The Coalition and Microsoft have partnered with the esports organizers PGL for a competitive season going into 2020. Purchases of the esports cosmetic items in Gears of War 4 and Gears 5 directly go to supporting the events and money put into the prize pools. I would imagine that the broken ranking system would at least have some negative effect on the esports side of things too. Theoretically this esports focus should at least translate to some interest from a social side on Twitch or other avenues.

The online quality itself in Gears 5 has been spotty too. There were many times I had to wait several minutes for the game to even find a lobby. The game would loop between “Evaluating match quality” to “Expanding player pool” and then “Identifying potential players” and finally “Comparing skill ratings” before starting back from the beginning. Pretty much since the time I started playing the multiplayer I’ve had issues with lobbies dissolving before the match starts. I’ve had many instances where the lobby immediately folds before I can even get into it when the game states it found one for me. The expectation is that you can easily and quickly get into ranked games. Nobody wants to be waiting around just to get into a lobby. This is something that’s still happening, which is pretty annoying. Many of the European players had issues since the game’s launch with not even being able to play the competitive multiplayer due to high ping issues and being connected to servers not in their region. Players in places like Brazil, South Africa, Australia, South Africa and some Asian countries are still having problems with high ping and long matchmaking times. Many times past the lobby screen, which is the next loading screen once the match was about to start up that shows all the players and their ping numbers, one team would have the full five players and the other would only have four. The match would be stuck “validating” for several minutes before finally just dissolving and starting the search process all over again for another game. There were even several times where I couldn’t join any competitive multiplayer games at all because the servers were down. For some Escape games the match began that didn’t even the have two other players with me from the lobby when the games started. These issues are still happening at the moment even two months after launch.

Current Content

The Coalition had announced that more characters would be arriving for the first Operation in a title update that could be earned or purchased. Instead of just saying what characters would be added to the game beforehand, they waited until the day of their release. Along with the game’s title update 1.5 on Oct. 16, the studio introduced yet another layer of earning new content with the addition of the Totem system.

Four new characters were put into the Gears 5 multiplayer on Oct. 16, which included two heroes and two villains. COG Gear (a male and female model), DeeBee, Warden and General RAAM are now playable across the different multiplayer modes. While these new characters can be earned in-game, they also can be outright bought in the store for 500 Iron or $5 each, which also comes with three days of Boost. The COG Gear has been playable for multiplayer in some variation in Gears of War 3, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and Gears of War 4. The DeeBees were first playable for multiplayer in Gears of War 4 but against the COG side and are again featured in the Gears 5 campaign. The Warden is a new Swarm character introduced in the Gears 5 campaign. General RAAM has been playable since the original Gears of War and is automatically unlocked for anyone that completed the challenges in the “Road to Gears 5” before the game’s launch. The COG Gear is also the only new character that has abilities across Horde, Escape and Arcade. Unlike the rest of the Heroes, the DeeBee only has abilities in Arcade mode. To earn these new characters through gameplay requires four general challenges and one unique challenge be completed in a new system called Totems. The challenges for all the characters include completing 40 Rounds of versus, surviving a total of 50 waves in Horde mode, finishing 18 acts of Escape and earning 60,000 experience in versus, Escape or Horde. These challenges are not retroactive and must be completed again. Players need 200 assists as a COG member in versus, Escape or Horde to unlock the COG Gear. To get the DeeBee character the player needs 100 Reject kills in Escape or Horde. To fully unlock the Warden players need to eliminate 10 Wardens in Escape or Horde. For General RAAM you need to execute 30 COG characters while playing as the Swarm.

Gears 5 cog gear store page
COG Gear is one of four new characters put into Gears 5 post-launch that can be bought directly from the store for $5. (Image by Tim Bowman)

While all four characters share a majority of the same challenges, you can only work towards one at a time by equipping each new character’s Totem. The Coalition estimated that each character would take 10 hours to unlock. So by the studio’s estimate, it will take around 40 hours just to unlock this first batch of new characters through gameplay. The team even stated that, “if you don’t feel up to the grind” each character could be bought with Iron. Even the wording the studio is using admits the challenges are basically a pointless grind just to get new characters. The Totem system is designed to get players to spend real money.  You still have to spend 100 Scrap to craft each Totem to even start grinding towards the challenges. Scrap can be hard to come by, especially if you want to also use it towards making a weapon skin or other cosmetic item. The challenges aren’t even interesting either. Getting 60,000 experience for each Totem is going to take a long time. It takes 1,000 experience points to level up in multiplayer. That means it takes ranking up 60 levels to unlock just one character or 240 levels to unlock all four of them. These challenges are there to pad Gears 5 with unnecessary game time and just break people down into spending $5-20 for the characters.

This model is just for the first batch of new characters, which doesn’t include the more iconic people from the franchise and even from the Gears 5 campaign that people are still waiting for. That means players will probably have to do that grinding all over again for new characters in the future. The Warden is a seriously cool-looking character, which probably should have been included at launch given how weak the Swarm roster is. These four characters are also the only ones players will get during the current Operations season, which doesn’t start its second phase until December. This system is another aspect of Gears 5 that forces people to play modes they don’t want to. You have to play certain modes you might not like just to play the new characters in the modes you actually do. If you don’t like Escape, you still have to play it at least 18 times just to get one character or 72 times to completion for all four of them. Don’t like Horde mode? Well you still have to play 200 waves of it just to unlock all four characters. Given how weak the launch lineup of playable characters was, this is actually insulting to both hardcore fans of the Gears franchise and new players to the series with Gears 5. Adults with full time jobs, families and other responsibilities don’t have time to grind away in Gears 5 all day, every day just to unlock new content. Playing the game 40 hours by The Coalition’s estimation is most people’s full time work week at their actual jobs. That’s not even including all the other extra Tour of Duty grinding to get new character skins and unlocks. By the time someone actually unlocks all four of these characters through gameplay they might as well be sick of Gears 5 and ready to move on to something else. The entire system is designed for many people just to not even bother attempting to unlock them with gameplay and drop up to $20 for the characters. Is it going to take hundreds of hours just to unlock a more robust lineup for the game’s multiplayer down the road? I did see a few COG Gears and Wardens a few days after the update, so either those players hardcore grinded out the challenges or spent money on those characters.

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The requirements to unlock the Warden character for versus multiplayer in Gears 5. (Image by Tim Bowman)

The Coalition also announced that the fan favorite Onyx Guard will be a character skin for the COG Gear (both as male and female models). Players will be able earn the Onyx Guard skin in the second Tour of Duty that starts this December. Again unintentionally highlighting how long it takes for new content to appear in Gears 5, the studio said, “The wait is almost over Gears fans!” when announcing the Onyx Guard release window. For comparison, the Onyx Guard was a separate playable character in Gears of War 3 by purchasing a $10 “Horde Command Pack” that also bundled two other characters, a few weapon skins, fortification upgrades for Horde, three maps for Horde and new Achievements. A male and female Onyx Guard were also playable in Gears of War: Judgment by downloading the season”VIP Pass” for $20. The VIP Pass also came with six new multiplayer maps, two game modes, playlists for permanent double experience, five new weapon skins and four new armor skins.

In addition to the four characters and new Totem system, another pack featuring two characters from Terminator: Dark Fate was released on the same day for $19.99 that also includes a themed Banner, Mark and Blood Spray. Grace (who is voiced by the actress from the movie, Mackenzie Davis) and the new Terminator model Rev-9 introduced in the movie are both included as new playable characters in Gears 5. Unlike the other new characters, they cannot be earned in-game at all and must be purchased. Grace also has her own abilities and skills for the Escape and Horde modes. If someone didn’t pre-order the game or play Gears 5 before Sept. 16, then they now have to buy the first Terminator pack to get Sarah Connor and the T-800, which costs $19.99. People with Game Pass get 10 percent off each pack. That’s $40 though just to have the full current set of Terminator characters when the game costs $60 at retail. To even use the Rev-9 skin, players must own the base T-800 character from the first Terminator pack. Unlike Grace that’s a full character, the Rev-9 acts as an alternative skin to the T-800. Players could potentially be buying the second Terminator pack and not even be able to use the Rev-9 character in multiplayer.

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The Terminator franchise is well represented in Gears 5. (Image by Tim Bowman)

It’s actually hilarious that there are now four Terminator characters in Gears 5 but you still can’t play as the original Delta team from the classic Gears games. This second Terminator pack was a surprise announcement. Prior to the reveal there weren’t any hints that there would be more characters beyond Sarah Connor and the T-800. Microsoft were obviously paid for this Terminator advertisement to license the characters in the game. On top of that players are actually being charged more money to be advertised to in the game. I can see how these decisions regarding the Terminator characters could be out of The Coalition’s control given the companies and advertising involved. At this point though I’m so sick of seeing the T-800 character in the multiplayer. It’s overused to death. Interestingly, the two villain Terminator characters are actually banned for competitive esports games. One of the reasons is most likely due to the character not having any voice dialogue that would indicate where the player is on the map, like reloading their weapons or reacting to grenades being thrown. If they’re banned for esports games why are they allowed in the game’s ranked competitive modes?

A majority of the customizable content I unlocked for free is just incredibly lame. In the customization menus there are currently 59 Blood Sprays (I have 26 unlocked), 59 Marks (42 unlocked), 101 Banners (38 unlocked) and between 21-22 expressions (depending on the character, I have 7-8 unlocked). These totals of all the cosmetics also don’t include any of the store items that cost Iron, which don’t appear in the customization menus unless you bought them. These totals will mildly vary for each player depending on what promotional items they have and their store-bought items. Most of the Tour of Duty rewards aren’t interesting. Up to my current Officer III rank I gained some Banners that show off the tiers, Marks like an anvil and bandage, a “Salute” expression, a “Cougars Blood Spray,” a “Desert Armor Fahz” skin and the “Scarred JD” outfit. Completing the Sergeant First Class III rank prior to Master Sergeant I unlocks an epic Swarm Drone skin, the first unlockable outfit for the Swarm in the Tour of Duty. I unlocked Forza Horizon 4 and State of Decay 2 Banners through a Supply Drop, which is just more advertising for Xbox games. I unlocked very few weapon skins so far. A few of the ones I got in Supply Drops were the Art Deco skin for the Dropshot, Talon and Boltok (all Legendary) and a “Relaxed Lancer” that looks like a Hawaiian shirt plastered on the gun. After finishing 50 waves of Horde, I only unlocked an elephant Mark, a T-Ball Execution and two diamond Marks, with one of them being turned into five Scrap. That’s all I got. On the fourth day I played multiplayer I was already getting Scrap for duplicate Supply Drops, which shows just how little the game’s content actually has. Some of the Banners I have unlocked through the Supply Drop or crafting with Scrap have cool artwork but that novelty almost immediately runs dry. It’s only a Banner you see for several seconds. For the weeks of Oct. 29 and Nov. 7, five of the new items put into the Supply Drop were Banners for multiplayer maps in the game, which is more boring content. One Blood Spray I got through a Supply Drop was literally a cursor icon. That’s so awful. Another Blood Spray I got through the Supply Drop was a “Pew Pew” design with those two words in red. I also received a literal toilet Blood Spray in a Supply Drop too. Why would a toilet even be a cool Blood Spray to see after executing an opposing player? In one Supply Drop I got a “JD Salute Expression,” which is specific to JD and includes a voice line. The “Salute Expression” from the Tour of Duty is for every character and doesn’t have any voice lines. The Marks in the multiplayer modes are something you only see for a few seconds so it’s more uninteresting content. Some of the Marks I unlocked were a roman numeral, a puppy, an umbrella, a pill and a turd icon, which actually sums up this system in Gears 5 pretty accurately.

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A turd Mark is one of the free items that can be earned from the game’s randomized Supply Drop just by playing over time. (Image by Tim Bowman)

Scrap can be used to craft the locked cosmetic items under the customization menus for things like weapon skins, Banners, expressions and Marks. Scrap is also used to upgrade the skill cards in Escape and Horde mode. You can’t craft current or old store items with Scrap. You only gain Scrap by getting duplicate Supply Drop items. This is mostly such a tiny amount that it will take forever to continually craft the skins or other content you’re missing. Most of the time I’m only getting five Scrap for duplicates like Marks or Banners. I did obtain 150 Scrap once after a match for a duplicate Supply Drop, so it’s possible to get a higher volume but it hardly ever happens. Lately I have mostly been getting Scrap in the Supply drops and no new items, which demonstrates that the free content is in limited quantity and new things put into the pool every week are difficult to even get. Even crafting a lot of the items would take a long time. If the Coalition had not given out 600 Scrap for free because of major server and technical issues during the game’s launch weekend I would barely have any. You can craft some banners and expressions for 100 Scrap. Other banners and markers are on the cheaper side at 40 Scrap. Some of the expressive emotes cost 100 Scrap to craft, which should have just been put into the game for free like the “Cover Me” voice line. Some of the cooler items like the golden Art Deco weapon skins cost over 2,000 Scrap if you don’t get one through a Supply Drop. Many of the weapon skins and other items are still locked behind the Tour of Duty though. You don’t unlock the first set of weapon skins until Master Sergeant III (18th rank), which gives access to the rare “CHILL” weapon skins. Reaching Captain III (30th rank) unlocks the “Team Metal” set of legendary weapon skins. General, the final rank in Tour of Duty, unlocks the third and final set in the Operations, which is a legendary “Team Rock” set. You can craft weapon skins that were put into the Supply Drop pool but even those aren’t a large amount right now. One of them is a “Relaxed Gnasher” for 100 Scrap. The only difference between the “CHILL” skins you earn in the Tour of Duty and the “Relaxed” ones from the Supply Drops are the weapon’s main color. The CHILL skins are all white while the Relaxed are all black. That’s literally it. They both share the same Hawaiian shirt-styled art on them. I was pretty disappointed once I realized that. The Relaxed skin set still isn’t complete and has been slowly put into the Supply Drops over time. There still aren’t a ton of weapon skins to craft in the customization menus. It’s noticeably lacking, especially compared to Gears of War 4.

Weapon skins have been a fun way in Gears games to personalize your look online. If I didn’t have the game’s promotional and Ultimate Edition unlocks, I would barely have any customized skins for the weapons in Gears 5. It’s that bad right now. Again, comparing this game to Gears of War 4, the weapon skin selection is incredibly slim. Most of the weapons only have at most between 11-13 different skins in the customization menus (that could be more or less depending on each person’s specific unlocks from things like promotions, the Ultimate Edition and paid store items). These are just the skins you can see from the Tour of Duty, multiplayer progression or Supply Drops. That’s not the total in the game from all available avenues such as the online store. Some of the tiers in competitive multiplayer unlock certain weapon skins, but with how bad the game’s ranking system was those were probably even harder to unlock than they should be. I only unlocked a “Silver Breaker Mace” up to this point. If players aren’t buying weapon skins in the store or grinding towards the highest ranks in Tour of Duty then they don’t have a lot of options. Even with the store items and Tour of Duty unlocks there simply aren’t a lot of customizable skins for the game’s 18 weapons. Right now there aren’t a lot of cool weapon skins in Gears 5 either. What happened to that massive inventory of all the different weapon designs from Gears of War 4? A lot of those designs looked awesome. Why aren’t at least some of those in Gears 5 right now? Unlike Gears of War 4, you cannot melt down a card or unlocked item to put towards Scrap in Gears 5. The duplicate skill cards unlocked by playing Horde and Escape can only be used to upgrade that specific card, which requires Scrap to even do. Gears of War 4 at least lets you see all the possible characters, character outfits and weapon skins in the menu that can be unlocked. The items no longer in the store don’t appear in any of the customization menus in Gears 5.

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The “CHILL” weapon skin set is one of the few that can be unlocked for free in Gears 5. (Image by Tim Bowman)

Finishing a complete weapon set for a specific skin that’s being sold in the store is also going to cost a lot of real money and time waiting for them, especially with the way the content is mostly sold on an individual basis and slowly released over days and weeks. They put out a Common skin set called the “Matte Black Rifle Pack” as a daily item for Sept. 26 for 500 Iron ($5), which is a lot more reasonably priced compared to the other microtransactions. This set included the skins for the Claw, Enforcer, Retro Lancer, Hammerburst and Lancer GL. The second package called the “Matte Black Loadout Skins Pack” for 400 Iron ($4) was released as a weekly store item for the default weapons of the Gnasher, Lancer, Snub, Talon and Boltok. Following up later on Nov. 4 the “Matte Black Power Skins Pack” was the daily item for 400 Iron, which included the Breaker Mace, Overkill, Boomshot and Dropshot. This Matte Black set so far would cost players $18 and is still missing more of the game’s weapons. On Sept. 24 they added a “Chrome Steel” skin set  for the five default weapons as part of the esports line. Each skin in the Chrome Steel line was priced at 400 Iron, so to buy it for all five guns would cost $20, which is way too expensive.

One of the first weekly items was a “Museum Loadout Pack” for 1,000 Iron ($10), which were Rare skins for the game’s default weapons. On Sept. 24 the store’s daily item was the “Museum Sniper Pack” of four guns, the Longshot, Torque Bow, Markza and Embar for 1,000 Iron ($10). The third set called the “Museum Power Skins Pack” was put out as a weekly item on Nov. 5 that cost 800 Iron ($8), which included the Overkill, Dropshot, Boomshot and Breaker Mace. Originally it was released wrong at 1,000 Iron ($10) and players were refunded the Iron difference. The daily item on Nov. 9 was the “Museum Rifle Skin Pack” for 800 Iron ($8), which finished the set and included the Hammerburst, Lancer GL, Retro Lancer, Claw and the Enforcer. The complete Museum set would cost players $36 to own all the available skins for each weapon, which is actually one of the better designs so far in Gears 5. Somehow when the Museum Rifle Skin Pack was put out for sale though, it showed an image of the default Lancer with the rest of the weapons on the storefront. Anyone who bought that pack will also be getting the Museum skin for the Lancer because of the error. A new weapon skin was introduced with the Nov. 12 weekly store update. The “Cardboard Loadout Skins Pack” featured a Rare design for the five default weapons for 600 Iron ($6). The Cardboard skins look like a package you would get in the mail and even have fake delivery stickers on them. For the weekly store update on Oct. 29 one of the new items was a “Dark Wave Full Weapon Skin Set” for 1,500 Iron ($15). This set includes 18 Common skins for every weapon in the game. This was the first full set of all 18 weapons being sold in the store as a bundle. What will a full Legendary skin set cost end up costing in the store? Much like the “CHILL” and Relaxed weapon skins already in Gears 5 though, the Dark Wave set design is just a different color (all black) for the full weapon that’s basically similar to the “New Wave” weapon skins (all white) put into the store as single items. Two separate “Pink Camo” Common weapon skins for the Lancer and Gnasher were put out for 100 Iron ($1) as a weekly item on Oct. 29 as well. Regardless if someone thinks the skin looks cool or not, the Pink Camo skins are more in line with reasonable pricing for items like that. Another issue with the weapon skins is that the studio is dividing some of them between the paid store content and free unlocks in the Tour of Duty. In the game’s next Operation, some of the “Rainbow Swirl” skins can be unlocked for free, according to The Coalition’s community manager. However, players won’t have the full set unless they have bought the previous store items, which have already been vaulted and not put up for sale again. So far there were six Rainbow Swirl skins put into the store for 400 Iron ($4) each, with the latest being the Boltok and Talon as daily items on Nov. 1-2. Players would have had to spend at least $24 to have the full Rainbow Swirl set in combination with the free unlocks coming in the second Tour of Duty in order to complete the package. If the Rainbow Swirl skins were to keep being sold on an individual basis for 400 Iron, it would cost players $72 for the full weapon set. There were also four new esports weapon skin packs added to the store on Nov. 7 that included five guns for $9.99 designed around some of the pro teams. Buying all the weapon skins in Gears 5 can get incredibly expensive.

A majority of the game’s extra purchasable content simply isn’t compelling. It’s mostly disposable, forgettable content. Most of the store items so far have been extremely lackluster, especially the daily items. A majority of them are complete rip-offs when it comes to pricing. With Gears 5 having such a heavy focus on microtransactions, The Coalition hasn’t put out much interesting content to actually make it worth spending money. The game’s store is built around fear of missing out (FOMO) tactics, initially with single items replaced on a daily basis and the weekly set of cosmetics swapped out with a new batch the following week. Once the items are gone in the store they’re vaulted and cannot be purchased again. The previous items also can’t be viewed in the store in some sort of vaulted category. Unless players were logging in every day they missed out on potentially buying new cosmetic items and even knowing what they even are to begin with. It’s another way to force people to continually stay with the game, even just to follow what’s being put into the store.

Early on in the shop the “Islander Lahni” skin was being sold for 1,000 Iron or $10 as a weekly item, who is a new character to Gears 5 through the Escape mode. A “Keegan: Thanks Expression” was being sold for 1,000 Iron as a weekly item too. Another weekly item for 700 Iron ($7) was a “Chalk Outline Bloodspray.” The following week there were two Chrome Steel skins for Fahz and the Scion that cost 1,500 Iron or $15 each as weekly items, which were part of the esports line. That’s outrageous pricing. Jack had a new “Cardboard Jack” skin for 1,000 Iron ($10) in the same weekly update. Is Jack really a character that needed a new skin so early on in the game compared to the other core people? The Coalition updated the store with a “Noob” blood splatter for 700 Iron as the daily item for Sept. 28. You can only buy Iron in 500 increments so in reality it cost more than $7. There’s no excuse for this weak content, like anything with the word Noob in it. It’s terrible. A “Rapid Fire Execution” that was only for the Boltok gun cost 800 Iron. Why does a single execution animation cost $8? There was also a “Slow Clap Expression” for 700 Iron ($7), which is about as interesting as its name suggests and was extremely overpriced. They put out a “Delivery Driver Mac” skin for 1,000 Iron as one of the weekly items on Sept. 17. This was for another Escape character that has never been featured in the Gears games before. Due to “popular demand” they kept the skin in the store for another week. Like really? Who was demanding for this outfit to be available for another week because they didn’t buy it the first time? The Delivery Driver Mac skin was the only item in the store so far ever brought back instead of being permanently vaulted. Even after around 22 hours I probably have seen only one player actually using this skin online in versus multiplayer. Why did a single alternative costume for a character cost $10 or up to $15 for the esports line? The world flags that players can have as Banners on their character screen each cost 700 Iron or $7 in the store. Seriously? These prices are overboard and too expensive. For the weekly items on Oct. 16, a skin for Jack from the original Gears of War was put out for 800 Iron ($8). Again, were people clamoring this early on for yet another new Jack skin? A weekly item put into the store on Nov. 5 was a “Foot Tap Expression” for 500 Iron ($5). This expression is quite frankly completely dumb, looks silly in a bad way and feels way out of place for both the COG and Swarm sides.

On Nov. 11 the studio announced that going forward the store would no longer be selling daily items and would have only have a weekly set of items to purchase. A lot of the store content that got put out on a daily basis was incredibly weak, uninteresting, lacking creativity and overpriced. On Sept. 25 the daily item was for a “Unity Thru Order Banner” for 400 Iron ($4), which featured the COG logo on a black background with that statement written under it. It didn’t look that good. On Sept. 29 the daily store item was a “Rainbow Swirl Lancer” for 500 Iron ($5) that has the colors animated on the skin. The daily item on Sept. 30 was a light bulb Marker for 100 Iron ($1). A “Rusted Gnasher” weapon skin was the Oct. 1 daily item for 100 Iron, followed by the “Rusted Lancer” on Oct. 2 for the same price. The rusted skins are actually the cheapest for the weapons put into the store. The animated “Rainbow Swirl Gnasher” was 500 Iron ($5) on Oct. 5. I was almost tempted to buy this particular Rainbow Swirl skin because I thought it did look cool on the Gnasher but $5 was just too much. On Oct. 6 a “Fahz Mock Crying Expression” was put into the store for 500 Iron. As the name suggests the expression is only for Fahz. Character-specific expressions look like something that players will have to individually buy for others on the roster. These expressions aren’t worth $5 either because you will barely use them during the actual game. They put out a tomato Blood Spray on Oct. 7 for 200 Iron ($2). Yes that’s right, a literal tomato icon. The daily item on Oct. 19 was a bomb Blood Spray icon for 200 Iron. On Oct. 10 the new item in the store was a “Mr. Smiles Banner” for 100 Iron ($1) followed by a “Mr. Smiles Blood Spray” for 200 Iron ($2) on Oct. 11. The “New Wave Gnasher” skin was the daily item on Oct. 12 for 250 Iron ($2.50). On Oct. 13 the daily item in the store was a “Niles Lancer,” which had Niles’ A.I. face from the campaign plastered and animated on the gun for 400 Iron ($4). This skin was at least somewhat creative and different to the other customization in the game.

The daily item for Oct. 14 was a pizza Mark for 100 Iron ($1). I love pizza, but I’d probably just put that dollar towards buying a real slice I can actually eat. One of the few cool daily items was on Oct. 15 for a “Ominous Banner” for 200 Iron ($2) that has a cobra intertwined with a skull on a black and red background. For the Oct. 16 daily item, a “Rainbow Swirl Breaker Mace” cost 400 Iron ($4). On Oct. 17 the new daily item was a literal click Marker for 50 Iron (50 cents) that looked so cheap. The daily update on Oct. 18 was a “Retro Wave Boltok” skin for 250 Iron ($2.50). On Oct. 19 the daily item was a “Pwnd Blood Spray” for 500 Iron ($5). Who is this even for? Who is using the word “Pwnd” in 2019? The new daily item for Oct. 20 was a “Power Drive Execution” for 500 Iron that is only equippable to the Markza rifle, a more long-range weapon that you’re usually not getting up close to opponents with to even perform it. On Oct. 23 a “Stage Bow Expression” that’s only for Del was put out for 500 Iron. This is another expression that is character-specific if you buy it because it has a few simple voice lines attached. The “Rainbow Swirl Longshot” was the daily item for Oct. 26 for 400 Iron ($4). I actually saw someone use this in a versus match and it looks ridiculous given the size of the gun and all the colors swirling on it. An “LOL” Blood Spray was the daily item on Oct. 27 for 500 Iron ($5), which is another great example of the poor quality content put into the store every day that lacked any sort of self-awareness about the state of the game. On Oct. 28 the daily item was a Rusted Breaker Mace for 100 Iron ($1), which also further breaks up that particular weapon set. A dark orange Pouncer Banner depicting one of the game’s stronger enemies was the daily item on Oct. 30 for 200 Iron ($2). Following that on Oct. 31 was a skull Mark for 100 Iron ($1). On Nov. 3 the new daily item was a “From Ashes” Blood Spray for 500 Iron ($5), another expensive cosmetic item that you will hardly ever see in the game. A “Bloody Omen” Banner, which features the COG logo in a blood red spray against a light blue background, was put out as the daily item for 100 Iron ($1) on Nov. 5. For the original Gears of War anniversary date on Nov. 7, a birthday cake Blood Spray was the daily item for 200 Iron ($2).

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With the announcement that the store in Gears 5 would no longer feature daily items, the last two cosmetics in the store were a rainstorm Mark for 50 Iron (50 cents) on Nov. 10 and a “Marcus Skull” Banner for 200 Iron ($2) on Nov. 11 that featured the box artwork for Gears of War 2 literally inside a skull. Getting rid of the daily items is a positive move because most of the content wasn’t strong enough to continually sell each day. For the store update on Nov. 12 there were five items like the previous weekly batches. These weekly items included a Windflare Gnasher skin for 400 Iron ($4), a “Cardboard Shepherd” skin for 800 Iron ($8), a “Cardboard Loadout Skins Pack” for 600 Iron ($6), a samurai Blood Spray for 100 Iron ($1) and a “Huh!?” Mark for 50 Iron (50 cents).

The pricing in the store also doesn’t make sense either. Why does the “Pwnd” spray cost 300 more Iron than the tomato one? Why does a completely new character cost the same amount of Iron as an “Arms Cross Expression” or an “LOL” Blood Spray? The price differences for Banners just seems random. The Blood Sprays are enabled across all characters and weapons (as they should be). Even then though, you never see the blood splatters after performing executions on downed players of the opposing team. Executions also take a long time to perform. Switching weapons to the gun with the execution you bought isn’t going to happen often in a fast-paced multiplayer match. It takes time away from actually finishing the player off and makes you vulnerable to getting killed by the opposing team. The Coalition announced on Oct. 1 they would be making changes to the store by reducing prices on items, which would take place over “the coming days and weeks.” Quartermaster Keegan, the next character skin put into the store on the same day, was still priced at 1,000 Iron or $10. This was also the third character in a row from the Escape mode put into the store, characters that hardly anyone at this point would have any real attachment to. I only saw at most three different players with the Quartermaster Keegan skin during my time with the multiplayer. Some of the recent character skins in the store had their price reduced to 800 Iron ($8), which is still incredibly expensive just for a single new look or outfit for one character. Some of the Banners put into the store in the few weeks after the game’s launch cost 400 Iron ($4). The items like Banners, Blood Sprays and Marks have also decreased in price from the initial launch costs but still not enough to make them a good value. The studio is also looking to change the way Banners and Blood Sprays appear before, during and after matches. For example, in the future Blood Sprays could appear on the player’s screen after being executed, with The Coalition stating that “hopefully that middle finger blood spray will get a lot of more personal.”

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The Oct. 19 daily item in the store was a “Pwnd” Blood Spray for $5. (Image by Tim Bowman)

What’s also kind of scummy is that for the Oct. 22 store update, a “Jack-O’-Lantern Loadout Pack” was released for 400 Iron ($4) that includes five skins for the loadout weapons in the game like the Gnasher, Lancer, Snub, Talon and Boltok. Compared to the way most store items have been priced this pack isn’t outright terrible. However, it was announced that a special Horde event to celebrate Halloween called “The Mad Man’s Monsters” would be put out the following week that includes the chance to unlock 13 Jack-O’-Lantern weapon skins. Basically the Halloween skins for all the five default weapons people start a multiplayer game with have to be bought to be unlocked with the Jack-O’-Lantern Loadout Pack. The free ones unlocked with the special Horde event will be for the rest of the secondary weapons you don’t use all the time. Even the free content being added to the game is designed around getting people to purchase the microtransactions, like these Jack-O’-Lantern skins for the loadout weapons that most players will use more during multiplayer games.

An even worse move happened for the Oct. 29 store update. The daily item for that Tuesday was an Epic “Throttle Execution” for 500 Iron ($5) that’s only for the Boltok gun. The Throttle execution has been in the game since launch as a starter Execution for the Snub, another pistol in the game. It’s literally the same execution that’s used for the Snub. This is content that’s clearly already in the game being sold back to players as a microtransaction for $5. Again, there’s no defending this type of practice. Instead of the store improving it’s getting much worse in certain aspects and is blatantly just insulting to players at this point. Liam “TC Octus” Ashley, the senior community manager at The Coalition, stated that selling a base game execution was a mistake and wouldn’t be happening again in the future. It’s extremely difficult and also naive to give the studio the benefit of the doubt with all the other apparent oversights and poor decisions they’ve made.

Gears 5 throttle boltok execution daily item 102919
An execution animation was sold for the Boltok as a daily store item on Oct. 29 for $5 when it was included for free with another gun at the game’s launch. (Image by Tim Bowman)

On top of the store model in Gears 5 is all the advertising, marketing promotions and partnerships from other companies for the game. Products from Rockstar Energy drinks, Chips Ahoy and Kellogg’s food items like Pringles and Cheez-It are part of the game’s promotional advertising. These products give players Boost, Supply Drops, and exclusive Banners, Markers and weapon skins. Retailers like Walmart have a special banner given out for those Kellogg’s purchases along with a Rockstar-themed weapon skin and Banner featuring the Swarm logo. Circle K convenience stores also have a Del-themed weapon skin and Banner with a Rockstar Energy drink purchase. Razer designed Gears-branded PC and Xbox One products. There’s also the AAPE by A Bathing Ape clothing line skins for the multiplayer. For entertainment properties, the WWE and of course Terminator: Dark Fate are part of the Gears 5 extras. WWE heavily promoted Gears 5 on its broadcasts, advertising that one of its wrestlers would be in the game and that it was also available on Game Pass. Gears 5 is heavily promoting the Terminator movie through its character and cosmetic item packs.

Buying almost all of the cosmetic content in the store will cost players real money, especially with new items being added on a constant basis. If players want to collect most of the available content to customize their favorite weapons and express themselves with Banners and the other cosmetics, they will have to spend money. There’s no way to earn Iron in-game outside of the Tour of Duty. Only 500 Iron can be earned for free by completing the current Operation in the Tour of Duty in three months until it resets with the next season. That’s not even enough to cover the cost of a single world flag (700 Iron). Players don’t actually begin to earn any Iron until reaching and completing the stars for the 24th rank in the Tour of Duty, which I wasn’t even close to reaching at around the 15 hour mark across all the multiplayer modes. You can really only get a few Marks, one weapon skin or a character expression for 500 Iron. All that work in the Tour of Duty hardly gives you enough Iron to buy content in the store. After playing the online for almost 25 hours I gained no Iron. That’s exactly zero Iron from playing the actual game. I did have around 250 Iron that The Coalition must have given out at some point during the game’s launch. It was confirmed on the Oct. 25 developer stream that Iron is specifically designed as the game’s premium currency to be like real world money to buy content in the store. There are no plans to change how Iron works in Gears 5. Iron most likely won’t be changed to something that can be grinded for or unlocked through gameplay outside of the current Tour of Duty rewards in the first Operation.

The in-game currency also doesn’t match real world money values, so you can’t directly buy something for $2 or $5. Your real world money needs to be converted into Iron, which is another huge problem. That character skin for 800 Iron ends up costing more than just $8. Spending 10 Iron to swap out daily challenges also feels like some sort of cheap mobile gaming mechanic. Does the studio really need to charge 10, 20 or 30 cents so people can play towards daily challenges that actually interest them or are obtainable in an non-grinding way? While it only cost 10 Iron, that’s designed as a low psychological barrier for people to just spend the money without even thinking about it too much.

The coolest skins I saw other players have online you can’t even unlock anymore. The “Gilded” set of gold costumes and weapons were only unlockable before Gears 5 released by completing specific challenges in the old Gears games under the “Road to Gears 5.” Again, this also encouraged people to sign up for Game Pass to play all the Gears titles consecutively. A Gilded General RAAM was an unlockable character, who has previously been playable in other Gears games. There was an esports Kait outfit too. As of right now there’s no other way to unlock these skins in Gears 5 through completing challenges or spending real money. They did add a “classic” skin for Del, JD and Kait from Gears of War 4 to the weekly Supply Drop, starting on Oct. 2 with Del and the other two characters the following weeks. These three skins can also be crafted with 100 Scrap each. This is at least something more easily obtainable for the currently available core Gears 5 characters. Players who logged in on Halloween and Day of the Dead got a free Mark, Blood Spray and Banner themed for each special day. The items for both days actually looked pretty cool. They need to do more of these free items for players logging in that are specialized in some way.

Check out some of the free content put into the Gears 5 multiplayer:

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After only playing the multiplayer for a few weeks I already felt tired of it. The Coalition slowly releasing content like new characters, maps and cosmetic items over time doesn’t work. The game has only been out for two months now and it already feels stale and boring. The content that can be unlocked through the Tour of Duty is mostly terrible. It’s obvious that any potentially cool items and content are being held back to sell to the player. It’s also designed to try to force people to stick around every three months for the next Operation in Tour of Duty just to unlock new content. I don’t feel any motivation to play the game in order to unlock more of these cosmetic items.

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One Comment

  1. Incredibly well written and in-depth analysis that i agree with! I will make sure to share this.

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