REVIEW: Gears 5 Refreshes, But Doesn't Reinvent the Legacy Franchise

Despite that the "of War" portion of the series name is no longer there, don't be fooled. Gears 5 is, through and through, a Gears of War game.

You might be thinking, "Well, I like Gears of War!" And that's exactly why Gears 5 works so well. With a now-comfortable cast, a story that twists and turns, and a multi-faceted multiplayer suite focused on player control, Gears 5 takes everything players loved about the gritty franchise and cranks it up several notches. Seriously, even the Seriously achievement makes a return.

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The campaign begins months after the end of Gears of War 4, with protagonists Kait Diaz, Del Walker and J.D. Fenix, now working in tandem with the Cog, trying to figure out the truth behind Kait's lineage and protect Sera once and for all from the returned Locust threat. Of course, some gruesome truths come to light about J.D., the squad splits, and the adventure really starts to pick up. At its core, Gears 5 is an action-adventure with Kait and Del, a souped-up Jack (we missed you!) and a grizzled Marcus Fenix in your ear as Control.

Throughout the nearly 20-hour campaign, you can expect to find plenty of the classic Gears charm. There are collectibles littered throughout every area, a number of crazy weapons (though not that many new ones) and enough enemy variation to not feel like you're constantly treading the same ground. What really helps here is the way Gears 5 transforms its combat zones, taking things a step forward from Gears of War 4. While there are still the occasional linear hallway fights, most combat scenarios encourage player exploration, strategic options and the ability to flank or sneak up on enemies. It's still fairly straightforward, but a level of depth much-needed in a series that felt a bit tired by the fifth go-around.

You can't blame the team at The Coalition for trying something new. In between most main story missions, you'll find yourself surfing through a pseudo-open world. There are a couple of these hubs in the game, and they are absolutely breathtaking to explore -- at least visually. But these open world hubs are mostly empty, strung together between flagged loot areas, one-note side quests and main story missions.

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For a game that looks and feels as good as this, and with a vehicle as wonderful to pilot as the Skiff, it's truly a shame that there's just not much to do in the "open world." For all intents and purposes, you can just straight shot it to your next mission objective and you'll only really miss out on a few boosted upgrades for Jack.

But the campaign in Gears 5 does, ultimately, come together. It is packed full of twists and turns, iconic moments for new and classic Gears characters and positions the franchise for even more experimentation should a Gears 6 follow it up. For some of you, though, you might just be here for the multiplayer.

Well, you're in luck, because Gears 5 has more than enough options to keep you satisfied and playing with or against your friends online.

First up are the Versus game modes, which are arranged in Arcade, Classic and Ranked playlists. Plenty of mainstay game modes are back and feel just as tight as ever, even when an enemy quickly two-pieces you with the Gnasher 15 seconds into a match. The new map additions to the rotation are a nice breath of fresh air, with some focusing much more on close quarters combat than some of the legacy, open air, sniper-friendly map of the Gears series.

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Horde also makes a return here, with an insane amount of customization options. There are difficulty cards you can apply to Horde to amp the difficulty up and keep things interesting, fortifications to place with the return of Gears of War 4's Fabricator and the updated ability to build maps for Horde (and competitive multiplayer). Yes, that's right, you can actually coordinate waves and drops in Horde and build custom games to extend the life of the mode even more.

Then there's the newest addition: Escape. The closest comparison you could make to Escape would be the Left 4 Dead series. These are cooperative missions in which you and your friends will have to take on a pre-determined hive and escape for extraction. And while this mode may lack the flair and character of Valve's co-op zombie shooter, the DNA is certainly there. Though, the payoff currently is a little disappointing, so one would hope that The Coalition plans to amp this mode up in the future.

As an overall package, Gears 5 does more than enough to refresh the cover shooter franchise for 2019. This is a series that has learned and grown so much since its 2006 debut. Gears 5 brightens up its color palette and environments, leans in on its tongue-in-cheek humor and amplifies its unique and layered cast of characters -- all while breaking free of the baggage from previous entries. Whether you're new to the series or just want to check in on the world of Sera, Gears 5 is an easy recommendation.

Gears 5 is now available on Xbox One and PC. A review copy was provided by the publisher and played on an Xbox One X.

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