At this point, it's unclear why Gears 5 isn't just titled Gears of War 5, because it's practically the same game that people have come to know and love over the years with mostly standard graphical upgrades. Coming from developer The Coalition and publisher Xbox Game Studios, Gears 5 continues the narrative from 2016's Gears of War 4 and focuses on the character Kate Diaz, a descendant of the Locust. She was the subject of the game's reveal trailer but wasn't present in our demo at E3 2019.
The Coalition presented the Gears of War franchise's brand-new game mode, Escape, at E3 this year, rather than showcase the multiplayer (which is just as important, if not moreso, for longtime fans). Perhaps that's because the developers were hoping to instill some level of camaraderie amongst players with the three-player co-op mode, which they were successful in doing to a certain extent. However, there were also some drawbacks from making the hands-on demo (and the Gears 5 game itself) stand out from the crowd of other shooters, namely Doom Eternal.
Spawning in an area that's essentially a maze, players are tasked with moving forward and finding their way to the end of the maze - to a launchpad outside of the facility - before the toxic gas or the Swarm kills them. It sounds simple, and it certainly can be with a team that's even remotely competent in shooters, but every now and then a wrench will be thrown into the plan that thwarts a team's progress. And, really, that's the most exciting part of Gears 5's Escape mode. It's not killing the enemies, which are easy, but instead figuring out how to revive a downed teammate and trying to save one of them from being taken by the Swarm. Everything else is quite run of the mill.
Of course, if a teammate doesn't know how to use their character properly, then things can get quite dicey. In Escape, there are, obviously, three Hivebuster characters to choose from, each of which comes with their own unique ability that can aide the team in combat. Here's a quick rundown:
Keegan is the main Support class in Gears 5's Escape mode, and his Passive ability helps regenerate his Ultimate ability quicker. When Keegan kills the enemies that he targets, his Ultimate is recharged faster. And it's important to do that because his Ultimate - Resupply, which resupplies himself and his teammates with ammo - is quite helpful as Gears of War fans can imagine. Escape's ammo drops can be difficult to find, and not having enough ammo is detrimental to completing the objective.
Lahni is the Scout in Gears 5's Escape mode, and she's meant to charge in first to, well... scout the area ahead. Since it can be difficult to find the correct route to take in Escape, Lahni is useful in determining where to go next. Plus, her Ultimate ability may come in handy in close-quarter situations, as, when the Ultimate is activated, she can stun any enemy that she melees. Also, her Passive ability gives her drops after every five executions.
Since there are Scout and Support classes, it's only understandable that the final character, Mac, be the Tank class. In order to convince Tank players to actually play as a Tank, Gears 5 gives Mac a Passive ability that recharges his Ultimate when taking damage. So it encourages those who choose to play as Mac to engage the enemy more often. And his Ultimate ability is a barrier shield, which is definitely used against the elite enemies who can take out Lahni and Keegan in one or two hits.
Each character is designed to play a vital role in completing the objective in Escape. However, the main issue here is that they're not necessarily special in any way. Their Ultimate abilities come off more as generalized Active abilities that players would find in other titles. It's nothing gamers haven't seen or played before. When faced with elite enemies that are nigh impossible to kill, having an Ultimate that may give your team even a mild advantage would be better than Lahni's power to stun enemies with melee attacks... which is intriguing on a superficial level, but nevertheless pointless in the grand scheme of things.
What's interesting about Gears 5's Escape mode is that it's layered. There aren't multiple objectives, but players will find themselves in both similar and very different situations based on their actions. Some routes may be more dangerous than others, and if you didn't need to take that path, then getting back and completing the objective in time may have increased in difficulty. Furthermore, the sheer number of ways to kill enemies - from executions to chain-attached-grenades - is immensely fun and satisfying. From a pure gameplay point-of-view, Gears 5's Escape mode lives up to its potential, but, again, it's also not something that people haven't seen before. It's an average mode that was given the Gears of War treatment. With that said, when the timer starts to die down, and you're not able to increase it, tensions do arise amongst your teammates, and that's when Gears of War's traditional co-op feel creeps out. But not before.
If you're a fan of Gears of War, you'll like Gears 5 - or, at least the Escape mode - but if you're on the fence about it, there's little that we saw at E3 to convince players to take the leap. Gears 5 is fun, there's no doubt about that. It runs smoothly and it represents just the right jump in tech for a game coming out in 2019. And while there are new components in Gears 5, the level of innovation is low for a title that's coming three years after its predecessor. All in all, it's more of the same. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially for Gears of War fans who've waited for a new installment like this for a few years, it's certainly not a title that will, one, sell consoles, and two, attract newcomers to the series. Gears 5 is going to be a title that banks on nostalgia above all else, and a game for people who want to see where the story goes next (if they've played the previous Gears of War games).