Gears 5 review – a great campaign marred by painful progression

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Gears 5 has a great campaign I’m happy to root for. On the competitive multiplayer front, though, it’s a mixed bag. Gears 5 stalwarts Horde and Versus return like battleworn COGs from yet another fight against the relentless Locust menace, but annoyances mar the party. Escape mode offers something new, but it falls flat. And through it all runs a progression system that would feel bad in a free-to-play game, let alone a full-price game.

Let’s start with the campaign, an entertaining 12-hour tour of Sera’s unseen landscapes. Initially playing as JD, Marcus Fenix’s generic soldier son, then for the bulk of the time as the impressive Kait, whose apparent Locust heritage is giving her the mother of all migraines, we are treated to a lean, mean, fighting machine of a campaign which features mechanics not seen in a Gears game before, such as sort-of open worlds, action role-playing game-style ultimate abilities, and the chance to approach combat in a few different ways.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether these new open worlds – a frozen wasteland and then a red desert – are good for the Gears 5 campaign, or simply serve to pad out the traditional fast-paced, linear action of previous games in the cover shooter series. Certainly the open-world sections, which you explore via a skiff, break up the pace, provide a platform for squad banter and look nice at times – but you’re just travelling from one place on the map to your objective, which is clearly marked. There’s little reason to explore. Only once did I stumble across something in the desert that turned out to be of interest. The rest of the time I knew where I was going and felt little reason to deviate from the path of least resistance getting there.

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