Gears of War 4 released to the world last week both on Xbox One and Windows 10, many fans hoped for a sequel packing everything they'd dreamt of since Gears of War 3 hit the shelves back in 2011. The last 3 titles in the franchise have been developed for the most part by three separate development teams. GoW 3 by Epic, Judgment by People Can Fly and GoW 4 by The Coalition - this means all three don't share as many similarities as the first three made by Epic.
Each has their own pros, cons and features we consider to be neither great nor crap, but we'll delve in to each in detail so you can have a better idea which of the more modern Gears of War titles is for you.
You may notice that Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is not part of this comparison, which is mostly down to it being not much different besides graphics to the original title, bar a few previously cut missions. Should you be interested in the bare bones of what Gears of War offers, it isn't a bad choice - but it doesn't stack up in terms of content against the three we've chosen, so we won't include it in our synopsis below.
Let's start with a table containing what we believe to be the pros, cons and mehs of each game.
Gears of War 3
Gears of War: Judgment
Gears of War 4
4 Player co-op
4 Player Co-op
Cross-Play / Buy
Purchasable Weapon Skins
2 Player Co-op
GEARS OF WAR 3 We'll begin with GoW3, this is considered by many as the ultimate Gears of War experience, it massively improved on GoW2 'Horde' mode by expanding the variety of enemies you encountered and allowed for fortifications and defenses - GoW2's Horde was a nice edition but it wasn't until the third title where fans really fell in love with it.
Another thing it introduced was Beast mode, a co-op game where you play as the Horde and the enemy team play as the COG, AI controlled players that ungrad their guns and fortifications as the rounds increase, but as they improved, so do you! Starting off as basic horde types such as tickers and grenadiers, you could spend earned points to respawn as larger enemies such as a kantus or boomer.
Another new addition was 4 player online co-op campaign, something hugely welcomed by the Gears community as it opened up all available play modes to their posse of friends, campaign, horde, beast and versus. Local splitscreen was also kept, which for the third game in a AAA series, is very rare. That along with the Arcade mode means there's more ways to enjoy campaign than ever before.
Gears of War 3 had very few downsides, one feature that can be seen from either side of the fence is the mass of cosmetic DLC that was sold separately or as an overpriced pack, although I believe they were just skins for guns, to some it felt like money grabbing with no real return for cash spent, while to others it felt like an innocent inclusion that allowed big time fans to show their appreciation by paying more for some cool looking guns skins.
In summary, Gears of War 3 had pretty much nailed everything, both new AND improved old game modes, expanded co-op possibilities and more polish than your shoes before a big interview. It had it all and whatever came next had big shoes to fill.
Gears of War: Judgment Unfortunately the game that followed was Judgment. Now before we go slagging it off like its the worst sequel in the world, let's slow down and view it without direct comparison to GoW3. What did it do right? What did it do so wrong and what could have been a pro with a little more thought?
First off, Overrun was and is, excellent. Taking from the Beast formula it opened the COG team up to real players, meaning for one match you'd play as the beats and for the next you'd play as the COG building your defenses and holding off the horde. This was exactly what Beast needed to improve its formula and make it a viable versus game mode.
Declassified objectives in the campaign also stirred the pot enough to make it feel fresh and challenging, along with 4 player co-op and local splitscreen, this campaign was again accessible for all and their friends with fresh ideas that kept it from feeling stale.
Now for the bitter-sweet Survival... While fun on the whole, classes were a cool addition and the real action started much sooner than other similar game types, if you'd played Horde and longed for a further improved version to sink your teeth in to, Survival was a kick in the face. Only 10 rounds meant games were over before you could feel like you had the perfect defense setup. This was again tarnished by the fact that the locust were real players, this felt like something that really should have been left in Overrun.
The real downsides came from the complete absence of Horde and a pretty lackluster campaign with little larger than life moments and no more than a single boss, it was fresh... but just... boring. Overall Judgment is a GOOD game, just a BAD Gears of War game. Think of it as the ODST of the Gears series.
Gears of War 4 Now for what most of you are probably here for, the more recently released Gears of War 4. This is a tough one as although it does a lot of things right, it also feels like while they were trimming the fat, they took some of the meat with it.
Let's first deal with what it gets right. Cross-play and cross-buy are what the gaming industry need to focus more on, being able to play against your friends regardless of what platform they play on is fantastic and really goes some way to stop the PC vs Console argument, you can play on whatever you prefer without having to justify your decision to do so. Tied with the fact that if you go digital, regardless of the platform you purchase on, you'll be given a free copy for the other, meaning you can play when away from home on your laptop and pick up where you left off from your console at home.
Next is co-op versus - matchmaking has always been a very competitive area in GoW titles and has been hard for casual players to enjoy without being feeling like they're playing in an e-sports tournament. Co-op versus means you can jump in the versus modes with your friends against AI at a difficulty of your choice, you can either stick to this mode or use it as a way to train your skills ready for the big boys in social/competitive modes.
Again, splitscreen co-op is back. We know a lot of siblings, couples and flatmates will be extremely happy to finally have a AAA title that they can enjoy together from the same console they scrapped money together to afford. Kudos to The Coalition for including local splitscreen, may other developers take notice.
Now for the turd, and I'm gonna rattle these off as unfortunately there's quite a few. 4 player co-op is gone, 2 players are the most that can play the campaign. No Beast/Overrun, this type of game mode is completely absent from Gears of War 4. No arcade or declassified types for campaign, the campaign is a very plain sandwich so just enjoy the ingredients that it does have.
Micro-transactions, yeah - they went there... 'Gear Packs' are now purchasable with real money or in game currency. Unlocking characters, skins, skills and bounties they offer mostly cosmetic bonuses, but Horde skills means that without purchasing them, you really aren't going to progress all that much.
Speaking of Horde, while still incredibly fun with more freedom in fortification placement it does feel almost a step in the wrong direction. VERY few enemy variations, only creations from the GoW4 campaign are present and they get somewhat boring fairly soon, the type and amount of fortifications are pretty limited too, with not much creativity. Now there's still 12 months of DLC to come out for GoW4 and whether any of that will include Horde improvements is yet to be known, but let's imagine for a second that the DLC will include maps and maps only... you're better off playing Horde on Gears of War 3.
Impressions so far are that Gears 4 delivers what you love, just not much of it to encourage dropping £40/$60 on a sequel that does little to justify the number 4. Bring back Epic Games? Maybe.. we'll see.