Tune in to Twitch.tv on October 11 at 11:30 p.m. EST to watch us live-stream Gears of War 4 on the Limited Edition Xbox One S Bundle. We’ll be playing the campaign and multiplayer and answering any questions you may have.
Set on the fictional planet of Sera, the Gears of War series up until now has told of humanity’s struggle against the Locust Horde, and their mutated counterparts, the Lambent and the Swarm. The first installment in the franchise followed protagonist Marcus Fenix, a soldier in the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) tasked to lead a last-ditch effort to destroy the Locust Horde and save humanity.
Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the end of the Locust wars (Gears of War 3) and returns the franchise to the tense, brutal and intimate tone of the original. The first chapter of an all-new Gears saga, the game thrusts you into an epic journey as JD Fenix – son of the original’s Marcus Fenix – as he embarks on a perilous mission with his friends Delmont "Del" Walker and Kait Diaz to rescue their loved ones from a monstrous new adversary.
“We really wanted Gears of War 4 to be the foundation for a new story,” said Rod Fergusson, the head of the studio behind the game -- aptly named, The Coalition. “The obvious choice was to continue the story but we didn’t want to pick it up right after Gears 3, because that story has already been told and had a nice sense of closure, so we wanted to go forward far enough to pick up the next generation and tell the story from the new perspective of these 20-year-old kids.”
He continued, “We’ve had this cast who are in their mid- to late-40s and the world changes around them… Marcus doesn’t change very much, but the world around him does. Now with these 20-years-olds, we have this ability to have the story be transformative. We were trying to find enough time for things to change and happen, and we also wanted to grow warriors we felt comfortable with. We didn’t want to be like ’14 years later’… Then you’ve got this 14-year-old kid we have to take into battle with us… And we didn’t want to go so old that we lost the cast. We didn’t want Marcus to be 89-years-old, we want him to still be able to pick up a gun and come with you. So 25 years felt liked a nice sweet spot for that.”
Ever since the hype for Gears 4 began, fans have really been hoping for this return to the tension, darkness and mystery of the original. “So we said, ‘Lets embrace what made Gears 1 special but at the same time give it a twist to make it feel more contemporary, with more nuanced characters, more depth to the story, and add more layers to them to make it feel more like a 2016 game.'”
What has always made Gears so special is it’s cover system; cover is fundamental to what makes Gears, Gears. “We had to be really careful about not changing so much that you invalidate cover. When you look at mobility, you have to watch out for that — all of a sudden it may be way easier to strafe or dodge bullets than it is to actually take cover. Instead of just throwing crazy things like a grappling hook and that kind of stuff at it, we actually just went in from a problem solving perspective: what is wrong with what’s working today? Gears 3 has done a lot to refine cover, but where does it not look so good?”
One of the things long-time fans of the series will be familiar with is this problem of when two players take cover on the same piece of cover but on opposite sides. “We looked at this idea of this close cover situation… 'Why don’t we create things you could do there?' We wanted to get into this notion of vaulting. Normally, the Mantle Kick right now forces you to go into cover and that breaks your flow. Vaulting really gives you that smooth ability to flow over cover and kick somebody on the other side, or you could just use it as mobility to move through the map faster.”
He continued, “Then we have this Yank that you could do now, once you’re on cover on the opposite side of somebody you can push Up and press X and now you can reach over and grab them and pull them over. For each of those moves, the Vault and the Yank, there’s a brief window where you’ll see a little skull with knives on it, and if you hold Y you’ll actually use your Combat Knife for the first time — which is really cool.”
The new Combat Knife can also be used for melee attacks in addition to the all-new bloody executions. New weapons have been introduced as well such as the Dropshot that fires explosive drills that go over cover and the Buzzkill that fires ricocheting saw blades that reach hard to hit players behind cover. Players can also perform a short distance shoulder charge, knocking enemies off balance, and enemies can also pull players out of cover and perform their own takedowns. The game also features a dynamic and deadly environment, including windflares that blow away cover, bend your shots and drastically alter the battlefield, forcing you to employ new tactics.
Once again, Horde Mode is back and pits you and up to four friends against 50 waves of enemies in a fight for survival using class-based skills and dynamic fortifications. That's right, for the first time, you can build and deploy defensive weapons and fortifications anywhere on the map.
This is all unlocked via the Fabricator, a new device in the Gears of War universe that is a take on a 3D printer. The Fabricator must be placed at the start of the game wherever you choose and acts as the hub for your defenses. The Fabricator is how you build fortifications by using Energy – picked up from fallen enemies on the battlefield.
“The way we’ve introduced Horde 3.0 now with the Fabricator, which is a 3D printer meets replicator where you can build what you want where you want, we felt one of the ways we could help with the learning curve was to introduce it in the campaign. You actually experience it three times throughout the campaign, and each time it will be higher level stuff. Each one grows in complexity so you can kind of get used it. It was inspired by the similar game mode in Gears of War: Judgement.“
If a teammate dies in Horde Mode, they drop COG Tags. You can pick these up and run back to your Fabricator to revive them during the wave - but each subsequent revival on your team during a wave will cost an increasing amount of Energy. Thankfully, make it to the end of the Wave and all your dead teammates come back to life.
“Normally in Gears of War you’re always moving forward, it’s sort of a road movie in a way, in the sense that you’re always going from destination to destination. So having these brief moments of defense felt like it fit really well into the gameplay.”
Whether you enjoy powering through the co-op campaign, fighting for survival in Horde Mode or testing your skills in Versus Multiplayer matches, Gears of War 4 is one of the most fun games to play with friends — even more so than the installments before it.
“Gears 1 was 2-player co-op; Gears 2 was 2-player co-op; and then with Gears 3 we went to 4-player co-op and that created a bunch of issues for us in terms of how we design our levels, how much space we needed for four different people using the same cover, and the way they use cinematics and storytelling because now there’s always four players around. When we came to Gears 4, we’re going back to this Gears 1 feel. We wanted to get back to this intimate feeling of these people and back down to a personal level, so that’s why we cut it down to 2-player co-op for Gears 4.”
In addition to the always fun co-op, you can also compete in Core and Competitive Versus multiplayer matches, including three all-new game modes: Dodgeball, Arms Race and the premier new competitive Gears multiplayer mode, Escalation. You can even track your progress with the new visible ranking system that drives online matchmaking, simply known as ranks. A core part of the Gears 4 Versus Experience, ranks are a visible skill rating that will provide you with opponents of similar skill levels, resulting in more balanced matches.
You earn your rank by playing five initial placement matches to determine your skill level – winning is what matters. After this, you’re placed in one of five ranks – Bronze, Silver, Gold, Onyx or Diamond – and one of the three tiers within that rank. As you play, consistently winning will increase your chances of getting a promotion to the next tier. Conversely, consistently losing may get you demoted.
“One of the things we really focused on is we wanted to make sure everything we did in the game was available for competitive play. In the previous games we had a bunch of novelty maps and stuff and people would have to say ‘this is banned from this competition,’ or ‘this is banned from that competition’ for different reasons, whether its an asymmetrical map or what have you. The 10 maps that are in the box are all symmetrical.”
He continued, “But even when I was back at Epic, I’ve always wanted to have a multiplayer match where we could unleash a Berserker or something, where you’re trying to have this fight but you also having this thing chasing you down all the time… But you find competitive people don’t want that, they don’t want to feel like they lost due to luck or won due to luck, they want it to feel like it’s all skill-based. That’s why we made sure it’s all symmetrical, made sure all the distances are all equal and made sure it’s very, very balanced from a competitive standpoint.”
The 10 aforementioned maps include nine new ones and fan favorite Gridlock (of course). Additional DLC maps are expected to be released every month post launch; all DLC maps will be free for public play and will consist of both new maps and remasters, with maps rotating in and out of playlists as new ones are released.
With the future of the franchise looking brighter than ever, thanks to the brilliant new beginning Gears of War 4 offers as well as the undeniable rise of the eSports scene, it’s hard to set limits on the Gears universe. In addition to the video game series, the franchise has already had huge success releasing novels and comic-book series, with a Gears of War film having been confirmed just following our conversation.
“We rebranded ourselves as The Coalition because we were going to a be studio doing nothing but Gears of War games, so you have to imagine as a studio dedicated to one franchise we’re going to try and express that franchise in a bunch of different ways - there’s defiantly things in the works but nothing I can talk about.”
Gears of War 4 brings back everything fans love from the original and adds what fans have been asking for. The new installment offers frenetic split-screen and online co-op game modes, the five-player favorite, Horde Mode, stunning 4K visuals (enough to make the Xbox One S worth it) and the best Gears multiplayer experience to date.
Also, for a limited time, Gears of War 4 (both digital and retail versions) will include the entire Xbox 360 Gears of War collection. This means you can play through the original Gears of War trilogy and Gears of War: Judgment on Xbox One via backwards compatibility, amounting to over 50 hours of gameplay.
While Gears of War 4 is an Xbox Play Anywhere title we did not have any experience with the Windows 10 version of the game or the Cloud Save features so we did not include it in our overview.