Having gotten access to the Gears of War 4 Beta right off the bat since I bought Gears of War Ultimate Edition around launch, I’ve had two days to play it and get a really good feel for it. Needless to say my impressions are kind of mixed. It’s a Beta so they are obviously still working on the game so this is by no means final.
First off, I absolutely love that they stuck to the classic Gears formula based on Gears of War 3's gameplay. It isn’t wildly different and it plays exactly as you would expect. Matches are 5v5, COG vs Swarm, with 15 lives per team, and 1 extra life per player. At the start of a match everyone just bursts into roadie runs and charges for various sides of the field, fighting over choke points and power weapons like frag grenades, the boomshot, and the new dropshot. However, and this is really my only grievance with the gameplay thus far and in fact was a grievance I’ve had since the earlier Gears games... it just devolves into a shotgun slaughterfest.
Right off the bat, I noticed that all of my teammates had swapped to their Gnasher Shotguns and as soon as they engaged the enemy, you would just hear shotgun blast after shotgun blast coming from both sides of the fight. Rarely did I hear a Lancer, a Hammerburst, or even the Snub pistol. It was just shotguns all day, every day. And that frustrates me. You have this entire sandbox to play with, but everyone wants to use the shotgun because if you can get close enough its a one shot kill and the game ends quickly. No one strategizes and I rarely ever saw any flanking. They just charged into each other and turned into bloody chunks. And I recall this also being the case in the previous gears titles except for maybe Gears 1 where I recall a lot more assault rifle fire and use of grenades. I really hope they find a way to get players to use the other weapons because even the dropshot, which is a pretty cool weapon, was underused. It fact, it was used as a close quarters weapon rather than the variable range weapon that it is. Instead of firing it, holding the trigger to let it glide over to an enemy behind cover, and then letting go to drop it on them, players wait until an enemy charges them and then quickly pull the trigger to drop it right at their feet. And there’s no friendly fire(That I’ve noticed thus far.) or self-inflicted damage so this tactic is totally without consequence.
Another thing I’d like to bring up is a similarity I’ve noticed with another one of Microsofts IP’s. In Halo 5: Guardians you have a skill ranking system that records your performance over a series of matches in that particular playlist and then it slots you into a ranking that fits your skill level. In Gears of War 4 they have a similar system, but rather than 10 matches you only need to play 5 to receive your ranking in either Team Deathmatch, Dodgeball, or Co-Op Team Deathmatch. Thus far I played enough matches to get slotted into a pretty low ranking. Why a low ranking? Because everyone besides me uses shotguns. I actually try to test out the whole sandbox and tackle a situation with tactics, but that doesn’t help me at all when I get a shotgun to the face every ten seconds. I eventually started to use the shotgun like everyone else because I was tired of having zero kills and the most deaths in any given round. I then started to actually get kills, though I couldn’t perform any executions either because they burst into bloody chunks or because they had a buddy around that would kill me mid-execution because in these shotgun brawls there is always an ally or enemy nearby because its just a clusterfuck.
That being said, I don’t think Gears 4's multiplayer will leave it at a disadvantage. I’ll use Halo 5 to compare again. Halo has been on the decline for some time. Its popularity peaked with Halo 3 and ever since then it has consistently lost to Call of Duty as the most popular shooter on the market. Its online population has continued to dwindle as the developers, both Bungie and now 343 Industries, have been trying to find a way to make the gameplay fresh and not rehash it and risk getting stale. Sadly, Reach alienated a lot of competitive players and Halo 4 did nothing to help that, not to mention it played a lot like Call of Duty, not Halo. It didn’t feel right. Halo 5 on the other hand strove to go back to Halo’s Arena roots and it has largely succeeded while adding new twists to the gameplay that modernize it at the same time. Its a sweet spot that I think still needs a bit of tweaking. But at the same time its a far cry from the days of the original trilogy that cemented the series place in gaming histroy. Gears on the other hand, as mentioned earlier in this blog, plays it very safe. The only shake ups to the combat are now the ability to pull an enemy over cover and execute them immediately, new knife executions, and new weapons. All in all a standard improvement over Gears 3's gameplay, but not radically different either.
Personally speaking, I like Gears 4. I’ve enjoyed it thus far despite my gripes and its looks absolutely beautiful(And will look even more beautiful in the 30fps campaign. The multiplayer is 1080p60 and thus they had to sacrifice graphics for the extra performance, and if you go split-screen the framerate will be halved, just like in the Master Chief Collection.). So if you have the opportunity to play the Beta, whether its through an early access code or when the Beta goes up on the Xbox marketplace for download by the masses, I suggest you give it a try and formulate your opinions of the game.