Gears of War 4 Beta began earlier this week. I’ve been playing the beta since the first day and wanted to share some initial impressions. First off, I’m fairly confident that when Gears of War 4 drops on October 11, 2016 it will be a polished game like Gears of War Ultimate Edition. As for the beta, it’s a real beta which means it’s a work in progress. Hopefully, The Coalition will get the necessary feedback and data to help make this is a great Gears game.
Having said that the beta’s glitches and connectivity issues have been frustrating. There have been times where I’ve waited for 10 minutes for the match to load only to get an error message. I’ve also lagged out or disconnected from a few matches. I’m not judging the game on these issues, like I said I have faith that the final game will be great.
For a next gen game built on the latest engine there isn’t a huge new wow factor. Gears of War 4 isn’t a reinvention. It’s refining and adding to the foundation of what works bests for this franchise. Gears of War: Judgement which added controls schemes and gameplay elements from first person shooters was an experiment that didn’t work. Gears 4 is getting back to the roots of the franchise and plays very much like Gears of War 3 which is a good decision.
Some of the new added features like the skill based ranking system and bounties are neither a big positive or negative for me. I believe the skill rankings are based on wins, so if I play with a good team and we go on a winning streak it could raise my ranking (eg. bronze to silver). For competitive players, this would be a plus to be matched against similarly skilled players/teams. The bounty system where I can gain additional experience points by attaining specific goals or victory is window dressing for me. I do like ranking up to unlock characters/weapon skins but overall I’m not obsessed to raise my rank number.
The new multiplayer mode Dodgeball is pretty fun. You start off with one life per round but if you get a kill one of your dead teammates is resurrected from the dead pool. This makes it even more important to work closely with your team and strategize. It’s also a thrill when you’re the last man standing in your team, you not only have to get at least one kill but stay alive long enough for your teammate to respawn. Another aspect that makes this mode fun is that the momentum can quickly shift. For example, my team was down to 1 player against a team of 5 but we were able to come back and defeat them less than 30 seconds later.
How’s the Gameplay?
What helps make Gears standout from other multiplayer shooters is the idea of intimate violence. The refined close quarters combat moves should add to that. Unfortunately, I couldn’t consistently pull off the mantle kick in Gears 3 even when I thought I lined up my opponent. In the beta, I’ve haven’t performed yet the vault kick or yank move. To reach over cover and yank an enemy is a risk – reward move, because if you miss you are left vulnerable while you finish the animation. I do like that these moves gives options to the aggressor against the player who is hiding behind cover.
A point of contention with some gamer friends is the wall bouncing / cover cancelling in Gears. Back in the day some players consider this to be an exploit of the game. I believe the Coalition acknowledge this to be a high level, skill based maneuver. So this means that the game development and controls are refined with this in mind. Even if you don’t care to wall bounce and slide around, Gears 4’s movement and taking cover is very fluid. Further, the speed of the game is faster than Ultimate Edition and is more like Gears 3 in that aspect.
Let’s Talk Weapons
There’s a bit of a relearning curve when I start a new Gears game. It took me a little while to get use to the slower timing of the shotgun in Ultimate Edition. In Gears 4, the shotgun is all powerful and unforgiving, just the way most players want it. I don’t know if it’s because of the lag but my shot gunning needs work in Gears 4. The lancer is also powerful especially compared to Ultimate Edition where I felt it was too weak and had a short clip. The lancer does a good amount of damage. It needs to because there is no stopping power anymore. One thing I don’t like about the Torque Bow now is that it doesn’t have that classic sound when charging up, so it’s harder to know if you’re being targeted.
Not all of the weapons are available in the beta. I think the only new weapon available is the dropshot which is fun to use and is a powerful game changer. It’s sort of like a combination of a guided mortar missile with the near precise controls of a sniper/boom shoot. I’m also liking the ability to see planted frag grenades, even through walls, with the Left Bumper button. If you run into a planted grenade it was probably avoidable and if you spot it, you can possibly set it off against the enemy who planted it.
How are the New Maps?
The challenge with maps is that they have to be all-purpose and work on any multiplayer mode. The map I’m best at is Dam which plays most similar to your typical Gears map. It’s mostly on one plane or elevation, except for the sniper/torque bow area at the far end of the map. I’m most successful camping the grenade and boomshot/dropshot areas. I think in Team Deathmatch, Dam is a map where a team can get easily trapped coming out of spawn.
Foundation isn’t exactly the most inspiring map. It lacks character and isn’t much of a set piece. I like to set up on the ramp between the boomshot area and the enemies’ spawn. Another good area is near the torque bow spawn over looking the road below. The main road that runs through the middle of the map is supposed to generate tension and visibility in seeing where the enemies are headed as they come out of spawn. This is my least enjoyable map. I’m not sure if it’s just me but I experience a lot of lag on Foundation.
Harbor is growing on me. It’s a large multi-tiered map with excellent sight lines for long-distance weapons and to spot enemies approaching. There’s also a lot of paths to get around, so you can sneak up on unsuspecting enemies if you like to play more stealthy. The power weapons are lined up in the middle of the map with the dropshot at the lowest level near the water, the sniper/torque at the top and grenades in between. This forces each team to head into the center of the map at the start of each round or risk the opponents picking up the power weapons uncontested. Overall, I wish there were more than 3 maps in the beta, none of them are particularly great.
I really wish the beta wasn’t riddled with glitches and lag. I’ve switched over to Ultimate Edition a few times because it’s a lot more fun and less frustrating. If I can evaluate what Gears 4 is aiming for, minus the glitches, it should be a solid entry to the franchise. It’s taking the best of Gears and adding tweaks here and there. The core game play stays true to what most Gears fans are wanting. As for the rest of the new weapons, maps, campaign mode, storyline and characters etc, that remains to be seen.