Microsoft’s hyperviolent exclusive is about to enter a two-week beta period. Here’s an early assessment.
In many ways, the Gears of War 4 beta shows just how confident developer The Coalition is in Gears of War 3’s multiplayer. The handling, the mantle attack and level design all feel reminiscent of the franchise’s third installment. As a decade-long fan of Gears of War, I’m entirely confident that the Coalition might have crafted the strongest multiplayer experience in the series’ history.
Since the press embargo ended last week, there’s been an elephant in the room when talking about Gears 4 — the visuals. While it’s certainly not leaps and bounds better than previous installments, I’m happy to say the beta build of the game is better looking than footage debuted by press earlier this week. There is still some low-resolution textures, but for the most part, characters look good and environments are pop-in free.
Now that we’re done with the trivial, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the good and bad in the Gears 4 beta.
There isn’t anything monumentally different between Gears 4 than Gears 3, and in many ways, it feels like the Coalition is playing it safe. Still, there are several balance tweaks that do make moment-to-moment gameplay better. First and foremost, the ability to pull opponents over cover does make for faster, less awkward cover-based encounters. Despite their efforts to prevent “Naked Gun” moments, I’ve still had a handful of instances where an enemy and I have both tried to pull each other over cover and it results in what looks like a high-five over cover. Surely with five months until release, the Coalition can tweak the timing of the attack to prevent this in the retail version of the game.
Another realm that the Coalition has done fairly well with is weapon tuning. The Gnasher is probably the most consistent and reliable iteration of the shotgun — a great achievement considering nearly every Gears title has struggled to balance the weapon. On the flip side, the Lancer and Hammerburst have been significantly nerfed in comparison to their Gears 3 counterparts. I think many can agree that the rifles in the third game had a bit too much stopping power, but in my opinion, they’ve gone a bit too far in the opposite direction here. As revealed in a Coalition stream last week, the Retro Lancer will make a return in the final game but not in the beta. This choice by the developer makes me a bit nervous because the Retro was easily one of the most controversially tuned in the past.
In addition to the standard loadout weapons, the power up weapons feel responsive and well-tuned. Gears of War 1 fans will be pleased to know the Longshot has a touch more stopping power than the Gears 3 iteration. The Dropshot and Boomshot both seem to have a fair amount of damage, but the Boom still has unpredictable splash effects. Perhaps this is the desired effect, but it caused multiple moments where I felt like I should’ve missed but didn’t.
As far as character design goes, the Coalition’s protagonist characters all look great. Where I hope to see some alterations is the new Swarm characters. While they look menacing, each of the different Swarm look entirely too similar. In previous games, the Locust had tons of different armor and gear to make each feel unique. The Coalition has said that the Swarm are meant to look savage and not as organized as the Locust (and they’ve succeeded in that regard), but I feel indifferent when it comes to Swarm character selection.
Level design is generally quite good and feels reminiscent of vanilla Gears 3 maps. There’s more than enough cover in environments, and it’s clear that the Coalition is experimenting a bit with level verticality. Additionally “Foundation” and “Dam” feel near-finished. The other beta map, “Harbor” could use a touch more love, though. The level has spawns that don’t offer much protection, and I’ve spawn trapped or been spawned trapped far too many times in my roughly 8 hours with the game.
Along with characters and levels, most of the Gears 4 beta audio feels on-point. The Gnasher is back to sounding powerful and less “clicky” than the Gears: Ultimate iteration. The Hammerburst currently lacks the power it probably needs, but it sure does sound punchy as hell. Environmental effects and combat noises feel solid as well. The “pop” of headshots is still as satisfying as ever, and the gib sounds when you eviscerate an opponent sounds fantastically disgusting.
Although the Coalition has prepared fans for a rough “true” beta experience, the Gears of War 4 beta is an impressive first glimpse into the developer’s Gears debut. I might have some gripes about weapon balance and Swarm character design, there’s still plenty of time to make changes before the game’s October 11 release.
If you couldn’t get over Gears of War’s multiplayer learning curve in the past, you’ll likely struggle with Gears 4. That being said, If you’ve enjoyed Gears of War multiplayer in the past, you’ll be at home in the Gears of War 4 beta.
Thanks for reading! Once you’ve played the beta, sign up for the Gears of War 4 beta feedback site to help the Coalition make the game better come launch.