Gears of War 4 off to a turbulent launch

Xbox’s biggest exclusive of the fall has great multiplayer – when it works.

Versus and horde are at their finest in Gears of War 4, but they also hosts some irritating glitches and is missing some features that have been staples in versus gaming for years.

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Perhaps one of the most irritating problems in Gears 4 comes from it’s lack of multiplayer lobbies. While the game’s casual mode, social quickplay, features rolling matches where players can select the level and mode, core and competitive Gears modes lack pre-game lobbies and post-game matchmaking. This means that after each game, players will have to head back to the multiplayer menu, select a new Bounty (a game-mode specific challenge that rewards XP or credit) and then start searching matches again.

The tediousness matchmaking that comes with playing anything except social quickly is exacerbated by a rather unfortunate matchmaking error where “Loading Map” is displayed on the multiplayer screen where it stays for upwards of five minutes before the game either times out or a match forms. It’s worth noting the game isn’t actually taking long to load the map, it’s a glitch happening in the matchmaking system.

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Despite the glitches, the biggest feature that’s missing from launch is a pre-game lobby where players can adjust characters and weapon skins on the fly. While the game is searching for a match you can select a favorite COG or Swarm character and weapon skin to play as, but it would just make more sense if players could adjust their appearances while a match loads up and picks up players. Last year’s Gears of War: Ultimate Edition had a very traditional pre-game lobby that made customization simple, so it’s frustrating to see the Coalition make such a large step back.

Another nagging issue with Gears of War 4 is it’s abuse of Microsoft’s semi-standard card-based microtransaction system. Perhaps the best use of this card system can be found in Halo 5: Guardians, which allowed players to accrue “REQ points” which could be spent on customization gear and Warzone weaponry. Gears 4 has mostly copied this system, but their minor tweaks make the system makes versus and horde makes grinding even more of chore. Prior to a server update Monday night, Gears 4’s versus was paying out roughly 25-30 credits a match and charged 4,000 for an “Elite Gear Pack,” which is how players unlock the rarest of character and weapon skins. You can do the math to see how unbalanced that is. After the update, players get roughly 70-100 credits per game depending on performance, which is a marked improvement, though I think the system could still be more generous. Thankfully, they’ve also lowered the price of the Elite to 3,500 credits. So if you got an average of 75 credits a game, it would take 46 matches to unlock a single Elite pack.

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Every five levels, the game rewards players with 500 credits, so this grind isn’t bad so long as you’re low leveled. Those north of level 50 will really feel the grind as ranking up becomes more difficult. Making the grind to an Elite pack worse is the possibility that you could save for several days and buy a pack that features loot you’ve already collected that can be “scrapped” for a small amount of “scrap” that can eventually unlock gun and character skins, though it will take much longer.

Oh, and the irritating part of the credit buff? When Coalition launched the server-side credit update, they also threw in a $49.99 microtransaction bundle with an array of 40 Gear packs.

There was a second update the day the standard edition launched which was supposed to make matchmaking a bit speedier, but most seem to be noticing little difference. The new update seems to introduce a glitch where all players lag for a second or two at the start of each round. It’s not game breaking, but it’s a bit jarring as everyone launches 20 feet ahead of where they were headed. The developers have noted that it’s an issue they’re tracking, so we’ll likely see a fix in the next week or so.

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Microtransactions aside, Gears of War 4 has a fantastic campaign, a meaty horde and heart racing versus multiplayer. If the Coalition can fix the matchmaking issues and stop milking their in-game economy to push expensive microtransactions, this will be all around the best Gears game to date. For now, it’s got the best gameplay but not everything gamers deserve from a AAA title.

Multiplayer issues aren’t Master Chief Collection levels of bad, but so far, Coalition’s launch is no where near as buttery smooth as Gears of War: Ultimate Edition or Halo 5: Guardians.

 

 

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