The Coalition is attempting to prove its Gears of War mettle with its first original project. A big part of that is nailing the Gears multiplayer experience, and it appears they may have done just that. Fans of the series view the original trilogy with a certain reverence, and The Coalition has done their best to return to the gameplay style of Gears of War 3 while adding a few new gameplay mechanics and multiplayer features to enhance it.
Interview with Coalition Director of Community Adam Fletcher:
Guns, Gore, and Game Modes
The Coalition is embracing what makes the Gears of War franchise unique. Over the top violence, teamwork, and some of the most original weapons in gaming history form the cornerstones of the Gears of War experience. Gears of War 4 Versus Multiplayer seeks to evolve gameplay in all the right places while staying true to the franchise.
With a new game comes new weapons. Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after Gears of War 3, and the Imulsion (that yellow stuff that turned locusts into lambent) no longer exists. As a result, the weapons have evolved. The developers have announced a new close combat knife alongside two new power weapons, the Dropshot and the Buzzkill. The Buzzkill fires saw blades, slicing up opponents in a delightful fashion. The Dropshot is the spiritual successor to the Digger, but it instead shoots a drillbit through the air and drops down on the opponent when you let go of the trigger, instead of burrowing and then popping up from underneath enemies like its predecessor. One of the most satisfying moments in Gears is when you get a headshot, and the Dropshot delivers on that visceral joy. I stunned the entire room with a Dropshot headshot during our multiplayer demo. It felt like the first time I got a headshot with the Longshot in Gears 1.
The Coalition didn't simply add a couple of weapons to the game and call it a day, though. Instead, it worked to evolve the cover mechanic. The addition of the combat knife allows for some more realistic close cover combat to occur. Gears of War 4 adds two new additions to the cover mechanic. "Yank and Shank" and "Vault Kick" address some of the clunkiness that can occur when two opponents are stuck in cover. The "Yank and Shank" maneuver allows the player to pull their opponent over cover to their side leaving the opponent open to a knife finishing move. "Vault Kick" allows a player to leap over cover without stopping and kick the opponent leaving them open to a knife finishing move. Both of these moves can be countered, as they only temporarily stun the opponent. These two new gameplay mechanics add fluidity to the cover system in the game and also prevent a "Naked Gun" stalemate.
The Coalition's mission to innovate while staying true to the franchise continues with their reimagining of Gears Versus Multiplayer. The Gears of War community made the game an eSport before Twitch even existed. While each iteration of the game came with better online multiplayer experiences, this was an area where Gears had yet to match up with some other very popular eSports shooters. Gears of War 4 Versus Multiplayer will offer something for all types of players. A new visible skill ranking system will offer a better experience by determining the skill of a player, assigning a skill bracket and then matchmaking players of similar skill - Bronze plays Bronze, Diamond plays Diamond. In the interest of making it easier for new players to transition from Campaign to Versus, Gears 4 will include a new Co-Op Versus mode that enables players to group up on the same team to compete against a team of the new AI bots. The new bots now have role-based personalities and can have a custom difficulty setting so that players can move from Casual all the way up to Insane. Players will still earn rewards while playing Co-op Versus because some players may never choose to compete online against other players.
The Coalition has also announced two new game modes for Gears of War 4 Multiplayer, Dodgeball and Escalation. In Dodgeball, two teams of 5 players go head to head. You can only respawn a teammate by killing your enemy (and staying alive for 5 seconds). The developers believe this mode will serve new and social players as it does allow stronger players to carry the team. Dodgeball creates a lot of back and forth swings and captures that same intensity of the Warzone multiplayer mode while giving players a little more room for error. Escalation is the premiere competitive mode in Gears 4 combining all the best things about Gears Versus Multiplayer into a strategic mode. This mode was designed with eSports and broadcasting in mind. More details on Escalation mode will be announced at PAX East next week.
A new spectator screen has been created to make Gears easier to stream. The Coalition has empowered broadcasters with new tools to allow for quick and smooth camera changes. Four different camera types have been introduced. Player camera to give viewers the player's perspective, Follow camera is a little further back and allows for 360 degree rotation around the player, Ghost camera allows a spectator to break the camera away and film from any perspective, and Battle camera offers security camera-like perspectives of different areas on the map. X-Ray vision is also included to allow spectators to see players through walls and anticipate the action.
One more way that the Coalition is trying to maximize player engagement is through Gear Crates. Players will earn credits in every mode and can use these credits to purchase Gear Crates. There will be three tiers of Gear Crates containing varying amounts of durable and consumable Gear Cards coming in four rarities. In Versus multiplayer, only weapon or character skin personalization Gears Cards will be available to ensure that gameplay is not affected. Consumable Bounty Gear Cards will not be consumed until the player accomplishes the Bounty and earns its reward. This continues a trend of many games across multiple genres trying to incorporate playing cards of some sort. I hope they do more with Gear Crates in horde mode going forward, but they had no comment when I asked.
Back to Sera
There will be 10 multiplayer maps at launch. Nine of them are new with a remade Gridlock rounding out the ten. Additional DLC maps will be released every month after launch. The DLC maps will be a mix of new and remastered maps and will be free for public play. To avoid overwhelming players, maps will rotate out of curated playlists as new ones are released. Users may purchase the DLC maps to play privately on dedicated servers, but only the host will need to own the map.
I had a chance to play Harbor, Foundation, and Dam at the preview event. All three levels are great. Foundation is challenging and has some unique elevated areas to post up with your team. Harbor is just a solid example of the Gears formula. It may have a special place in my heart as it was the first Gears of War 4 Multiplayer Map I played and I lead my team back from a 7 kill deficit in Team Deathmatch (see the video below). Dam was my least favorite out of the three, as the fight always seemed to funnel to the center of the level as opposed to the Foundation and Harbor allowing for better flanking opportunities. The remaining 6 new launch maps should be pretty great if these first three are any indication. The Coalition really did go back to basics when it came to building these maps and I could see the influence from past maps in the series like Thrashball and Gold Rush.
Gears of War Multiplayer Gameplay
I really enjoyed playing Gears of War 4 Versus Multiplayer. After being very disappointed by Gears of War: Judgement, I believe this is a great first step back towards the greatness of the original Gears of War trilogy. The Coalition Studio has set forth a goal of innovating while staying true to the Gears franchise. It remains to be seen just how great of an experience Gears of War 4 will be, as there are many more announcements to come before launch. I am hopeful that this attention to detail that The Coalition Studio has shown in crafting this versus multiplayer experience will carry over to all other game modes.
The Gears of War 4 Multiplayer Beta starts on April 18th giving early access to anyone who has played Gears of War Ultimate Edition on Xbox One or Windows 10 prior to April 11th. The second phase of the Beta starts on April 25th for anyone who has an Xbox Live Gold account. The Gears eSports ESL Pro League Season 2 finals will be LIVE from Boston at PAX East on Saturday, April 23. Gears of War 4 will launch on October 11th.