Gears 5 is big, beautiful and bold, with a refreshing campaign and a wealth of interesting multiplayer options. But perhaps more important than that, The Coalition’s meaty new third-person shooter is the best example yet of Microsoft’s forward-thinking vision for how we play games.
I’ve been playing Gears 5 on both my Xbox One S in my living room and my souped-up gaming PC at my desk, and I can’t help but appreciate how easily I can transition from one to the other while keeping my progress. Sure, Microsoft has been doing this since the launch of its Play Anywhere initiative in 2016, but it still feels novel, especially when Nintendo and Sony still seem to be a bit behind the curve in terms of cloud saves and cross-play.
Gears 5 will also launch on Xbox Game Pass, meaning anyone subscribed to the $10 monthly service can play the game at launch (Sept. 6 with Game Pass Ultimate; Sept. 10 for everyone else) without plunking down $60. Again, Microsoft has been doing this with its first party titles for a while, but it feels like an especially bold move to practically give away a big blockbuster game whose ads are all over cable TV. If you don't want to deal with the Microsoft Store, you'll also have the option to purchase the game on Steam, which features cross-play with the Windows 10 and Xbox versions.
I’m already looking forward to diving into some Horde mode this weekend with a whole bunch of friends — many of whom likely wouldn't be playing the game if it weren't for Game Pass. In fact, Gears 5 feels built for the Game Pass crowd who might only dip into a game a handful of times. With a ton of modes, including competitive and casual versus multiplayer, Horde and Escape for co-op players, and a meaty campaign, there's content for quick-fix players and Gears devotees alike.
In terms of gameplay, Gears 5 feels like the subtle reinvention that the Gears of War franchise has needed. Slamming into cover and mowing down monsters with your chainsaw-mounted assault rifle is as satisfying as ever, but its made more tactical thanks to a robot companion that can stun enemies, set traps and protect you with a temporary shield, just to name a few abilities. The environments are more open and feel more lived-in than ever, and tell a story all their own thanks to the civilians and collectible items you’ll discover along the way.
And Gears 5 is just gorgeous — what was once a franchise known for sepia-toned grimness has now fully embraced color and daylight, with stunning environments that run the gamut from sunny rainforests to snow-covered wastelands. The game looks lovely running at 1440p and 60 fps on my gaming rig, but I'm also impressed at how beautiful it looks on my Xbox One S and old 1080p TV.
I'll have more to say on Gears 5 as I spend more time trudging through the campaign and getting wrecked in multiplayer over the next few days. But it's already making a strong first impression, thanks in no small part to Microsoft's smart approach to how it delivers AAA games.
The fact that one of the biggest titles of the year can be played interchangeably between PC and Xbox One, as part of a subscription service or as a standalone product, speaks to Microsoft's dedication to providing players with plenty of options. These moves are forward-thinking and consumer-friendly, and set Microsoft up well for when Project Scarlett launches in late 2020.