If you really missed slicing gooey-looking aliens in half with a chainsaw-gun, fret not — Gears of War is back. Available now for Xbox One and Windows 10, Gears of War 4 is the long-awaited return of Microsoft's blockbuster third-person shooter series, introducing a new generation of heroes, tons of multiplayer options, and a host of new weapons that should make blowing up and beheading bad guys more satisfying than ever. So, grab your shotgun, duck behind cover and sit back — here's everything you need to know about Gears of War 4.
What's new in Gears of War 4?
While technically a sequel, Gears of War 4 is a bit of a reboot for the long-running shooter franchise. It features a new cast of protagonists led by JD Fenix, is the first Gears game made specifically for Xbox One, and is the first original title in the franchise developed by new studio The Coalition.
That said, everything people love about Gears is still here. You've got the meaty cover-based shooting, the sprawling, cinematic campaign, and tons of ways to both team up with and slaughter your friends in multiplayer.
Gameplay-wise, the environment matters much more now — you'll be able to destroy and create cover, and will have to worry about dangerous "windflares" that will affect how your weapons and enemies behave. There are also a bunch of new close-quarter combat options, including the ability to yank your opponent out of cover or stun them with a vault-kick, leaving them vulnerable to a nasty execution. And it wouldn't be a new Gears without new weapons, from the death-from-above Dropshot to the ricochet-blade-launching Buzzkill.
What's the story so far?
The original Gears of War trilogy tells the story of Marcus Fenix, his fellow soldiers, and their sprawling war against the underground-dwelling Locust Horde and the glowing, infected and ruthless Lambent. As if that wasn't enough, Marcus has to deal with the loss of comrades and some serious daddy issues along the way.
Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years later on the same planet of Sera, where the destruction of the Locust and Lambent have led to some devastating environmental dangers that have forced inhabitants to live in walled-off cities. To make matters worse, the residents of Sera are once again attacked by a mysterious new threat, leaving Marcus' son JD Fenix and his friends Kait and Del to rescue their pals and squash out the bad guys. This all sets the stage for lots of cinematic shootouts, and, yes, a whole new set of daddy issues.
Should I play the original Gears games before jumping into this one?
Thanks to its new cast and storyline, Gears of War 4 makes an excellent entry point for new fans — there's even a playable prologue that highlights the series' past. That said, there will almost certainly be plenty of references and easter eggs for those that have played the older games. Fortunately for those looking to catch up, buying Gears 4 gets you digital copies of the entire Gears of War Xbox 360 collection, which you can play on your Xbox One.
What multiplayer modes are there?
The Coalition is going big for Gears of War 4 multiplayer, with lots of modes for casual and competitive players alike. Classic versus gametypes like Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill are joined by new modes such as Arms Race, in which you need to rack up kills with specific guns, and Dodgeball, in which scoring a kill lets you bring a downed teammate back. The game will have a robust ranking system that ensures you're playing with similarly skilled opponents, and if you're worried about getting slaughtered online, you can team up with your friends against AI opponents.
There's also Horde 3.0, which marks the return of Gears of War's famous wave-based, co-operative survival mode. You'll once again try to survive 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies and bosses, except this time you'll pick a class (such as Engineer or Scout) and manage a moveable home base, which will make teamwork more key than ever.
What the heck are Gear Packs?
Much like Halo 5's Requisition Packs, Gears of War 4's Gear Packs are digital bundles of in-game goodies that you can both buy with real money and unlock through gameplay. Gear Packs get you things such as character and weapons skins, as well as "bounty" cards that give you an experience point boost for completing certain objectives. Don't worry about Gears becoming pay-to-win, though -- Gear Pack items are mostly cosmetic and don't give you a special advantage for competitive multiplayer.
What versions of the game can I buy?
If you want as much Gears 4 as humanly possible, check out the $99 Ultimate Edition. This version of the game gets you a set of Vintage character skins, permanent access to 24 downloadable maps, 17 extra Gear Packs and access to a special Developer Playlist that lets you test new modes and maps early. The physical version of the Ultimate Edition comes in a fancy steelbook case, while the digital version gives you access to the game on both Xbox One and Windows 10.
If you buy the regular $60 version of the game but want these perks later on, you can buy a $50 Season Pass.
Do I have to buy the game twice to play on Xbox One and PC?
Nope! Gears 4 is an Xbox Play Anywhere title, meaning buying the game digitally gets you both an Xbox One and Windows 10 copy. Your game progress and achievements will carry over between platforms.
Is there cross-platform play?
Yep. You can play virtually all of Gears of War 4's multiplayer modes with both your Xbox One and PC pals, including co-op campaign, Horde mode and private versus matches. The only thing that isn't cross-platform is competitive matchmaking — probably so that mouse-and-keyboard players don't end up completely slaughtering controller users.
What are the system requirements for PC?
Gears of War 4 on Windows 10 could potentially be the best-looking version of the game— as long as you've got the hardware for it. For starters, you'll need the Windows 10 Anniversary Update to play the game at all, and an AMD Radeon R7 260X or Nvidia GeForce 750 Ti graphics card at the very minimum. If you want to play the game at its very best, you'll need a Radeon R9 Fury X or Nvidia GTX 980 Ti or 1080, among other beefy specs.
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Should I play Gears of War 4?
We've had a blast with Gears of War 4 so far. The game's campaign is a cinematic action romp that feels modern while staying true to Gears' classic gameplay, and its versus multiplayer provides lots of options for both hardcore and casual shotgun-slayers. The new Horde 3.0 mode nearly justifies a purchase alone, as you can easily lose hours strategizing while mowing down waves of enemies with your friends. We'll have a final verdict on Gears 4 soon, but if you love the series or are simply craving a great third-person shooter for both solo and multiplayer, the game is well worth it.
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Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.