Though I didn’t get to spend as much time playing the Gears of War 4 beta as I would have liked to, I did sink quite a bit of time into it and got a pretty decent feel for the game, or at least a feel for what The Coalition had decided to show us.
Though the game was most certainly fun and it felt like a proper Gears game, not a cheap imitation by a studio unsure of themselves. The Coalition definitely understand what makes Gears of War interesting and unique to play, but I’ve found many people wondering if they are perhaps too hesitant to step away from the past and take chances at new features for the newest entry.
Gameplay in the beta felt very similar to past entries in the series and, like previous games, the controls and cover system felt fluid and responsive. For the most part the weapons behaved very similarly to the other games, and, besides new audio for most weapons and small tweaks in design, there haven’t been too many changes to existing weapons.
The Gnasher, longtime a staple for the series and the main attraction of the multiplayer for many, seems to have found a comfortable balance within the game. Though still a powerful weapon and nearly essential in any player’s arsenal, it seems to be less capable of dealing damage at greater range allowing other weapons to have more capability in pushing a Gnasher user into cover than in past entries (which is definitely a welcome change). Despite this, most games still relied pretty heavily on teams engaging each other at close range and sticking the shotgun into each other’s stomach.
The beta did, however, feature another Gears of War stable weapon, the Lancer, and this time around it has earned a place in Gears of War multiplayer. Past Gears games featured the Lancer, but it was almost always dropped in favor of the Gnasher, as a map pickup weapon or was used purely for suppression or as a backup weapon due to the power of the Gnasher and the notorious latency in Gears of War multiplayer matches. With more love going into multiplayer this time around, the Lancer sees much better hit detection and stopping power making it more capable of dropping enemies much more quickly than was possible in previous games. This wound up resulting in more Lancer use overall and a better balance in Gears between long-range engagements and close-quarters fighting.
The Coalition has stated that there will be new weapons in the game, and one of them, the Dropshot, was featured on all three beta maps. Though confusing to use at first, the Dropshot proved to be a potent weapon to control and its design fit well within the Gears universe, both in a lore sense and as a piece of equipment haphazardly constructed with minimal resources and within the gameplay itself, creating an interesting way to take out enemies behind cover or vie force when out in the open.
The beta also featured several other new abilities that changed how cover worked in the game. In past entries, cover was pretty much impenetrable and to kill someone behind cover one basically needed to either find a way to flank them from the side or behind, or to get close to them and confront them directly and this resulted in awkward encounters where enemies took cover in front of each other and shot at each other with Gnashers until someone died. Gears of War 4 introduces a system allowing players to either pull their enemy over the cover or to jump over cover into them. Both maneuvers work very similarly and result in the enemy being unable to act for a brief moment, allowing the aggressor to either finish them off with a new knife execution or quickly blow them apart with the Gnasher.
This new ability didn’t feel intrusive in the Gears of War 4 sandbox gameplay and rather added an extra layer of complexity to the game, forcing players to consider where they took cover, when to make a move on a player in cover, and to be wary of enemies approaching their cover and being prepared to counter a yank or mantle kick by either hitting the in-game counter button or being prepared to move.
Despite my enjoyment with the beta overall and several changes to the series that are for the better, the beta did show some faults that currently exist in this build of Gears of War 4. The first problem is that while the balance of weapons in the game seem to be nearly spot on, there exists a huge problem with the series regular, the Hammerburst. Like the Lancer and Gnasher, the Hammerburst has been in every Gears of War game to date and is one of its most recognizable weapons. Unlike the first two, the Hammerburst has seen constant revision throughout the series, initially starting as a burst weapon in the first game with moderate stopping power and behaving as a map pickup weapon, and evolving into a single shot rifle with high damage before finally becoming a long-range medium damage single shot rifle in Gears 3. In Gears of War 4 it returns once again as a burst fire rifle, but it is now very unclear on what its intended purpose is.
The current Hammerburst in Gears of War 4 has very little range and does little damage, requiring around 5 or even more bursts to down an enemy, making it outclassed by the Lancer in every single way. Hopefully it is changed drastically before the game is released. The Coalition has said before, the beta was intended to be a true beta that they could use to make meaningful changes. Besides the big problem with one of the series’ most iconic weapons there were smaller problems throughout the beta such as occasionally inaccurate hit detection and inconsistent AI behavior.
Despite its expected beta problems and the lack of a considerable amount of new content to enjoy, the Gears of War 4 beta proved to be an enjoyable experience, and so far I am excited to see what else the game has to offer when it officially releases on October 11 of this year.