It feels like every established franchise here at E3 2016 is trying hard to buck tradition and go in radical new directions. God of War ages Kratos, gives him a son and a new Norse setting; Resident Evil 7 is a first-person virtual reality game; Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is in space; Battlefield 1 is set during the underused World War I time period; the list goes on. Every game feels like a hard break from its franchise conventions in setting, tone, characters and core gameplay mechanics.
But not Gears of War 4.
The Coalition biggest priority in tackling a proper new game in the series was to make sure they were able to nail the fundamentals of the franchise. To that end, they did pixel-for-pixel comparisons between their work and Epic Games’ Gears of War 3 to ensure 1:1 accuracy and feel before putting their own mark on the game with unique features. Throughout development, the team has brought in pro-level players to test the game and offer feedback. The Coalition is obsessing over the smallest, most minuscule details in Gears 4 to get the feel of the game just right so series veterans will feel at home when they pick up the controller.
To a bystander, Gears 4 will look almost identical to past games; The Coalition isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. Gears fans have been asking for a new Gears game for years, and The Coalition is aiming to fulfill their wish, not push for some radical reinvention of the series. By necessity, The Coalition is, however, pushing the story forward, setting it 25 years after the events of Gears 3, but overall, the game is sticking true to its roots. The cover-based, stop-and-pop shooter style is here in full force and will feel like coming home again for any longtime Gears fans, and that’s exactly how The Coalition wants it to feel.
There are still some big changes to keep the game fresh, though. There will now be randomized elements to the encounters: In the demo, a massive dust storm ripped cars and debris into the air, crushing an enemy and forcing the player to dodge out of the way. The blistering winds and dramatic lightning streaks looked fantastic and made the fight look like it was happening in the middle of a tornado. But that dust storm isn’t guaranteed to happen. It’s merely one of several random conditions players might have to account for that will change every time you play to keep things exciting and new. The player will need to keep in mind that wind from the dust storm will affect the trajectory of certain projectiles and adjust accordingly; other conditions will similarly affect the playing field, though The Coalition isn’t going too far into depth right now.
One of the two pillars of Gears is cooperative play, something the team is working hard to ensure feels unique. Some enemies, like the Pouncer, a beast that lunges at you to attack, will have different behavior depending on whether you’re playing in single-player or co-op. You’ll need to employ different tactics to take these enemies down and help out your teammates when the Pouncer manages to grab them. It’s a philosophy The Coalition is extending to the entire campaign in order to incentivize players to buddy up with friends.
The second pillar of Gears is Horde Mode, the survival mode against increasingly challenging waves of enemies that was introduced in Gears of War 2 has become standard in many similar games. The Coalition announced what it’s calling Horde Mode 3.0; while they’re staying light on the details of how they’ll be pushing the mode forward, they’re promising fans that it’ll live up to the hype. One thing we do know is that there will be additional paid DLC maps introduced to Horde Mode 3.0 and only the host player needs to own them; the other players in the same match will still be able to play even if they haven’t purchased the DLC.
Gears of War 4’s standard edition will launch on October 11 for Xbox One and PC, while the deluxe edition will come out a few days earlier on October 7. It’s part of Microsoft’s new Xbox Play Anywhere program, meaning if you buy it digitally on either platform, you’ll get a copy on the other platform at no extra cost and be able to seamlessly move progress and achievements between the two versions.