One of the most surprising things about Gears of War 4 for me was the discovery that, after all these years, shooting wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies could still be really fun.
To the franchise's credit, Gears of War has steadily introduced complexities to the basic idea to keep it fresh. In Gears of War 3, players gained the ability to set up defences to help fend off Locus. In Gears of War 4, Horde has been revamped with new mechanics that introduce a number of smaller tactical decisions that keep things interesting beyond "shoot bad guy in the face."
Before the match begins, players must choose a class — Soldier, Scout, Heavy, Sniper, or Engineer. Each class has a specific strength: the engineer, for example, can repair fortifications, and the heavy packs more of a punch than other classes. Players will have to negotiate with one another as to what roles to occupy, and I foresee this being an occasional point of tension for folks who aren't willing to take one for the team. Personally, I knew that I was bummed when I got stuck with roles like that of the Sniper, since it didn't match my playstyle. Communication is absolutely necessary in Horde, even before any shots are fired!
Once players have decided on what role to play during the match, they can further customise priorities by equipping Gear Cards:
Gear Cards not only grant players special abilities and bonuses, they can also set specific bounties for fans to tackle within matches. You might for instance decide you want a small health boost during your match, or perhaps a slightly bigger ammo cache: there are cards for that. If you're playing as a sniper, you might decide that a bounty for extra XP once you nail a certain number of headshots makes sense. More cards can be equipped with higher levels, which the player gains by accruing XP during matches.
Once the match begins, the biggest point of interest for players will undoubtedly be the Fabricator, a large military chest which can can 3D print anything from turrets to ammo:
At the start of the round, players can set down the Fabricator anyplace within the map to set up a base of operations. Depending on where you set up, you might have a totally different experience of that same map. You might decide to bunker up inside a warehouse for added structural defences, for example, or you might decide to set up shop in a high vantage point with the best line of sight.
Whatever you decide on, you must build around. For that, you'll need a currency known as Power. You start with a set amount at first, but can gain more by collecting it off the dead bodies of fallen enemies. More elaborate fortifications cost more power, but to start with, you can at least build some barriers that hurt and slow down enemies.
Back when Horde was originally introduced, I couldn't get into it. Too mindless. Even with the improvements in Gears of War 3, it wasn't enough to suck me in either. But now, Horde 3.0 has so many tactical elements that I'm finding myself stoked to play more with friends. Between this and normal campaign co-op, Gears remains one of the ultimate franchises to play with friends.
Some more thoughts on Horde 3.0:
- A big part of the reason why Horde is so fun is because, well, Gears itself is fun. Shooting things, landing headshots, firing weapons, sticking to cover — every element feels gratifying in some way. That's true in the campaign, and it remains true in other modes too.
- Enemy AI is pretty good in Gears 4, and you may find that even Normal can be challenging if you don't communicate enough for your team.
- As the match unfolds, it's not enough to just shoot whatever is in front of you; you need to strategise. Some enemies, you'll need to flank — which might mean leaving your safe Fabricator enemy. Other times, you'll need to coordinate to make sure that say, your scout picks up all the power to maximise their class bonus, or that nobody spends money when you're trying to save up for a better fortification. This is what makes Horde 3.0 so good to me, I need a good trigger finger and smarts.
- Gear cards can be upgraded, destroyed, and crafted ... these are the sorts of mechanics I never would have imagined to be in Gears. Cards can also be bought in packs, which means plenty of microtransactions.
- Every ten rounds, there's a special boss wave. And once you've gone through enough rounds, the game also starts introducing special twists and challenges to the level, like needing to clear the round in a set period of time or killing 10 consecutive enemies in a small window. It's stuff like this that makes me hopeful that Horde 3.0 will have some longevity.
We're running a full review on Gears of War 4 after the game releases on October 11th, so that I get a chance to try multiplayer against other players. For now, if you have questions on the game, I'm happy to respond in the comments below. Hit me!