Sometimes a shooter’s identity is tied to a single weapon. Few are tied so closely as Gears and the Gnasher (shotgun). So much so that the developers (The Coalition) behind Gears 5 went out of their way to create a game mode that doesn’t lean on the shotgun so much.
I spent the better part of my gaming time this weekend trying out the Gears 5 Tech Test. I played some Arcade, which is a fun distraction from the ranked gameplay most diehards will find themselves in. The Coalition also gave us a small taste of what to expect in Ranked matches with two modes – King of the Hill and Escalation (capture and hold up to three flags).
One thing quickly becomes apparent – the Gears 5 shotgun remains king. Nearly all my kills in the Ranked playlist were from the shotgun. There are several reasons for this.
One is habit. For four mainline games, the shotgun dominated. Even if the shotgun was weaker now, Gears fans (like me) won’t change their habits over one weekend.
But it’s also gameplay design. Gears is all about using the plentiful cover across each map to put you in the best spot to take out the other players. That often means getting right in there face and blasting them with a shotgun as the meaty chunks splash across your screen. There isn’t a game out there that gives as satisfying a visual when taking out another player than Gears. We know it. The devs know it. And it’s why the shotgun remains a staple for the Gears franchise.
The game modes available during the Tech Test also play a role. The two ranked modes were both objective-focused. That means getting close to the other team and breaking their grip on the objective. And with the close-combat action means plenty of shotgun play.
But the Gears 5 shotgun gameplay isn’t perfect.
First, let’s dive into one of the best changes. In a bid to make the Gnasher feel more consistent, the devs added a pellet hit marker so you can see how much of your shotgun blast is landing. It helps. In other Gears games, I would sometimes stare in disbelief as I wonder if my shotgun was shooting blanks. Now, you know for sure how much (or how little) of each shot is landing on your opponent.
It’s only visual, but it does make the shotgun feel more consistent.
Now let’s touch on the parts that need work. Just like the big change I liked, the stuff I don’t is visual. We’re all used to the visual cues in shooters when you get hit by bullets. In Gears 5, that’s represented by a blood splatter on your screen. But sometimes it’s way too much. Your screen can get drenched in so much red that you can barely see what’s going on. And it instantly pulls you out of the fast, fun gameplay The Coalition are nailing.
I know it’s designed as an indicator of how much damage you have received, but it can’t be so much as to affect your enjoyment of every fight. Right now, it does. The devs need to tone down the visual cues on damage received, especially at the higher end.
There also needs to be a better indicator of when you down an opposing player, especially in multi-player fights. Combine the crazy blood splatter with a small indicator at the bottom of the screen saying when you downed someone, and it’s hard to see what is going on in the middle of a team fight.
These aren’t big problems, but changes to them would help the gameplay flow better.
Is Gears 5 shotgun too strong?
That’s tough to answer after one weekend. Most folks playing this weekend remember the Gears shotgun always getting the job done, so they keep using it. I would say 80-90% of my kills in the Ranked playlist were with the shotgun, but the Lancer had its use. Catching another player in the few wide-open areas always meant an easy down with the Lancer. And if you can get two players (or more) shooting at the same player, it quickly shows how much stronger it is compared to previous Gears games.
Map design will play one of the most significant roles here. Wide-open areas were the Lancer could truly shine were few and far between in the two maps during the Tech Test. There’s plenty of cover to bounce between to close the distance between you and another player. Combine that with smoke grenades, and you’ll often switch to the shotgun as the action closes in.
Let’s assume the Gears 5 shotgun is too strong for a second (and it probably is). What could The Coalition do to help even the playing field for new folks who might not want to use the shotgun? Increasing bullet damage is a tough call. Anything you do to help Lancer players up close will have even bigger consequences at mid and long-range. Gears gameplay is built on moving from cover to cover; a powerful Lancer would turn matches into standoffs.
The best option would be to tighten the bullet spread when hip firing some. It gives Lancer players some movement options while also being able to potentially fight off a rushing Gnasher player.
The shotgun won’t be dethroned.
For better or worse, Gears multiplayer is one-dimensional. Either you’re good with the shotgun, or you don’t play. The shotgun (and the gameplay it offers) is what keeps diehard Gears fans playing.
Modes like Arcade show The Coalition want to appeal to a broader group. But the devs are going to have to offer something incredibly compelling to get the most dedicated Gears fans to hand over their shotgun.