For the most part, the Gears of War games have been strictly linear experiences. Occasionally, they would give the players the option of taking one route or the other, but no matter what choices were made, everything led to the same place. The narrative never really changed based on player action, with cut-scenes that were completely set in stone. There's nothing wrong with that, and in fact, some strictly linear narratives have provided some of gaming's greatest stories. However, Gears 5 goes in a bit of a different direction, and while the bulk of its story is linear, its ending can be different depending on player choice. This essentially results in Gears 5 having two different endings, and leaving the future of the franchise's plot a bit of an unknown.
In order to discuss Gears 5's ending and the way it may impact future Gears of War titles, we will have to detail MAJOR SPOILERS. Those who have yet to complete Gears 5 should come back later, but those who have already seen Kait and Del's adventure through to its conclusion can safely read on.
Here is Gears 5's ending, and the way it may impact the Gears of War canon.
Gears 5's Ending
To discuss how Gears 5's ending will impact future Gears of War games, it's necessary to explain the ending itself. Basically, the Gears 5 ending sees Kait, Del, JD Fenix, Fahz, Marcus, and others work together to get the Hammer of Dawn back online so that they have a better chance at destroying the Swarm. In the ensuing firefights, a twisted version of Kait's mother, now known as Queen Reyna, wraps her tentacles around the necks of both JD and Del.
Kait then has to make a choice about whether she should save JD or Del. Whoever players don't pick gets their neck snapped by Reyna. The subsequent scenes are largely the same, except different characters have different reactions to whoever died. For example, Marcus has a much stronger reaction to JD's death than Del's. But no matter who players decide to save, they end up fighting the Riftworm monster, with JACK sacrificing itself to destroy the beast using the Hammer of Dawn.
The game then ends by showing all of the surviving characters, and finishes on a conversation between Kait and Marcus where Kait vows to go after Queen Reyna.
Save Del or JD
The big choice players make in Gears 5 is to save JD or Del. Whoever isn't saved is killed off, and that potentially makes Gears of War 6 much more complicated. At this point in time, it's unclear whose death is considered "canon" by The Coalition. It's possible that The Coalition itself hasn't made a decision yet. However, it seems like The Coalition will have to choose either JD or Del as the canon death, as otherwise it will have to basically create two sets of cut-scenes for Gears of War 6 featuring one character or the other, which could make it a lot more expensive and muddy the plot further.
After all, if Gears of War 6 features both JD and Del, then the two will presumably have unique interactions with the various characters. This will create a web that will make the likely Gears of War 7 story even more difficult for the franchise's writers. It's totally possible that The Coalition will allow players to transfer their Gears 5 saves to Gears of War 6, Mass Effect-style, but it would be a bit of a surprise, and we expect the studio to pick one death as canon and stick to it.
One Way The Coalition May Deal With It
One way that The Coalition may deal with letting players choose between JD or Del is by counting the decision as a "vote." For example, if the majority of Gears 5 players decide to spare JD and let Del die, then Del's death would be canon and vice versa. This is just speculation at this time, but there is a precedent for developers to give players a say in the lives of the Gears of War characters.
Some may recall a promotion for Gears of War 3 where players were given the ability to decide the fate of Clayton Carmine. Both Gears of War and Gears of War 2 brutally killed off a Carmine brother, but then-Gears of War studio Epic Games let fans decide on whether Clayton would live or die by selling Xbox Avatar t-shirts that pulled for one outcome or the other. Ultimately, fans decided that Clayton Carmine should survive the events of Gears of War 3.
Considering this, it wouldn't be completely out of the realm of possibility for The Coalition to do something similar with Gears 5's big decision. But since it seems Gears 5's post-launch plans mainly include multiplayer DLC and no story expansions, it's likely that we will have to wait until Gears of War 6 to learn Gears 5's canon ending.
Gears 5 launches on September 10 for PC and Xbox One.