With the exception of the spinoff Gears of War: Judgment, all Gears of War games have largely focused on either Marcus Fenix or his son JD Fenix. The original Gears of War trilogy follows Marcus and Dom almost exclusively, whereas Gears of War 4 is JD's journey, with him paired up with his allies Del Walker and Kait Diaz throughout most of that game. Gears 5 takes the series in a bold new direction by focusing on Kait and Del instead of Marcus or JD, and it's this change that really helps the campaign feel fresh. Future Gears of War games could benefit by embracing newer characters even further, and letting go of the series' past to blaze new trails.
As Gears 5 shows, the Gears of War franchise can really succeed when it stops following its older characters and their offspring to instead shine a spotlight on other, newer characters. The focus on JD Fenix in Gears of War 4 seemed like the game was clinging to the franchise's past to establish its identity, but Gears 5's decision to follow different characters is one of the reasons why its campaign is so effective. There are other ways that the Gears of War franchise could let go of its past a bit to explore new territory as well, and we'll discuss them all here.
Please note that this article will have some spoilers for Gears 5.
The Fenixes Don't Have to Be the Main Attraction
Gears of War 4 was almost all about JD Fenix, with Del Walker and Kait Diaz serving as support characters. Gears 5, however, actually makes Kait and Del the primary playable characters for the bulk of the campaign, with JD playable in the first Act and sporadically later on. Instead of making JD the main focus, Gears 5 experiments with making him unlikable. It's revealed early on in Gears 5 that JD actually gave the orders for COG soldiers to fire into groups of protesters, which puts him at odds with Del and Kait. This is part of the reason why the Gears 5 campaign is so compelling, especially compared to Gears of War 4. There was a sense of predictability in Gears of War 4, and The Coalition studio head Rod Fergusson himself has admitted that Gears of War 4 played it safe. By turning revealing JD's dark secret and spending most of the game with Kait and Del, Gears 5 immediately establishes a sense of unpredictability that will make players excited to see what will happen next.
Now, that doesn't mean that Marcus Fenix and JD shouldn't still play roles in future Gears of War games. In fact, it wouldn't even feel like Gears of War without Marcus Fenix. But making them supporting characters instead of the main attraction helped Gears 5's campaign stand out and feel new compared to past games. Less is more with the Fenix family, and it will be interesting to see if Gears of War 6 continues the focus on Kait.
Cole Train Conflicts with the Tone
Some of Gears of War's older characters arguably conflict with the tone Gears 5 was trying to achieve. August Cole, aka "The Cole Train," is the most significant example of this. Whereas all the other characters have a range of emotions in Gears 5, Cole comes across as an over-the-top caricature instead of a real person. He shouts his catchphrases while doing things like riding motorcycles into the jaws of a Swarmak and then blowing up its head. In our Gears 5 review, we pointed out how these scenes are still very entertaining, but they feel kind of weird when everything else is so grim and somber. It's also strange that Cole seems to be the only person that's not deeply disturbed by the constant war and bloodshed all around him, and in fact, Cole seems to get a kick out of it. Like with the Fenixes, we're not saying that future Gears of War games should shun Cole completely, but perhaps they can do a bit more with his character so that he doesn't come across as a joke.
New Gameplay Features Help Gears 5 Feel Exciting Again
Future Gears of War games can be successful by letting go of their past in regards to the characters and story, but there are also ways the gameplay can evolve as well. Gears 5 has some open world levels, and these stages offer some unique gameplay opportunities that haven't been seen in any previous Gears of War game. With its open world levels, Gears 5 let go of the strictly linear nature of previous games, and was able to deliver something unique because of it. Future Gears of War titles may want to take things a step further, break some more Gears of War rules, and deliver something that feels like a true evolution of the franchise instead of the same thing with prettier graphics.
Gears 5 launches on September 10 for PC and Xbox One.