After Quantum Break, this year's hottest Xbox One exclusive is undoubtedly the upcoming Gears of War 4. The Gears of War series has a strong focus on competitive and cooperative game modes. To make sure Gears 4's multiplayer plays and works well, a closed beta is currently underway. Anyone who bought and played Gears of War Ultimate Edition should receive a code within the coming days, with all Xbox Live members gaining access on April 25.
Don't worry if you haven't gotten into the Gears 4 beta yet – we'll show you just what it's like with these detailed multiplayer impressions, screenshots, and 60 FPS video!
Multiplayer betas serve multiple purposes. They help developers test a game's online performance as well as gather valuable feedback from players before the game launches. They also give players a sneak peak at what am upcoming title will be like, with the caveat that the game will change and hopefully improve prior to release.
One of the most tantalizing aspects of betas like this is when beta participants receive some reward in the final game. Not every beta provides such an incentive (ahem, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2). But back in the Xbox 360 days, the Gears of War 3 beta promised a slew of unlockables like an exclusive weapon and character skins. The same holds true of Gears 4.
The Gears of War 4 beta features its own leveling system that should be familiar to series fans. To unlock the beta rewards in the final version of Gears 4, players just need to reach Level 20 before the beta ends on May 1. I reached Level 10 after 2-3 hours of play, and I'm not great at multiplayer. Hitting Level 20 shouldn't be a problem for most Gears fans.
The beta unlock this time is the 'Vintage Kait Reward Set.' This set consists of a steampunk-inspired skin for Kait, Gears 4's primary female character, Vintage skins for the Lancer Rifle and Snub Pistol, a Vintage Kait Emblem (presumably used to customize one's in-game profile), and a unique Bounty card featuring Vintage Kait.
Actual multiplayer level progress won't transfer to Gears of War 4 when it launches in October, of course. But more skins and items are always nice to have, so it's certainly worth your time to shoot for Level 20 while the beta lasts.
Beta game types and maps
The Gears 4 beta features the standard Gears/Halo party system in which you can invite friends to an in-game party and enter matchmaking with them. The final game will support 2-player screen in online game types, but that feature is unavailable in the beta.
Beta players can select from three "Versus" playlists. Each of the three available game types is team-based, with five players per team. One side plays as the COGs, the heroic human inhabitants of planet Sera. The opposing side this time out is the Swarm, a monstrous race that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Locust antagonists of the original Gears trilogy.
To aid with playlist selection, the game displays the average match time, squad size, and other information. After choosing a playlist, the matchmaking process begins. If you haven't tried that playlist before, your first five games will serve as "Placement Matches" that help determine the skill level of future opponents.
The beta playlists include:
- Team Deathmatch: Returning from Gears of War 3 and Gears Ultimate, this competitive mode pits two teams of five players against each other. Each side has a fixed number of respawns shared between members. Once a team uses up, its respawns and its last player dies, the opposing team wins the round. The team that wins three rounds takes the overall victory.
- Dodgeball: This brand-new competitive mode does not involve actual dodgeball, sadly – you'll have to play Stikbold for that. But it does take inspiration from the dodgeball mechanic in which catching a ball in a certain way not only eliminates the thrower, and it also allows one of the catcher's teammates to return to the game. Here, neither side begins with respawns. But killing an opponent and then remaining alive for five seconds causes a member of your team to be resurrected.
- Co-op TDM (Hardcore AI): If you're like me and stink at competitive multiplayer, then this cooperative spin on Team Deathmatch is for you. A single team of five players battles against a team of AI enemies using the standard Team Deathmatch rules. All Gears 4 game types will support bot matches, hopefully through matchmaking playlists like this one.
Three brand new maps are included in all three playlists of the beta. Before each game, teams can vote on the map they prefer:
- Dam: This brightly lit, colorful map has a large crane at the top-middle, a raised platform in the center upon which power weapons spawn, and junked cars at the periphery.
- Foundation: Set within the industrialized portion of a city, concrete, fans, and pipes dominate this two-tiered level. The dark clouds overhead result in a muted color palette.
- Harbor: Gears 4 features a variety of weather effects, one of which players will experience in this map: rain. Although the rain density isn't very high, the reflections it makes on the ground look fairly impressive. As you might expect, the Harbor map takes place on an elevated platform covered in shipping containers.
Gears 4 features a new Bounty system that loosely resembles Halo 5's REQ Pack system. Players can collect Bounty cards and spend them to receive bonuses when they complete certain conditions during a match. For instance, a bounty might require you to achieve a target number of kills or points during the match's three rounds. If you accomplish the goal, you'll receive an XP bonus.
Bounties have two levels of rarity in the beta: Normal and Epic. As far as I can tell, activating a bounty does not consume it at present – that will surely change in the final game. Likewise, players only start with an assortment of bounty cards here.
In the final game, you'll be able to collect bounties by opening Gears 4's new crates. These crates can be purchased with credits earned from playing or with real money via in-app purchases – just like Halo 5's REQ Packs. Crates will also contain random assortments of cosmetic character and weapon skins.
Gears of War 4 won't be released for six months, so things will naturally change and improve by the time it launches. The current visuals have a few rough edges (such as an excessive level of screen shake at times) but still manage to maintain a 60 FPS frame rate at 1080p.
One graphical effect that already impresses is the new look of the TAC/COM. In recent Gears games, pressing and holding the Left Bumper button highlights the location of your teammates no matter where they are on the map. It still works that way in Gears 4, but you and your teammates will really stand out thanks to a pattern of circles and squares that scroll over friendlies.
As for the gameplay, the Gears 4 beta plays just like Gears Ultimate and previous Gears entries. Chainsaw kills still feel great when you pull them off, and overpowered shotguns dominate the game as ever. The new Dropshot gun adds nicely to the balance of power weapons that I can't hope to use effectively. It shoots a projectile upward that rains down on the target for an explosive kill.
The Gears cover system remains the most intuitive in gaming, with one significant addition. When two players hide on opposite sides of a low piece of cover, one can grab the other and execute him or her with a knife. Count on Gears for satisfying instant kills!
Gears of War 4 still has many months to go before it releases exclusively on Xbox One on October 11 this year. The beta only hints at the many game types we'll get at launch, but it should be more than enough to whet the appetites of Gears fans.
Remember, beta early access codes are still rolling out to Gears Ultimate players who logged into that game before April 11. Once Monday, April 25 rolls around, the beta opens up to everyone until its conclusion on May 1.
Have you got your Gears 4 beta code yet, dear reader? And are you pumped for a fresh return to the war-torn ruins of Sera?