Gears 5 Escape mode preview: Bite-size violence never felt so good

E3 2019 gave us the opportunity to go hands-on with Gears 5's new co-op mode, dubbed Escape.

In Escape, The Coalition has created a bite-size gauntlet-style experience, where teams of three players battle through randomly-generated Swarm hive maps, after detonating a gas bomb deep within. Escape also features various character archetypes, each with an Overwatch-style "ultimate" ability that charges as you play alongside other unique supportive measures atop a complex-looking progression layer.

The Coalition fielded a few of our burning questions as we played through, in what seems to be an extremely promising addition to the full Gears package.

Gears 5 Escape delivers bitesize battles and progression

Gears 5 Escape

Gears 5 Escape (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Gears 5 Escape matches are designed to last around 20 minutes, as opposed to a full Horde run which can take anywhere up to an hour or more, depending on the difficulty. The Coalition told us that they're designed to be less hectic and time-intensive as Horde, albeit with a strong emphasis on tactical class-based co-operative play.

For our playthrough, we played as Lani, an aggressive scout character that comes equipped with an electrified blade. We didn't get time to try out some of the other characters, but Keegan had the ability to spawn and share ammunition − a scarcity in Escape − while Back was able to pop a shield for the team when the need for moving cover is particularly important.

Gears 5 only enhances Gears of War's trademark combat.

The whole premise of Escape revolves around a new Gears unit called the Scorpio Squad, who essentially sign up to suicide missions to drop Venom Bombs deep within Swarm breeding hives. Once the bomb is detonated, the "Escape" begins, and the map progressively fills with toxic fumes forcing you to move towards the extraction point, fighting waves of randomly generated threats along the way.

The movement still retained that heavy Gears feel, but felt ever so slightly refined. Perhaps this was due, in part, to Lani's abilities, which allow her to slide into cover from a greater distance than her fellow teammates. Gears 5 Escape, like Gears 4 Horde, also features customizable character traits from cards, in addition to levels. You'll be able to see damage numbers in Escape, a first for the franchise, although you will be able to turn them off too if you're not a fan. As you strengthen your character deck, you'll be able to undertake more challenging missions, for even greater rewards. Where Gears 5 Escaped shined primarily, like most Gears games, is in its combat violence, which is every bit as satisfying as it has ever been.

Using Lani's ultimate ability, which charges as you play, sends a cascade of lightning spraying from every melee swing. By default, she wields a combat knife and can stun lock enemies in an area of effect for the duration. Using this ability I was able to rescue downed friends from even some of the larger heavy enemies, all of which succumbed to the blade.

Where Lani's ultimate got even more interesting, however, was using it in conjunction with one of the Swarm's melee weapons. I was able to get my hands on one of the huge two-handed maces from the original Gears 5 reveal trailer, obliterating huge enemies in a wide arc of electrified giblets, which was equal parts hilarious and satisfying. Some of the new executions as well are simply insane. The two-handed mace can scoop up enemies and hurl them across the room like a gory missile. Gears 5 only enhances Gears of War's trademark combat.

Gears 5 drops one of Gears 4's most controversial aspects, that being the dreaded loot crates. There's still a degree of randomness when it comes to character progress in Escape, but nothing will be purchasable with real money. As your character levels up, you'll unlock new skills along a linear progression path, and at the end of every Escape dungeon run, you'll get a pool of card upgrades specific to abilities you have unlocked. You'll be able to customize and tailor your playstyle for each character using this system, but unlike Gears 4 Horde mode, you won't be funneled into purchasing loot crates to maximize your progression, simply because you won't be able to.

The Coalition didn't tell us how monetization would work further down the line, but it's easy to imagine that they might include bonus heroes and classes to purchase, similarly to games like League of Legends. Those who pre-order Gears 5 or play it during launch week on Xbox Game Pass will unlock the Terminator as a playable character for multiplayer, for example (seriously). Additionally, there also seems to be a "Boost" mechanic which allows you to accelerate the number of rewards you get at the end of Escape matches, although we're unsure, at this time, whether this will be purchasable outside of the pre-order bonus.

Although we only got a very brief taste of what Escape represents, it was a frenetic and visceral experience that should serve fans of Gears 5 Horde mode well, particularly in those instances you want a briefer, more rapid pace of violence in between bigger gaming commitments. That said, Gears 5 Escape will also come with its very own robust mapping tools, allowing players to build much larger, much more complex dungeons if they so choose.

Gears 5 Escape packs a constant stream of new content

Speaking of the map tools, The Coalition told us that they would require no previous programming or 3D modelling experience. Instead, they will be tile-based with drag-and-drop style elements, allowing you to rapidly build maps and share them with the community. The Coalition will also be dropping content on a weekly basis, they told us, owing to the rapid iteration afforded by these new tools.

The maps offered by The Coalition will hover around the 20 minute mark, however, there's no reason a community member couldn't make a vast, hours-long Escape dungeon if he or she chooses.

The maps aren't randomized, per say, or procedurally generated. However, there will be room for A.I.-generated enemies, loot locations, and other events. Players and The Coalition will also be able to add specifically placed enemies, and bosses. The Coalition told us that each hive starts with three acts separated by safe rooms, similar to Left 4 Dead. Players will also be able to chose difficulty levels and mutators, which add dynamic modifiers to each map.

Gears 5 Escape seems like a great addition

While Gears 5 Escape seems to be a great addition by itself, the most intriguing aspect is arguably the map editor. User-generated content could keep Escape fresh for years to come, depending on the complexity and freedom offered by the tools, with players able to create all sorts of dungeon-like experiences as they see fit. I just hope The Coalition can keep it fresh at their end with regular character drops and new ability cards, similar to how they handled Horde mode in Gears of War 4 (but no loot crates, thanks).

Gears 5 should launch on September 10, 2019, with five days early access for gamers on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. It's heading to Xbox One, Steam, and the Microsoft Store.

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Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!