Gears 5: Hivebusters review — Into the wild with a welcome addition to an excellent game

A surprisingly strong addition that lays groundwork for future titles.

Gears 5 Hivebusters
(Image: © Windows Central)

Gears 5, the latest entry in the longrunning Gears of War franchise, released in 2019 to critical praise and is, in many regards, one of the best Xbox One shooters available. Our own Jez Corden loved it in his review, though he felt it didn't quite go far enough in changing things up at certain points.

Now, over a year later, the developers at The Coalition have released an expansion pack of sorts, a DLC called Gears 5: Hivebusters. This story follows the origin of Scorpio Squad — Mac, Lahni and Keegan — as they work to uncover a way to destroy entire Swarm hives on a near-suicide mission.

Gears 5: Hivebusters combines the best of the main game's combat setpieces with some newfound introspection. These quiet moments, examining the casualties of war, cowardice, depression, and even the loss of one's culture, are surprisingly touching. Mixing in some abilities usually only found in the Horde or Escape modes, Gears 5: Hivebusters is a rousing success for almost three hours, provided you're willing to pay the entrance fee.

Gears 5: Hivebusters brings new ideas to the best of the series

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
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TitleGears 5: Hivebusters
DeveloperThe Coalition
PublisherXbox Game Studios
GenreThird-person shooter
Xbox VersionXbox Series X
Game Size80 GB
Play Time3 hours (for campaign)
PlayersSingleplayer or up to three-player co-op
Xbox GamePassYes, Ultimate
Launch Price$20

Gears 5: Hivebusters takes what already worked in the main campaign and refines it. Best-in-class third-person shooting takes Scorpio Squad through the Galangi islands' jungle setting. Pseudo-stealth sections and fierce firefights amid constantly changing environments make for a fantastic overall experience. There's also some neat additions, which further help to shake things up in the form of character abilities.

Gears 5 already had some RPG-lite elements with upgrading JACK, the robot helper who also became playable through co-op. Mac, Keegan and Lahni all have their own unique abilities, capable of generating a wide defensive shield, ammo resupply, or an electrically-charged knife, respectively. These abilities can also be upgraded by finding secret hidden stones throughout the chapters. Waves of enemies are more overwhelming and I found myself having to constantly use these abiltiies if I didn't want to be overrun. This is a change I hope is explored more in further games, perhaps as Gears leans in even harder on being an RPG.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

What really surprised me was the restraint shown when you aren't gunning and cutting through the Swarm. Beneath his joking facade, Mac the Outsider is seriously depressed, with time taken to address how he's getting past it. Lahni was taken away from her Pahanu culture in the South Islands, so she has a tone of child-like wonder as she learns about her mythology and the stories she's missed out on. It's a nice change of pace and oddly self-reflective.

There's no wide open sections here like in Act 2 or 3 of the original campaign, but that's a strength given the pacing of the story. Gears 5 was already a looker but Hivebusters is downright jaw-dropping. On Xbox Series X, seeing some of these locations running at 4K 60 FPS with this kind of detail in mind-blowing. It's not hyperbole to say this DLC contains some of the best-looking environments and vistas ever seen in the Gears franchise.

The team at The Coalition refined already-excellent HDR implementation even further with the jungle setting, even appearing to draw inspiration from games like Monster Hunter World. Ice and red sand are exchanged for dense overgrowth and active volcanoes, which never failed to look appealing.

Overall, I completed Hivebusters in just under three hours on Intermediate difficulty. If you're on a higher difficulty or want to thoroughly explore to find all the different collectibles, it may take you a bit longer.

Gears 5: Hivebusters also has a steep entry cost

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I have very few complaints about what The Coalition crafted here but I do think it's a shame that ultimately, Keegan gets less development than his squadmates. This isn't an awful thing since he works well as the straight-laced, emotionally stable military man to contrast Lahni's wide-eyed wonder and Mac's alcoholic rage, but I would've liked to learn more about him. Five years down the road, if there's a DLC for Gears 6, I hope we see Keegan's story explored a bit more.

On a broader note, Gears 5: Hivebusters is $20. I'm not normally one to tie monetary value to length of playtime but if you only intend to go through this once, it's a steep asking price for just one three-hour mode. With that said, it's also included for free with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which you can easily subscribe to in order to access this — and many more games — for a very reasonable cost.

Should you buy Gears 5: Hivebusters?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you're a big Gears fan, grabbing Gears 5: Hivebusters is a no-brainer. This is a fantastic DLC with rollercoaster action juxtaposed with some stellar quiet moments. For anyone who is new to the franchise I still think it's worth checking out but maybe wait for a slight discount. Of course, if you have Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, then just get to downloading it since it's included at no extra cost.

Gears 5: Hivebusters brought solid changes and gorgeous environments in a concise package. Moving forward, I hope the gameplay mechanics, art and characters in this DLC are carried forward.

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.