We survived a first taste of Gears of War 4's campaign and interviewed the developer

At E3 2016, we were lucky enough to play a single-player campaign mission and interview the developers about the first brand-new Gears game of this generation. Read on for full impressions and video interview!

Campaign impressions

During our closed-doors gameplay session, we got to try out an early Gears of War 4 campaign mission. It begins shortly after the kidnapping of Reyna Diaz, mother of protagonist Kait Diaz and leader of an Outsider village. Kait, J.D. Fenix (son of original Gears star Marcus Fenix), and Del Walker, the three primary playable characters of Gears 4, set out to rescue her. Kait's uncle Oscar also comes along on the mission.

The portion of the mission we played begins just after Oscar has been swallowed whole by a Snatcher, one of the game's new enemies. Snatchers don't digest the people they take, but their eventual fate is probably worse. Victims are soon encased in fleshy red pods to incubate.

Once the pod is opened by players or other means, they will emerge as Juvies – monstrous members of the Swarm, Gears 4's enemy faction. Juvies retain a humanoid form. They're smaller and agiler than the Locusts we battled in previous Gears games. A Juvie can run, jump over objects and off of walls, and climb in its relentless pursuit of human targets.

Gears of War 4 E3 screenshot

We soon run afoul of the Juvies as my team passes through a series of ruined buildings in search of Oscar's abductor. Pods line the ground everywhere, some even attached to walls and ceilings. In a pinch, they can be used as cover during firefights. You can even shoot them down from the ceiling when you need something to hide behind. But each one carries the possibility of three different contents when destroyed: nothing (the best result), a Juvie, or a Screamer.

As J.D. and friends pass down an alleyway, a Screamer emerges from one of the pods. This advanced form of Juvie resembles its brethren but has a much more disturbing face. Screamers emit a terrible shot that causes all nearby pods in the area to burst open. Soon we are swarmed with Juvies, our only choice to kill the crazed mutants before they do the same to us.

Gears 4's combat feels virtually unchanged from previous games in the series. That's deliberate, as developer The Coalition wants to retain what players love about Gears without spoiling the formula. Active reloading, shotguns, the chainsaw on the Lancer – it all just feels right. Chainsawing the Juvies to pieces is certainly my favorite way to take care of them so far, and not just because my reflexes have slowed down a bit over the years.

That's not to say that Gears 4 doesn't add anything we haven't seen before. Case in point: the Buzzkill. This new gun showed up in the game's E3 trailer, where we saw a player firing buzzsaws at enemies. Depending on the target's level of health, this will inflict damage or simply chop the foe in half outright. Buzzkill shots ricochet around the environment, making them even more dangerous.

Gears of War 4 E3 screenshot

A lot of thought goes into additions like the Buzzkill. Gears 4 takes place 25 years after the end of the Human-Locust War, so the planet Sera's military complex is no longer churning out weapons like before. When the Swarm threat emerges, humans hasten to arm themselves with modified construction equipment like the Buzzkill – in addition to the Lancers and Shotguns of old.

Of course, it wouldn't be much of a Gears game if none of the enemies could shoot back during firefights. Soon players will encounter Swarm Drones, the new equivalent of Locust Drones. These Drones are hulking beasts with the power of speech, capable of wielding the same weapons as our heroes. They also tend to spawn from holes in the ground, just like the Locusts in previous games.

Another new enemy we saw is the Pouncer, a four-legged creature with heavy armor around most of its body. The Pouncer possesses an enormous tail that fires projectiles. And as the name indicates, it can also use this tail to vault at players. If you get caught under one, only the help of a teammate (human or AI) will save you from its jaws.

The Pouncer's underbelly is its weakness. You'll want to blast away it from a distance. And if it leaps at you, whipping out the chainsaw in time will take the monster out in one messy hit.

Crossplay details

Gears of War 4 E3 screenshot

Microsoft announced its Xbox Play Anywhere initiative during its E3 press conference. Gears of War 4 is one of the Play Anywhere flagship titles.

Players who buy Gears 4 digitally on Xbox One or Windows 10 will receive both versions of the game – this buy once, play anywhere style of digital license is commonly referred to as cross-buy. Campaign progress transfers seamlessly between versions via cloud saves, hence the 'Play Anywhere' description.

Xbox One and Windows 10 players will also be able to play together online via cross-play. This has the benefit of vastly increasing the online player pool as well as allowing people to play with friends who don't own an Xbox One.

The balance between console and PC players can potentially be an issue with cross-play titles, though. PC gamers with mouse and keyboard access can simply aim and respond much faster than the analog sticks of a controller allow. The makers of some games like Halo Wars 2 choose not to allow cross-play in order to avoid the issue. Gears 4's solution is to limit cross-play to cooperative game modes. That way, PC gamers don't put console players at a disadvantage – everybody plays on the same team.

Gears of War 4 allows Xbox One and Windows 10 players to team up in three different cooperative modes:

  • Co-op campaign: Play through the entire game in 2-player co-op. That's two fewer players than Gears of War 3, but it should allow for a more focused experience. Gears 4 will also feature 2-player split-screen on Xbox One.
  • Co-op versus AI: Teams of up to five players can play competitive modes against bots. The Gears 4 open beta featured this mode, among others. In my experience, it's a great way for less skilled players to enjoy traditional competitive game types.
  • Horde 3.0 mode: Join a team of up to five players and do battle against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Gears of War 2 introduced Horde Mode to the series and inspired similar modes in numerous other games such as the Call of Duty series. Microsoft won't divulge other specifics about Horde 3.0 mode just yet, but we'll surely learn about it in the months leading up to launch.

Which version to get?

Gears of War 4 E3 screenshot

Pouncers gotta pounce.

Like Halo Wars 2, Gears of War 4 will be released in both Standard and Ultimate Editions. The Standard Edition is simply the base game and will cost $59.99. The Ultimate Edition costs $99.99 and includes come compelling bonuses.

The Gears of War 4 Ultimate Edition comes with several bonuses:

  • Early access – Play Gears 4 four days early (October 7, 2016)
  • Gears 4 Season Pass (exclusive Vintage VIP Pack, one year of unlimited map access, early access to an exclusive VIP playlist and six Gear Packs)
  • Digital version: Vintage Deal Pack (Vintage Del character skin, emblem, two Vintage weapon skins and a unique Vintage Del bounty)
  • Physical version: Steelbook case

Gears 4 also takes things a step further, with a $249.99 physical Collector's Edition. On top of all the physical Ultimate Edition bonuses, it packs the following:

  • JD Fenix on COG Bike Premium Statue by TriForce (also available in an Outsider-themed variation)
  • Frag Grenade Keychain and Exclusive Lithograph by TriForce.
  • In-Game Bonus Content: Includes 3 Gears Crates.

Gears of War 4 launches on October 11 this year. You can preorder it now on both Xbox.com and Amazon. Will you Gears aficionados get the digital version with its Xbox Play Anywhere cross-buy feature or one of the physical releases?

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!