Gears 5 shows Microsoft is finally taking PC gaming seriously

Gears 5
Gears 5 (Image credit: The Coalition)

Gears 5 comes as Microsoft scales its PC ambitions, promising a healthy roster for in-house titles for Windows gamers. It looks to replicate the success of its Xbox Game Pass subscription service on PC, while a sleek Xbox Game Bar and app experience bring a much-improved spin on its supporting ecosystem. The fifth entry in its brutal third-person shooter drops at a crucial time when Microsoft finally has a chance to sway its perception in PC gaming.

Packing a variety of PC improvements over Microsoft's past titles, Gears 5 leaves hopes high for what lies ahead.

Embracing Steam (and the Microsoft Store)

Microsoft's PC gaming investments previously lied exclusively with its integrated Windows 10 storefront, acting as a direct line to Xbox experiences beyond the console. While establishing a robust bridge with Xbox One, the Microsoft Store failed to resonate with the broader PC market. Now doubling down its PC efforts, the platform holder recently pledged to better third-party support, including Steam.

Gears 5 is first slated to hit Steam, followed by Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Age of Empires, and other PC titles under the Xbox Game Studios publishing label. While maintaining close ties to Xbox One and Windows 10, with cross-play between versions, it brings a long-awaited choice for those behind the mouse and keyboard.

Early efforts indicate Microsoft positions Steam as a fundamental client, opening the title to an untapped PC audience. Steam buyers receive the full experience alongside platform-specific features, including Steam Achievements, Trading Card drops, and other inclusive Steam services. While losing Microsoft Store-exclusive initiatives like Xbox Play Anywhere, purely having a choice is welcomed by many.

While Gears 5 ventures beyond Microsoft's in-house storefront, the game still features deep-rooted ties to Xbox Live. Gears 5 requires players to sign into a free Xbox account warns the Steam listing, either via a new or existing profile. According to Microsoft, Xbox Live brings the Gears 5 experience together, supporting cross-play with Xbox One and Windows 10, while hooking into Xbox social features and achievements.

Gears 5's PC settings aren't holding back

While Microsoft is far from a newcomer in the PC gaming scene, past efforts to replicate its Xbox dominance were questionable at best. Overlooking PC-centric features otherwise commonplace, with resentment lingering from the days of Games for Windows Live, it's understandable how Microsoft pushed itself to the sidelines.

Seemingly better committed in 2019, Microsoft now brings more with each PC release, including the expected customizability. First pledged for Halo: The Master Chief Collection on PC and since adopted for Gears 5, we see a ton of advancements over the three-year-old predecessor.

The package retains many of Gears of War 4's triumphs, including 4K HDR gameplay with overhead for uncapped framerates. Now updated with added granularity for graphical options, Microsoft touts over 35 graphics variables to tweak. Top-tier builds can also leverage an optional "Ultra" texture bundle, drawing full power from leading hardware. Support for 21:9 ultrawide and 32:9 super ultrawide makes an appearance for wrap-around displays too.

Gears 5 revives Windows 7 support

While Microsoft is committed to Windows 10, the install base backing Windows 7 remains strong over one decade later. Adoption of Microsoft's latest OS has grown via upgrade paths and new hardware sales, but a glance at the Steam Hardware & Software Survey shows a 20 percent share of holdouts in July 2019. And in a surprising move, Gears 5 will support Windows 7 via Steam too.

Gears 5 on Steam comes packaged as a traditional Win32 title, like its Microsoft Store counterpart ditching the Universal Windows Platform. Purchasing on Steam invites those running a 64-bit Windows 7 install, provided you're covered by Windows 7 Service Pack 1, rocking a bunch of security and bug fixes.

With mainstream Windows 7 support axed in 2015 and end of life status scheduled for early 2020, it's an unexpected move. Microsoft has keenly pushed Windows 10 adoption, with continued incentives to embrace its service-based OS. But for the remaining few running the older Windows flavor, it's a welcomed move from Redmond.

Gears 5 brings 3-player split-screen to PC

Split-screen gaming is a staple of console couch gaming, and while less common in the modern online world, the nature of PC rarely even accounts for the tradition. It's what makes the Gears 5 experience so distinctive, bringing 3-player split-screen action to Xbox One, and also reflected on PC versions. Paired up with ultrawide support, such players could secure reasonable screen real estate.

A trio of friends can band together this September, extending across the full suite of cooperative modes. With the Gears 5 story campaign built for up to three players, local multiplayer treats PC players to the full experience. It also branches into the iconic wave-based Horde mode and the new three-player Escape, where players clear out a Locust hive as toxic gas tails behind.

Extending the Xbox Game Pass family

Xbox Game Pass

Xbox Game Pass (Image credit: Microsoft)

Headlining Microsoft's fall 2019 lineup, Gears 5 also lies fundamental to the early days of Xbox Game Pass for PC. Steadily expanding on Xbox One, the Netflix-style subscription service has since branched to Windows 10, serving up over 100 digital games for a flat monthly fee. With first-party blockbusters locked for day-one and continued acquisitions under Xbox Game Studios, the rotating library is slated to scale with time.

Xbox Game Pass already poses high value, with Gears 5 joining an already sizeable content lineup. The title also serves as Microsoft's first heavy hitter post-Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, bundling three $10 services for half the price. While Gears 5 ships for all tiers, Microsoft's top-rank membership boasts Gears 5 "Ultimate Edition," including its four-day early access and in-game benefits.

Ongoing Game Pass promotions sweeten the deal, allowing PC players to trial the subscription for $1. In essence, Gears 5 for one buck – not bad.

The horde awaits

Leading Microsoft's 2019 lineup, Gears 5 is shaping up with promise on PC, alongside its Xbox One counterpart. While Gears 5 remains a signature of Microsoft's Xbox family, the continued expansion of its PC efforts support a new wave of players for the heavyweight shooter. Heightened offerings signal PC as a first-class citizen, with hopes of building a fresh following with its ancillary modes.

In the meantime, Gears 5 is available for preorder ahead of September 10, while also included under Xbox Game Pass.

Updated August 26, 2018: Corrected mention of Gears 5 for Windows 10 as a Universal Windows Platform application, since clarified by Senior Community Manager at The Coalition.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.