The Gears 5 multiplayer technical test kicks off today, July 19, giving fans the first opportunity to try out the Xbox One and PC shooter ahead of its full release in September. GameSpot recently spoke with Gears 5 multiplayer design director Ryan Cleven and eSports creative manager Rose Gunson about the game's new multiplayer features and more.
In the interview, the developers answer our burning questions about the game's new modes and features, including the Arcade, Bootcamp, and Map-building modes. The developers also discuss their broader ambitions for how they wanted to improve the overall multiplayer experience compared to Gears of War 4, how much longer they'll continue to support that game, and how the developers are going about making Gears 5 feel unique while also appealing to veteran fans of the franchise.
On top of that, they discuss Gears 5's new plan to have no season pass or loot boxes (but still offer microtransactions), while the pair also talk about if there could ever be a battle royale mode and more. In addition, they confirm that Gears 5 will have cross-play support for not only multiplayer, but also the new three-player Escape mode, the five-player Horde mode, and three-player campaign.
The first weekend of the Gears 5 tech test began today and runs through Sunday; you must pre-order the game or subscribe to Xbox Game Pass to get in. For lots more, check out GameSpot's rundown of everything you need to know about the Gears 5 tech test.
You can read our full interview below. All responses are from Cleven, except where noted.
GameSpot: When you started out thinking about Gears 5 multiplayer, what were your main considerations or specifics points that you wanted to focus on to grow and improve the experience over Gears 4?
Cleven: With Gears 4 we had two main goals with our Versus multiplayer. We wanted to gain the trust of the fans by demonstrating that we could create a Versus experience that was faithful to the legacy of Gears. Second, we wanted to develop Gears of War into a competitive esport. After learning so much from how our community played Gears and the feedback we were given, we wanted to make a stronger statement with Gears 5. We wanted to make something that both respected the legacy but took Versus in a new direction.
For Gears 5, we chose to focus on three key areas in development:
We saw that, even with our new ranking system and what we felt was more accessible modes, new players still had a hard time jumping into our multiplayer game. This had to change.
Our competitive esports mode, Escalation, was strong, but not best in class. We wanted it to be the best shooter esport out there.
Lastly, our core combat needed modernization. Gears combat has such a strong core, it has lasted for over twelve years relatively unchanged. We felt it was both the right time and the right team to make changes.
What were some of the main pieces of feedback that fans gave you over Gears 4 that you're addressing or improving upon in Gears 5 multiplayer?
We received a lot of feedback over the course of Gears 4. While players enjoyed the fairer matches our new ranking system brought to Gears 4, there were clearly parts of it that players found frustrating and confusing. Our new Division system in Gears 5 brings new ranked leaderboards and rewards to help players better understand what's happening and give incentive to playing every week.
While players enjoyed all the customization content in Gears 4, players were unable to unlock content by achieving specific goals in the game, which was in place for Gears 3. For Gears 5, we've built a totally new system, Tour of Duty, which brings unlockable customization content back to players. Every day, you have fresh objectives to help you rank up in the Tour to unlock exclusive customization options, while completing seasonal medals will also earn you big rewards.
We also received a ton of feedback on the weapon tuning system that was in Gears 4, which included two different tuning sets to help grow our competitive community, one for our core audience and one for our competitive audience, that contributed to fundamentally different paths in gameplay. In Gears 5, we have worked very hard to create a single tuning across both core and competitive modes and we believe we’ve found a single tuning that will make both audiences happy and no one feeling left out.
In Gears 4, you have a very successful multiplayer experience that remains popular today, years after release. Are you planning to continue to support that title after the release of Gears 5?
The Coalition has learned a lot on operating a live game as a service. For Gears 4, we delivered extensive post-launch support in terms of maps, content and gameplay updates. We have learned a lot from our experiences running a live game as a service, and with Gears 5, we have developed a very comprehensive post-launch plan. While we aren’t revealing all the details for this plan just yet, we will be releasing new maps, new modes, new customization content, new hero characters, new events, and more map builder support post-launch. Our Tour of Duty will be updated every season with new challenges and new exclusive content to earn. One of the things we are really excited about, is that at some time post-launch, players will be able to create their own Versus maps in our Map Builder.
As a first-party game, Gears 5 is launching into Xbox Game Pass. This gives you a millions-wide audience right out of the gate. What are you doing to ensure servers are ready?
Our experience running a successful launch of Gears with an ongoing service has given our team a lot of experience with scaling our services. Gears 5, launching into Xbox Game Pass, presents a new challenge for launch. We have built new, modern services using Azure and performed multiple scale tests to simulate a launch, but to be confident in our new technology, we are running a live Technical Test for Gears 5 Versus Multiplayer starting on July 19, open to all pre-orders and members of Xbox Game Pass. This Technical Test will help us find any remaining issues with enough time to address them before launch.
In partnership with Microsoft Research, we have developed an advanced matchmaking system called TrueMatch that uses Azure-based AI learning to help find the best balance of ping, skill, and wait time, but in almost real-time. It adapts to the ever-shifting conditions of matchmaking, to bring the best experience, to players of all skill levels, no matter where they are.
What are your hopes and expectations for the Gears 5 technical test coming up? Given the final release is coming up so soon, is this more a test of the servers rather than gameplay/features?
Our Gears 5 Tech Test is a way for us to evaluate our server performance and listen to our players as to what changes need to be made for both gameplay/features. For Gears 5, we're actively listening to our Gears community during development and will look to further evolve our game modes based on player feedback post-launch.
Our primary goal is to make sure that all Gears 5 players have a fantastic launch experience and testing our technology early enough to be able to react will help us do that.
At this stage, I think people know what to expect from a Gears game. How do you feel about that sense of familiarity? How do you think about providing a multiplayer experience that people find familiar and inviting, but also one that offers something new for seasoned players?
The core combat of Gears 5 is built around a new recoil-based shooting system and in-game feedback system we call Battle Language. Gears 5 will feel very different than previous games while remaining true to the essence of Gears. The rifle game in Versus has been overhauled with the new recoil system for a much more modern combat experience, while the new Inverse Omen will change the way players experience getting hit and being damaged in Gears. For weapons, new ice attacks will freeze players, while Stim will provide players with over-health; both are represented by the new Inverse Omen. In PvE experiences, damage numbers and health bars will help players understand the impact of their characters leveling.
The new Arcade mode is an entirely new way to play Gears Versus. It is a great mode to jump into for first-time Gears Versus players as it will be more familiar to players coming from other PvP games. It blends the visceral, intimate combat of Gears Versus with a light take on hero shooters. Character abilities, unique loadouts and in-game weapon upgrading combine with the new Arcade Team Deathmatch to the most fast-paced, over-the-top Versus experience in Gears history.
To help players jump in faster, we’ve built Boot Camp, a quick introduction to the gameplay of Gears 5. If you have never played Gears before, it provides an engaging and comfortable way to learn the core mechanics. If you’re a Gears veteran, it introduces you to the new mechanics in Gears 5
In the iteration stage of design, how wild or weird or different did you get with Gears 5 multiplayer before settling on the maps, modes, and features in the final product? What kinds of things did you consider that didn't make it into the final release?
We experimented with a lot of modes, maps, weapons and tuning that didn’t make it to the final game, though they might show up post-launch. We are confident that players will love what’s new in Gears 5, including the Ice Cannon and Lancer GL, that fires a mortar, along with our new maps really emphasize the visceral action that Gears is known for.
"Releasing a new entry in an established franchise is always difficult when it comes to navigating fan expectations" -- Cleven
Being a live service game, the fans really let you know how they feel about pretty much every facet of your game. How do you go about walking the line between sticking to your guns creatively and giving fans what they want?
Releasing a new entry in an established franchise is always difficult when it comes to navigating fan expectations. The hardest part is to find the common problems amongst the feedback that can inspire new creative solutions. For example, when a weapon is identified by our community as overpowered, it may be that the weapon is too easy to attain or that the movement speed is too fast or too slow. Listening to many different perspectives gives you more clues on what the deeper issues are and we use this approach to identify the key issues, then look for innovative solutions that solve multiple issues simultaneously to create the tightest designs possible.
What are you doing with Gears 5 to support competitive gaming and esports? I think you've said you want the game to be more "watchable," but what does this mean in practice?
Rose Gunson: One of the focus areas we have for the future of Gears Esports is creating an ecosystem that all audiences can watch at a broad level. We want to encourage a viewership that can come in and watch the storylines unfold between the different teams, while also allowing people to see the highest level of professional Gears gameplay in the world.
Cleven: We have overhauled our competitive ranking system to give all players more understanding of how to improve their play. They will be able to see how they stack up against others in their tier and get detailed information at the end of each match for how they performed.
The new Escalation mode in Gears 5 has been significantly improved to support a higher level of competitive play. The metagame has been vastly expanded to create more options for players and more speculation for viewers. The game has been slowed down to help viewers to follow the action. The gunplay has been evolved to make the shooting more visibly skillful. We have added an announcer to the game to communicate what changes are happening on the map. Overall, we feel Gears 5, with Escalation, is the best shooter Esports experience on the market.
The Halo development team actively works with pro gamers to develop Halo multiplayer. Is this something you also do for Gears?
Gunson: The collaboration between esports production and game development at The Coalition is fantastic. We're really fortunate to sit next to our developers and have the opportunity to go back and forth with what makes sense to further grow and push each other. If we’re all focused on making esports successful, it helps us accomplish a common goal.
Cleven: We value all our players' input to the game. Working directly with the pro player community over the course of Gears helped tremendously with the tuning of Gears 5. We were able to use their deep understanding of the mechanics of Gears, their insight in what it takes to work as a team and their passion for the game to help us better understand the game we were making. Being able to try new ideas out with an open-minded pro community is something that few developers get the opportunity to do, and we certainly appreciate it.
"We value all our players input to the game" -- Cleven
Will there be cross-play between Xbox One and PC like with Gears 4?
We are happy to confirm that Gears 5 will feature cross-platform play between Xbox One and Windows 10 PC for Versus Multiplayer. Cross-platform play also extends across the other Gears 5 modes to provide a great over-the-top three-player experience in Escape, an epic five-player Horde session or three-player Campaign co-op. For the launch of Gears 5, Xbox players will be able to opt-out of matchmaking against PC players for ranked matches.
With Gears 4 cross-play, you experimented with different set-ups for people with keyboard/mouse and controller; how will this work in Gears 5?
With the addition of keyboard and mouse on Xbox consoles, we see the two communities being closer than ever before. Players can choose the control the game how they want to. With few very small exceptions, the mouse and keyboard support will be the same across Xbox and PC. We also support key rebinding and the Xbox Adaptive Controller to enable all types of players to play Gears 5 the way that they want to.
Escape is brand-new for Gears 5. What is this mode all about, and what does it add to the Gears multiplayer experience that wasn't there before?
The fun, high-stakes nature of Escape is built around having a three-person squad, introducing a new level of strategy and communication for players. In Escape, your three-player suicide squad must infiltrate the Hive, plant the bomb and escape with your life. Players enter with a knife and pistol but must pick up resources along their escape route. It’s everything you love about Gears, turned up to 11. Each character has an ultimate ability that will help you outsmart the horde, outrun the venom, and escape alive.
You have said there will be no season pass or random loot boxes, but there are microtransaction opportunities in Gears 5. Can you talk more about what you can acquire with real money and how you've gone about designing an MTX system that respects the players?
We have three sources for customization rewards--Earnable, Purchasable, and Free rewards. The new structure is built to respect player choice: earnable items are not purchasable, purchasable items are not earnable, and free items are only free. The player always knows what they get if they are earning or purchasing content.
As new Hero characters impact gameplay, they will be both earnable and purchasable to players to maintain an equal playing field. Players have full visibility into the Hero Character they are selecting, and there is no randomness involved. New maps and Escape Hives will be free to all. Each of the rewards are divided into seven types of customization: Costumes, Skins, Banners, Expressions, Executions, Blood Sprays, and Marks.
While there are no purchasable loot boxes in Gears 5, there are earnable rewards obtained from simply playing the game. If players choose to purchase separate in-game cosmetic rewards using our premium in-game currency ‘Iron,’ they will have full visibility into what customization items they are purchasing.
What are your plans for ongoing content for Gears 5 multiplayer? Are you fully embracing the new paradigm of games-as-a-service?
In addition to regular new map releases, Versus will support Map Builder post-launch. This will open Versus to the community, which will be able to build and share their own maps. As to our overall philosophy of maps after launch, in Gears 5 our goal is to create a player-first experience when it comes to in-game content, including maps, which will all be free to play in both matchmaking and private. In Gears 5 we will have:
No Season Pass
No Gear Packs
DLC Maps are free for matchmaking and Private Play
Exclusive earnable content in the all-new Tour of Duty system
All store purchases are direct, no RNG, so you always know what you will get
The Arcade mode is new as well. You've described it as unique and approachable for newcomers. Is this in response to feedback that the standard MP was too unforgiving?
For newcomers, we have both a new training mode that we call 'Boot Camp,' which walks players through the core elements of Gears 5 gameplay. The new and approachable multiplayer game type we call 'Arcade' features a style of play more familiar to people playing other modern shooters while still feeling authentically Gears.
Arcade blends the visceral, intimate combat of Gears 5 Versus with a hero system that grants abilities, unique loadouts with unique in-game weapon upgrading to each character. It's faster, more frenetic, with bigger headshots and over-the top action. While returning fans will feel totally at home in Arcade, players new to Gears can jump in and find a more familiar experience than previous Gears games. Arcade is built to be the fastest way to jump in and have fun in Versus.
The new Map Builder seems like an exciting introduction to the series. How robust are these tools? And how will sharing and discovery of user-made maps work?
Map Builder is a new addition to Gears 5 that lets you create custom Escape Hive maps and experiences to share with and challenge your friends. Whether you build it yourself or play a creation from another player, Map Builder provides an approachable tool for players to make fun Escape experiences. We built it to give players the same tools as our developers to build Escape maps.
Sharing maps is easy. With the push of a button, the map is published to our online services where the community can browse multiple feeds, like most played, or trending, to find the experiences they want to play. Players will be able to create Escape maps in Map Builder at launch and other modes will become available after launch.
What are your thoughts on battle royale in Gears 5? Is this something you might consider?
Gears 5 does not include a Battle Royale mode. We have five great experiences in Gears 5 with Horde, Escape, Campaign, and our extensive list of Multiplayer versus modes, with the added customization of the new Map Builder.
We're big fans of the Battle Royale genre, but we would want to ensure we bring a Battle Royale mode to Gears in a meaningful way. We're actively listening to our Gears community and will look to further evolve our game modes based on player feedback post-launch.