The Gears of War franchise popularized the idea of a Horde mode, in which players work together to take on waves of enemies, and it's iterated on the shooter concept ever since. Gears 5 is bringing even more changes to the mode, building on the refinements of Gears of War 4 and drawing from the ideas and features of a lot of other modern-day shooters.
The Coalition showed us a hands-off demo of Gears 5's Horde mode in action at Gamescom and provided a whole lot of new information about it. Leading the changes in Gears 5 is an idea taken from games like Overwatch, Apex Legends, and other hero-based shooters. You won't just pick a class specialization in Gears 5 Horde mode; you'll choose a particular character, and each one has specific strengths and weaknesses based on the role they play on your four-player squad.
The class-based distinctions from Gears of War 4 still exist--some characters are good for building fortifications, some are better at laying down fire, and some are best-suited for leaving the base and scrounging up Horde mode's big resource, Power. But instead of just focusing on which character class you want, you'll pick a hero with specific capabilities in Horde, and progress them as you play.
Support For Support
Most of the characters seen in Gears 4 are making their return for Horde mode in Gears 5, with a few notable additions. Chief among them is Jack, the invisible helper robot that's been tagging along with Marcus Fenix and his crew throughout the franchise, but is now actually playable. In most of the Gears games, Jack decloaks in combat situations to do stuff like open a door or hack a computer.
In Horde mode, he presents the opportunity to have a completely different experience from the beefy crew of human soldiers. Jack is purely a support unit, and given his lack of hands, can't wield a gun. He can zip about the battlefield healing teammates, stunning enemies, and gathering resources to help the rest of the team. When you want to mix it up, Jack's Ultimate ability lets you take control of an enemy, allowing you to snag big beasties and use them to tear into their former comrades.
Jack's inclusion highlights Gears 5's focus on broadening the possibilities of Horde mode. From the sound of things, The Coalition is building on the accessibility it introduced last time out, using hero characters to support a number of player roles. It's also heightening the Horde mode skill ceiling for people who really want to get lost in it. Like last time, you'll specialize your role as you play Horde mode: engineers are best at building fortifications, scouts are made for running around gathering resources and mixing up with enemies, tanks draw fire, and snipers put down tough enemies from a place somewhat removed from danger. Each character has their own loadouts and passive perks that help support their roles and your specific playstyle, plus Ultimate abilities you can access after they've charged up that give you major boosts on the battlefield. Those abilities can combo together with your teammates' to give them bonuses, too.
Horde Mode Characters
The Coalition ran down every character that will be in Horde mode at launch, including three DLC characters: Emile-A239 and Kat-B320 from the Halo: Reach character pack, and Sarah Connor from the Terminator: Dark Fate character pack.
- Kait -- Scout
- Ultimate: Kait goes invisible, but she can still melee and execute enemies even while they can't see her.
- Del -- Engineer
- Ultimate: Del calls in two robot units to back him up, which fight enemies until they eventually explode.
- Jack -- Support
- Ultimate: Jack's ability allows him to take control of an enemy and use them in battle.
- Fahz -- Offense
- Ultimate: Fahz can see enemies, and shoot them, through walls and other obstructions.
- JD -- Offense
- Ultimate: JD uses the underslung mortar launcher on his new Lancer GL to do massive area damage.
- Marcus -- Tank
- Ultimate: Marcus uses his status as a living legend to inspire nearby allies to land constant headshots.
- Emile-A239 -- Offense
- Ultimate: Borrowing from Halo: Reach, Emile uses a drop shield to soak up damage and protect himself and teammates.
- Kat-B320 -- Engineer
- Ultimate: Also seen in Halo: Reach, Kat drops a hologram decoy that draws the attention of enemies.
- Sarah Connor -- Tank
- Ultimate: The Coalition drew inspiration from Sarah taking down the T-1000 with a shotgun at the end of Terminator: Judgment Day; she blasts away at enemies with a shotgun, stunning and damaging groups of enemies.
Matching Your Style
You'll further customize characters to your playstyle as you level them up, with tweaks you can make both on and off the battlefield. The returning Skill Cards give you small boosts you can assign to characters at the start of a Horde match, and you'll earn more cards as you play. There are 14 cards available for each character at launch, and as you earn duplicates, you'll be able to rank them up to make them more effective.
Apart from leveling up your characters as you play matches, you'll also be able to turn on perks as you play to make yourself stronger in the middle of a Horde run. You do that by spending Power resources. The whole team shares Power that you pick up on the battlefield (or you can move or expand your base to take advantage of new Power Taps that dispense a regular flow), so you'll need to decide between using it to build fortifications or to build up your character. You get four perks on each character and can rank each one up 10 times, making you pretty formidable as you get to the toughest of Horde's levels.
As for difficulty, Horde mode lets you tweak quite a bit about just how tough its matches become, but The Coalition is also working to make things more accessible so you can get exactly the experience you want. You can add modifiers to each run to make it more challenging, such as giving enemies more health or making them more deadly, and your rewards become better when you take on tougher challenges. But it's also possible to fire up Horde mode solo thanks to new AI-controlled teammates. They're not nearly as good as their human counterparts--for example, AI buddies don't get Ultimates--but they give you a chance to play when you don't have a full team handy, and they'll replace human teammates if they drop out of a match in the middle.
All these changes look to make Horde mode something that's both more accessible and more engaging for players long-term, which makes sense given The Coalition's focus on making the mode into more of a live-service affair. Expect additional characters, maps, and modes to drop in the future, along with battle pass-like seasonal content. Maps, modes, and other content will be free, as will some new characters; other characters and cosmetic items you'll buy through microtransactions. But The Coalition noted that, like in other hero shooters, new characters won't just be new skins--they'll offer full new experiences that should continue to add more variety to Horde as it goes on.