Gears 5 is exactly the game Microsoft needed right now.
The difference in the Metascore for Gears of War 4 and Gears 5 actually isn’t that great – as of the time of me writing this, only 1 point separates the two games on the review aggregator site. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story, and the difference in how the two games have been received by players and the industry at large is axiomatically self-evident. Where Gears of War 4 was viewed as a disappointingly safe and iterative entry in a franchise that was already starting to get stale, at a time when multiple franchises had begun reinventing themselves, Gears 5 has been embraced by everyone as being the kind of change that the franchise needed, while delivering a fantastic core package for fans and newcomers alike.
There are those who may want to argue that Gears 5 is Microsoft’s God of War or Breath of the Wild moment, and the comparison appears tempting for several reasons. Like those games, Gears 5 is a reinvention of its series, achieved at least in part by going more open than previous entries, and restoring the prestige to its brand like those games did. However, God of War and Breath of the Wild were complete, total, from the ground up, radical rethinking of their respective franchises. Gears 5, thankfully, is not that.
Yes, I said thankfully. There’s a reason for that, which is that Gears didn’t need that kind of reinvention. What Gears needed is exactly what it got – its own Monster Hunter World moment. That is, taking a long running and beloved franchise, and doubling down on the core that made it so beloved to begin with, while cutting away the fluff, and making meaningful expansions to the mechanics where necessary. For Microsoft, a game like Gears 5 was far more important at the present moment in time.
Microsoft’s struggles this generation are well documented. I do not mean as a platform holder, on which front they have made a marvelous turnaround for which I have little to no critique left at this point. I do, however, mean as a software publisher. Sony and Nintendo have moved from strength to strength, putting out multiple beloved and generation defining games (often in a single year), and investing in new IP while they revitalize their older ones. Microsoft, on the other hand, have suffered studio closures, high profile game cancellations, disappointing releases, and their vaunted flagship IP losing their luster, including Halo and Gears.
This problem, incidentally, is nowhere close to being resolved. Just a few months ago, they released Crackdown 3, which stands as one of the weakest high profile releases in a while, in a window that also includes Anthem and Fallout 76. However, Gears 5 is a show of confidence and good faith from the embattled publisher. Here Microsoft has taken a franchise beloved by many initially, and then derided for being stale and irrelevant, and put out a new, well received entry in that series by doing exactly what Gears of War is known for, and just doing it well. There’s no reinvention here to catch the attention of new audiences- anyone who has been sold on Gears 5, which, yes, does in fact include said new audiences, has been sold on the same premise and core formula that was criticized as stale and undesirable just a few years ago. Yes, it’s a bit more open now, and there have been changes made to freshen things up, but this is unmistakably still Gears of War.
Microsoft here is showing us that they can still keep the franchises from them we once loved, and which are now in danger of dying out, relevant in a rapidly changing industry. For many, who once were interested in Xbox to play Gears of War and Halo, but hopped off once both franchises started declining, this is an important message: Halo and Gears still matter, and they can still be (and in the case of Gears, are) fresh and beloved. If you liked those games before, you might want to start paying attention to them again.
Just relying on Halo, Gears, and Forza will, of course, not help Microsoft compensate for the egregious errors they have made as a game maker this generation. Even the vaunted Fable revival, if it does end up happening, is not enough. Microsoft needs fresh and exciting new games, games of the sort that it does not usually put out, to get people interested in Xbox, and more importantly, get them interested in Xbox enough to want to spend money on the platform, enough. Microsoft needs new faces and new IP, and to their credit, that’s what they have started building with their recent studio acquisitions. With players like inXile, Ninja Theory, and Double Fine in their corner, Microsoft does have the potential of putting out a lot of great, beloved, acclaimed games next generation which make people buy into the Xbox Scarlett ecosystem. That may or may not pan out for them, but it is clear they have started taking steps to make it go their way. I can hardly criticize them there.
But equally important is keeping your beloved IP relevant and fresh. This is something I have always said, and something I said Sony had finally come to terms with when God of War was a hit for them. This is the kind of thing Nintendo has always understood – invest in new IP and franchises, sure, but the power of nostalgia cannot be understated. Nostalgia does not mean simply slapping a veneer of familiar imagery and putting out a new game – otherwise Halo 5: Guardians would have been the most loved game in the series yet. It means putting out a new game that respects what players loved about the originals, while also doing new things to attract new fans. Nintendo knows how to do this, which is why it has an enviable arsenal of so many beloved franchises. Sony has now learned to do it as well. And with Gears 5, it is evident that Microsoft has received the message too.
Next year, the Xbox Scarlett will launch, and Microsoft has already confirmed that we can expect Halo Infinite to launch alongside it. We haven’t seen much of Halo Infinite, but the few rumors we have for it indicate that it may be exactly the kind of reinvention that God of War and Breath of the Wild were. In that case, Microsoft will have reached the next stage as a game publisher – having the confidence to radically reinvent a beloved IP without losing the essence of what made it great to begin with. That, and their new projects, I eagerly look forward to. But for now, Gears 5 was exactly what was needed from them, and what they delivered. It signals the start of a new chapter for Microsoft.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.