Very few franchises have had the kind of impact on the industry that Gears of War did when Epic Games and Microsoft first launched it back in 2006, so it’s not hard to understand why the third person shooter series has been as valuable for Microsoft as something like Halo or Forza since its inception. Sure, it’s had its ups and downs, and yes, many might say that it has lost its prestige over time, and that it isn’t on the same level anymore under The Coalition’s guidance as it used to be under Epic Games- but even when it’s flying relatively low, Gears is still worth paying attention to. Here, we’re going to rank all mainline Gears of War games from worst to best- though really, a more appropriate way of ranking them would be from solid to spectacular.
#7. GEARS OF WAR: JUDGMENT
Gears of War: Judgment definitely feels like the most inessential game in the series, that’s for sure, and there’s certainly a lot about the game that felt like a bit of a letdown. Not all of the changes it made to the core formula were for the better, and even with that in mind, it didn’t make enough changes, which meant that it just didn’t get that balance right. Even so, it had some solid multiplayer content on offer, with Overrun in particular being a great mode, while for series fans, the story was also quite enjoyable, providing greater backstory and context for some beloved characters that didn’t always necessarily get too much of the spotlight. Certainly not Gears’ best moment, but far from bad even so.
#6. GEARS OF WAR 4
When Microsoft established The Coalition and tasked the new studio with overseeing the Gears of War franchise and safely guiding it into the future, the developer had a whole lot to live up to with its first Gears game. With Gears of War 4, they decided to take a safe approach, and that, perhaps, wasn’t something that people were hoping for. While many felt that the series needed a reinvention, Gears of War 4 was instead content to play things by the rulebook- but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a great game. It introduced great new characters, delivered a tightly crafted campaign with excellent mechanics and memorable shootouts, and quite a few memorable set piece moments that rank as some of the best the series has ever delivered. Add to that a solid Horde mode and an enjoyable multiplayer component, and what you have is a solid, enjoyable, yet unambitious third person shooter.
#5. GEARS TACTICS
The Coalition and Splash Damage teamed up for this one, and ended up delivering a much better game than any of us had expected it would be. A series like Gears of War, which is so reliance on team-based tactical shootouts against the backdrop of cover-based mechanics, does make a lot of sense as an XCOM-style turn-based tactics title, and Gears Tactics proved that the idea can be just as good in practice as it is on paper. Gears Tactics is addictive, mechanically deep and dense, and consistently enjoyable, with great progression, engaging strategy gameplay, and excellent customization mechanics. Sure, it can get a little repetitive in terms of its side quests, and the story isn’t the most perfectly paced, but this is an excellent turn-based tactics debut for the series, and we’re hoping it’s the first of many of its kind.
#4. GEARS OF WAR
The one that started it all, and immediately went down in history as one of the most revolutionary and influential games ever made. Cover-based third person shooting has become such a widespread staple that it’s hard to even think of it as a special mechanic anymore, but it was Gears of War that pioneered and revolutionized that excellent gameplay mechanic and built a spectacular shooter around it. And there was so much else that helped the game standout, from the iconic chainsaw Lancer and the brutal executions to something like the active reload mechanic, which, too, is something that games of all kinds have been aping since 2006. All of that combined with the introduction of memorable (and eventually iconic) characters and the establishment of a legendary franchise ensured that Gears of War would always be remembered as an all-time great.
#3. GEARS OF WAR 2
Following up on a revolutionary, genre-defining game such as the original Gears of War is no easy task, but Epic Games did it with great aplomb, confidently delivering one of the best third person shooters you’ll ever play. It was really the perfect sequel in every way possible. On the multiplayer front, this was when the series truly came into its own, thanks to wide-ranging and robust offerings that players could sink dozens upon dozens of hours into. Most notable was the introduction of Horde mode, which would go on to take the industry by storm and is being aped by games to this do, to the point that it’s basically become a trope. Meanwhile, the campaign was excellent as well, delivering memorable set pieces and surprisingly emotional narrative developments in one expertly paced package. With Gears of War 2, Epic Games took the winning formula of the first game and improved upon it to cement the series’ legacy forever.
#2. GEARS 5
After playing things safe with Gears of War 4 and showing to the world that they were capable of making a perfectly serviceable classic Gears of War experience, The Coalition decided that with Gears 5, it was time to get more ambitious- and we’re glad they did, because they ended up delivering one of the series’ best games in years. The campaign is right up there with the likes of Gears 2 and 3 in terms of quality, thanks to excellent pacing and a nice mix of tightly designed shootouts and more open ended areas. The addition of light stealth mechanics and Jack as a companion add a whole new layer of strategy and progression to the experience as well, making the experience that much more engaging. Meanwhile, with the trifecta of Horde, Escape, and Versus, Gears 5 also offers the deepest, most varied, and most robust multiplayer component of any Gears of War game till date, and better yet, it’s only kept on improving as time as gone on. Add to that the excellent single player campaign expansion of Hivebusters, which might just be the best single player Gears of War content ever produced by The Coalition, and the game becomes that much more of an irresistible package.
#1. GEARS OF WAR 3
By the time Gears of War 3 rolled around, the series was firing on all cylinders. Knowing that they were capping off the entire trilogy, Epic Games took this opportunity to build on all the strengths of the first two games, and ended up delivering the most confident, refined, and full-featured Gears of War game at the time. The campaign was a rollercoaster from start to finish, excellently tying off the trilogy’s story with a great mix of high-octane adrenaline-fueled action and high-stakes and emotional character-driven moments. The multiplayer was brimming with content, with excellent maps, characters, and weapons to sink your teeth into, while the Horde mode was perfected even further, especially with the introduction of Beast mode, which was, in essence, a reversal of Horde itself. It was, in every way possible, the zenith of the Gears of War formula, and an appropriately excellent way for Epic Games to sign off from the franchise.