Last week I got the incredible opportunity to go to Epic Games HQ in Cary, North Carolina as part of the Microsoft Expert Zone promotion. We got the obligatory tour of the studio, were given some awesome gear, and of course got the chance to play Gears of War: Judgment before it comes out.
Now I must admit, I have yet to play the latest in the Gears franchise and of all the many things I’ve read up on the game, I was a little worried. I knew the Epic team was excited about the prequel, with various developers in the past few months telling me all about the changes they were making. I could tell that they truly believed in this game, that the changes they were making weren’t simply calculated, but were true advancements to the series, in their eyes anyway. Still, I was worried as a Gears fan to hear that the game is going to be a two weapon system (as opposed to the Gears’ normal four weapon D-Pad layout) or to hear that “Down But Not Out (DBNO)” was being removed from much of the multiplayer experience, thus removing many of the game’s much loved executions. It gave me reason to worry. Was this new Gears prequel really going to be a Gears of War game, or some kind of third person Call of Duty? It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Epic, but plenty of my other favorite game studios (Bioware, Blizzard, Bungie) have let me down before.
However, a funny thing happened when I sat down to play. First up was the starting chapter of campaign. As I gained control of Lieutenant Baird, locust emerged from various doorways and a grub hole. I took aim and fired my Lancer, emptying half a clip in the nearest grub. As they moved in closer I went to switch to my shotgun and that’s where the game surprised me. As a long time Gears of War fan, I’m used to the D-Pad being used to switch weapons. I got all of my weapon achievements in Gears 1, and loved bouncing between my Lancer and Gnasher throughout Gears 2 until I earned my wings. Yet, when I played Judgment, the first instant I had to switch weapons, by instinct alone as a gamer, I pressed “Y” and Baird switched to his Gnasher. How smooth and quick it was caught me by surprise. I then realized, this is why the two weapon system works in many games. It’s fluid, quick, and reliable. No more messing up with the D-Pad, no more accidentally pulling out my pistol or a smoke grenade when I really needed a shotgun. Just press Y.
From there, the single player portion of the game just got better and better. Tossing grenades with the left bumper was easy and made grenades much more fun. But it was also nice to be able to hold the left bumper down to get the tossing arch allowing me to better aim my grenade throws. Using the boom shield with a primary weapon was also a lot of fun. I moved down hallways with my team behind me as if I were taking point on a SWAT team.
My favorite part of the single player would have to be the challenge system. It adds extra dialog and little bits of story, not to mention making the campaign all the more challenging. One of the challenges I remember best was to clear an area before the Hammer of Dawn was activated. Apparently some of the COGs didn’t know we were in the area. I lost the challenge twice on Hardcore difficulty, but I couldn’t give up and ended up getting past it on my third try. The challenges also appear randomly, requiring you to play through the game multiple times if you want to see them all. Which is a unique feature, especially since the in-game dialog changes every time you restart. I heard three different openings from Baird and each time I was surprised when he didn’t say what I was expecting. The AI will also trick you at times, as they spawn randomly. The second time I lost the Hammer of Dawn challenge for instance, was because after restarting from my last checkpoint, I prepared myself to face the enemies I had just died to. My first time through was against Snipers and Boomers, so I switched to all long range weapons. However, the second time trying to get through this area I was greeted by an entirely different enemy composition of Wretches and Grinders. Needless to say, I really wish I had kept my shotgun! Overall I loved the campaign. It is fresh, enjoyable, and has the most replay value I’ve seen from a shooter campaign since Bulletstorm.
To be honest though, I was never worried about the campaign of the new game. My real fear was in multiplayer, which we had the opportunity to play next. We started in Free-For-All mode, completely new to the series, and within my first two kills I was completely over my fear of change. First I got to try the new scout grenade. it allowed me to see all the enemies in the radius of the grenade. I saw my first target and I came up behind him taking him down with my chainsaw. Next target comes in from my left and I lancer him some, only to finish him with a melee from my pistol. He doesn’t go “Down But Not Out”, he just falls over dead. Which at first is sad, because I can’t execute him, but I’m quickly over that as the game moves so fast. The last guy had a shotgun so I took it to replace my pistol and what followed was a bloodbath. I took down six different people in a small streak that was so satisfying I can hardly put it into words. When I was finally gunned down by someone sporting the Retro Lancer, I realized, had this been any other Gears of War I’d be on my knees right now waiting to get curb stomped and honestly, do I need to be here for this? He shot me, I’m downed, he’s going to kill me, I get it, let me respawn already! But that’s not the case in Gears of War Judgment. Respawning is quick. I was shot, killed, and back again for more right away. I absolutely loved it.
The maps are one thing I want to note. They are designed so well, making good use of the more fluid playstyle that Gears has adapted to. The map we were playing on was “Streets” which was a lot of fun. They’ve made it so you can now move along tons of terrain with no more being boxed in. See a window? Jump through it. On the roof of a building? Jump down, if you are brave enough. Most of my kills simply came from my mobility as I darted through alleyways and across rooftops, sneaking up on foes pre-occupied with other players. Things moved so fast, and the weapons have been tuned perfectly to work for this new found speed. I found active reloading to be easier, and grenades to be far more accessible and useful. I think the only weapon that does not pick up in speed was the Hammer of Dawn. But because of the sheer power of it, perhaps that is for the best!
Lastly, we got the chance to play Overrun, which I can predict will be taking hours of my time in the coming months. Playing Horde and Beast were a lot of fun for me. You may remember I’ve participated in multiple marathon streaming events in both Horde and Beast mode, but as much fun as those were, they got repetitive. Everything in those modes got stale after so many waves, but with the new Overrun, things felt fresh as I was facing real people. I didn’t need to worry about pre-programmed tickers who would run up and kill me. Instead, I had to worry about savvy players who would use the Ticker in ways I’ve never seen. One match in particular I lost because, while we were stopping all the Drones, Wretches, and Kantus from advancing on us, we failed to notice a single Ticker had gotten through and was scratching away at our generator. That ticker was winning the match for the locust all by himself! How did I let that happen? Way to go team! -facepalm-
The class system for the COGs was great, I played as the Medic mostly, using my stim-grenade to keep my allies full on health, but found plenty of benefits to the Sniper class being able to scale certain walls. However be warned, Wretches can scale the same walls and will kill you. This happened to me at least twice, the crafty bastard! When I got my chance at playing the locust I was surprised to see the familiar charm of playing as a Ticker or Wretch had not faded since Beast Mode. What was especially nice was to see how balanced it was, they perfected the different classes to make sure they weren’t too overpowered. For example, the Berseker in Beast Mode in Gears of War 3 was similar to God Mode. That’s been toned down, but not removed entirely. While the Berserker is not present in Overrun, she’s been replaced with the cheaper, but still effective Rager. The Rager is a smaller, weaker drone, but can rage out and become this monstrous, berserker-esque beast. We were lucky enough to get three of these attacking the COGs at the same time in our play through winning us the game. But be warned, the Rager’s “hulk mode” as I like to call, is time limited. So if you fail to kill the COGs quickly, you’ll be pretty red in the face when you shrink down in front of them only for them to blow you away!
As I posted on Twitter yesterday, I am absolutely thrilled with the new Gears of War: Judgment, and every fear I had is gone. I think one of my fellow testers said it best, “Everyone of the changes made us question the new game, but once we played it, it’s clear to see why there changes were made and just how much they have paid off.” I cannot wait to get the game come March 19th, and I invite everyone to join me as I will undoubtedly playing this game endlessly for the coming months.
Nice! I noticed you said “Drones” were in Overrun. Did you mean Grenadiers or did they replace the grenadiers with drones?
I believe it was still Grenadiers! Sorry, I’m used to calling them all just “drones” forgetting the proper titles. Except for Cyclops…I remember their name because they scare me.
One match in particular I lost because while we were stopping all the Drones and Wretches, and Kantus from advancing on us, we failed to notice a single ticker had gotten through and was scratching away at our generator, winning the for the locust all by himself. How did I let that happen? Way to go team! -facepalm-
The last part doesn’t sounds right please read. Great information thanks!
Thanks for the heads up, I’ll fix that, and glad you enjoyed it!