It’s fair to say that I am the most seasoned Gear currently writing for CraveOnline. I logged in 80 days of play in the original Gears of War and another 40 playing Gears of War 2. I took down General Raam on Insane difficulty, beat every chapter as Dom and played hours of joyous Horde mode. I’ve spent more days playing a Gears of War title than I have any other game. It’s an essential component of my gaming DNA. With all of that said, here’s my take on the Gears of War 3 beta so far.
First up, let’s exam the new ish. The first obvious change is how Gears of War 3 connects to a server. It loads a lobby similar to how Halo 3 found players. Gears now looks for well connected players first and then locates it’s server. So far, this appears to make for better connected games and a more functional online multiplayer. If a player joins a match in session, he will go into to spectator mode waiting for an open slot. It appears that the player has to wait until after the round has been completed before he can take the place of an AI bot. At least in Team Deathmatch these rounds are relatively short. A player is not forced to wait for too long to jump in and play. I can’t tell you how many times I got dumped out of Gears of War 2 lobbies or matches for some ridiculous reason.
Also, new to the Gears series, are ribbons, weapon unlockables, and unlockable player skins. Ribbons are similar to sub-achievements that are featured in a slew of other games like Street Fighter IV and Halo 3. These ribbons recognize players for individual accomplishments in one round or match (like being the last surviving player or for accumulating the most headshots). Weapon and player skin unlockables allow for dedicated players to customize the appearance of their avatars and weaponry. It’s always nice to see these kind of unlockables built into the game and done so without extra cost to the player. Now, I’m not 100% sure that these unlockables won’t be up for purchase at a later date (see any EA title in the past four years); however, for now, the ability to change my lancer to a flaming lancer is pretty cool. All three of these new features are welcome bonuses to multiplayer gameplay and add even more replay value to the experience.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a new iteration in a successful shooter franchise without some new weapons, right? New this go-around are a retro lancer, digger launcher, sawed-off shotgun, one shot, and incendiary grenades. So far, I’ve played around with each of these weapons but it’s tough to really play with them while being hunted by another team. In the harsh online competition I found the digger launcher to be the most effective new weapon and the sawed-off shotgun to be the most challenging. The digger launcher shoots an underground earthquake that acts differently than any other Gears weapon before. The sawed-off is a powerful shotgun designed for instant close-quarters kills; however, you’ll need to really get close to work it out. Overall, I liked the new weapons but I found myself sticking to my tried-and-true lancer. It would have been nice to have an offline tutorial to explain how to use the new weapons; even if this is assuredly going to be in the retail version of Gears 3.
There are also a bunch of new maps to play on. They all seem relatively balanced and fair thus far. There seems to be quite a bit of three-dimensional leveling here designed to make gameplay more vertical. Despite that shift, feel safe in knowing that Gears still is nowhere near as vertical as a Halo game. You won’t need to spend twenty minutes looking through the sky for flying gears, bouncing boomers, or hang-gliding Anya’s.
The three new maps are Trenches, Thrashball, and Checkout. Trenches is a dusty and decrepit relic that hearkens back to the battlefields of World War I. It has more height than the other two maps and reminded me a bit of Raven Down from the original Gears of War. Thrashball takes place in a destroyed arena that reminded me of the old American Gladiators. There’s a battlefield in the center and some high and low ground that act as great defensive positions. Finally, Checkout is a more traditional flat map that takes place in a grocery store. This seems to be the most normal map of the bunch and will likely get a ton of play. Overall, these are some great maps and feel pretty close-quartered even though this is the third game in the series.
One of the big questions left over from Gears of War 2 was whether or not this game would have major online connectivity problems. As Erik let you guys know last week, which I’m here to confirm, I haven’t noticed any issues connecting to matches (so far). I saw small spikes of lag or latency; however, it was not game breaking and was typical of most games. For now, this game looks to work just fine when it finally comes out.
The last new innovation that I really enjoyed (and you might not notice) is the added functionality of the left bumper. Before the left bumper could be used to track the other players from your squad when you wanted to reconnect (or revive them). Now it also reveals where specialty weaponry is located. So, if you’re new to a map and want to see where the mortar is, just pop the LB and you’ll be launching death from above in no time.
Overall, I’m having a great time testing out the new Gears of War 3 multiplayer. It’s not so different that experienced players are going to be upset but advanced enough that you’ll want to give this puppy a run through. I can still say that this game is part of one of the best franchises of this generation. If you’re a big Gears fan already this should do nothing to make that feeling waiver.