Gears Of War: E-Day Is Exactly What The Franchise Needs

From their iconic chainsaw-fitted Lancer Assault Rifle Mk.2 that brutally turns enemies into gloriously gory piles of chop suey, to the gritty and booming sound design that makes every hurdle over a waist-high barrier feel impactful and satisfying, to falling in love with the cast of human tank-like characters led by the scowling (but surprisingly sensitive) Marcus Fenix, Gears of War is a franchise that has long held significant nostalgic value for me. I fondly remember playing through the first game’s campaign via co-op with my cousin and uncle back in 2007; taking turns handing the Xbox 360 controller back and forth between each other as we fought through hordes and hordes of Locust. I remember gawking at the TV screen and being mesmerized by the game’s incredible visuals; feeling more than a smidge of jealousy as a Wii owner who’d only up until then seen PS2-level graphics run at 480p on a good day. It’s the game that convinced me to jump on Microsoft’s platform, with its sequels going on to become some of the main reasons I put the Xbox 360 in my top two consoles of all time–red ring of death be damned.

However, since The Coalition took over the reins from Epic Games in the series’ development after the original trilogy, that same passion for the series has since waned. To be fair, this was less due to the quality of the games The Coalition was outputting for the series and more because of the number of new IPs that competitors were introducing. As such, I switched sides and spent most of the last generation seeing what Sony and Nintendo were cooking up from their offices in Japan. When I eventually did get back into Microsoft’s big green machine it was via Xbox Cloud Gaming, through which I experienced Gears 5. After the twelve or so hours it took me to complete the game’s campaign, I was thoroughly impressed by the work The Coalition had done. So much so that I went back and played through Gears 4, which admittedly was a less stellar experience than Gears 5 but still scratched that classic Gears itch.

Gears of War
There’s nothing quite like the classic Gears gameplay.

Irrespective of my positive thoughts on The Coalition’s entries, the fervour for the Gears franchise, both amongst fellow fans and the general gaming public, seems to me to have dissipated over the past generation, with many still considering the franchise as having peaked with the original trilogy. A franchise that no longer carried the same weight for Xbox as it once did, especially after all these years and Xbox’s continued struggles of outputting solid first-party titles. As such, I was anxious to see how a new Gears game would be received once released. Not because of my lack of trust in The Coalition’s work, but more due to the fading power the franchise has amongst the current gaming public; this especially considering that though Gears 5 supposedly sold fairly well, the series as a whole was never one to sell in the tens of millions. With Xbox Game Studios shockingly slashing some of their high profile developers like Arkane and Tango Gameworks recently, the latter of whom developed the award-winning title, Hi-Fi Rush, puts The Coalition in a precarious position and almost necessitates them to deliver a hit. The problem is whether a Gears 6, even if made impeccably, would be enough to attract both new and old players to the series.

This is precisely why I feel that Gears of War: E-Day, the game that capped off this week’s Xbox Showcase, is the perfect move for Xbox and The Coalition. The riveting and emotional trailer that revealed a younger Marcus and Dom fighting off a Locust during the early days of the war, all with the subtle tunes of “Mad World” chiming in the background, was enough to make my eyes swell. To have a game take place before the events of the first game, effectively re-introducing the world and characters to both those familiar and unfamiliar with the franchise, is something that could potentially reinvigorate the love for our beloved COG soldiers. If done right, E-Day could have the same impact on the series that Yakuza 0 had for the Yakuza franchise. 0 was a game that made it easy for many – particularly in the West – to ease into a story that spanned numerous games and felt almost impenetrable. A game that would go on to be one of the best-selling in the series and whose success would lead to further sales for earlier (and future) games.

Gears of War E Day
DOM! Image: Xbox

Though a prequel is great to entice new players and pull at the nostalgia strings of older ones, there exist some challenges on the narrative and especially gameplay aspects that The Coalition has to keep in mind. Gameplay-wise, it’ll be difficult to introduce vastly new weapons and/or vehicles, as such things would question why their existence wasn’t in the first game. One idea that comes to mind is introducing earlier versions of existing weapons and vehicles that look and feel different; doing so would make for gameplay variety while still keeping in line with the world’s lore. While the narrative aspect should be simpler to tackle, ensuring to be mindful of character traits and the story that’s already been told is essential for keeping the narrative integrity of the story.

Speaking of the story that’s already been told, we have to ask the question: “What about Kait and Gears 6?” My theory is that the decision to do E-Day was to have a game coincide with the upcoming Netflix series that is currently in the works; both helping to bring in new fans to the series with cross-promotion–much like HBO’s The Last of Us and Sony’s remake of the first game. After both of these titles (hopefully) succeed, The Coalition will then return to their trilogy of games and finish the story they started with Kait. Personally, I feel this is a great tactic. Though I’m eager to see how Gears 6 eventually turns out, my Gears itch will be perfectly scratched with E-Day and I can’t wait to once again step into the big clunky boots of Marcus Fenix.

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