*Warning! This article may include spoilers*
It’s been 13 years since the Gears of War series gifted us with its immersive world and intense online play.
The first game published in November of 2006, and we’re now being treated with Gears 5 releasing tomorrow (unless you bought the Ultimate version or have Xbox Game Pass, then you’ve already been playing it).
The series became an instant hit because of its fantastic love of gore, the muscle-bound refrigerators in power armor, and its iconic chainsaw machine-gun.
However, if you’re a fan, you know it’s not just those things that make this series so much fun. Gears of War also had a compelling story, which told heroic tales of bravery and camaraderie that also dealt with loss and revenge.
You also can’t forget about the multiplayer aspect that captured a generations’ hearts.
Now, we put the games to the test. While I wanted to originally put Gears 5 on this list, it’s still too early to tell where it would fit.
So, which of the five entries of the blood-filled, body-exploding games is the best?
Let’s find out.
5. Gears of War: Judgement
I think it’s safe to say that most people believe this game is the weakest link in the series.
This was the first Gears of War title put out after Microsoft bought the entire Gears IP from Epic Games. Most of the effort found its over to developer People Can Fly (PCF).
PCF had also made Bulletstorm, so our expectations weren’t very high to start with. The main issue is, even the dev admits, that Gears of War Judgment was a struggle to make Gears of War more like Call of Duty.
This was already a red flag.
The game takes place right after Emergence Day, and you follow a young Lieutenant (and least loved character of the original four), Damon Baird, and his team – Kilo Squad.
PCF put a little too much of a focus into replay value rather than content that fans would like. This means that although the main gameplay elements were there, there were some minor things getting in the way.
The Declassified missions, which added modifiers to levels, such as, making double the baddies. You’d have to play modes over again just to get the different unlocks. This felt like more of a chore than it was fun.
There was also the scoring system and being ranked on each round in stars, which felt more like school than it did a video game.
Then there's the multiplayer, which they brought the usual four-weapon system down to two! Players also lost the abilities to plant grenades on walls and have damage boosts from active reloads. Needless to say, fans were not happy.
All-in-all, it just didn't have the same Gears of War DNA as the rest, but, hey, at least it tried.
4. Gears of War 4
Gears of War 4 had the capacity to be so much better. There were so many things in place to become great. The developer team was led by Rod Fergusson, the executive producer of the first three Gears of War games and he brought a lot of his team over to The Coalition. So, hopes were high that Gears 4 would feel and be everything we wanted, after the Epic Games divorce.
However, it left many of us feeling slightly discouraged. The single-player campaign is okay, but it isn't anywhere as strong or emotional as the three original entries. In their defense, The Coalition tried mixing up the style and design.
When all is said and done, though, the new characters can't quite compair with the original team of Marcus, Dom, Baird, and Cole. Which is why they had to bring some of them out of retirement. It’s always telling when a new set of characters can’t hold the new story on their own.
You follow JD Fenix (son of our favorite COG, Marcus Fenix) and his friends, Kait and Del. They must rescue the ones they love and discover the source of a monstrous new enemy. The story seems to drag on, though, because you don’t meet the new bad force until halfway through the game.
The whole first half of the game is about fighting robots and understanding that your government/military is corrupt. Wow. Deep story there. Thanks for that moral tidbit.
I will admit that the multiplayer is the strongest adaptation since the beginning. Gears 4 was also the series’ introduction into esports and it was a blast to watch. Gameplay wise, the characters felt less heavy, and so the action was sped up, which was perfect for fans and esports alike.
The combat is classic Gears too! There was a great range of cool new weapons and compact and competitive maps. Gears 4 wasn’t the best, but it also wasn’t the worst. Being slightly passable is no way to go through life.
3. Gears of War 3
When the weakest of a trilogy story is the last one, people will judge it forever. Think about Return of the Jedi. See what I mean?
At least Gears of War 3 didn’t have some cute, cuddly teddy bears to rescue. So, It wasn't bad at all. But the game lacked the passion and excitement of the story of Gears of War 2 – despite an interesting story line with Marcus's father and Dom's downfall. Although it deserves a higher spot than 4 because it did make me cry at one point or another.
Even though many people still complained, Epic thankfully cleared up the some of online server issues people were having with Gears of War 2 multiplayer. You might ask, “Why would people complain about that?”
Well, not only did they fix and broaden their servers, but they also gave the game way more balance across the weapons. This made the game not just about jumping around like a fish out of water with a shotgun.
Gears of War 3 was more built for the multiplayer fans and those of us who wanted story got only half of what we asked.
2. Gears of War
The number two spot surprisingly goes to the first game. There's no denying that the first Gears of War was amazing. It set up the whole series for Odin's sake.
But just because it’s the first doesn’t always mean it’s the best. So, it doesn't earn the automatic top spot in our ultimate Gears of War ranking.
It still has some of the best combat the games ever saw, and the mechanics are very well done. The multiplayer was great too and, other than the Halo series, it's one of the games that made the Xbox 360 one of my favorites of the previous generation of systems.
It’s hard to forget some of the classic moments from the single-player campaign, the creepy run down Fenix Estate and the whole the train sequence at the end!
I have some of my fondest memories playing co-op with my friends. We even loved playing the story again with the rebuilt Gears of War: Ultimate Edition released in 2015. This game really holds up.
Our number one spot goes to ...
1. Gears of War 2
I have a particularly strong love for Gears of War 2. It’s not only because of that disgusting Riftworm part, where you kill it from the inside, or the fact that I cried for characters we just met in a game when they die.
Epic Games took what it had with the first installment and used its motto of "bigger, badder, more badass" to create the sequel that lived up to that boast.
While the multiplayer may have had some connection issues, it also gave us the fantastic, and forever loved, Horde Mode. This survival mode had my friends and I up for hours on end, night after night. Developers have been trying to get some version of their own Horde Mode in their games for years after.
Also, the story line explored our fantastic four a little more. They perfectly blended the hilarious meathead chatter with actual, relatable, personal emotions.
The action pieces, which we all love, helped connect the outstanding story showing what a good narrative can do. Whether it was riding a gigantic Brumack or murdering your way through the Locust, there were so many memorable moments.
That’s why Gears of War 2 is the best game in the Gears of War series!
What do you think about our list?
Did we leave anything out?
What’s your order of the games?
Tell us in the comments section below.
Top image via Slash Film
This article was written by John D. (AKA SomeBeardy2Love). John has been gaming for 30 years, has a bowtie tattoo, and watches nothing but anime and Bob’s Burgers. He co-hosts a mostly weekly podcast and has a sponsored beard.