With the release of Gears of War 4 right around the corner, I had a chance to talk with Chuck Osieja, creative director at The Coalition, to get a little more insight into this newest chapter in the franchise.

EGM: Did you ever entertain the thought of having Gears of War 4 pick up more closely after the end of Gears of War 3?

Chuck Osieja: Sure. We explored a wide range of ideas of where in the timeline we wanted to set the game. The Gears of War universe has such a rich history, and such a great cast of characters with interesting personalities, that we were really unlimited to where we could go with a new story. The question really became “how do we create something new and interesting that still feels grounded in the Gears universe and is familiar to fans of the franchise?”

After a lot of discussion, we all got really excited by the concept of exploring what Sera would be like after 25 years of peace. What does the world look like now? How does it recover from years of war and destruction? How does it rebuild when most of the population has been wiped out? What does a new generation of characters look like, and how do they deal with a new deadly threat when they’ve never faced conflict in their lifetime?  Telling the story of JD Fenix and his relationship with his father Marcus is one of the central narrative themes of Gears 4, and to be able to explore that and take this franchise in a new direction was something we found very intriguing and inspiring.

EGM: Can you tell us about The Swarm?

Osieja: Fans are going to love the Swarm. They are a brand new enemy in the Gears of War world and they bring a whole new feeling to the combat. The variety in the Swarm is like nothing players have seen in Gears before. They come in a wide variety of styles, and each brings a unique threat to each combat encounter.

There will naturally be some comparison between the Locust and Swarm—this occurs mainly in the “mirror” enemies, though. These are enemies that act like the player, or mirror their abilities. This makes up the foundational layer of enemies in a cover-based combat experience. Then you start to branch off into more unique units and abilities. This is where the similarities between the two ends, and the Swarm become very unique and distinctive.

The way they act, strategize, and fight in encounters adds a whole new dimension to the game. A big emphasis for some of the Swarm was to design enemy characters that really leverage cooperative gameplay. Gears has always been at its best when you play with someone else, and we wanted to really emphasize teamwork between players when fighting the Swarm.

Juvie Closeup

EGM: Will wind flares be a recurring obstacle for JD and his crew, as opposed to Razorhail or the Kryll, which were limited to small sections of their respective games? How else might weather affect gameplay?

Osieja: Wind flares can impact game play throughout the Campaign. Rod has always talked about how Gears turns everything to “eleven.” We don’t have bats, we have murderous Kryll; we don’t have hail, we have Razorhail. So, when it came to designing something like the wind flares, we knew we needed to really turn up the intensity, and create something worthy of the Gears franchise. Wind flares are a system in the game, not a scripted event, so they can happen anywhere–and at varying intensity–so you really have to pay attention to the environment as well as the encounters.

Wind flares are almost like a “tidal wave” of wind that crashes onto the battlefield, affecting everything in its path. It can impact character movement, and it can actually lift cover out of the encounter, or send new cover crashing onto the battlefield. Clever players can dislodge loose cover with their bullets, causing the wind to send obstacles hurtling into—and crushing—entrenched enemies. The intensity of the wind does effect some of your weapons, with the air currents changing the flight path of grenades, Boomshots, Buzzkills, and Dropshots, so a little extra precision is needed when using them in a full force gale.

When a Wind flare peaks, it unleashes the “Storm wall” which contains lightning flurries. Think a forest of lightning, which pack a powerhouse of electricity as they touch down, and then wander aimlessly across the battlefield crackling with intensity. Lightning flurries are unpredictable, and can easily take out unsuspecting enemies—or you—if you aren’t careful.

EGM: Are there any major differences between playing the campaign co-op versus solo? Are there branching paths like in previous games?

Osieja: Cooperative play has always been a focus of Gears of War, and it is again in Gears 4. Like previous Gears games, there are branching paths throughout the campaign. The player will be able to select which route they want to take. The paths are designed to create different experiences based on the choice of path, but they are all designed to be cooperative. This means that, even though you will have your own unique encounters, you’ll also need to work with the players on the other path—sometimes providing support or executing specific tasks—to successfully complete the branch.

Siege Beast

EGM: What has the addition of the combat knife and new close-quarters combat kills done for the flow of gameplay?

Osieja: Introducing Close Cover Combat moves to Gears of War 4 has introduced a new layer of strategic play and unpredictability. It encourages players to stay mobile, making for faster and more spirited play, as well as changing the dynamic when players find themselves on the opposite side of the same piece of cover. Close Cover Combat maneuvers can be used to counteract anyone who relies too much on cover, by vaulting over cover, or yanking an enemy to your side of cover, stunning them, and opening them up to a combat knife execution.

One of the crucial aspects of the Close Cover Combat was making sure it was a fair mechanic in Multiplayer matches. When you execute a Close Cover Combat move, there is a brief moment where the intended victim is prompted to “counter” the move, completely turning the tables on the attacker and opening them up for a combat knife execution. As you take on the harder difficulty levels in Campaign, Horde, and Versus modes, you’ll see the AI attempting Close Cover Combat moves as well.

EGM: What can you tell us about Gears 4‘s Horde mode?

Osieja: Horde is one of the modes I’m most excited about. Gears of War invented Horde game play, and now we’re taking it to a whole new level in Gears 4. The new Horde 3.0 is really about empowering players to choose the way they want to play and discovering emergent strategies over the course of a session. By putting choice in the player’s hands, you can now completely choose how you want to build, and how you want to solve the problem of each of the 50 waves of enemies. We are unshackling the player to allow them to approach the waves however they want. Horde 3.0 is the ultimate team experience, and players who coordinate and work together will be the most successful. I’m really excited to watch the videos of how players conquer Horde, because the way you can set up your defenses and outfit your character is nearly limitless.

Execution

EGM: Can you tell us more about the bounty-card system being introduced to multiplayer? How do you expect it will affect how people will play?

Osieja: In competitive play, Gear Cards will have no effect on gameplay balance, as they offer cosmetic items such as weapon and character skins. Bounty cards allow players to set a personal challenge in the match based around a specific task. Successfully completing the Bounty in game gives the player the XP reward that is listed on the card. Don’t worry though, you only consume the card when you successfully complete the bounty.

Bounty cards come in a wide variety of types, and can be specific to a particular character, completing a number or specific type of kill, or it can be based on particular game mode. Bounty cards come in a variety of rarities as well, with the more rare cards giving a larger XP bonus when you complete them—which in turn enables you to level your character that much quicker.

EGM: Gears has always had a strong competitive community. What measures are you taking to help support Gears 4’s eSports potential?

Osieja: Earlier this month, we announced the Gears Pro Circuit for Gears of War 4, in partnership with MLG and Gfinity, with a starting $1,000,000 in cash prizes. Amplifying the success we had with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, the Gears of War 4 Pro Circuit will invite players from around the world to earn Gears Pro Points to qualify for the international open events, and we’re keen to kick things off this November in Columbus, OH.

In terms of development around Gears of War 4, we’re focused on building Gears of War 4 Versus Multiplayer from the ground up with eSports as a foundation, with modes like Escalation and specific maps that are designed with competitive play in mind.

We’re also adding features to make broadcasting of matches more interesting and dynamic, with two dedicated spectator slots. There are new overlays for spectating that give a more in-depth view of the action, including what weapons all players are using at any moment during a match. There are also a variety of camera positions that can be quickly switched to, while spectating, to see elevated views of the battles and watch strategies play out from a new perspective.

We look forward to sharing even more details and announcements about Gears of War 4 eSports in the coming months!

Kait Knife Battle

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