E3 2011: Gears of War 3 Horde Mode Preview
(Also check out my preview of the Gears of War 3 single-player campaign)
I was, literally, the very last person to play Gears of War 3‘s Horde mode at E3. Several people behind me were foreceably removed from the line. This happened late on Thursday, when E3 had started to lose some of its gloss. Crews were already breaking exhibits down; booth babes sat, exhausted and surly, on chairs around the show floor. I was determined. I only played through a few rounds, which lasted about 10 minutes, but it was an enjoyable 10 minutes.
The most immediate, perhaps extreme change to Horde is the addition of “Fortifications.” These are basically powerups you “buy” during matches, and are broken down into five distinct groups: Barriers, Decoys, Sentries, Turrets, and Silverbacks. Each of the Fortfications are varied, and add a cool new layer of strategy to the gampelay: Barriers block enemy movements, Decoys draw enemy fire, Sentries defend key areas, Turrets pack a meaner punch, and the Silverback is a kick-ass mech suit (which I go into greater detail about in my single-player preview). You’ll need to coordinate with your team and make wise decisions about which Fortifications to buy, though. Enemies will be attacking from all sides, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to build a unified wall, and dig in around a defendable front.
How do you “buy” this stuff, you ask? You literally earn dolla dolla bills as you fight (similarly to how you do in Modern Warfare 3′s new Survival Mode). You’ll know when you can purchase a Fortification, because you’ll see a green ghost-image on the map where it can be activated. If you want it, just walk up to it and buy it. I liked this sytem, because it removes the need for any sort of Fortifications “menu.” Everything you can buy is right there on the map.
Greed is something these systems do not encourage. You need teammates rich in dollars and ammo, so spreading the wealth is a good thing. Have more cash or ammo than you need? Simply “gift” them to a comrade to keep the party going. You want new Fortifications springing up around the map. Cash also allows players to buy new weapons, and upgrade and repair existing Fortifications.
The standard way Horde plays out hasn’t changed–you fight wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. But in the new Horde, every 10th wave is a “boss wave,” in which you’ll face an extremely powerful foe, such as a Brumak or Lambent. This was definitely my favorite new thing about Horde, since I’m a sucker for boss fights. In a Q&A session earlier that day, I asked Cliff Bleszinski about what types of bosses you’ll go up against, and how this whole mechanic works. He answered:
It’s not just one big boss. Not only do we spawn a Brumak, we also spawn Bloodmounts around it. Because, it’s five players. You can spawn the biggest monster imaginable, but once you get five lancers on it it’ll fall in two seconds. So you have a Brumak with various types of Boomers, you have multiple Berserkers that’ll wind up spawning. You can actually have two in play. You have a Lambent Berserker, which is the infected Berserker that plays entirely different because it can jump. Once the Lambent Berserker starts getting damanged it starts leaving a trail of immulsion that you can’t go through. We have Reavers as well. So those are some of the main ones.
So, let’s say a Brumak stomps you into dust. That’s not necessarily the end in the new Horde mode. You can actually “buy” your way back to life–provided you have the cash–with the push of a button. While on one hand I was pleased to make use of this myself, it also sort of cheapened my revival. Between this new mechanic, and the ability for my comrades to revive me, I just never died. I kept buying new Fortifications and killing enemies. I only played for a very short amount of time, but I do wonder if this new mechanic will rob the gameplay of tension.
Horde is the kind of thing you need to spend several hours with to get a real sense of, but I like what I see so far. The new bosses seem awesome, and the Fortifications and currency systems add new reasons to cooperate with your teammates as you scramble to make use of key resources.
Gears of War 3 hits September 20, 2011 exclusively for the Xbox 360.