The Coalition on Gears 5’s changing difficulty settings

Gears 5 is changing the franchise’s long-running difficulty settings, dropping former options like Casual, Normal, Hardcore and Insane for ones more inclusive. With Gears 5, players will be able to select settings which start at Beginner and move up into ones like Intermediate, Experienced and so on.

The Coalition studio head, Rod Ferguson, sat down with Stevivor to discuss the change.

“One of the things that… people were telling me, was ‘oh I played casual on Gears of War, and it was too hard and so I struggled with it’,” Fergusson said. “Hardcore was sort of the baseline. If Hardcore feels normal to us, then we’re good. Then everything else is Hardcore minus minus; doing that didn’t necessarily work the way we wanted in Horde. That was why we really made a conscious effort of going… ‘there’s no such thing as too easy’.”

The new system provides more difficulty options, catering to more players. Fergusson said The Coalition encourages players to explore the new settings to get the most from their experience.

“Don’t just go in to say, ‘I’m playing it just to get through it.’ If you want to have the best experience you really have to challenge yourself. When you’re just making it by the skin of your teeth, and your palms are sweating, and you’re cheering at the end of it and high fiving, that’s the best experience. It’s better than only using and blowing through it and going, ‘there’s not a lot of enemies here.’”

Beginner decreases enemy health and lowers AI aggression as you’d expect, but also turns on optional settings like auto-target lock, Fergusson explained.

“You just have to calibrate it for yourself, and having those things like a target lock, that was something that new players really struggle with — that idea of ‘how do I line up with the head.’ The Beginner setting automatically turns that on so that you sort of you feel that out of the gate. [We] find 5% of the people actually dig in to an options menu to see what’s there. You have to kind of offer it in the beginning, which we do, and then you turn some stuff on that’s easier for them to then turn off and go, ‘I don’t need this help.’”

There’s nothing in the game that will pop-up and suggest that you need to perhaps lower the difficulty if you’re stuck in an encounter, Fergusson confirmed. Conversely, nothing will pop-up and tell you that you’re having too easy of a time.

“No, there’s none of that,” Fergusson said. ”Sometimes I like to go in on what was Casual [difficulty in Gears of War 4] and I’m actually there to talk to my brother. I want to play but, I don’t really want to be tested; there are sometimes that I want to be tested with the group that I’m with and play on Insane and really sweat and try to fight my way through it. There are games that have no ability to set, it’s just always challenging — I don’t necessarily believe in that, I like having that choice. If it’s too easy, then I’ve made that choice; I purposely did that because I wanted to relax right now.”

As we played through campaign during the same Gears 5 preview event, we were told those who felt confortable with the franchise should ideally start with Experienced difficulty before moving up or down based on how they’re doing.

Gears 5 heads to Windows PC and Xbox One from 10 September; those on Xbox Game Pass can play from 6 September.

Steve Wright traveled to Vancouver, Canada to preview Gears 5 as a guest to Microsoft. Travel and accommodation were supplied by the publisher.

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Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.