The microtransactions. Look, Gears of War 4 is a great game, what with it’s improved Horde mode, new multiplayer modes, and a campaign that, while maybe not better than the campaigns in previous games, at least matches them. It’s just a shame that the game pushes you so hard toward it’s upgrade packs, and that the prices are so unfair and a little insulting.
If you’ve been playing Gears 4 for the past week, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, allow me to explain what the problem is. Like most AAA shooters, Gears 4 has microtransactions that take the form of card packs, with each pack in Gears 4 giving you 5 random cards. These cards fall into several categories: Character and weapon skins, player card emblems, consumable bounties that give a big XP boost if you manage to complete them, and upgradable skills for use in Horde mode. Of course, none of these purchased individually (at least not without some work – more on this later), and can only be acquired randomly through the purchase of packs.
On the surface, this is similar to the REQ packs featured in Halo 5. The real difference, and what makes the implementation Gears much more annoying, is how much effort it takes to acquire even a single pack. Basic packs of bounties and Horde skills cost 400 credits, while the “Elite Pack” that is guaranteed to contain nothing but skins and emblems goes for a whopping 3,500 credits. From my experience in a week of playing multiplayer (about 15 hours across both versus and Horde), the average match nets you 30-40 credits on the high end, and only around 10 on the low end. There’s also a lack of any free packs like you’ll get in Halo 5. There’s no daily pack, and the only reward for levelling up is additional credits, and you only get them every 5 levels. This means that even one of the basic packs can take up to two hours of play time to earn*.
To make matters worse, there’s currently a pack on the store that cannot be purchased with credits. You can buy an “eSports” pack that contains exclusive skins that cannot be had anywhere else, but you’d better be willing to pay for it. This pack will run you $9.99, is only available for a limited time, and there’s no guarantee of what you’ll unlock, or even that the unlocks will actually be any of the eSports exclusives.
But maybe cosmetic microtransactions don’t bother you since, after all, having a glowing green doesn’t actually affect how the game plays. And that’s where the Horde packs come in. The Horde packs (400 credits or $4.99) unlock skills that can be used in Horde mode. Get enough duplicate cards and you can even level up the skills (and it takes a lot of duplicates to hit the max level for a skill) and give yourself a huge advantage during Horde matches. Of course, it’s not as bad as it could be. Horde is a co-operative mode so while you won’t be at any sort of competitive advantage, if you’re the only player without high level skills you’ll be the one to be holding the team back regardless of your own gameplay ability.
Even levelling up in multiplayer is affected. Experience is dealt out at a similarly slow pace, and the only real way to speed it up is through completing bounties, which are acquired randomly through packs.
Now, it is possible to craft individual cards that you need by dismantling cards you have and using the points you earn to purchase individual cards, but the rate of return on this is so low you may as well not even bother. Crafting even a basic card requires dismantling four or five other cards – something you probably can’t afford considering how expensive cards are in the first place.
If you do end up dismantling any cards, it’ll likely be your duplicates. You see, whenever you purchase a pack either with credits or real money, you have a chance to get cards you already have – and it’s incredibly frustrating to finally save up enough credits for a pack, only to have 4 of them be skins you already own. In fact, there’s nothing stopping you from getting two of the same card in the same pack.
My usual method of dealing with microtransactions is to simply ignore them. Gears won’t let you do that. Every time you boot up the game you’ll be greeted with a “What’s New” screen that urges you to purchase some packs.
Long story short, I love Gears of War 4 but the microtransactions make it far more frustrating than it needs to be. Unlocking anything at all is essentially spinning a slot machine – you have no idea what you’ll get but you can be sure that you’ll pay too much for the privilege. Gears of War 4 is simply too aggressive with how it pushes packs on you, and the glacially slow rate at which you earn credits is only there in an attempt to get you to throw more money into the game. Other games either make packs easily obtainable or allow you to purchase needed items outright; Gears gives us the worst of both worlds, with randomly selected items that also take immense effort to earn. There’s no sense of progression and everything is a long grind unless you open your wallet.
Earning credits takes too long for too little payoff, and the constant in-your-face pushing of the microtransactions turns something that should be fun into something aggravating.
*Assuming each match lasts an average of 10 minutes, with 40 credits earned per match.