Hivebusters is a new single-player DLC campaign released for Gears 5. It’s also one of the best-looking games on Xbox Series X and feels like a full Gears game compressed into a bite-size experience that has me excited for the future of Gears of War.
This new $20 DLC campaign, which was released on December 15 and is also free to all Game Pass Ultimate subscribers, doesn’t star Marcus Fenix or JD or Kait. Instead it tells the origin story of Scorpio Squad, a three-person team put together by retired COG general Hoffman to enter, explore, and ultimately destroy Hives, massive underground nests that generate deadly Swarm beasts. Hivebusters, tells the story of how this ragtag team of misfits came together and how all this hivebusting started. Spoilers: It involved a lot of killing, shooting, and explosions.
I won’t actually spoil the narrative arc of the DLC, but it does a great job of hitting all the key elements I expect from a good Gears storyline. It has characters who bicker but start to become a family through trials and travails, some cameos and fun reveals, nice callbacks to previous games, and a mystery to solve. But instead of spreading this story out over 10 or so hours, like a big, proper Gears game, Hivebusters compresses it all into a three-hour adventure that’s paced more like a Gears of War movie than a game. And it works. I beat the whole thing in one sitting and had a blast from start to finish.
What helps make Hivebusters so easy to beat in one sitting is its setting. Most of the DLC is set on or under a chain of tropical islands covered in lush jungles, gorgeous ruins, and impressive-looking expanses of lava and fire. It feels very different from previous Gears of War games, and lends the DLC a distinctly tropical feel. It’s also one of the best-looking video games I’ve played all year. Holy shit, folks, this game in 4k HDR running at 60fps on Xbox Series X is a thing to see. If you’ve recently bought an Xbox Series X or a fancy new TV and want to show it off, load up Hivebusters and people will be impressed. I ended up taking a lot of screenshots because I just kept walking around going “Oh wow, look at that!” over and over again.
Key to making all of this work is the combat, which has always been the backbone of Gears 5. Turns out, Gears 5 is still a fantastic shooter that feels incredible to play. Hivebusters doesn’t change things too much, letting the already-great combat shine, but it does add some wrinkles. Instead of having a bot following you around, you have your own personal skill. Each of the three members of Scorpio Squad has their own unique ability. When playing solo you can command them to use their ability at any time, assuming it’s not on cooldown. These abilities aren’t massively game-changing, but they do give you some options.
I played through the campaign as Keegan, the man with the best facial hair in the Gears universe, and his ability allowed me to drop an ammo pack that refilled all my guns and also gave ammo to nearby teammates. All of these abilities can be upgraded by finding odd, glowing stones hidden throughout Hivebusters’ six chapters. What are these stones? Why are they glowing? I have no idea. The game doesn’t explain. Just pick them up, nod knowingly, and keep shooting.
One other interesting thing about Hivebusters is how often it tries to take away your OG lancer and force you to use other weapons. On one hand, I appreciate that the developers want people to play around with the full Gears 5 arsenal. On the other, it’s the lancer. It has a chainsaw. I want that thing.
Playing Hivebusters also got me thinking about the future of Gears of War. The last game ended with a big moment and seemed to be setting up a large battle in the future. But Hivebusters’ tropical setting, along with Gears 5’s open-world experimentation, has me excited about Gears 6. I hope we continue to see the Coalition evolve and change up the Gears franchise while keeping the core aspects folks love intact. So far the studio has been incredibly successful at pulling that off, which is not an easy task. And Hivebusters shows that the team at the Coalition very much has a handle on how to make good, exciting Gears content that also looks incredible.
So, now I just have to wait for Gears 6. It’s going to be hard.