Microtransactions continue to infest $60 AAA games. Gears of War 4 just launched and comes packed to the brim with microtransactions and RNG randomness. Some developers, however, have been looking at ways to minimize the impact by tying only cosmetic items to microtransactions and making what used to be paid DLC (i.e. multiplayer maps) free for all players. After spending lots of time with Gears of War 4, have The Coalition successfully managed to make microtransactions feel fair?
First, let us break down how they work in-game. Microtransactions are called Gear Packs, and they work similar to Loot Boxes and Supply Drops in Overwatch and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Players get a select number of ‘cards’ that vary in a rarity range of common to legendary. Essentially, when you open a pack, these are the possible things you can be getting:
- Weapon Skins
- Horde Equipment and Abilities
And here’s the different packs and how pricing works:
- Operations Pack – 1000 Credits/$1.99/ 5 Packs for $7.99/15 Packs for $19.99
- Horde Booster – 400 Credits/$0.99/ 5 Packs for $3.99/15 Packs for $9.99
- Versus Booster – 400 Credits/$0.99/ 5 Packs for $3.99/15 Packs for $9.99
- Elite Pack – 3500 Credits/$4.99/ 5 Packs for $24.99
Packs can be purchased in-game via Credits, the in-game currency earned by completing matches and leveling up, or with real-world money. In some games, in-game money is made purposefully difficult to collect to encourage users to spend money. For example, in Overwatch, the only way to get Credits is to open Loot Boxes and collect duplicates you already own. Due to the RNG nature of the game, this makes it difficult for players to get the items they want. This is something The Coalition is clearly worried about as they’ve already deployed a patch increasing the amount of Credits you’re rewarded per match and decreasing the amount you need to buy packs.
The Coalition goes a step further than other games by giving players the chance to get the items they want. Unwanted cards can be trashed to generate ‘Scrap,’ a second in-game currency that can only be earned by trashing those unwanted cards. The amount earned depends on rarity but can be spent on any item. You’ll still need to deal with the RNG system to get the currency, but at least we get the option to unlock what we want.
The most important part guideline for all microtransactions is that they don’t affect the competitive gameplay. In that respect, Gears of War 4 follows that guideline, for the most part. Only cosmetics and bounties are allowable in competitive multiplayer. While the bounties do offer nice XP boosts, leveling up in Gears of War 4 doesn’t do anything as all the weapons are unlocked from the get-go. They will affect Horde gameplay in different ways, but as that is a co-op environment, the gameplay can be affected without causing any harm to the players.
Despite these assurances, microtransactions here do subtlety affect the gameplay experience. One of the joys of multiplayer is advancing in rank and unlocking new items whether that be guns, skins, or character cosmetics. Due to Gears of War 4’s approach of locking everything behind an RNG system, there’s no benefit to leveling up. This is something Call of Duty: Black Ops III did well. Treyarch developed a set of skins, guns, and character cosmetics that could be unlocked by leveling up, and then a set that could be unlocked via Supply Drops. In Black Ops III, players could be rewarded for their progression and use of Supply Drops, but in Gears of War 4 you’re only rewarded for opening Gear Packs.
Then there’s the fact that the microtransactions don’t get players much for free. Halo 5: Guardian’s REQ packs were well loved because all future DLC maps were handed out for free. This isn’t the case with Gears of War 4. While players will get to try the new maps for free, they won’t own them. In fact, The Coalition will be rotating the maps in and out of the playlist to ensure they don’t get overplayed. To own the map and keep it in the rotation, players will have to fork out extra cash to buy them or the Season Pass. While it will eternally be debated about whether AAA games with microtransactions should even be allowed to have a Season Pass, what The Coalition is doing is pretty sneaky. Showing players cool maps only to yank them out of the rotation isn’t cool at all.
So, do Gears of War 4’s microtransactions impact the game? Yes, but only in subtle ways. Competitive players shouldn’t feel a difference here. True to their word, the microtransactions are cosmetic-only, and the XP boosts from Bounties don’t earn players much. It’s great that players can finally choose what they want, but the microtransactions still sap any feeling of progression from the game unless you spend money. Gears of War 4’s microtransactions are never as egregious as Overwatch’s, but they’re also not as secondary as Destiny’s (which are mostly just emotes).
Gears of War 4 is available now on Xbox One and PC. Be sure to check out our review to see what we thought of the latest entry in the beloved franchise.