Gears 5 starts with a “Previously on…” recap, and that’s when I realized I remembered absolutely nothing about Gears of War 4. I played it. I reviewed it. Judging by the review I wrote at the time, I vaguely enjoyed it.

But I don’t remember it.

If nothing else, I think Gears 5 will escape that fate. While Gears of War still feels like a series casting about for an identity, one that could’ve (and maybe should’ve) died with the Xbox 360 era, Gears 5 at least makes an honest effort at finding a way forward. It stumbles occasionally, sure, but the seeds of future reinvention are here.

A new new beginning

The first of those seeds? After a brief introduction, Gears 5 sidelines spicy-as-ketchup protagonist JD Fenix in favor of Gears of War 4 companion Kait. She’s still no Marcus Fenix, but nor is she trying to be—and maybe that’s why it works. JD was always going to be compared unfavorably to his father, the face of the series for almost a decade. Sure, it didn’t help that JD had all the personality of a mannequin, but if we’re honest he was doomed before he opened his mouth.

Gears 5 IDG / Hayden Dingman

Kait doesn’t live in Marcus’s shadow. Not as much, at least. She was ostensibly a sidekick in Gears 4, and yet the story revolved around her anyway. She was having mysterious visions. She was connected in some way to the Swarm—and perhaps the Locusts as well. Hell, she killed her own mother to stop the formation of a new Swarm Queen. She was interesting. Kait doesn’t need to justify taking Marcus’s place, let alone JD’s. She already made a good argument last time.

So Gears 5 gives JD a five-chapter send-off and then pretty much writes him out of the story. Don’t cry for him, New Ephyra.

There’s no time for tears anyway. The Swarm threat looms. What was once an isolated problem now batters the COG settlements, eerily reminiscent of the all-out war waged decades earlier. And as the threat grows, so does Kait’s connection to the Swarm. She and Del (a.k.a. the other charismatic sidekick from Gears of War 4) are forced to leave the relative safety of New Ephyra to try and figure out what her visions mean. Is Kait a threat? A weapon? And what is her connection to the dead Locust Queen Myrrah?

The answers are pretty predictable, but the journey to find them less so—which brings us to change number two, the fact that Gears 5 has gone open-world.

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