Gears 5 is just days away from release, and while you’d think that all the focus of the franchise would be surrounding that major next step in the franchise, a mobile game that’s a completely separate entity has appeared. That too without any obvious strings attached to Gears 5. We’re not sure who asked for this or what the exact overlap between players of Gears of War games and Funko Pop! collectibles is, but Gears Pop! is here anyway. Does it work in a way that’s beyond just fan service for the Gears and Funko crowd?
The game clearly takes some basic inspiration from Supercell’s behemoth multiplayer tower defence game – Clash Royale. You face-off against an online opponent with your army of ‘tokens’, with the sole aim of overpowering their defenses and eliminating the opposing player. Your units are represented by pins that you get to collect in various way – the most common of which is by opening loot boxes. Each pin has a numeric value that denotes the number of bars that need to fill up before you can deploy it. But during battle, the game limits you with a choice of just four pins for you to make your selection, so you can’t necessarily plan a strategic deployment order beforehand.
The troops consist of a mixed assortment of characters from both sides of the Gears universe, so you have Coalition and Locust characters to choose from. So you could well have hero characters like Marcus Fenix and Kat Diaz fighting alongside General RAAM, wretches and other Locust units. Since the game offers no narrative, you can ignore any history about these characters and add them purely based on the skills they have to offer.
The biggest differentiator between Gears Pop! and Clash Royale is the former’s cover system. Giving a huge nod to the mainline series, going from cover to cover plays a strategic role in each battle. Capturing adjacent covers allows you deploy your troops further along the map, which can give you a massive advantage and turn the tide of battle, which is why most matches usually start with both teams fighting to take over cover points. Bases on both sides of the map are guarded by two turrets and your avatar character, and the player who takes down the most parts of the opposition base before time runs out wins.
A lot of what you get, or how much you can upgrade your pins, depends on the loot boxes you get, and there are a lot of those loot boxes going around in the game. This limits your strategy on how you want to build your army, and eventually you will have to settle for the units that you have managed to upgrade the most. The game offers two types of currencies – coins and crystals, with the latter being distributed a lot more scarcely than the former. You can select and buy certain offered purchases from the game’s store using coins, and we found that pretty useful in getting our current units levelled up. The good part is that there’s a lot of currency and rewards to go around if you play the game moderately. In fact, we didn’t feel the need to make a single purchase using real money during our review process. But if you’re the type who’ll be spending long hours daily on Gears Pop!, your experience could be different from ours.
We didn’t feel the need to make a single purchase using real money during our review process
There are a number of issues though, that haven’t been resolved despite multiple updates since launch. To play the game’s PvE Horde mode, you need to join up with a crew, but the list of crews that show up in the game are more often than not closed to new players. It takes a serious amount of hunting to find an active crew that’s open and not packed to the max with 50 members. It’s weird that closed groups are even showed in the initial listings at all, and we really hope that this issue gets fixed. Secondly, limiting the Horde mode to only your crew’s team members is a pretty bad idea considering you have to keep looking for another player who’s online and willing to join you out of just those 50 members (maximum limit) in your crew. Allowing random players to join you in PvE, just as they would do in PvP modes, just makes a lot more sense.
While Gears Pop! is pretty charming, if you’re looking for an experience that takes you a step ahead of Clash Royale, this isn’t it. It’s a bit devoid of personality, barring the Funko Pop cuteness, and there are a number of issues that kept our interest levels at check. It falls short on fan service, game modes and the crew system is just about broken at this point. Maybe all this will be fixed in future updates, but as of now it’s pretty hard to recommend.