Anyone who has heard me talk about Gears of War in the past knows that I love the series to death. I think there's much more going on in this series than the Dude-Bro chainsaw-fest it's purported to be. I think the novels were great, but some of the comics and games are better than others. When you've got a series this big though, it goes without saying, you're going to find some flux in the quality of the storytelling. Overall though, Gears of War is a franchise that I love and I know I'll keep coming back to.
The trailer for Gears of War 5 was released at E3 this year, and it's immediately obvious that the series has taken a turn. Not necessarily for the worse, I haven't even played the game yet, but it's certainly going along a new track.
In the original trilogy you played as Marcus Fenix, a Gear who was already a war hero turned war criminal before the series had even begun. The games, books and comics all built this character up so that by the time of the closing scenes of the final game, you were invested in not only how much of a badass he was but in how much of a struggle the journey was for him. Marcus Fenix is an action hero icon, right up there with Master Chief, The Terminator and Rambo. That is a tough set of shoes to fill, for a studio trying to continue the story and for a son trying to establish himself.
Gears 4 had you take on the role of JD Fenix, the son of Marcus Fenix. While Marcus had fought in not one, but two, great wars before his series had begun, JD hasn't really fought in any kind of real conflict. He's young, he's green and he's run away from the military because of some incident that we still don't know about. Straight away, JD Fenix is not the badass warrior that his father ever was, and this is only compounded by the fact that his father is still hanging around being the biggest badass on scene. JD suffered because of this, and Gears 4 suffered because of this.
Gears 5 will have JD stepping into the background so that one of his companions from Gears 4 can be the protagonist. He's got some sort of infection that's being held back by technology, and he's a Captain now. The higher the rank you climb to the further removed from the conflict you become, so JD is firmly in the background. Now, I doubt the creators of Gears of War decided to have a female protagonist because they were buckling to public pressure. Unlike the first trilogy, the second trilogy only really gave us three main characters so it makes sense for each installment of the new trilogy to explore each of these main characters. JD had the first game, Kait will have the second and if this theory that I pulled from my backside holds true, Del will be the main character in Gears 6.
That's great and all, it gives us a broader view of events and we get to learn a little more about each of these characters via their time in the spotlight. The problem with this approach, however, is that this breadth comes at the cost of depth. We're never going to get another Marcus Fenix, who had three games of his own, because each of these new characters is only ever going to get a single game.
As I stated in a previous post, Marcus needs to die for JD to ever surpass him and become anything close to the same badass that he was. Well, that was on the assumption that JD would get three games of his own to grow, which he's just not going to get now. He'll be there, doing stuff in the background, but he's not the centerpiece. It needs to be his story for him to truly grow, within himself as an individual but also as a character for the audience. While this rotating cast of protagonists is great for representation and all that, it's crippled this new trilogy because it's never going to surpass the old one. Marcus Fenix is still this looming presence that overshadows all of these new characters, and even if he dies no one character has had enough time in the spotlight to replace him.
I don't care that the next Gears protagonist is a female, my favorite character in the series is still Bernadette Mataki, a female sniper who was 60 at the end of the first trilogy. I think Kait is an interesting character in her own right, her ties to the Locust/Swarm make that plainly obvious. People are saying this is great because she's more interesting than JD, but to that I say - so what? That's not an achievement, JD got one game and he spent the whole time being in his dad's shadow. Kait being more interesting than JD is not an achievement. I do hope we get a game that focuses on Del though, because out of the new trilogy's trio of characters he's the one I like the most.
The fact remains though, because we're not getting an entire trilogy that focuses on a single protagonist, no single single protagonist is ever going to replace Marcus Fenix. We may get an interesting story, we may finally unravel this mysteries of the Locust, the Swarm and Imulsion, but we'll never get a new action icon. Just like JD had trouble stepping from the shadow of Marcus, this second Gears trilogy will probably never step from the shadows of the original Gears trilogy.