Hands on: Gears of War 4 Horde Mode

Can you survive ‘Gears of War 4’s punishing new Horde mode?

In Gears of War 4, Horde, the cooperative survival multiplayer in the Gears of War series, will enter its third iteration. It’s packed with new class-building features, harder enemies, and a new level of character diversity designed to let people play how they want.

But with a daunting 50 waves and four difficulty options, there are going to be a lot of DB and Swarm who want to see you fail. Does Horde 3.0 bring something new to the table, or will it always live in the shadow of the over-the-top Gears campaign?

What is “Horde Mode?”

Of the three game modes in Gears of War 4, Horde is the trickiest to define. While the campaign can be played cooperatively with friends, it’s still a linear story with chapters and cutscenes. Horde mode strips away the narrative pretense of campaign and leaves you with nothing but running, shooting, and chainsawing. If you don’t want the story and just want to kill tons of enemies with your friends, this is your best bet.

In this version of Horde, you and four friends (or match-made partners) defend the Fabricator, a device magically spawns equipment like a Star Trek replicator, from up to 50 increasingly difficult waves of enemies. During matches, you can use the fabricator to build barricades, turrets, and weapon racks, all by collecting energy dropped by your enemies.

As you work with your teammates, everyone will begin to find their groove.

At the start of each match, players choose one of five character classes, such as the sharpshooting sniper and the turret-repairing engineer, which have their own set of abilities and long-term progression. Players also choose a set of skill cards, which are all pulled from packs bought with currency earned in campaign, multiplayer, and horde mode. Generally class-based, the skills convey bonuses that enhance each team-member’s strengths. For example, one sniper card made it so landing a headshot would make the enemy’s head explode, damaging of its nearby friends.

Both the cards and classes are upgradable. You can combine multiple copies of the same card to rank them up, thus improving their power. Similarly, as you play more and more with a single class, you’ll level up, allowing you to bring more cards into each match.

Meanwhile, the game uses that progression system to adjust your difficulty match by match. Rather than choosing a skill setting beforehand, the game will make the game more difficult as your characters and cards grow stronger.

Stand together

In a game defined largely by co-op, it should come as no surprise that Horde asks you to work together to achieve victory. Of the five classes, it’s definitely necessary to have at least one scout, who receives double energy for each pickup, and an engineer, who can repair your fortifications. The other three classes, soldier, heavy, and sniper, can mostly focus on dealing damage and occasionally reviving teammates.

Gears of War 4: Horde Mode

But there’s a bit more to it than that. As you work with your teammates, everyone will begin to find their groove, choosing areas to cover and timing strategies for taking out enemies. Once you find that rhythm, the game will find ways to challenge it, with enemies spawning in odd locations and configurations.

Die together

Horde’s new class system adds some much needed variation to the repetitive wave-based gameplay of Horde modes of Gears of War 2 and 3. As the team’s engineer, there was plenty of time to decide where to lay down fortifications, strategies for dealing with huge bosses, and kept all of our defenses up and running. In a subsequent round as sniper, the strategy was totally different, pushing us to hang back, revive teammates, and apply fire at key targets.

Our high ground, an advantage throughout the entire match, was also our undoing.

At the same time, the card system may feel restrictive to serial Horde players, who will likely be forced to choose one or two classes that fit their playstyle and use those exclusively. You’ll have a friend who always runs around with the shotgun picking up energy, and the other friend who stays at the back and repairs the turrets.

After playing for over three hours in a single run, our team managed to reach wave 50. The final boss, a large Swarm creature called the carrier that spews heat-seeking explosives, leveled our entire crew. Our high ground, an advantage throughout the entire match, was also our undoing. Resources depleted, spirits broken, we retired from Horde mode in the least satisfying way possible. But it wasn’t all a loss.

Horde 3.0 is a nice change of pace from competitive online multiplayer, but ultimately seems like a feature most players will eventually grow out of.


  • High skill cap
  • Rewarding progression system


  • Grows repetitive
  • Encourages players to stick with one class
Product Review

The Division 2 feels more like a revision, but fans will love it

If the private beta is any indication, The Division 2 is shaping up to be a better version of the original, rather than a brand-new experience. That said, the game is looking quite great.

Wage war on a budget with these fun and free first-person shooters

We all know about Halo and Call of Duty by now, but what about quality titles that won't cost you upward of $60? Check out our picks for the best free first-person shooter games from Paladins to Quake Champions.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.

Get the full PS4 Pro experience. Here's every game you can play in 4K HDR

The PlayStation 4 Pro can play any PS4 game, but a select number of titles have been optimized to take advantage of the platform. Here's a list of every new and upcoming game that will benefit from the PS4 Pro.

District 9 director made a live-action trailer for Anthem, and it’s pretty cool

District 9 director Neill Blomkamp made a live-action short for Anthem. It's more like a long movie trailer than a short film, but it does offer a couple clues about Anthem's lore and features some dazzling special effects.

I'm canceling my backlog for Apex Legends. Be back never

Live service games like Fortnite and Apex Legends are eating up everyone's time, leaving other games out in the cold. While my backlog continues to grow, it seems the gaming industry is struggling to keep up as well.

Take to the virtual skies with these free flight simulators

You don't have to spend the entirety of your paycheck to become a virtual ace, at least when it comes to flight simulation. Our list of the best free flight simulators will let you unleash your inner Maverick.

Here's how you can play your favorite PC games with a Nintendo Switch controller

Nintendo's Switch controllers, including the Joy-Cons and the aptly titled Pro Controller, use Bluetooth, which makes them compatible with your PC. Here's how to start using them for PC gaming.

Get creative and collect 15 coins with our Fortnite overtime challenges guide

The first Fortnite overtime challenges are now available. Use our guide to help you collect the hidden coins in the featured Creative mode islands and get closer to that free season eight battle pass.
Virtual Reality

Getting into VR is spendy. Which headset is truly worth your hard-earned cash?

Virtual reality has finally gone mainstream, but how do you find the best VR headset for you? Check out a few of our favorites, whether you want the best of the best or a budget alternative for your mobile device.

Become a champion with our beginner's guide to Apex Legends

Jumping into Apex Legends for the first time? Need help becoming a champion? Our Apex Legends beginner's guide has 15 tips and tricks that will hopefully help your team make it into the champion's circle.

Buy a new Switch console and get a $35 eShop gift card at some retailers

Multiple retailers are currently offering the Neon Blue and Red Nintendo Switch console with a free $35 eShop gift card. The system still costs the standard $300 and includes Joy-Con controllers and the dock.

Thrive in the nuclear apocalypse with our Metro Exodus survival guide

Metro Exodus is a difficult shooter, especially if you're new to the series' blend of stealth, action, and scavenging. Here is what you need to know to survive the nuclear apocalypse.