Yet few have come anywhere near to matching the intensity, chaos, and partnerships that birthed from Horde, a game mode that was supposed to offer brief post-credits entertainment, not the time-swallowing juggernaut it became. It's questionable if even Epic understood what it had in its hands.
Five friends against wave of wave of foes, cooperation the only barrier between them and death. It's this which lay at the core of Gears of War 2's most intense mode, and kept us coming back despite it's shortcomings.
But where from there? Sitting down at Epic's US offices, the thought flickers that there's nothing truly new to see. Very soon we're proved not only wrong, but realise Horde in its old state was but the foundation of a concept with enormous potential, and how it is now grown into something very ambitious. We're talking not about a separate game mode; we're talking about something that could be a separate game.
Rod Fergusson, executive producer of the Gears of War series, began his presentation by reviewing what the studio wanted to do better in the new "Horde 2.0".
"The most important thing was to take the game mode to the next level without alienating those who spent countless hours with it in Gears of War 2. Everything new would feel natural. In the process it was essential to look at how people play old Horde," he explains.
A good Horde team chose a location on the stage that was easy to control and defend. It became their base, and each player carried a specific role almost instincively. Scout, Sniper, Defence...and the poor bastard that played squad suicide mule, charging out into the middle of the battlefield to pick up new weapons and ammo.
And thus the unspoken rules of bases and classes became something much more concrete. Now you can build real bases, where there is plenty of room for all players to work on their individual roles. Yet claiming a base is only the foundation of the mode's new mentality; you've got to fortify your holds. While your first base is free, you got to pay for added protection. Credits earned during the course of the game can be used to purchase upgrades such as decoys, automatic machine guns and barriers, which in turn can be upgraded (and also need to be maintained) and you can rush out to grab more defensive bases. Good economy is key to survival. Civilisation with chainsaws, if you will.
First lure is a full-sized Cole Train decoy. It's not much more than a pummelling bag, even though it does distract the rampaging Locust better than rack of ribs to a Viking. But you got to work up to the fourth-level bait: an armour-clad mannequin armed with an exploding boom box.
Barriers also offer some intriguing combinations. Anyone who played Horde knows that it's important to block some passages to herd enemy movements. Therefore you can lay spiked mats in your base that'll upgrade to barbed wire, into an electrified field, and eventually into laser beams. Locust can get through these, but they'll either be slowed considerably, shocked, or take physical damage.
It's looking important to learnhow the various fortifications works in order to use them effectively. Creative thinking yields the greatest rewards, such as placing a grenade behind a decoy in order to quickly get rid of any enemies in the early rounds.
As the enemy waves become harder, so to it becomes increasingly difficult to upgrade your base at the same rate and keep it in good condition. If something breaks completely and is not repaired by the round's end, it will disappear completely, forcing you to start from level one fortifications. It is important to remember that it is always cheaper to repair than to buy something new.
However, it is not just your bases and fortifications that develop: the more you play Horde, the more your character's abilities to grow. It will take a while before you even have the option to upgrade your barriers to the second level, but whatever you do, you'll earn experience points which then gives you access to more objects to use in your base. This feeling of personal development and progression enhances the entire game mode, so that it never feels like you're starting at square one even if you jumped into a new game with new players.
Repair often and costs will lessen. This can lead to specific roles within the team, and it is a system that rewards those who actually take advantage of it. Each player has their own bank to draw funds from, and therefore it is very important to work when it comes to building, repairing and upgrading the larger objects, pushing those with lower labour costs onto the bigger builds.
Money can be spent on other things too. Arms and ammunition boxes that are scattered through the stage can be yours for a small sum of cash, and why not buy them back into the game if you die early? Players who are quick to help their teammates back on their feet when they take too much damage will also be rewarded with some extra money, which urges people to take on a sergeant's role within the group.
Or you can save the credits and cash in for the game's most destructive item: the Silverback. We're talking about a huge battle suit that has access to machine guns, missiles and deadly foot-stomps. It's unclear what requirements are need to acquire the mechanised brute, but don't be surprised if it takes a few hard weeks of playing to earn the right to pilot it.
Although fortifications and character upgrades are very welcome news, there was something else that gained most attention from us. Every tenth wave offers an intense boss battle. Like two berserkers, or a couple of Reavers. Or how about a four-storey Brumak that's itching to go Godzilla on your Lego-like fort?
It's stunning when you think of the progress the series has made since the original. Back then we were used to seeing these beasts in cutscenes. Now they're demolishing barricades in our multiplayer game modes alongside dozens of other enemies and your teammates. They level the playing field - literally. But it does mean you've always got the need to spend cash rebuilding.
Yet believe it or not, these creatures are simple bullet sponges that are only there to soak up ammo. In order to defeat a boss without undue hardship requires a unique approach, and in many cases, teamwork. A Berserker can only be damaged when it is heated, which means that someone in the group must remain close to it and attack with weapons like the flamethrower. Someone else (hello Donkey!) must keep the giant's attention on them rather than expensive barricades.
The new bosses, combined with an absolutely stunning enemy variety will keep the Horde players busy. It is not the same ten waves that repeats over and over anymore. Epic has instead created a variety of sets that include all the different enemy types from the campaign. Many of these are dedicated to Locust troops, but there are also those where the new Lambet-infected monsters will come out and play. The two factions offer distinctly different tactics to conquer, and means no one Horde game is the same as another.
And there's more. To give some additional depth to the concept, there's now bonus waves where specific tasks are required of the group. Kill a certain number of enemies with just chainsaws, or defeat an entire wave within a certain time limit. Do so and the group is rewarded with booty in the form of items that can make the next wave much more enjoyable. How about full ammunition for all of the team or a rocket launcher to each player?
You can spice up the game experience by activating bonus setups.These bonus settings will change the game in three different ways. Some of them make it easier for you, others make it more difficult and there are also those that are bizarre; such as flowers replacing blood when carving into an enemy's flank.
Escalation and improvements brings with them their own horde of problems, the kind that likely see players sit up at night trying to work out potential solutions. Does reward conquer risk striking out to claim another base during a game? With money split, fortifications become harder to maintain and upgrade. With the team split, heroic rescues could descend into slaughter with teams exposed and outnumbered. Yet there are also advantages. More bases, the possibility of even more fortifications, while the number of enemies per base is cut in half.
While the game mode finally feels fully fleshed out, the core remains unchanged. It's still five friends against the Horde. The situation is just much more complex, and, dare we say it? Epic.