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The entire Gears of War story explained

For a series that, on its face, is mostly about hulking meatslab dudes chopping down 8-foot tall snarly gray mutants with chainsaws, there's a lot more plot going on in Gears of War than some folks give it credit for. There's civil war, class inequality, green energy arguments, climate change, and eugenics all lurking just under the surface. That doesn't make that "Mad World" commercial any less embarrassing as time goes on.

With Gears 5 not far away, plus a potential movie still floating out there, it might sound like a grand idea to go revisit the first five games in the series for a refresher course, which, while fun, is definitely a time-consuming process. Alternately, though, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy this handy guide we've put together on all things Gears of War to help get you all caught up before the game drops.

The story is set on the planet Sera

So, to start with some basics: Gears of War does not take place on Earth. It actually takes place on Sera, what used to be a lovely little planet with its own weird alternate version of history that seems to mysteriously mirror quite a bit of ours. Just run with it. 

Anyway, the nutshell here is that humanity managed to get itself into a nasty war of resources after they discover Imulsion, a substance which, at a glance, appears to be the clean energy alternative humanity needed. That's all well and good, except for the fact that the nations without Imulsion start getting slowly iced out of assistance from the nations with it. And thus a crucial split happens. The haves become the Coalition of Ordered Governments, or COG, and the have-nots become the Union of Independent Republics. The bloody conflict they fight becomes known as the Pendulum War. The have-nots end up losing, though not without many of humanity's biggest cities being left in ruins.

Emergence Day kicks off the main Gears story

Humanity gets a nice 79-year break after the Pendulum War. But break time is over on Emergence Day, when a race of massive, snarling, vicious creatures called the Locust rises up out of their subterranean Hollows and proceed to run completely roughshod over humanity. It's … bad. How bad? A quarter of all human life is dead on day one. That bad.

After a year of sustained, brutal fighting, the COG gets desperate and decides to go full scorched Earth (or scorched Sera, as it were) on the Locust. Evacuating as much of humanity as possible to the Jacinto Plateau and the city of Ephyra, the COG razes the planet using orbital strikes from the satellite weapon Hammer of Dawn. A great deal of the Locust are killed, right alongside millions of civilians who couldn't evacuate before the strike. There are some survivors, thereafter known as the Stranded. As you might imagine, they're less than thrilled with the COG after that.

Adam Fenix changes the game

Unfortunately, the strikes aren't as effective as humanity was hoping, and it's not long before the Locust attack Ephyra, held off only by the Gears, the COG's mobile infantry force. The war stretches on, though, and during one of the more crucial battles, in which the fate of the city of Ephyra is hanging by a thread, one of the main scientists responsible for creating the Hammer of Dawn, Adam Fenix, contacts his son, Marcus, to tell him he has something of great importance to give the COG. Marcus ends up abandoning his post to go to his father. This was, in the most conservative and empathetic of terms, a dumb move.

When Marcus finally reaches his father, his mansion collapses, crushing him beneath — or at least, so Marcus thinks. Meanwhile, thanks to not having their best soldier, Ephyra falls. Marcus is court-martialed and sentenced to 40 years in a hellhole of a prison called The Slab.

The main story kicks off - Gears of War

Thankfully, Marcus doesn't even end up doing a full sentence, because four years later the Locust end up attacking the prison. The order is given to pardon all prisoners, but one of Marcus' old Gear squadmates, Dom Santiago, comes for him personally, bearing armor and a Lancer. Once they kill their way out of the prison, he's promptly drafted back into COG via Delta Squad, consisting of Dom, Anthony Carmine, and Minh Young Kim, and a wee bit later, Damon Baird and the infamous Augustus Cole as well.

Delta Squad, as it turns out, has a pretty huge mission on their plate: they're ordered to obtain an item called a Sonic Resonator, which will allow COG to map the Locust Hollows beneath what's left of Ephyra, thus finding the optimal place to drop a weapon called a Lightmass bomb and wipe the Locust out for good. 

Dropping the Lightmass bomb on the Locust - Gears of War

Along the way, Delta Squad gets some high-quality killing done, using the Hammer of Dawn to take down a Berserker, melting some Kryll with a fancy UV light, and just the usual chainsaw-based carnage. They manage to reach the designated area where the resonator can do the most good. But even after they use it to map the tunnels, there's too little data to make the bomb do maximum damage. Baird finds a device which seems to suggest a full map may be available at East Barricade Academy — Marcus' father's home.

After downloading the data, Marcus  and Dom fight their way to the front of the hijacked freight train carrying the Lightmass bomb, kill the Locust General guarding it, and escape just before the train drops off a destroyed bridge into a body of Imulsion, using the map data to destroy several crucial Locust nests. Score a big one for the good guys. It'd almost be cause to celebrate if the last thing you saw wasn't the Locust Queen

Cities in dust - Gears of War 2

Six months goes by, and humanity is enjoying some well-earned peace. Well, most of it is, anyway, a lot of them are suffering from an awful respiratory virus called Rustlung because somebody, not naming names, dropped a devastating explosive weapon into the Imulsion underground. Other than that, everything's cool. 

The COG starts to get the wild idea that the Locust may not be all the way dead yet when cities start suddenly sinking underground and disappearing, which is generally not something you expect to see from a major city. Not taking things lying down, Delta Squad is pulled out of retirement along with several other squads to execute Operation Hollow Storm, a plan which basically amounts to not waiting to see what the Locust has in store next. Instead, the COG will send Gears directly into the Locust Horde's Hollows to find and annihilate every enemy they see with extreme prejudice.

The battle with the Riftworm - Gears of War 2

After fighting their way down into the depths, Delta Squad manages to find the cause of their problems: a creature called a Riftworm, which has a hunger, and the only cure appears to be devouring more subterranean foundational infrastructure. And the major human stronghold of Jacinto is next.

The Gears do manage to take down the beast — from the inside, and however gross you think that sounds, trust us, it's worse. Some heavy losses are sustained, but they do manage to rescue Augustus Cole and Damon Baird in the process. Good for them. Still, the whole affair is hairier than the COG expected and as such, they retreat, and take a different strategy. The Gears are rerouted to check out a nearby research facility, which had been looking for a cure to Imulsion sickness — with human test subjects. The results, unfortunately, were monstrous creatures called Sires. But the trip winds up not being a total loss when the Gears discover not just the location of the Locust capital, Nexus, but the existence of the Locust Queen, Myrrah. 

The Lambent explode into the story - Gears of War 2

The Gears manage to sneak their way into Nexus, the Locust capital. The reward for their courage and perseverance is one of the saddest things to ever happen in a video game: after they find Dom's wife Maria tortured and lobotomized in a Locust prison, Dom forces himself to kill her out of mercy.

After everyone is done staring into the middle distance for a couple of hours, the Gears make another less sad but equally horrifying discovery. See, while some things exposed to Imulsion just get sick and die, an equal number actually mutate into some brand new terrifying creatures called Lambent. The new ugly Lambent are currently at war with old ugly Locust, and the Gears discover that Myrrah's plan to sink Jacinto is less about giving humanity the middle finger than creating a massive flood throughout Nexus to wipe out the Lambent after the Locust have evacuated. It's not a bad idea, aside from the fact that the Gears aren't a fan of the "after the Locust have evacuated" part. The Gears manage to escape Nexus after killing Myrrah's right hand man, but not before making the eyebrow raising insinuation that she knows Marcus' father.

The decision is made by COG brass to go ahead with the Queen's plan and let Jacinto sink, which they accomplish using a Locust Brumak that gets a little too swole with Imulsion for its own good. After they blow it up with the Hammer of Dawn, Jacinto sinks, and humanity retreats to the island of Vectes to start over. Again. 

Adam Fenix is the key to victory - Gears of War 3

Good news everyone! The flooding of Nexus actually brought a whole bunch of that toxic Imulsion to the surface, creating a pandemic and a whole lot more human Lambent! Everything is awful!

So after humanity narrowly escapes a Lambent attack on Vectes, one of the COG statesmen, Chairman Prescott, pulls Marcus aside on his deathbed to drop a bombshell on him: not only is his father still alive, but Queen Myrrah has been working with him at a facility called Azura. Naturally, Marcus, seeing a chance for redemption, takes Delta Squad on a little joyride to Azura. He loses Dom during the trip — to "Mad World," no less! — but what he loses in a trusted friend, he makes up in righteous fury.

Later, he learns that Azura is basically a resort, built by the elite to research the Imulsion threat.

The original story arc concludes in a series of deaths - Gears of War 3

Eventually, Delta Squad find Marcus's father alive and well, who does everybody the favor of dropping some much-needed exposition. Apparently, the big problem is Imulsion. For all its clean energy properties, it is actually a living organism. A parasite, to be exact. Prescott figured this out, and had Adam working on a cure. Unfortunately, the Locust conquered Azura, and Myrrah made Adam develop a process that would kill the Lambent, but leave the Locust alive. Marcus doesn't like that part. 

While Adam finishes the energy device that would administer the cure, Marcus and his crew go toe-to-toe with both the Lambent and the Locust, eventually having a showdown with the Queen herself. Marcus gets some sweet revenge, killing Myrrah by stabbing her with Dom's knife, but not before the device has been triggered. This, unfortunately, spells the end for poor Adam, who'd been injecting himself with Imulsion, trying to test out his cure. His last words: "Go, and live. For me." With the Locust and Lambent all annihilated, that looks like it's very, very possible.

The next generation begins their own story - Gears of War 4

Fast forward 25 years. That's enough time for the COG to reform, humanity to build itself up again, and for Emergence Day to become a Never Forget platitude spouted off by politicians at memorial services. The Stranded have, comparatively, made nice with the COG but still don't feel 100% comfortable living under their control, so a slew of folks still live in outskirt villages from humanity's cities. Among them are Marcus' son, J.D., and his smartass friends, Del Walker and Kait Diaz. 

Things are going about as well as post-near-apocalypse life can get, when J.D.'s village is raided one night by a new, never-before-seen creature that descends on them like a swarm. Which is probably why they end up calling the creatures the Swarm. Either way, the creatures end up kidnapping everyone in the village, including the chief: Kait's mother, Reyna. J.D. does manage to lop off one of the Swarm's hands, having the sinking suspicion he knows exactly what these things might be. Del suggests there's only one guy who'd definitely know for sure: J.D.'s father.

Marcus rises to yet another occasion - Gears of War 4

After a terse reunion with dear old dad, Marcus suggests that the best way to test and compare the sample is against the Locust corpses the COG buried in a mine beneath nearby fort. Along the way, Marcus figures out that the people the Swarm kidnap aren't just being taken somewhere and killed, but being cocooned in pods. He gets to experience everything first-hand when Marcus himself is kidnapped by a Snatcher, cocooned, and connected to the Swarm's hivemind. J.D. and company manage to hunt Marcus down, thankfully reaching him alive and getting the lowdown.

As it turns out, the Swarm are actually — are you sitting down — the Locust. After Adam Fenix's device went off, many Locust didn't die, but instead went into a state of extended hibernation, whereupon they evolved into their new Swarm forms. The people being kidnapped are placed into cocoons in order to be converted, bolstering their numbers after near-extinction put a dent in them. Except for Kait's mom, though, who's being held in another Locust burial site, treated oddly differently than the others.

J.D. and the family - Gears of War 4

Figuring they could use some extra firepower on their side, Marcus calls his old Gear buddies Damon Baird and Augustus Cole to help escort J.D. and his friends to the site. They're a little grayer, ever so slightly wiser, but no less lethal. They even help bag one of the goliath-sized creatures in the process. Badasses only get better with age, apparently. 

Kait does finally find Reyna at the second Swarm hive, but it's not pretty. She's already half assimilated, begging for the mercy kill. Yep, it's another "Dom's wife" situation, but with a bit of a worrisome twist. Before putting poor Reyna out of her misery, Kait gets a minute to say goodbye, whereupon Reyna gives Kait a medallion, saying it belonged to her grandmother. That'd be awfully sad if, for some reason, the medallion didn't have the Locust Horde's sigil on the back of it.

J.D.'s and Kait's failures - Gears 5

Some time after the whole nasty business with Reyna, J.D., Kait, and Del are full time COG soldiers helping to fight the good fight. This would turn out to be the biggest mistake any of them could make. 

Even before the game begins, J.D.'s already got a big red mark in his ledger after a protest goes wrong, and under pressure, he orders his squad to fire on civilians. Things get a hell of a lot worse, however, when Delta Squad is called out to a settlement after it's attacked by the Swarm. When things get too hairy, J.D. calls for Baird to fire the Hammer of Dawn, despite Baird's warning that it's still under maintenance. The strike is successful, until the satellite malfunctions and can't stop firing, resulting in a catastrophic loss of life.

Kait's issues almost pale by comparison. Post-Reyna, Kait exhibits all the signs of PTSD, including a series of blinding headaches that become progressively worse over time. After J.D.'s little incident, Kait goes out to the exile camps to try and convince her uncle Oscar to get in league with the COG. When the Swarm attack there, Kait is abducted by a Snatcher, discovering that while connected to the hivemind, she has control over low-level enemies. That doesn't, however, apply to a new type of Swarm, the Warden, who manages to reach Oscar and splatter his head while Kait watches helplessly.

Kait's legacy - Gears 5

Horrified by what might be going on in her head, Kait and Del go off on their own into the frozen tundra beyond COG territory. Marcus guides them back to the New Hope labs where he found Niles, hoping that his knowledge of how the Locust came to be might explain Kait's predicament. The good news is yes, Niles in robot form is still tooling around the place, and has answers. The bad news is everything else.

Apparently, while Niles' project treating Rustlung accidentally resulted in the Locust, one child turned out to be immune to the uglier side effects. While raised in the lab, she would assist Niles and his colleagues with developing the Locust, including a berserker called the Matriarch which would amplify her connection and ability to communicate with the Swarm. That child, in case you hadn't guessed, was Myrrah.

Once she's all grown up, Myrrah gets into a relationship with a fellow geneticist, Dr. Torres, which results in Myrrah becoming pregnant with — drumroll please — Kait's mother, Reyna. Eventually horrified at what they were helping create, Torres manages to escape the facility with Reyna. Niles, not wanting Myrrah to follow, tells her that Reyna died. That results in a much worse outcome: Myrrah's rebellion against humanity, and, well, we all know how that turns out.

Kait finds a new family - Gears 5

Kait, now armed with the truth, escapes the lab and kills the Matriarch on the way out, which unfortunately (and inexplicably!) wakes up Reyna in the process. Kait and Del eventually hook back up with J.D. and their brash colleague Fahz in the desert with old-school UIR soldier Paduk, looking to repair the Hammer of Dawn using one of the UIR's old rockets. While that happens, though, Reyna sends her army straight to the COG's capital city to pick a fight.

Once the Hammer is up and running, Kait and her company, after narrowly escaping arrest for her little excursion, helps the COG fight off Reyna's forces, which also includes a brand new massive beastie called the Kraken. The battle is hard won, but not before Reyna herself shows up to take one of Kait's friends out of the picture. Depending on your choice, either Del dies, after which J.D. truly reconnects with Marcus and realizes the value of his own life; or J.D. dies, leaving Marcus alone, having lost even more of his family to the Swarm.  Either way, Kait, having gotten all the closure she needs, sets out without her personal baggage to go slay the new Queen.