I can’t think of a company that has become more ingrained in pop culture than Funko. Best known for their line of POP! Vinyls, the company has managed to get more licenses than I can count, with more coming every day. Funko POPs exist that represent everything from Marvel and Disney to horror characters and music icons. They’re a collectors juggernaut that just won’t stop.
The one thing that I haven’t seen from them is a game based on the adorable little collectables…until now!
Last year at E3 during the Xbox Briefing, Microsoft released a teaser for a game that was coming in 2019: Gears POP. Since then, I’ve been eagerly waiting to finally load the game onto my phone as I am a fan of both Funko POPs and the Gears of War franchise.
The results are surprising!
Gears of Clash
The gameplay of Gears POP is surprisingly simple and is very reminiscent of the popular Clash Royale. Using a roster of iconic POPs from the Gears of War games, you build out a team to take into battle. In addition to characters, there’s also an array of immediately recognizable items such as a frag grenades and sentries. From there, the idea is to brute force your opponent.
Starting the game for the first time, I noticed that it doesn’t have a robust tutorial. The game doesn’t offer much in the way of telling you what strategies you should use, but the information is in there…to an extent.
In addition to Battle and Horde modes the game also features a Boot Camp mode. This is the closest I’ve seen in the game to a strategies tutorial, where each battle will have a mission that doubles as a tip. An example of this is the second tactical battle: “Deploy Shepherds behind Tanks for maximum damage.”
Some of the challenges did have some useful information in them, but others really did feel like a bit of a slog, particularly the one where you learn how to use frag grenades. After playing every game released in the Gears franchise, I feel I have enough of a grasp on the usefulness of frags that this particular lesson could have been left out. Still, the game is trying to appeal to Funko fans as much as Gears ones. For that reason, I understand why it’s there.
Surprisingly Deep Gameplay
One thing that really surprised me about Gears POP is just how deep the gameplay actually is.
If you pulled me aside at a convention and said “Dan, what do you think makes a Gears of War game a Gears of War game?” my answer would always be the same: cover shooting. It doesn’t matter what game under the Gears branding we’re talking about, if there isn’t cover shooting, it doesn’t make the cut for me.
For as cute as Gears POP is, I had no idea how they were going to make the cover mechanic work, but by George, they did it! Among the various pins you collect in the game, you’ll notice that certain ones have a cover icon in the corner. The are very important units. As you play, one of your key strategies is going to be to expand your cover as far out as you can, thus reducing how far your units have to move before they are able to attack your opponent directly.
Also present in the game are scouts, tanks, and ultimate units. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a way to use the pins at your disposal to overwhelm your opponent into submission.
With that in mind, I sometimes feel this game struggles to find its identity. Every time you win a match, you get a Gear Pack full of loot. To open them, you have to spend crystals (the game’s premium currency) or wait out a timer that can range anywhere from two to ten hours. The game does allow you to run four timers simultaneously, but if you try to continue to play past that, you’re warned that you can earn any more Gear Packs until one of your existing ones is open.
This is where I think the game starts to lose itself.
Throughout a season of play, you’ll find yourself in 5 different arenas, with a new one unlocking each time you collect a certain amount of gears. The only way to get these gears is to win matches. Lose one and you’ll lose a few gears. It’s simply ranked play and this is more than okay.
That being said, the desire to grind for these gears is easily blown out when you’re reminded you won’t earn any gear if you continue to play.
A Pay-to-Win Affair? Maybe
Even after spending the last few days playing more hours of this game than I care to admit, I just can’t tell how bad the pay-to-win aspect really is.
There are codes that are packed-in with certain Funko POPs in the Gears of War line that let you earn loot and the haul I got with a Marcus Fenix code wasn’t too shabby. But there’s only a finite number of these codes to be obtained. At present, they’re only packed with four specific POPs if I’m not mistaken. Further still, I collect POPs, so the code doesn’t feel pay-to-win to me as much as it does a nice bonus for a collectable I’d probably buy anyway.
How microtransactions are presented is the game’s weakest point. You’re occasionally thrown a handful of crystals for things like linking your Gamertag (this game has achievements) and completing daily challenges, but this game really wants your money. I know this is a free-to-play mobile game and the developers need to eat somehow, but the monetization feels greedily implemented. I’d almost be willing to forgive this if the pay-to-win aspect were a clear pay-to-win. The amount of wins, losses, and draws I’ve experienced make me question that aspect of this game.
When I first checked the store tab, it showed me a welcome pack for $5.99 that came with a large gold loot crate and and a little over 800 crystals. Between what the game gave me and what came in the bundle, I was able to cash in for 100,000 coins. This was very beneficial as the game doesn’t drop coins as generously as one would hope (and coins are key to upgrading your pins). Progressing through the game has unlocked limited time packs with higher price tags, with one coming up immediately after buying the welcome pack. Big red flag!
As I get into higher level play, I still find that the game isn’t too unbalanced. I’ve seen at least one user on Twitter who claims the game is a hard pay-to-win but I’m inclined to disagree. There are absolutely some matches where I get decimated with no mercy and don’t have a shot of winning. On the flip side, I’m still finding matches where my opponent doesn’t stand a chance.
The game’s microtransactions definitely weigh into this but every opponent you face is a real person so their skill level also plays into this heavily. Theoretically, I could find an opponent who has paid to level everything but just lacks the strategy to win.
The real answer to how bad this game’s pay-to-win mechanics are isn’t going to show itself for a few more weeks, if not longer. There are some aspects to the pin leveling that could use a bit of balance tweaking but my experience hasn’t been a bad one overall.
Graphics and Sound
I don’t want you to think that I don’t like this game, despite my monetization gripes. This is a beautiful game. This is the first game using the POP graphic style and hope that it isn’t the last.
Each of these characters, down to your in-game avatar, have that distinct Funko POP look. You can even customize your avatar, making this the second official implementation of design your own pop available on mobile devices.
The levels here are cute but gritty and the music matches that to a T. As an added touch to show just how cute everything is, character voices have been shifted up several octaves, giving characters like Cole a helium sounding voice.
My Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, Media Tonic and The Coalition have put together a beautiful looking and very addicting mobile Gears experience. With Gears of War 5 right around the corner, I’m curious to see if the player base still sticks around or if there’s a large drop off right around launch.
Based on wording used in the game, it seems like this is poised to be a seasonal game with new characters added with each new season. I’d like to see the monetization tweaked in the future, better coin drops, and possibly some level balancing on a few of the games pins, but overall the game does offer a fun experience.
The plan for this is clearly to have it as a living game. While this one isn’t put out by EA and Dice, we’ve just what updating a living piece of software over time can do. The areas that I think are problematic for this game may be fixed six months down the road. If they are, I can see this game going on for quite some time. If not, I can see the player base moving on to greener pastures.
The one mode I didn’t get a chance to play during my review was Horde mode, which is, sadly, social based. I don’t have any friends playing the game as of yet and whenever I went to join an open clan, they would fill almost as quickly as I could click them. You can create a closed clan if you want to keep things to just your social circle but your numbers will obviously be bigger if you open up.
Overall, Gears POP is a game I can recommend if your a fan of either the Gears franchise or Clash Royale-likes. The games monetization and loot scheme is one of the weaker aspects of the game but it’s not enough for me to advise avoiding the game, especially when there is the possibility of it being modified in the future for better, or worse.
Overall, I give Gears POP an 7 out 10.
- Addicting gameplay.
- Great use of integrating cover mechanics from core franchise.
- Great Selection of characters and items from the Gears franchise.
- Can’t store Gear Packs for later.
- Monetization feels aggressive most of the time.