More news on Gears of War: Judgment hits today in the form of a Microsoft press release. The prequel will offer up VIP Season Pass access at 1600 Microsoft Points (a twenty percent discount over the regular pay-as-you-go price). And in addition to being a value buy, the VIP Season Pass purchase gives you access to an exclusive permanent double XP boost, five exclusive weapon skins, four exclusive armor skins, early access to six multiplayer maps, and last but not least, two new modes.

New modes you say? What about the old modes we loved that are no longer accessible at launch like Warzone, King of the Hill, and Execution? Well, that brings us to the second bit of news revealed in the press release today – an exclusive partnership with Maxim Magazine which gives free post release access on April 2nd to two Maxim sponsored maps dubbed Haven (sneak peek here) and Capitol, plus a “brand new Execution Mode” that the folks over at Maxim are “a little bit excited about.”

Brand new? That must be the excitement speaking because as far as I can tell the only thing “brand new” about Execution Mode at this juncture is the fact that Maxim is sponsoring it and the general public will have to wait until two weeks after launch to access it. I say “general public” because a quick call to Microsoft PR confirmed that those willing to pay for the VIP Season Pass will be able to access the Maxim maps and Execution Mode on day one.

Now, you may not like the way the mode is being rolled out, but at the very least this gives closure to the “where the heck is Execution Mode?” question. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Warzone and King of the Hill. Are they dead or will they, like their Execution based counterpart, return via a sponsorship? The answer is uncertain at best, despite my best efforts to pry.

What we do know at this time is that Microsoft is teasing two more “new modes” as a part of their DLC update plan, but despite my questioning, there is no telling whether or not the new modes they are hinting at are re-branded versions of Warzone and King of the Hill or new modes all together.

If you are late to the Gears of War Judgment conversation, be advised that multiplayer modes aren’t the only things that are changing in this prequel release. The interface is receiving a bit of an overhaul and you are no longer able to play as Locust in multiplayer mode. That said, change isn’t always a bad thing. Some of the tweaks may be seen as welcome additions. For instance, if you enjoy sniping you may be happy to know that Judgment changes the experience greatly. Gone are the days of forced reloads after every shot. Snipers will now be able to peg off multiple targets before having to refocus and reload. I personally love the change here but if you are the type that prefers to run and gun you may be far less enthusiastic about the increased likelihood of losing your head.

Last but not least, I also asked Microsoft PR about dedicated server access in Gears of War Judgment. It’s inclusion was confirmed by GamesRadar back in July, but I was more interested in knowing whether or not they would be improving upon it. Those familiar with the roll out of dedicated servers with Gears of War 3 know that the servers were in large part tied to the DLC releases. In other words, if you didn’t get the next DLC pack released, your access to dedicated servers was greatly limited moving forward.

The response I received was that they have learned from the experience that was dedicated servers in Gears 3 and plan to build on that experience with the launch and inclusion of dedicated servers in Gears of War Judgment. Not very specific I know, but it at least acknowledges that they recognize the room for growth and improvement.

In a nutshell, if you are planning on playing Judgment on a regular basis with a heavy focus on the multiplayer experience and you value things like dedicated server access across all game modes, access to additional game modes, and a persistent XP boost, then I highly suggest you consider the VIP Season Pass sooner rather than later.

Gears of War Judgment hits store shelves in North America a few weeks from now on March 19th. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available to us.