Gears Tactics is an upcoming turn-based XCOM-style tactics game from The Coalition and Splash Damage, taking the popular shooter franchise into a fresh new genre. Tactics games have been consistently popular for decades, particularly for spin-offs, from the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics all the way to Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.
Tactics games have seen a bit of a renaissance lately, with significant success stories from games like Mutant Year Zero and the more RPG-oriented titles like Divinity Original Sin 2. I got into tactics games with XCOM: Enemy Unknown back on the Xbox 360, having dabbled with old school classics like Fallout 1 and 2 back in the day. I've always felt that Gears of War, with its cover system and flank-style gameplay, always seemed weirdly in-line with an XCOM-style experience. It turns out it works far better than I'd have ever expected.
Recently we got to see an hour's worth of glorious Gears Tactics gameplay, which may not only become a surprise hit but may also stand tall as one of the best Gears of War games, rather than some mere spin-off.
Gears of War, with an RPG twist
Gears Tactics is set during the early days of the saga. Set on the planet of Sera, Gears of War follows the trials of humanity as they battle a previously unknown subterranean threat, the Locust swarm. The Locust are towering reptilian humanoids, although they have tons of war-beasts and other types of mutants in their arsenal. Gears Tactics answers the question of exactly where some of the more outlandish beasts came from with an all-new antagonist.
It looks like we're getting a full-blown, real Gears game here.
In keeping with the tactical theme, Gears Tactics introduces Gabe Diaz on the human side. The father of Kait from Gears of War 4 onwards, Gabe is a tactician first and foremost, charged with cobbling together the remnants of the C.O.G. war machine to take the fight back to the Locust.
The primary antagonist this time around is Ukkon, who is an uncharacteristically intelligent Locust engineer and geneticist, responsible for the sect producing some of the machinery and hulking war beasts we often see throughout the Gears universe.
Capable of human speech with an uncanny ability to regenerate from injuries, Ukkon has all the makings and intrigue of a leading Gears of War villain, up there with the likes of RAAM. The fact that Gears Tactics will have the breadth to dive a little bit further into the Locust backstory and lore outside of the books a bit more is also a tantalizing prospect, especially as a long-time Gears player.
The cinematics we were shown are of the quality level you'd expect of The Coalition, complete with the character-driven emotion and twists and turns the franchise is known for. It looks like we're getting a full-blown, real Gears game here, albeit wrapped in a tidy tactical RPG-style package.
Advancing Gears, advancing tactics
While Gears Tactics has a lot of familiarities that tactics-style game fans will appreciate, it does a few unique things that try to bridge the gap between fans of Gears of War at large and isometric turn-based play.
Gears Tactics does a fair bit to let you tailor your UI. You can reduce the number of statistics and hit chances on-screen, and give it a more arcade feel if you so prefer. The Coalition has also gone all-out to provide Gears Tactics with all the graphics tweaks, and settings PC gamers expect, along with a benchmarking tool. You can play with a gamepad if you prefer, but right now, it's designed primarily with mouse and keyboard in mind.
This looks set be the deepest Gears of War game ever made.
Beyond settings, Gears Tactics follows a generally familiar format for isometric turn-based games, altered to give it a more familiar "Gears"-style feel. There are no grid restrictions like say, XCOM. Instead, you can move your characters in any direction based on a specific radius per action point. Action points govern the number of abilities or movements you can take each turn, like most similar games. In Gears Tactics, though, The Coalition wanted to reward aggression to keep the pacing of the game a little closer to that of a shooter. There are many abilities that reward combos of cascading action points, allowing you to put a lot of pressure on your enemies.
Executions are a Gears of War staple, and in Tactics, they reward your entire party with an additional action point for that turn, which can dramatically change the situation, while also giving you risk and reward scenarios to balance.
An execution may leave one of your characters open and without cover, for example, but the extra points you'll receive for additional actions may be worth the risk. Enemy mobs all take their turns simultaneously and relatively quickly, restricting how much time you have to wait between turns. It's this flow that keeps Gears Tactics moving in a way that similar games often don't.
While there is no grid for movement, Gears Tactics units do "snap" into cover, similarly to how you can in the regular game. Sliding into cover, in fact, gives you a few more meters of movement per action point to play with, which can help set up flanking maneuvers. And you'll be doing plenty of that. Throughout the game, you battle with all the staple Gears of War Locust enemies, as well as a few new ones that complement the strategy experience. One thing The Coalition has paid careful attention to is the way staple enemies handle in a tactical setting.
For example, tickers from Gears of War 2 are effectively landmines on legs, running around before self-detonating. Tickers are hard to hit while they're moving, but you can kick them over like in the regular Gears of War game, and they take extra damage while flipped over, allowing you to turn the tide on a group of enemies. Emergence holes return, too, spewing additional enemies into the area unless you deal with them appropriately.
Managing the C.O.G.
Taking on enemies in Gears Tactics is core to the game, of course, and you get a vast range of tools, weapons, and upgrades to get you going. At face value, this looks set be the deepest Gears of War game ever made, and as an XCOM fan, I think The Coalition and Splash Damage have totally nailed it.
Your squad in Gears Tactics is split into heroes, which are fixed characters that make up the story and appear in cutscenes, and troops, which are characters susceptible to perma-death. The game has an Ironman Mode, which means your choices, successes, and failures are permanent, which will come with associated achievements.
Otherwise, you can play at a regular pace and return to earlier saves to rescue a particularly powerful hero you may have lost. All characters have tons of visual customization, too, with armor styles, weapon mods, colors, metallic finishes. For the procedurally-generated troops, you can even change their names in true XCOM-style.
All characters gain experience and level up through missions, across four staple classes with different talent trees and specializations. Heavy-gunners, for example, specialize at covering an area in place, gaining stacking accuracy the longer they remain in one position. Shotgun-wielders excel at pushing and closer-range combat, granting the team additional action points.
There are also sniper specializations and more leadership-oriented ones, alongside hero abilities that can drastically change the course of the action. And you're going to need those abilities to take on some of the game's signature set-piece boss battles, which are not only huge but come with devastating abilities that will push your knowledge of your troops and movements.
Don't sleep on Gears Tactics
Gears Tactics is slated to be a single-player only affair with no microtransactions whatsoever, heading day one to Xbox Game Pass PC and Steam. Microsoft says that Gears Tactics will eventually come to Xbox One in the future, although there's no confirmed date as to when in the near-term. This is very much a PC-oriented experience right now, with UI designed for keyboards and mice, so some elements would need to be tweaked for a console experience, or even a Project xCloud touch-oriented experience down the line.
The number one thing I often hear from Gears of War fans about Gears Tactics is that the genre puts them off. If you're one of those people, I'd say: keep your eye on it. It seems to have all the high-quality cinematics, and intriguing story delivery Gears is known for. The gameplay appears to have been meticulously positioned to retain that sense of speed and aggression that is uniquely Gears. Rushing forward with a chainsaw, blowing up a group of enemies with a grenade, complete with all that meaty gore and gigantic set-piece boss battles that should create some truly memorable experiences. At least, that's the hope.
Don't sleep on Gears Tactics, I know I won't be.
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