The world of Xbox Game Studios’ beloved Gears franchise has grown phenomenally since the release of Gears 5 back in September of last year. But before that, back in late August of 2019, fans were shocked and surprised when a mobile spinoff based on the boxy Funko POP! It was somewhat strange to see franchiser favourites popped onto a tug-of-war lane fighting game. So it’s also safe to say It’s safe to say many were equally surprised at The Game Awards when Microsoft showed a trailer for a turn-based strategy game set in the Gears universe titled Gears Tactics. Yesterday, Xbox Game Studios invited us to check out some of what the game looks like so far, in the hopes that it will help fans of the series get excited to spin around this new title.
Tyler Bielman is Gears Tactics’s Design Director and he says that the goal to bringing Gears into the tactical RPG genre was to keep things fast, minimize downtime and allow players the freedom to experiment — even if they get punished for doing so, as Bielman himself did a few times during the playthrough! There is no grid of movement here; Players are allowed to move freely, but it will still consume an action point relative to the distance you travel, as is the case in most similar game experiences. Similarly, each of the player’s units receives three action points per turn, but there are ways to earn more, and points that are saved can go into actions such as “Overwatch” — where a character gets a cone of vision placed in front of them that is activated when an enemy crosses it. Said enemy will then be shot at and possibly killed!
However, Bielman wants to stress that the game isn’t going to suffer because of the control afforded to the player. The developers have been thinking long and hard about how they can adapt classic Locust enemy types into pieces on the board that will throw a wrench into the Gears. Bielman further touts that there will be more enemies per capita in Gears Tactics, as well as some seriously big boss battles to contend with — something Gears is best known for!
Xbox Game Studios is aiming for Gears Tactics to takes a high-confidence shot at being an action-packed, single-player test of skill and strategy, but Bielman says that the game also has to feel like it belongs in the Gears universe. One of my biggest problems with Gears POP! is that it very much felt like a mobile game adaptation in that you could have slapped any popular IP on it and it would have been able to be passed off a successful product. There was a story to it, but it didn’t feel like it related to the larger story of Gears enough. In the case of Gears Tactics, this spinoff operates as a prequel to the original Gears of War. The story is set 12 years prior to the first mainline entry. You’ll lead Gabe Diaz on a jaunty military road trip where the purpose is to kill Ukkon, a priest-like Locust who may or may not be the architect of Sera’s fall. True to its source material, Gears Tactics features fully fleshed-out cutscenes and engaging banter between characters on the map to tell its story. We were treated to a light spoiler during the playthrough that we will spare you from, but it appears that things aren’t going to go quite as planned on this road trip!
One aspect of the turn-based RPG genre The Coalition appears to have nailed is character customization. While you are rolling across the planet of Sera, you’ll run into a number of Gears troopers, whose appearance and armaments are yours to endlessly play with. We saw characters get their own colours and patterns of armour, as well as tricked-out versions of iconic series weapons like the Lancer. There’s plenty of weapons and armour mods that can be obtained on maps or through competing win conditions on maps that are randomly rolled and will make things either easier or harder. According to Bielman, you can almost certainly expect things to be harder! You can also be sure that customization will evolve with skills and classes, so you’re going to have to be both smart and creative when it comes to outfitting your crew.
Gears Tactics is available April 28th to own from the Windows Store and Steam, or to play on Xbox Game Pass for PC. Pre-order or play on Game Pass between launch and May 4th and you will receive Thrashball Cole — everyone’s favourite bashful Gear decked out in post-apocalyptic football equipment that provides a serious stat buff.