We had the opportunity to get a new preview of The Coalition’s upcoming Gears Tactics, the turn-based strategy game based in the Gears of War (or is it just Gears now?) universe.

Taking place about 10-12 years before the original Gears of WarTactics sees you control Gabe Diaz, following through the story with a goal of “rescuing and building your troops in a journey of leadership, survival, and sacrifice.” If the name Diaz is familiar, that’s because Gabe is Kait Diaz’s father. Kate was the protagonist in the latest entry in the series, Gears 5.

Your ultimate goal is to hunt down Ukkon, the lead scientist of the locust horde. But of course, we’re not spoiling any story points here.

Before diving into actual gameplay, we’re giving a little bit of an overview about what to expect from Gears Tactics. Unlike most turn-based games, Tactics isn’t constrained to a grid whatsoever. In this game, players get three actions for turn in any combination of moving shooting or special skills. Move up as far as you can, stay in one spot and shoot the hell out of your enemies, or lob grenades and set up overwatch points from where you are. Or, of course, do any combination of the three.

This, the game developers say, allows you to execute incredibly aggressive strategies and create a much more open strategic environment for the player. There’s a high inventory of enemies, lots of them served up all at once, which is definitely something the Gears franchise is known for, but will be a new take in the turn-based genre in many ways.

Of course, as a turn bass game, there’s an RPG style class system that is not incredibly unique to the genre, but it’s all new for Gears. Among them are five classes: support, vanguard, scout, heavy, and sniper.

  • Support – this is Gabe Diaz’s type, and is the class with the most balanced stats
  • Vanguard – a breaching class, hot and heavy
  • Scout – has the ability to move up through enemy territory, staying cloaked for an entire turn
  • Heavy – gets increasing damage and accuracy for “anchoring,” staying in the same place for multiple turns in a row
  • Sniper – long range attack class just as you’d expect

Every class has a signature weapon, each with its own for mod slots that can be swapped with new equipment that you find throughout the game, not only changing cosmetics, but boosting various stats as well. There are also three armour slots–helmet, torso, and legs–each of which is also stat-boosting. For those that want to get into cosmetic mods, there’s also a system that allows you to play with colour, patterns, paint and paint type, metallic looks, and even amount of wear.

Gears Tactics has four difficult emotes: beginner, intermediate, experienced, and insane. A unique touch is that each difficulty can be played with the available “Iron Man” mode, which removes the option to backtrack after having made your moves. No save-spawning here.

Of course, the Gears series has always been known for its cover mechanics, and Tactics is no different. Throughout the preview, the prevailing strategy always seemed to be to make sure you end your turn in cover. Doing so means that enemies, also bound by the same three-move system, are required to use much of their moves traversing the environment to get to you, rather than taking straight shots immediately.

From behind cover, your character will still be able to pop out and shoot enemies, as shown by lines that indicate what their angle and viewpoint are before you even move them there. From that point, before making a shot, you’ll even see the probability of being successful in the shot, as well as how likely you are to land a critical hit.

The overwatch mechanic is probably our favourite feature of Tactics and is one unique to the franchise. At the end of your turn, if your character has the ability to perform an overwatch, you set out the area that the character will guard. During the enemy’s turn, if they pass through this area, you will automatically go on the offensive, not simply becoming a bullet sponge, but actually having the opportunity to fight back, and potentially even take out the offender.

Depending on your position and how many players you have, you can even cross overwatch patterns with each other, so the second an enemy moves in, they’re getting attacked from all sides.

Some other higher level moves have cool down periods, the beefiest of which can be as long as eight turns, maybe more, so they need to be more strategically utilized, and likely aren’t ideal for the weaker of the enemies.

Speaking of enemies, we were shown only a small assortment of the enemies you’ll face in Tactics, beginning with a simple Drone, and the slightly more terrifying Wretch. Perhaps the most interesting we saw was the Disciple, a medium-level enemy that deals a poison glass cloud upon death, which will hurt any of your troops in the area. That same poison gas cloud will actually serve to buff enemies nearby, dealing some positive benefits for the locust horde, and something you’re probably going to want to avoid.

There is also a Boomer (with a rocket launcher, no less), that’ll deal pretty significant damage if you’re not careful. Luckily, however, taking out this Boomer means you can take their rocket launcher, which certainly assists in doing large amount of damage to other enemies.

We were also treated to a boss fight against a Corpser. These massive enemies are no stranger to the Gears of War universe, and they’ve got some unique attributes in Tactics. Of course, the Corpser uses its legs as a shield to defend itself in the game, and while you can actually shoot and use explosives to get through them, it takes a massive amount to do so, not to mention wasting multiple turns, becoming largely unrealistic to do so. Instead, a more sound strategy is to allow the Corpser to begin with its attack phase which takes two or three turns, and try to get some shots in while it opens up.

As the Corpser fight continues, there are also smaller enemies like Drones and Disciples nearby that also need to be considered, as well as an emergence hole, a crack in the ground where new enemies will begin to spawn as early as the next turn. You can close up these holes by planting a mine or grenade on them, but in our case, we just let three Wretches come out of it, because why the heck not see how it works?

The Corpser’s actual attack is wide-reaching and deals incredible damage to anything in its way, whether friend or foe. It will also throw out enemy proximity mines that block your passage and line of sight to it as well as other enemies. Depending on difficulty level, tripping these mines will also damage the locusts, so they may not be all bad.

The gameplay itself is as fast-paced as you want it to be. There’s not much downtime, and during the actual attack and movement phase, there’s quite a bit going on with very little pause. But between those turns, you can really take as much time as you like to survey the situation and be a strategic as possible.

Graphically, Gears games have been no slouch, and Tactics is no different. Being viewed from an overhead perspective doesn’t mean that the game has any less fidelity or detail. Light and particle effects are plentiful, reflections in water are realistic, and because the game is set much closer to the battlefield than something like Halo Wars, for example, the artists have clearly taken even more time to add detail to the world.

Whether you’re a fan of turn-based strategy games, or even real-time strategy games, and especially if you’re at all involved in the Gears universe, Gears Tactics is a game worth having a look at. And of course, if you’re already subscribed to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you get the game as part of your subscription, so it absolutely won’t hurt to give it a shot.

Gears Tactics comes to the Windows Store via Xbox Game Pass for PC and Steam on April 28th.

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