Gears Tactics’ default difficulty isn’t a cakewalk, but it’s definitely nowhere near the one-wrong-turn-and-you’re-dead level of tension that XCOM has. In my personal playthrough, I lost only two units — one during a boss fight that I didn’t feel like restarting, and one as a completely random mistake that any amount of forethought could have avoided. Don’t get me wrong, Gears Tactics can still be challenging. Failing to bring a support unit makes any fight tougher, and special units like the grenadier, boomer, or theron guard can quickly disassemble your squad, but if you like your tactics games to be positively punishing, turn it one notch up.
Customize Your Crew
It’s a little hidden away, but you can turn each of these gravelly grunts into giant purple, yellow, or multi-colored monstrosities. Simply go to the barracks menu, click on a unit, click on their individual armor slot, and under the cosmetics heading there will be a primary and a secondary color choice, with a surprising amount of options. You can even alter the type of metal their armor is made out of. Additional cosmetic options will unlock as you progress throughout the story.
Line of Sight
Gears Tactics, like many tactics games before it, relies on you outflanking enemies and lining up the perfect shot on them. But where to move? When you’re selecting what bit of cover you want to move into next, you’ll spot very thin white lines tracing to enemy units that are visible from that position. Segmented lines mean that the enemy is obscured or only partially visible, often to the point that you’ll only have a small chance to hit. Being aware of these lines is key for knowing what move to make next.
Overwatch is Overly Important
Overwatch allows squadmates to put cones of vision over a certain stretch of the map from their position, and fire on anything that moves in or through that cone. The importance of the overwatch ability in this game cannot be understated, allowing you to create deadly chokepoints for enemies moving in on your position, but it’s easy to use it in a way that’s overkill. I personally find it more effective to have one unit use overwatch on an enemy’s general position (so the cone is squared center over the enemy) and have others cover further on either side of that enemy, which in theory will also cut off those stretches of land from other nearby enemies.
Overwatch is less about getting the kill and more about denying an enemy the privilege of waltzing through a certain area, and all the better if you can push them back a few feet and interrupt their charge, making them waste their own action points. You’ll start to feel this out more as you do defense-oriented missions rather than offensive missions that force you to move longer distances.
Another important point: If an enemy moves through an area that’s covered by two overwatch cones, both of your squadmates will fire upon that same enemy. If one shot is enough to kill the enemy unit, you’ve basically just wasted the other squadmate’s shot. Only overlap overwatch cones when it’s imperative to do so.
Friendly fire is on in Gears Tactics, and it’s quite easy to forget. If an enemy like a wretch, ticker, or grenadier has managed to get into close quarters with your friend, be careful where you aim. It’s possible to take a chunk of health off of that squadmate when shooting at the Locust. Thankfully, I never noticed it being a chunk bigger than my support unit could heal, although why waste resources like that in the first place?
Explosive attacks will also affect friendly squadmates, so watch where you drop those grenades, proximity mines, or where you shoot an explosive ticker enemy.
Speaking of throwing grenades, every attack in Gears Tactics will let you preview how much a successful attack will damage an enemy. While gunfire has the chance to miss, grenades always land exactly where you aim, so this damage preview becomes key. The closer a grenade is to an enemy, the more damage it will take, unlike XCOM where it was a flat hit or miss. When an enemy’s health bar has the skull icon over it, that means the attack will kill it.
Toggle That Tac-Com
The Tac-Com feature (which can be toggled with the R key) allows you to hover over any unit and get a readout of what status effects they currently have (like shellshocked, pinned, or poisoned), along with other basic info. If you’re judging whether or not to shoot at an enemy, toggling Tac-Com on will give you a more comprehensive readout of what’s affecting your chance-to-hit percentage, including elevation, cover, and other factors.
Getting Back Up Again…and Again
Every unit, both heroes and randomly generated, has the “Second Wind” ability, which lets them revive themselves after being down, and also gives them one action point, but at the cost of one-quarter of their health bar permanently, at least until the end of that mission. If possible, try to revive them with another squadmate, as that lets them use up whatever remaining action points they may have had.
Skill Points are Slow to Grow
Even after taking the core set of hero characters and countless randomly generated units out into the battlefield what feels like dozens of times, I’m still surprised at how few experience points each has gotten. If you’re hoping to max out one branch of a unit’s skill tree, make sure you’re committing early, as a unit can go at least a few missions before they level up. By the start of Act 3, my hero units had only reached levels 5-6, which translated to roughly one whole branch of a skill tree, or some split between multiple branches. Ultimately, it doesn’t hurt combat, but it can leave you feeling like you’re falling behind even though you’re still doing just fine.
You Can Dismiss Troops
Speaking of skill points, if you notice your roster of randomly generated soldiers is starting to fall behind in levels, check out the recruitment page from the barracks menu and see if another soldier of the same class is available. It costs you nothing to recruit a new unit, just an empty slot on your roster, which gradually increases over time. Each new recruit will come with a level-appropriate batch of skill points to spend at your leisure.
Side Missions Will Lock You Out of Certain Characters
A lot of missions in Gears Tactics will lock you out of using certain hero characters like Sid, Gabe, or Mikayla. During story missions, this is usually just for narrative reasons. During side mission chapters, you’ll often be presented with multiple side missions to choose from, and you’ll be required to finish two out of three or three out of four options. Any units you choose to go on one mission will be unavailable for the next 1-2 side missions.
This means you should invest in multiple support units with healing abilities, along with other unit types that you’re fond of. Leaving yourself stranded with no way to heal or deal damage is a recipe for disaster in certain missions.
And Here’s Everything Else
- Tickers have unusually high evasion stats, so make those shots count. If you miss, they also get to advance a few meters.
- You can knock enemies into Emergence Holes, killing them even if they’re at full health. Just be careful. The same can happen to you.
- You can move and kick a ticker with one action point by selecting the “ticker kick” action.
- Throwing grenades and planting them relies on two different cooldown timers, so don’t be afraid to use both.
- Sid and other vanguard units are able to use their bayonet charge ability to charge through an enemy’s overwatch cone without being interrupted.