At this point, Microsoft has a few big franchises that they cycle between from year to year, with the two biggest properties being Halo and Gears of War. While Halo has split off into other genres briefly, Gears of War has remained entirely a third-person shooter series. We’ve seen Halo adapt fairly well into the RTS genre with both Halo Wars games, and now it’s Gears’s turn. The series is already set up perfectly for a foray into the strategy genre with its various units, focus on cover-based mechanics, and strong characters’ personalities.
Now, Halo Wars certainly isn’t the most complex RTS game out there, and for good reason. Many of the more complex elements of the genre have been scaled back and streamlined to make the experience easy to play on consoles. Base building is localized to designated spots around your base, armies are generally smaller than other titles, and the pace of matches is built to be quick. This scaled back experience is perfect for the Gears of War franchise, which is almost always about your small group struggling against insurmountable odds.
This idea could easily be implemented and reinforced through both gameplay and story. Base building and development could work exactly as it does in Halo Wars, granting you a main structure, and then allowing you to construct various buildings around it, like resource gathering buildings and places to construct units. The core combat, however, should be changed up to take advantage of Gears’ focus on cover.
RTS games like Company of Heroes has implemented cover mechanics in the past to great effect, and Gears of War could do the same. Make most objects interactable for cover with varying defense boosts depending on the type of cover you’re in. This could boost the level of strategy present, and make battles a matter of reading your environment besides just sending wave after wave of troops in.
With a mechanic like this in place, there may not even be a need for Halo Wars’ rock-paper-scissors system of advantage. Flanking, positioning, and reinforcing all start to come into play in traditional Gears style. You can also give units secondary abilities, like allowing COG Soldiers and Locust Grunts to throw grenades with an alternative button to help flush covered enemies out.
Story-wise, a Gears of War RTS would want to be very focused on defense and survival. Luckily, defense missions make this very easy to do, isolating you and your army against wave after wave of enemies. There are many aspects of the Gears timeline not fully explored, like the Pendulum Wars before the Locust appeared, or the period right after Emergence Day. An RTS campaign would be best suited focusing on an isolated squad or battalion of COG Soldiers, as they fight an unrelenting battle against the Locust.
Some of Halo Wars 2’s best missions are entirely focused on defense. For example, the mission “Hold the Line” has you defending a series of walls blocking enemies from reaching a critical orbital cannon you control. The mission gives you a handful of turrets to construct that are vital to your defense, almost turning it into a kind of tower defense objective. Interesting gameplay tweaks like this would be vital for a Gears of War RTS title, and could really work wonders. Maybe you have a base that has to defend your flank, while a battalion of soldiers ventures into dangerous Locust tunnels to take down a key target.
There are a ton of possibilities, but considering you’d mostly likely be playing as the COG, defense would be a big focus. Multiplayer would, of course, change things up and provide for more balancing between warring armies. It goes practically without saying that the ever popular Horde Mode would also fit right in. The mode could give you limited resources with a set of pre-selected defenses, granting you the ability to build more between rounds.
In terms of unit variety and hero characters, Gears of War has that covered as well. The COG has a wealth of vehicles that could be separated out into different units like the Raven, Centaur, and Silverback. Different weapons like the Longshot Rifle and Scorcher could function for different infantry units, with the Lancer and Hammerbust serving as your basic units for COG and Locust respectively. This isn’t even to mention the variety that the Locust have for different units with creatures like the Brumak, Wretches, Berserkers, Reavers, and more.
The Leader Powers from Halo Wars could be adapted quite well for Gears of War too, as there’s already some notable weapons and abilities established in the series. Brand new characters could function as the hero and leader units, or bring in series mainstays like General RAAM, Cole Train, and Carmine. Locust powers could be something like opening an Emergence Hole to bring reinforcements or calling a swarm of Kryll to decimate your enemies. Alternatively, COG powers could involve using the Hammer of Dawn to call down a destructive beam or calling in a King Raven for close air support. Weather systems like those featured in Gears of War 4 could also make for some dynamic threats on the battlefield.
With the popularity of the Halo Wars games, there’s definitely room for console RTS experiences on the Xbox One – something that the Gears of Wars series could definitely capitalize on. A spin-off would be a great way to flesh out the world of Sera and the lengthy conflict between the COG and Locust, providing more context besides the struggle of Marcus Fenix and crew. All the pieces are already in place to make an RTS title, and Gears would really be a great fit for the genre, with an emphasis on defensive tactics. Hopefully, Microsoft can take advantage of the formula they’ve created with Halo Wars, and translate that into another engaging strategy experience for their other flagship series.