Gem Wizards Tactics is a turn-based squad tactics game where you can play as one out of three different factions. The best thing about this though is the fact that they’re all asymmetric. In other words, each unit type and each faction plays a lot different from each other. Besides that, the game promises to deliver an “endless challenge”. This is mostly achieved thanks to randomly generated maps and somewhat of a free-form campaign structure.
Besides the campaign, which you can play with any of the three factions, there’s also some sort of ranked mode and custom games, if that’s your thing. The campaign consists of a series of randomly generated levels, where you have to capture enemy flags in order to win. There isn’t really any story to it, you just keep playing these encounters until you liberate 100% of the map before your enemies achieve their full strength.
Things aren’t that straightforward as they might seem though. For instance, you can only take a small squad with you on each mission, and if you lose one of your units, they’re gone for good. Thankfully, some missions give you the chance to rescue random units, some of which might be veterans, so there is an optional element of risk versus reward. Nonetheless, the game is pretty challenging as is and since there aren’t any difficulty options, you can find your playthrough doomed rather quickly. This is simply due to the fact that there isn’t any way to recruit new units outside of missions. Hopefully, the developer does add some way to mitigate this in the future, whether in the form of new difficulty modes or allowing players to acquire troops by some other means.
In a way, what makes the core gameplay loop of Gem Wizards Tactics sound exciting is the fact that you’re always outnumbered, so you have to get creative in terms of tactics. Thankfully, the game doesn’t really present that much of an entry barrier. The gameplay and controls are pretty straightforward and easy to pick up. In some ways, Gem Wizards Tactics is exactly what you’d expect from your standard turn-based squad tactics game. Every action revolves around an action points system, there’s a flanking mechanic, and obviously, there are different units that offer various distinct abilities. Furthermore, every time a unit attacks another, they will both deal and receive damage, with the amount of damage being based on both units attack and defence values.
Although this is certainly a game that’s easy to pick up, I can definitely see people getting absolutely destroyed if they don’t take advantage of the game’s mechanics. Gem Wizards Tactics places a lot of focus on troop positioning and unit abilities and how they can not only synergize with one another, but also how they can impact the terrain. For example, if you manage to position enemies in a river and then you use a storm on a tile of that river, you’ll be able to damage every single unit that’s standing on tiles from that river. The game allows you to exploit its systems in various ways, mostly through nature’s elements, but it’s up to you to pay attention to the terrain and unit positioning and figure out when and where these opportunities arise. More than sheer strength, it’s the player’s creativity that plays a big role in how combat plays out.
Even though Gem Wizards Tactics can surprise with its combat, it absolutely falls flat when it comes to mission design. Despite featuring randomly generated maps, the objective in each level is always the same, you just capture enough flags to win. This gets old pretty quickly. Although I admit that the synergies and reactions between the different units, elements, and the terrain can be alluring at first, everything else about the game just feels bland. At first, it seemed like there was going to be some sort of narrative that was going to unfold, but it quickly became apparent that, besides a few monologues here and there, there isn’t anything else to it. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and work has been put into this game, but, unfortunately, after just a couple of hours, I was already tired of it.
At the end of the day, this game still feels very much like a work in progress. Don’t get me wrong, Gem Wizards Tactics has the potential to have a really addictive gameplay loop, but right now, it’s just lacking something to make it special. The fact that the game doesn’t really have anything else going for it other than the combat also doesn’t help matters. Still, it’s clear that the developer plans to update the game, as is evident by the 4 “COMING SOON” factions that you can see in the faction selection screen. To be honest, everything about Gem Wizards Tactics screams Early Access, but the game has been as a finished product. I certainly hope that more content gets added to the game in the future, and hopefully, that will make Gem Wizards Tactics a much better game than it currently is. As it stands, I find it hard to recommend it.
(Reviewed on PC, the game will be available for Windows on Steam)