The PC strategy RPG army swells: Absolute Tactics arrives September 15

Absolute Tactics, or as it would've been called in '90s California, Hella Tactics, is an indie project that longtime Gearbox Software developer Jason Shields has been working on for the last five years. It's finally almost finished, and landing on Steam and the Nintendo Switch on September 15—right in the middle of the biggest year for the strategy RPG genre in decades.

Tactics Ogre, the grandfather of the genre, is making its way to PC later this year, but Shields took a bit of a different tact with his design for Absolute Tactics. "I think a natural trend in games, and SRPGs are no exception, is to become more and more complicated over time," he says. "Even though there’s plenty of gear and min-max opportunities for those who are inclined, I wanted Absolute Tactics to have a little bit more streamlined approach in those areas."

For example: Your characters in Absolute Tactics aren't locked into a particular class, and swapping classes doesn't mean starting from zero. You just swap a piece of gear called a Class Handbook to switch classes, or equip two to dual-class. Upgrade the handbook, and the class grows stronger.

"This was a simple way for me to help make choosing classes be a bit more fluid and let players try lots of different combinations, rather than feel locked in to certain playstyles for the whole game," Shields says.

Dual-classing is probably Absolute Tactics' standout feature, and it makes sense for the smaller squads you'll be deploying compared to the dozen-odd units you micromanage in many strategy RPGs.

"I think dual-classing is generally the way to go in order to get a wide array of skills for each character, to make them super useful in as many situations as possible," says Shields. "For example, a defensive class like Saboteur who places traps, or the Guardian class who places barricades, can benefit a lot from pairing those with a class like Necromancer or Fire Mage, who can launch some ranged skills from behind their defensive lines."

Some of today's indie tactics games are all-in on recreating Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, right down to their UI or pixel art style. Absolute Tactics is more of a blend, based on some particular favorites from what Shields calls his favorite videogame genre.

"The isometric, grid-based classics are where I really drew my inspiration from," he says. "Shining Force had the coolest characters to me, so I knew for sure I wanted actual characters with unique personalities, as opposed to the more 'paper doll' approach of some games. Vandal Hearts had this awesome story and utter brutality of the enemies that has really stuck with me over the years. And Final Fantasy Tactics had amazing levels and scenarios, and fantastic player choice while building your units' playstyles. So those were all things that I thought about while making Absolute Tactics."

Absolute Tactics has a demo you can play on Steam now, ahead of its launch on PC and Switch in three weeks. 

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).