The long-running Jagged Alliance series has been through its fair share of ups and downs. When THQ Nordic brought back series designer Ian Currie to reinvigorate the series, they knew they had to make it memorable. Whether this is your first time with the series or you’ve been along for the whole journey, it’s clear that the series is back with Jagged Alliance 3.
The overarching story in Jagged Alliance 3 is that, in the country of Grand Chien, its president has been kidnapped by a radical paramilitary group called The Legion. The president’s family hires the Adonis Corporation to bring in their merchandise, rescue the president and return everything to the status quo. It is a pretty bare-bones narrative until you talk to some of the natives, in turn starting side missions and learning more about what’s at stake.
After clearing out a small town, I talked to some of the townspeople, and one of them gave me this quest to find her husband, who she thought was philandering. It turns out through exploring that he was being held captive by The Legion to get them weapons, and upon saving him, he returns to the town. Once there, we come across the townspeople finding who they thought was responsible for supplying them, and they are about to hang him.
It’s up to us if we want to interject and save this innocent man and give up our recent captor. In doing so, we lose access to his goods. Or we let the innocent man hang, and the game is filled with these little stories that have significant gameplay-changing consequences. That is where the real heart comes from in Jagged Alliance 3. Since the main plot itself is just a means to an end, the intricacies of the everyday people living in this war-torn country bring meaning and soul to what boils down to taking down an army.
Since the mercenaries we hire have no element of customization and having to hire them for a set period of time, it turns its back to the idea of having us, as the players get incredibly invested in them. Whereas in Xcom, I had customized my family into the game, so when someone went down, it was incredibly emotional. But, in Jagged Alliance 3, I felt nothing and would just proceed to hire another one.
When we interact with the side missions, building and tearing down trust with individuals, it drastically changes the game. Because of the side mission I mentioned earlier, I was able to cut off the supply to the local Legion operator. This, in turn, made the mission more manageable, which is something you will want to make sure you do as much as possible because, make no mistake, Jagged Alliance 3 is brutally difficult.
I could not tell you the number of mercenaries I lost or the times I had to reload previous checkpoints to try out different tactics. Thankfully the auto-saving is very generous, saving after each round in combat as you enter sectors and enter conversations. That being said, there is a finite amount of mercenaries, so save often.
“…make no mistake, Jagged Alliance 3 is brutally difficult.”
The majority of your time will be spent boots to the ground running through areas and taking down the bad guys, and scavenging for money, salvage, and herbs. This is because a constant balancing act is happening in Jagged Alliance 3. You will need to manage your resources to figure out who you can afford to hire and for how long because each mercenary is on a contract and will just leave once their contract is up unless you resign them, usually for more money.
It also costs money to let them have a little R&R, so they stay energized. But the herbs and salvage can also be used to craft ammo, explosives and to heal. Generally speaking, in the early game, these are abundant, but as you get further into the campaign, medicinal requirements specifically become very dire, meaning I started running missions where some of the squads had injuries on the roster, meaning I had to take my time and be more methodical.
Then there is the stat map, which can be a lot to take in. It’s here where you will conduct your overseer position, sending squads to their missions, setting up operations like repairing equipment, healing, training local militia to defend areas, and performing recon to know what’s coming up. But most importantly, there is a timeline running across the bottom.
“Do I think Jagged Alliance 3 is for everyone? Absolutely not. But it knows the audience it is aiming for, and for the hardcore tactical fans, this is another great game in the genre.”
There is where you can see how long and when events will take place, including when contracts are up and operations will finish. It will be crucial to always have that timeline in mind during your time in Jagged Alliance 3 because if you time things poorly, it could lead to a catastrophic decline in your positioning in the world.
For example, I had some squad members healing while a retaliation force was coming their way. I just assumed they would finish up and be recovered before they reached them, but I didn’t actually look at the timeline. So when the retaliation force came through, and my troops were not healed, I lost some troops that day. Meaning I had to spend more money on some other mercenaries and wait for them to be deployed, inching ever close to another contract needing to be resigned.
Each mercenary also has a certain set of skills, meaning some are better at healing or fighting, and some can hack computers or pick locks. So there is a lot of inherent strategy regarding squad composition. Early on, this can be a little frustrating as you get your ground, but it quickly becomes second nature. You can get anything done as long as you always remember to have a sniper, a medic, and a demolition expert. It’s learning the more intricate systems that can be a hurdle.
Specifically, when you aim at an enemy, unlike other tactical squad-based games where there is a hit percentage, you won’t find that here making everything very unpredictable. Sometimes that led to a lot of frustration, while other times, I found myself landing an otherwise impossible shot, and I was jumping out of my chair cheering.
Overall, Jagged Alliance 3 knows exactly what it wants to be: A tough-as-nails squad-based tactical shooter. They want the players to dig their heels in and fight for their lives while managing dwindling resources. For this, it succeeds to a great extent. Do I think Jagged Alliance 3 is for everyone? Absolutely not. But it knows the audience it is aiming for, and for the hardcore tactical fans, this is another great game in the genre.