Jagged 3 Feature
Screenshot via Siliconera

Review: Jagged Alliance 3 Is a Solid Game Held Back by Its Humor

Jagged Alliance 3 is the latest in a series of tactical RPGs that originally released in the mid 1990s on DOS. Developed this time around by Bulgarian studio Haemimont Games, this installment aims to put a fresh coat of paint to a classic series. For the most part, it succeeds.

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The story puts you in charge of a mercenary group hired by the daughter of the president of Grand Chien. Her father has been kidnapped by a rebel army known as the Legion and their shadowy leader, the Major. Your tasks are to take him out and save the president, but if you happen to liberate a bunch of lucrative diamond mines along the way, well, the corporate sponsors funding you wouldn’t object. As mercenaries, you have fairly free rein to go about this, at least once off the starting island. You can even get the location of the Major himself by then too, though I didn’t test whether it was possible to pull a The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and beeline my way to the boss straight out of the tutorial.

The battles are turn-based tactical affairs on a grid, as you might imagine. However outside of combat, the game plays more like a classic RPG with levels to explore in real time. I admit to being a bit surprised going in. Having not played the previous games, I had expected an XCOM-style mission-based campaign, but what I got was closer to a Divinity: Original Sin 2 or perhaps a Fallout: Tactics. Rather than simply engage in battle after battle, there’s a surprising amount to explore in the levels and a lot of secrets and side quests to find. The battles themselves have a pleasing amount of tactical crunch to them, with lots of options for changing stances, targeting particular body parts, and finding advantages in the environment. There’s a good range of options to specialize your mercs too, from run-and-gun flankers and hunker-down heavies to more utility-based characters designed to capitalize on out-of-combat actions or to aid in exploring.

Jagged Alliance 3 map

Screenshot via Siliconera

While the battles are the meat of Jagged Alliance 3, the exploration segments are by no means insubstantial. There’s a multitude of ways to influence the battle even before it shifts to turn-based mode. Stealthily taking down dangerous targets that stray from the group, setting up flanking maneuvers and overwatch traps, or sometimes talking half the enemy force into leaving are all possibilities. My only gripe is that, without a pause button to issue orders, I found it difficult to set up takedowns or other more fiddly techniques before being spotted.

Managing downtime is also extremely important. As well as repairing weapons, treating injuries, and training local militias to defend themselves, you also have to manage your mercenaries’ contracts. It puts some time pressure on the map layer as you balance preparation for the next fight with earning enough to keep your best mercs on the payroll, but it was never too oppressive. Especially once you unlock the passive income from diamond mines.

Jagged 3 Character

Screenshot via Siliconera

The two most uneven aspects, though, are the writing and the UI. A lot of the strategic menus and mercenary management is done through a cute, if sometimes unclear, facsimile of 1990s internet menus and websites, to the point where recruitment is done by personally messaging your chosen merc through a chat client. It honestly adds quite a bit to the tone, but at the same time it can obfuscate some areas. For example, there is actually a character creator if you want to make your own mercenaries, but it is in one of the browser tabs without a particularly intuitive name. Similarly, in combat you aren’t given a hard percentage for whether your shot will hit or not, just a list of bonuses and a crosshair that changes size. Again, it fits the slapdash nature of the entire venture, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be frustrating to some that your chance for success has to be judged by the vibe.

And the writing… oh boy. Jagged Alliance 3‘s set up and main story invoke a more serious tone, to say nothing of the real world implications of mercenary intervention in mineral-rich destabilized nations. But then your characters start talking and you’re reminded that the fate of this country is in the hands of a whiny hacktivist, a good-vibes guru and some guy doing an entirely unconvincing impression of a east-coast gangster. If you’re familiar with Haemimont’s work on Tropico, you have a good idea what to expect from the humor. There are some winners and some groaners, but all of them are common enough to become grating very quickly, especially the combat barks.

Jagged Alliance 3 UI

Screenshot via Siliconera

It’s kind of a shame, because there are touches that actually work quite well for how small they are. One mercenary remarks about how mopey her husband gets when she’s away, and suggests you hire him too. They have complementary perks, you see. Another early story about a man’s son joining the Legion surprised me with actually decent motivation for all involved. You understood the father’s desire to shelter his only son, why the son himself was drawn to a brutal strongman like the Major, and why the rest of the villagers are maybe less keen to welcome back someone who raided their home and killed their friend. It was only a small morsel of story, but it did the job of investing me in this tiny village on the tutorial island.

Those looking for a solid tactical RPG to dig their teeth into will find it with Jagged Alliance 3. But while you may acclimate to the slightly unhelpful UI, the combat barks and general writing can be more difficult to ignore. There’s going to be a good amount of replay value in different builds, trying different options and choices, and of course different combinations of the 36-odd mercenary characters. But whether you want to spend more time in this setting will depend entirely on how much you can listen to a Ice Williams talk about popping caps in people.

Jagged Alliance 3 is immediately available on Windows PCs.

Jagged Alliance 3

The country of Grand Chien is thrown into chaos when the elected president goes missing and the paramilitary force known as “the Legion” seizes control. Hire mercs, meet interesting characters, and fight in tactically deep turn-based combat in this true successor to a beloved franchise. PC version reviewed.

Solid strategy and customization make Jagged Alliance 3 a good time for tactical RPG fans, if you can stomach the irreverent tone.

Food for Thought:
  • Lots of lovely Afro-French accents to enjoy, would love to see them pop up more in games.
  • I feel bad for skipping over all the developer made characters in games like this, but I just really like making a squad of my own OC's.
  • If the modding tools are robust, I can see this game having a significant scene for custom campaigns, maybe even some new voice packs.

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Elliot Gostick
Elliot is a staff writer from the mist-shrouded isle of Albion, and has been covering gaming news and reviews for about a year. When not playing RPGs and Strategy games, she is often found trying (and failing) to resist the urge to buy more little plastic spacemen.