Mercs on a rooftop

Jagged Alliance 3 Review

Jagged Alliance 3 Review


need to know

what is it? A massive modern squad tactical RPG with the soul of 90’s action movies
release date July 14, 2023
estimated payment $50/£40
developer Hermione Games
publisher THQ Nordic
Comment time: RTX 4090, Intel i9-13900k, 64GB RAM
steam deck to be determined
Official website

Nearly a quarter of a century later, I couldn’t be happier that Jagged has surprised me again. Bad luck, hubris, cheap mercenary contracts, and enemy mortar fire end a 25-hour campaign with little chance of recovery.I’m not even mad – it’s marvellous last Stand. I know what I’m doing wrong. I start over and hire a whole new team. This time will be different.

While XCOM has become synonymous with squad tactics, I’ve always had a fascination with Sir-Tech’s 1999 masterpiece, Jagged Alliance 2. An exciting high-simulation game that mixes tactical gunplay, strategic mercenary management and RPG dialogue, side quests and heists. It’s also incredibly difficult, but the frustration is toned down with learnable combat depth and a deeply irreverent tone that falls somewhere between Draco and Commando, parodying action movies of the era.

(Image source: THQ Nordic)

Until now, no one has rediscovered that spark. A darker, edgier, and less interesting Jagged Alliance: Wrath! It feels like it’s over. Thankfully, Tropico developer Haemimont Games had other ideas. While squad tactics are uncommon, I’m happy to say that Jagged Alliance 3 has been modernized and streamlined while still retaining the spirit of the original. It’s essentially old-school and, as always, silly.

Set a few years after the original in the ’90s, JA3 takes place in the former French African colony of Grand Chien (translated as “The Big Dog”), rich in diamond mines and opportunists. A local warlord has kidnapped Dae-cheon’s president, and his daughter wants you to lead a squad of bad guys to liberate him, and possibly the entire country. Unfortunately, you only have $40,000 to join Team B. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Most of JA2’s mercenaries are back here, plus a few newcomers, meaning you’ll have a misfit from a variety of nations to choose from. While the witty tone and scenery-chewing acting might turn some off, I felt like it was fundamental to the experience and brought me a lot of laughs. Unlike typical tactics games, each mercenary is a fully realized RPG party member, and there are approximately 36 mercenaries available for hire, plus a few that can be picked up on the battlefield. Some are professionals, some are dummies, and nearly all of them are likable.

(Image source: THQ Nordic)

While the new voice actors impressively portray the returning characters, I also like the newcomers. Special thanks to Leili ‘Livewire’ Idrisi, a cheerful young Pakistani engineer. Adept at repairing gear, delivering treats to folks on long road trips, and using her custom PDA hacking device; permanent inventory items noted in-game are covered in adorable stickers.

Each character will have extensive voice chat both in and out of combat, often interspersed with conversations with NPCs. Some have friends and rivals who will joke and complain to each other, while a squad of 4-6 people is enough to play the campaign repeatedly with a completely different vibe.

Projectile Motion Theory

Combat in JA3 breaks down the difference between the previous title’s simulation-heavy approach and the more readable battlefields and systems of modern XCOM. Movement is action point-based, influenced by agility stats, morale, rest levels, and other factors, but it’s visually intuitive. The movement grid shows a “blue” movement radius, and you’ll have enough AP to shoot. It’s easy to pick up if you’ve played Modern Tactics games, but shooting bad guys is a lot more nuanced than rolling dice.

(Image source: THQ Nordic)

Each bullet is a physical object that exits the barrel and shoots towards the target. If it hits anything in its path (rocks, walls, or bystanders), they’re there to deal damage. No hit percentages, just aiming cones based on gear and stats. Spending extra action points to aim tightens it up (a flashing yellow crosshair indicates you’re almost certain to hit), giving combat a natural, intuitive feel.

Covers block bullets unless destroyed, but outstretched limbs can be hit by stray bullets or individually aimed. Headshots are deadly, arm shots affect accuracy, and leg shots are slow. Stray bullets can cause a lot of grief, so proceed with caution, panning the camera to make sure everyone is behind cover. Armor helps, but it wears out, forcing you to spend precious minutes between fights assigning mech-aware mercenaries repair duties.

Many of the more complex elements of JA2 were cut. While it’s possible to sneak up on (and knock down) enemies during the real-time infiltration phase before shooting begins, once turn-based combat begins, all characters have 360-degree vision and shoot regardless of orientation. The stamina and morale bars of JA2 are replaced by simple buffs and debuffs. Honestly, I don’t miss them, and there are some interesting systems that fill in the gaps.

(Image source: THQ Nordic)

Each mercenary now has unique abilities — some passive (engineer Barry Unger built some custom-shaped throwing dynamite), some active (steppe hunter Yuri Omlin has 360-degree surveillance abilities), providing each team with a different combat feel. Each weapon type also has its advantages. Submachine guns for defensive fire while on the move, machine guns for precise surveillance, and more. There’s less micromanagement in combat, but more tactical options, giving JA3 its own feel.

Lambo Tour 64

I learn a little more each time I play the game. There is real depth here.

It’s the strategy and role-playing aspects that really set Jagged Alliance apart. Grand Chien is an open world worth exploring, and the town is filled with mostly French-accented NPCs, many of which have side quests. There are diamond mines to capture income, forts to send troops to take back territories, ports to speed up the flow of water, and other strategic issues. On the map, mercenaries can spend their time healing each other, training local militias (adding allied soldiers to territories you want to defend), crafting ammo, repairing equipment, and refitting with parts salvaged from dismantling unneeded guns arms.

Knowing what to do at any given time is difficult at first, and you can only really learn by feeling. While the campaign is long and non-linear, enemies grow more aggressive over time, story events can force you into unplanned battles, and dawdling can cause mines to dry up and leave you short on money. While replacing lost mercenaries is relatively easy, too many setbacks can lead to a spiral of doom. It can be frustrating, but I learn more every time I play. There is real depth here.

(Image source: THQ Nordic)

One area where the JA3 far exceeds its predecessors is its world map. Each square on the map is a custom battlefield, often with underground areas and loot caches to find. There’s a lot of interesting verticality, with a set of notes on the map, obtained through reconnaissance or hacking for intel, indicating vantage points or patrol routes. It makes Grand Chien feel like a country, not just abstract tiles. This is also a very good-looking game. Battlefields are richly detailed with brilliant lighting, and the weather and time of day look great and have a statistic impact on combat.

Jagged Alliance 3 is complex and challenging even on Normal difficulty, where overconfidence and underspending can hinder progress. While the enemies aren’t particularly smart (they’re Hollywood thugs, after all), a single crit from a sniper or a full-auto burst from an assault rifle can ruin a mercenary’s day, and you’re almost always outnumbered. For the more masochistic among us, there are also switches that enable Iron Man mode, which causes the mercenary to die at zero health instead of going into a recoverable bleed.

I’m sure some players will easily finish the entire campaign (there’s even an achievement for finishing the game with just one character), but on my next run, I’ll be enabling “Tolerant Mode”, an option that lowers the difficulty. Giving you a small amount of daily income and reducing the time and resources it takes to recover between battles doesn’t lessen the damage in battle, but it makes me play a little more aggressively. A good set of training wheels for newbies (or rusty veterans), but still harder than most tactical games at lower settings.

jagged edges

The JA3 falls short of its predecessor in some ways. The faux retro internet you can browse has been heavily pared down, with cutesy elements like buying life insurance policies, mercenary obituary sites, and even ordering flowers for an untimely deceased nemesis. The Institute of Mercenary Analysis (IMP) website is still up and running, and with their tongue-in-cheek personality quiz, you can generate a (entirely optional) custom character. Well worth doing, because what they lack in personality, they make up for with pro bono work.

(Image source: THQ Nordic)

Another flaw is the overall user interface. I often find that the tooltips and stat blocks displayed in combat are very chunky, making me wish they were half the size. The same goes for the inventory screen, which requires scrolling through a mercenary’s highly detailed backpacks and caches, with no automatic sorting or cleanup options. It’s overly cumbersome for no good reason, and can make re-equipping an entire squad a chore.

While the battlefields are gorgeous and each mercenary has a unique character model (unaffected by the armor he wears), there are a few places where it’s clear this isn’t a big-budget production. Character animations can be a little stiff (especially the knockdown animations for shotguns and dynamite), and the gore effects look a little cheap, with the blood looking more like someone sprayed injured characters bright red. This is nitpicking, but other recent games have done it better.

These flaws take some of the luster out of an otherwise excellent strategy RPG, but only enough to downgrade it to a strong recommendation for genre veterans. Haemimont promised extensive modding support shortly after launch, allowing players to create new maps, characters, gear, and even new stories. When I finish this campaign, there will be many more battles to fight. I can not wait anymore.

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Bart Thompson
Bart is's List Writer . He is from Houston, Texas, and is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing, majoring in non-fiction writing. He likes to play The Elder Scrolls Online and learn everything about The Elder Scrolls series.