Jagged Alliance 3 is a huge leap forward for the series | Hands-on preview

by on April 18, 2023

Jagged Alliance 3 is a hybrid of stealth and exploration, and XCOM-style turn-based combat that refuses to coddle you in any way. Sure you can opt to modify the difficulty, and there’s a suite of options to tailor the challenge, but the default mode is perma-death and autosave all the way.

You’re part of A.I.M, a mercenary outfit who puts together teams of hired guns for deadly missions though active war zones across the world. I’ve recently been saying though a preview build that offers a deep dive into all elements of the gameplay, even with a handful of assets that are yet to be added.

Jagged Alliance 3

It begins with you assembling your team. In the preview I was given $30,000 to put a squad together. You select a group from a handful of premade mercenaries from archetypes such as engineers, medics, snipers, explosives specialists and assault experts. More experienced mercenaries come with higher attributes, and more skills and abilities, but cost more initially. You can hire between four and six per mission, and it’s ideal to have a good spread of skills and abilities.

Interestingly, almost every mercenary I took on a mission had their own personality, name, fully voiced responses to NPCs and reactions. This combined with the perma-death element is borderline genius, as it almost immediately forms a connection to the individual character. It’s not quite the same as creating and customising your troops in XCOM, but it’s affecting nonetheless.

Once you’re deployed you’ll begin with basic equipment which you can improve by scavenging, salvaging, or upgrading in safe areas. Missions take place in grid-based maps, with each square representing a conflict zone you’ll need to move through. You’ll be told how many enemy troops you’re against in each zone, but your gear is finite. Only a medic can bandage up your soldiers, adding yet another limitation.

Jagged Alliance 3

You can move freely around the map until you enter combat. Each mercenary can be moved individually or in groups of however many you choose, and there’s an option to enter stealth mode and sneak around crouched to avoid detection. Once you’re spotted, combat will initiate, and you’ll have a turn to get into cover or begin shooting. In certain situations, you’ll get the chance to deploy squad members wherever you like. Once in combat, you’re on a square grid complete with full and half cover points, elevated vantage points, and environmental features.

Sadly, the dreaded chance-to-hit mechanic is a feature, though if you have a clear shot you’ll hut more often than not. If you’re obscured or otherwise unable to land a hit, your merc will tell you before you waste a shot. You can take a few direct hits before you’re down, and then you’ll need to be revived by a medic before you bleed out. Finish the fight with mercs downed but not dead, and they’ll get up with zero HP. At this point you can enter the satellite map view and assign your mercs to heal up for a period of hours.

The back and forth from your mercenaries elevates Jagged Alliance. They’ll tell you if they’re exposed or if they have a shot, and they’ll react to your commands. Livewire, an Engineer, made me laugh whenever I moved her, and she begged the enemy not to shoot her. You can lay down fields of cover with Overwatch, or employ grenades, explosives, and smoke bombs to help you stay alive. Finding you’ve left a merc exposed to the enemy is a horrible feeling, but every time it’s a teachable moment – especially as save-scumming is disabled by default.

Jagged Alliance 3

Visually it’s a decent looking game. There’s plenty of detail in the environments, and you can zoom in close or pull back for a more tactical view. Character animations are solid, with some flair here and there like characters sliding into cover and flinching from near misses. It’s surprisingly fun for such a tough game, and anyone who automatically switches Turn-based Tactics games to Ironman Mode will love the level of challenge.

THQ Nordic and new developer Haemimont have really listened to the criticism levelled at the previous titles and Jagged Alliance 3 is evidence of that. Even at this early stage it’s a highly competent tactical shooter that will only get better with time. Fans of the franchise should be happy with the changes they’ve implemented, and newcomers or even those put off by previous instalments will find a lot to like too. It’s early days, but Jagged Alliance 3 is looking very promising indeed.

Jagged Alliance 3 is coming to PC.