I've been a fan of isometric action RPGs since the console series Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath, and turn-based tactical RPGs like X-COM and Divinity: Original Sin also became favorites. When Jagged Alliance 3 made news, I was eager to play a game that looked like a promising genre entry, and a solid alternative amid the Baldur's Gate 3 hype. To its credit, it's a thoughtful RPG with deep tactical roots.
Developer Haemimont Games is the talent behind popular city builder franchise Tropico but is not unfamiliar with role-playing games having created the acclaimed Victor Vran action RPG. It's no surprise, then, that Jagged Alliance 3 has the appearance of a quality production with trappings of any self-respecting RPG including lots of weapons and items to loot or salvage and customization options related to character progression and crafting.
But as a turn-based tactical RPG, Jagged Alliance employs a much deeper skillset that should satisfy micromanagers looking to get their hands dirty. That helps with immersion, as the story to begin with is fairly standard, though characters have personality that anchors players in the goings on. In brief, the president of Grand Chien has been abducted by The Legion in a power struggle and threatened with execution should the government intervene.
That's where the player comes in. His daughter has employed the Association of International Mercenaries (AIM) to rescue him and save the country. Funded by diamond mines associated with her friend, the mercs first have to take control of them from The Legion, staff them and befriend locals to improve their output and related income via side quests including retrieving a weapon to help a village defend itself, sparing a villager's son who joined The Legion and finding a villager's husband.
That's when they're not taking down outposts manned by The Legion. On Steam Deck, players will use controls including left thumbstick to select the squad, move them separately or together, and highlight objects (to move to, examine or attack); right thumbstick to control the camera (swivel or zoom in/out); L/R bumpers to cycle through squad members; and L/R direction pad to open the Action Bar (stance, sneak, single shot - free aim, mobile shot, overwatch - ambush, take cover, passive).
Deep gameplay options are complemented by detailed menus that include squad selection and squad member inventory management. The latter involves menus for equipping weapons/items, exchanging items between mercs, reloading, etc., which cost points. An operations tab allows for mercs to treat wounds, train in areas such as health or marksmanship, scout areas or repair items. But such activity, which can take time, prevents mercs from being assigned other duties.
As with everything else, resource management is key. Whom you hire depends on how much you have to spend, and it goes without saying that players will want to ensure they have different skillsets represented, whether that's a marksman, an explosives expert, a medic, etc. But each member likewise can be trained to improve skills in different areas so there can be some redundancy as a precaution. Notably, every action in the game costs points, even something mundane like reloading.
That's where the strategy comes in, as players will have finite resources dictated by their funding and points, whether outside of the action or in it. Points will dictate whether you heal, repair, train or scout or, in combat, how far you move or how tightly you aim for greater damage. In fact, damage modifiers include increasing aim, higher ground and marksmanship skill. Other factors during combat include distance, stance, cover and which body part you target.
The combat zone then becomes a chess board that demands analyzing every move and action according to a set amount of points assigned to each character. It's sometimes necessary to plan several steps ahead to anticipate possible outcomes. And even then, there's an element of chance where characters can miss their target or have little impact, opening your squad up to damaging counterattacks. It's not unfamiliar to fans of turn-based tactical RPGs, but is well executed here with deep options.
As an example of the gameplay, I sent Igor to knife the last enemy who was almost dead. His attack had accuracy and damage modifiers but a lower hit chance to the neck. He missed and had insufficient points for another move, exposing him to attack. No others could help except Livewire, who I moved closer to take an aimed higher chance shot to the torso that was able to bring him down. The combination of careful tactics and an element of chance make every encounter dynamic and exciting.
Speaking of, enemy AI does a good job of reacting to the player's choices. Position squad members in relative proximity to a foe, and they'll turn to face that threat. When its their turn, they'll reposition based on your team's deployment, usually behind cover but not always. Sometimes, especially on subsequent turns, they've surprised me by moving out into the open and close to my squad, then unleashing a punishing assault. It's a gamble on their part, but that's part of the element of chance.
Thankfully, the controls, HUD and menus are intuitive and easy to navigate for the most part. There is a lot on screen at any one time whether during combat or in between the action. And that's be design, as there's a lot of information provided to make thoughtful choices, from attributes for potential squad members and comrades' detailed inventories to a display with their health bars and points in combat or Action Bar with options for each during their turn.
And player options are not only limited to character actions in and out of combat. When speaking with the variety of NPCs encountered on the journey, the dialog tree will have an expected array of potential answers but some responses have the potential for major consequences. In one such exchange, I chose to accept diamonds from Bastien, which allowed him to leave, though is allegiance was in question. How that and other choices play out in the long term remains to be seen.
Having played for several hours on the Steam Deck I'm satisfied with the deep gameplay options both during and in between the action, as well as the generally high quality presentation from the extended isometric view or zoomed in closer, and animations that are smooth and responsive as well as particle effects. Tearaway views, too, whether through trees or into buildings are effectively implemented. Furthermore, quality dialog and voice acting help distinguish characters and entertain.
Issues worth mentioning are small text on the Steam Deck screen, which is not surprising considering the amount of information but at least is still legible. Also, movements with thumbsticks can be imprecise and easily overshoot an objective, not to mention that selecting a target to attack can have a small window of opportunity. To overcome these, I'm trying to customize the trackpad for movement/selection but haven't found a sweet spot yet.
One other annoyance that actually lead me to reload a save file had to do with a disappearing enemy on the battlefield. During the opponent's turn, one moved behind a wall from my perspective. When I moved the camera, they weren't there. I doubted what I'd seen so moved someone to that location, only to then have the enemy reappear and kill them in point blank range. It only happened once so far but was disappointing.
Overall, the deep gameplay options involved with squad management and combat create a dynamic experience with immersive interaction and thrilling encounters that's easy to recommend. The detailed and intuitive displays and menus help with decision-making, and the quality presentation only add to player immersion and enjoyment. I look forward to playing more of Jagged Alliance 3 and believe that fans of tactical turn-based RPGs will enjoy this entry in the genre.
(This post was based on a review code of Jagged Alliance 3 for Steam. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.)
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