Two months ago Jagged Alliance Online came to Steam via the power of Free-to-Play after being a browser-based entity for a while. I’d heard on the grapevine that it was more in tune with the Jagged Alliance of old, unlike the other entry to the franchise, Jagged Alliance: Back In Action. I had also heard that it was pretty stacked against the player, aiming to take advantage of them and grab their cash.
Thankfully this isn’t true. To an extent anyway. This is possibly because things will have chanced between the time I’d been reading about it, to the time I’ve played it. Where things fixed and balanced a little better? We’ll never truly know. All that can be done is judge it by how it is now.
It isn’t bad at all. Jagged Alliance Online has the turn based combat of old instead of the real time, but can be paused, fare offered in Back in Action. This should be a welcome treat for fans of the older games, though chances are those fans will have already tried this out. This slow and methodical approach to the turn-based combat lets you plan, weigh your options and take the route you think is best. Will you go for a headshot or just aim for the body? Of course a headshot will do more damage, but it’s equally more difficult to do.
It’s more than just where you shoot and what you shoot with, where and how will you move? Will you attempt to sneak up on the group of baddies, risking being spotted as you try to get everybody in place for a big attack? While the open map of Arulco is sadly gone, which is understandable considering the online nature of this outing, it’s handily replaced by a list of contracts available to you on a map of the real world. These contracts are opened up as you level up, prestige gained through completing older contracts. You generally stay ahead of the curve in your groups level, not demanding farming of older missions.
That much can’t be said for the mercenary levels though. As each mission level has three objectives to be met for a side reward, either a bronze, silver or gold star, you can often find yourself outmatched when going for top rewards. Being a completionist, I constantly aim for gold and frequently find myself succumbing to hot lead, leaving my body holier than Swiss cheese. having to either level up with older missions or to come back after having levelled up advancing the story. The maps which you fight on are equally limited compared to the ones of old, but still offer tactical manoeuvres through multiple paths.
Some paths are opened up through the use of destructible scenery, neatly placed at the side of a canister that explodes when punctured by the steel shell of a bullet. Or maybe it’s the canister that was placed alongside the wall, we may never know. These canisters can also be used to kill a group of enemies by luring them in by creating a bit of noise. Of course being online limits a number of things that can brought from the Jagged Alliance formula. It still has a story to it, though not one that is exactly special.
Your camp has been attacked and you are on your own personal mission to rebuild and find out who attacked it , seeking revenge. Along the way you’ll do contracts for other people that can range from the mundane, like killing a spouse who happens to be a nasty piece of work, to the strange, like sneaking in and stealing from the cartel. Long gone are the days of taking over a small state.
As you may expect from mercenaries, they cost a bit of cash. I don’t mean real moneys. Well, I do a little. As you start you’re given a bit of cash to get you going again but that very quickly runs out, usually due to the extortionate prices of med-kits (Small ones cost $2400 each!). Guns, hiring other mercenaries on fourteen day contracts, upgrades for your camp. Everything costs, generally not as much comparative to the med-kits. Of course there are also rare weapons and armour to be gained by completing certain prestige missions.
Prestige is gained through completing the side tasks in the normal missions, The medals being worth three, two or one prestige respectively. Later missions will also offer rare gear, as well as a secret boss or two that can drop some of the best in the game, limiting your need to spend more. You gain money by simply doing contracts and selling any of the items you’ve gained along the way, provided you don’t use them. Unless you replay older missions, the chances are you’re going to struggle for cash as things can get more difficult quite fast. The issue then is that to do a mission you need to use fuel.
Fuel is capped, though you can raise the cap through upgrading your storage depot in the main camp, and it recharges at a rate of one fuel every five minutes. Your option then is to use the in-game currency to buy more fuel, or wait until you have enough, which in the later missions can be a while as the requirements get upped the further along you go. This is where the micro-transactions come in. Simply, you can buy in-game cash. I can’t begrudge Cliffhanger this because they have a license for an online product, not a retail one. This also isn’t one of the F2P games that outright screw you to get you to fork over cash. While the base prices are a little steep, £3.30 for $50,000, with patience and ability you don’t actually need to spend any money on the game to complete it.
I’m fortunate in one respect, I’ve was given codes for the Ivan pack (Normally costing £25) and also one for Raven, giving me two permanent mercenaries alongside the normal one. This saved me recruitment cash. Granted, I blew that cash on the overpriced weapons that give me a slight damage boost compared to normal. At the same time I also spent £6.70, buying two sets of 50k in game cash to see exactly how quick I’d go through it.
Like always with me, increased cash meant increased spending and it went almost as quick as it came. If you want to play Jagged Alliance Online as a completely free game, spending nothing, then you still have at least one permanent mercenary, you. It may be difficult and slow, but it is completely possible to go through the game without resorting to micro-transactions. That’s how my brain worked it out anyway. It can be frustrating at times, but that’s just due to the infuriating nature of how a percentage chance works, having you miss a 90% chance but hit at 20%. It’s certainly fun, leading the AI or even other humans into a trap as you’ve positioned yourself well.
It can also be quite tense, nearing the end of a mission, a few of your men are down, rest injured, and you haven’t got any med-kits due to them costing more than a private plane. Most of all, It’s free. You have only your bandwidth and time to lose by trying it out. I’m having fun with it, you will too.Browser, F2P, Jagged Alliance Online, Review