Jagged Alliance Online? What's that?
Well if you're asking that you clearly haven't played the original Jagged Alliance games! In a nutshell, Jagged Alliance Online is everything its predecessors were, a turn based tactical role playing game trying to be an MMO. Players build up their reputation in the world as a mercenary company, starting with little more than a band of alcoholic thugs with guns and striving to make them the best in the world, competing against other mercenary companies to see who really is the greatest.
This is the first game I've seen from Cliffhanger Productions, but according to their site they have consulted on the Risen series, Spellforce 2 and Gothic 3. While not a terribly big fan of the Risen series, as can be seen in my Mars War Logs review, I am excited for their upcoming project Shadowrun Online, even if it looks to be a re-skin of Jagged Alliance Online for the moment. But it is early in development so we'll see!
What exactly is the story here?
To be honest, there wasn't a lot of quality story here that I could sink my teeth into.
Early on in Jagged Alliance Online the game introduces players to the basic premise of the story, while at the same time showing them how to play the game. You are a mercenary who survived the destruction of Association of International Mercenaries Incorporated, or AIM for short, a mercenary company that used to be a big deal back in the day. But now it's all gone and you need to take care of yourself and any others who decide to tag along with you. Thus begins your very own mercenary company.
From there players go from mission to mission with little more than "I'm hiring you to do X Y and Z", trying to establish their Mercenary company as a quality service in this world, which is now full of small mercenary operations. Sure, everyone has reasons for hiring your company, like a cheating husband or rival drug lords, and every now and then you'll make some progress into finding whoever destroyed AIM. It's just pretty hard to care about the story when there isn't anything really being said to you besides 'go here and shoot these dudes', there's no interaction between your mercenaries or even with customers or enemies.
On the bright side, at least all of the mercenaries have their own personalities, ranging from the hilariously absurd to the super serious tactical bros who are there to get the job done, to the more psychotic ones like Mad Dog who often told me that now that he was bleeding heavily he could finger paint all over the walls. I only wish that your initial mercenary, which is basically your own character, could be customized, but beyond the portrait and their class that's just not a thing that happens. Voices define their personalities, and as you can't choose them they end up being very bland, but your character is probably still the best member of your squad in the early game.
So how does it play?
Players in Jagged Alliance Online take command of a group of mercenaries to complete missions, which vary in size from single man missions up to six man ops. They engage in all sorts of quests from simple, kill everything in the area objectives to more complicated rescue and sabotage missions. Once inside a mission, Jagged Alliance Online turns into chess with guns where the careful positioning of each of your squad members plays a huge role in their chance of success. You'll need to use cover if you hope to keep your troops alive or be incredibly lucky, and good quality armor never hurt anyone! Every now and then the maps will have more tactical options beyond just using cover. Explosive barrels and other environmental hazards show up in missions but they tend to be rare early on in the game, and unfortunately the AI doesn't even stop to think of using any of these.
When it comes to forming your team, Jagged Alliance Online gives players a good variety of choices, from the class of their troops to the equipment they bring with them to the field. While there's nothing really stopping you from giving your sniper a light machine gun and the biggest, stompiest armor around, they're initially built to run around in light armor with a sniper rifle. The beauty is that any of your characters and classes can be equipped the way you want them to be, provided you build them for that type of equipment. That being said, it's probably a good idea to keep a commando, a class that specializes in stealth and CQC, wearing light armor and equipped with close range weapons to help them sneak around. Gunners are built to be big and stompy, wearing heavy armor and carrying the biggest and loudest guns around, LMGs. Beyond being pre-built for certain combat roles there's not a lot of difference in these classes. They don't have any special skills or unique things only certain classes can do, so there's not much reason for players not to take a full squad of only soldiers, commandos or even snipers.
Outside of missions, players have their headquarters to manage. This is a quaint little patch of land in who-knows-where that contains all the facilities mercs would need. These include an armory, a hospital, a workshop; your friendly neighborhood gun runner, and of course the ever-important A-Team van. The first three facilities I mentioned are upgradeable, allowing you to unlock more storage space and things to craft, and even pushing the maximum limit of stats beyond their base 100 which certainly helps a lot when it comes to specializing your mercenaries.
There's also the world map where players can access any of the many campaign contracts available to them, PvP or Warzones. Campaign contracts tend to vary in number of missions but they're all fairly lengthy even if they only have a handful of missions because of the time it takes to clear through all of the enemies. Completing these contracts not only yields a great deal of rewards, but each mission gives players money, XP, random loot rewards during the mission and upon completion, as well as offering challenges. Completing these challenges grants players a bonus to mission rewards received upon completion, but they also add to your mercenary company's total prestige. High enough prestige unlocks prestige missions which are basically challenge missions with great rewards. In my opinion they're totally worth doing, if only for the equipment rewards. Unfortunately these are a hassle to unlock if you didn't buy the campaign pack.
Prior to buying the campaign pack you only have access to a tutorial operation, five missions where you are able to bring your own merc crew and whatever prestige missions you can unlock. Good luck getting more than the first one without buying the campaign pack, however, as it doesn't seem to be possible to do this unless PvP matches award prestige as well, and I haven't really seen this. This isn't really bad though since it means the base game is more of a sizeable demo with multiplayer, and I feel that the campaign is worth buying for just the sheer amount of content it adds. There are two packs currently available on Steam for Jagged Alliance Online: the Shadow and Ivan packs. They both unlock the same campaign and award 150,000 cash in the game. The difference between the two is that Shadow comes with an Elite Commando and Ivan comes with an Elite Gunner. There's no special equipment on either of them, but they scale to whatever level your mercenary company is currently at and their starting stats are far above that of anything you can hire early on, since they have no negative traits like "Booze Hound" which is what my initial team was full of. You can buy both packs and unlock both Elite units but you won't get any extra campaign content, only the other elite troop and an extra 150,000 fun bucks to spend. This does help a lot, but it's cheaper just to buy the cash off the store if you aren't interested in having a second elite.
PvP is something I have had mixed results with in Jagged Alliance Online, not because of bad matchmaking but because of just bad players. Most of them run around with full sniper crews which gives them a great deal of visual and attack range as well as the ability to more or less pick a spot for them to camp all day and night while you rush them at your own risk. There also only seems to be one map at the moment, which is a swamp village with plenty of open ground, making it harder to sneak up on those sniper groups. It also took a long time to find any matches, but I am told that this is because most PvP is done at high levels. Maybe the sniper blobs aren't as common up there, although I imagine they would be much deadlier.
So what are the perks of PvP? What's the point? Two things! First and probably most importantly: bragging rights. People like rubbing it into the noses of others that you are, in fact, better than them. But for someone more practical like myself, there needs to be more. Luckily there is a PvP rank to take care of that which offers up "Honor" equipment, which you can purchase through the market as well, but it requires a certain level of honor before any of your possibly highly alcoholic mercenaries is even allowed to hug their precious new Honor armor or their shiny new machine gun. While Honor equipment is pretty awesome, you can still completely ignore it in favor of Rare grade equipment or anything epic you happen to find on the battlefield or as a reward. They all have their perks and drawbacks.
Warzones are something I haven't been able to get involved with myself since I'm never around for them, but from what I understand they are basically clan battlefields. While there's no co-op in the game just yet, each victory in a warzone awards players and clans domination points. These are used to determine player and clan worldwide rankings in a specific warzone. At the end of a Warzone's timer, whichever clan has the highest amount of domination points is declared the winner - i.e. the owner of that territory, along with recieiving whatever reward Warzones are giving at the time.
This is my understanding of Warzones anyway! I still need to get myself in a clan and actually be online while a Warzone is active to see what they're like but this is how they were explained to me by other players.
Start your Merc Company today!
I really enjoy Jagged Alliance Online. It's a game I feel anyone who loves turn based strategy games will love, it's entirely free to try and its totally worth picking up one of the campaign packs if you enjoy it. The campaign may not have a very interesting story but it more than makes up for it in firefights and the loot hoarders out there will love hunting for all sorts of awesome toys. It's also quite early in the game's life span, so who knows what we'll see in the future when the game is expanded.