Jagged Alliance 3 Developer Diary #4 - Character Progression

Boian Spasov, the lead designer on Haemimont Games' upcoming Jagged Alliance 3, brings us the latest developer diary where he gives us a tour of the game's character progression system. Clearly inspired by the earlier games in the series, Jagged Alliance 3 will feature a classless system with ten primary stats that can go up to 100 through field use and training.

Your characters will also have access to a number of Traits that provide additional narrative options on top of their mechanical effects, as well as Talents that make each mercenary unique. And upon leveling up, they'll get stronger but more expensive, and will be able to learn some perks.

Here's more on that:

Character Progression

Hello everyone, I am Boian Spasov and I am happy to welcome you to our fourth DevDiary! In it we will take a look at the way we model the mercs mechanically and how they become more powerful, unique and personalized as the campaign progresses.

From the very start of the design process for Jagged Alliance 3 we knew that we wanted a classless system for the mercs. Even though some characters might reasonably be considered “field medics” or “explosive experts” based on their starting skillset and indeed the Association of International Mercenaries (A.I.M.) might even advertise them as such on their webpage, we didn’t want to constraint them in such narrow archetypes, nor force the player to use or develop them in a particular way. Advancing your so-called medic to become a top-tier sniper or mechanic should take serious effort, but is ultimately possible and no artificial class definitions will prevent you from doing so.

Merc Stats

Like in the classic JA games, we represent the basic physical attributes and important skills of each character with a number between 0 and 100. Here is a list of the basic stats that each merc has and their direct effects – some of these may sound a bit cryptic:
  • Health - Represents both the physical well-being of a merc and the amount of damage they can take before becoming downed.
  • Agility - Measures how well a merc reacts physically to a new situation. Affects the total amount of action points, free movement at the start of a turn, and how stealthy the merc is.
  • Dexterity - Measures a merc's ability to perform delicate or precise movements correctly. Affects bonus from aiming and Stealth Kill chance.
  • Strength - Represents muscle and brawn. It's particularly important in Melee combat, affects throwing range and the size of the personal inventory of the character.
  • Wisdom - Affects a merc's ability to learn from experience and training. Affects the chance to notice hidden items and enemies.
  • Leadership - Measures charm, respect and presence. Important for training militia and other mercs. Affects the chance for getting positive and negative Morale events.
  • Marksmanship - Reflects a merc's ability to shoot accurately at a given target with a firearm.
  • Mechanical - Rates a merc's ability to repair damaged, worn-out or broken items and equipment. Important for lockpicking, machine handling and hacking electronic devices. Used for detecting and disarming non-explosive traps.
  • Explosives - Determines a merc's ability to use grenades and other explosives and affects damage and mishap chance when using thrown items. Used for detecting and disarming explosive traps.
  • Medical - Represents a merc's medical knowledge and ability to heal the wounded.
Some of you will recognize the names of these stats from Jagged Alliance 1 and 2 but note that some of the particular effects are working slightly differently now. Returning mercs have similar stats to their counterparts in the old games, but these have been adjusted just a bit to account for the time passed and some balancing with the new system.

Stats are not static throughout a merc’s lifetime. These can be improved in several ways, including getting trained by more proficient mercs on the team and using these stats efficiently in the field. Gains from field experience are limited and also loosely tied to the regular progression for levelling up – don’t expect your merc to become an expert marksman by repeatedly shooting at bottles in a safe situation!

We briefly considered lowering stats due to serious wounds and other negative factors, but ultimately decided against this – having your favorite merc permanently crippled is not very fun. Temporary impairments on the other hand, may create a better gameplay experience.

Level and Progression

While individual stats show how good a merc is with a particular physical or trained skill, the overall experience is measured by their level. Rookies start at level 1 but you can hire more experienced mercs even in the starting team. All mercs can progress up to level 10, raising their salary and evolving their stats along the way.

While the merc level offers some direct mechanical benefits such as better Crit rate and improved Chance to Hit for attacks made against lower-level targets, each level up also grants the opportunity to specialize the merc further with a perk of your choice. Each perk is associated with a particular Stat and requires a certain proficiency with this Stat (currently the minimum requirement is 70 points). Perks with silver and golden icons have stronger effects and more demanding prerequisites - respectively 80 and 90 points in the particular Stat as well as at some other perks associated with the Stat taken at previous level-ups.

Perks associated with a particular Stat are designed to synergize well with each other and are often most helpful when you focus on a playstyle that makes good use of this stat. For example some Agility perks synergize on creating a very mobile character that doesn’t have to spend too many AP for movement:
  • Hit and Run (requires 70 Agility) – Gain Free Move after Executing a Melee attack.
  • Frogleaping (requires 80 Agility and 1 other Agility perk) – increased Free Move range when starting your turn in Cover.
Traits and Talents

Not all perks are granted by level progression. Mercs are different and their starting perks differ as well. Each merc comes with some predefined Traits as well as a unique Talent.

Traits are usually minor effects that represent a basic personality quirk or inclination of the merc. They don’t grant huge mechanical benefits and we usually use them as a tool to make the mercs more distinctive. For example, some mercs like Dr.Q. come with the Martial Arts trait but it is entirely possible to make an awesome and very effective melee fighter without this trait, focusing on improving melee stats and picking related level-up Perks.

Some traits, like Psycho or Negotiator, unlock unique conversation options in addition to their mechanical effects.
  • Zoophobic – loses Morale when attacked by an animal
  • Psycho – sometimes decides to use more vicious attacks than the one selected. Unlocks additional conversation options.
  • Stealthy – harder to spot by enemies while sneaking. Slightly increased chance to kill an enemy outright when attacking from stealth.
A Merc’s Talent is a unique Perk, exclusive for this merc. It might be an active ability like a signature attack or something more subtle, but the important thing is that no other merc in the game has this ability.

Our design goal was to keep the Talents grounded in reality so don’t expect any overly fantastic or unrealistic effects here. A Talent is not meant to be a fantastic effect but rather a mechanical representation of the one special thing that the particular merc truly excels at.
  • Double Toss (Fidel) – (active skill) attacks with two grenades at the same time.
  • Boutique Explosives (Barry) – produces Shaped Charges periodically. Shaped charges are special explosives with a directional blast.
  • Find my Feet (MD) – spontaneously becomes Inspired, gaining additional Action points and increasing team Morale during combat.
That’s all for this DevDiary, I hope you enjoyed the preview of some of the mechanical ways to make a unique character in Jagged Alliance 3. Please don’t hesitate to comment and ask questions in the thread below!

Boian Spasov

Lead Designer and Co-creative Director of Jagged Alliance 3