Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Jagged Alliance 2 Retrospective Walkthrough Guide - Part I

Jagged Alliance 2 Retrospective Walkthrough Guide

          I n t r o d u c t i o n          

Hi there! My name's Lilura - and welcome to my commentary on Jagged Alliance 2 (1999), a turn-based tactical role-playing game developed by Sir-Tech for the PC platform. Yes, the game is non-linear in nature and allows for multiple approaches, but this walkthrough is written linearly in order to gradually reveal the campaign to newbies without flooding them with info and spoilers. And to tell a story: the story of how my band of mercs liberated a country from a dictator!

As with my other walkthoughs this one can double as a retrospective because there will be memories, nostalgia, and praise of virtues and criticism of flaws. But it's hard to find fault with Jagged Alliance 2: I think it's as perfect as this type of game can get. When people ask me what my dream game would be, I answer that it has already been made.

If you don't already, I hope that by reading this series of posts you will come to understand the greatness of Jagged Alliance 2.

The gorgeous isometric maps have been manually extracted, downsized by half, converted and annotated by me for illustration purposes. Above: roofs on and off in one of the Balime sectors.

          F e a t u r e s  I ' m  f o n d  o f          

• Turn-based tactical combat that leaves other games in the dust. Only Silent Storm and ToEE can stand alongside Jagged Alliance 2 and not hang their heads in shame. Recent attempts by current gen devs at recreating deep tactical combat have been rather puerile in comparison; I speak of Baby's First releases such as Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland, Underrail and Dragonfall. These games are a JOKE compared to Jagged Alliance 2.

• Intuitive strategy mode with militia training, overworld map and sector inventory management.

• Isometric perspective with seamless transition between exterior and interior, with the exception of subterranean sectors (which display a loadscreen). Seamless transition from ground level to rooftops. Behold the glory of Jagged Alliance 2 isometric; it's ageless.

• Highly reactive game-world and reactive squad members with interesting personalities, virtues and flaws, interjections, and likes and dislikes.

• Forget one squad of six like in the feeble cRPGs you're used to. In Jagged Alliance 2 you can control up to three squads of six on the same map or any map on the overworld - even sub-sectors. You can assign each merc to their own squad, too, for a total of 18 "squads". This blows "tactical" cRPGs away.

• Quite possibly the greatest user interface ever made in regard to functionality, efficiency and aesthetics. Laptop, Strategy and Tactical UIs just ooze human intelligence. These devs were TRU gamers. Seemingly, these sorts of devs are extinct. Be honest: have you even heard of Ian Currie (Director/Designer) and Andrew T. Emmons (Lead Programmer/Designer). Evidently, they are geniuses.

• So many RPGs, past and present, overflow with waffle; that is, walls and walls of bullshit text that no one reads. But Jagged Alliance 2 dialogue is clear, concise and yet flavorsome enough; which is all I've ever wanted.

• Sprite animations are a joy to behold. Watch as your mercs walk, run, crouch, get into a prone position and crawl along the ground, leap over fences, pull themselves onto rooftops and jump down or topple from them, wade in water, open and close doors and lids, casually spit on the ground etc. Also, bitch-slapping.

Death anims. 💀 Giggle with glee as the head of an enemy gets shot off in a fountain of blood, or as blood spurts out their back as they fly backwards after being bursted! The death anims are not on par with Fallout but the others go way beyond what Fallout managed.

Talking heads. They are not as good as Fallout's (pic) but there are more of them.

• Varied environments to explore and fight in, such as farmlands, ruins, forests, swamps, mountains, deserts, dungeons, coastlines, military installations, opulent palatial residences and sprawling urban zones.

Destructible buildings. 💣 Can't find the front door? Plant some TNT and blow a fucking hole in the wall. There's your door. Need a way out? Shoot a fuel tank to make your own back door. You are at the rear of a building. The enemy is at the front of the building. You see him through the window on your wall and the window on his, opposite wall. You snipe at him. Your bullet shatters the window at your end, travels through the building, shatters the window at the other end, and drops the enemy on the front lawn. Awesome.

• Bullets ricochet. This means they can hit one target, glance off it, and then hit another.

• Silently take down a sector full of blackshirts with an Ambidextrous/Auto-weapons I.M.P. wielding two MAC-10s (Uzis). Or snipe off their heads from a screen away with an M24 with laser and sniper scope attachments. Both are badass in their own way.

Explosions, tanks, helicopters, hummers, ice-cream trucks, C-4, rocket launchers, rocket rifles...

Ok, that's enough. Must play now...

          T a b l e  o f  C o n t e n t s          

Part I: Introduction & Chargen, Part II: Liberation of Omerta & the Rebels, Part III: Liberation of Drassen & Taking the SAM site, Part IV: Liberation of Alma Pt. I, Part V: Liberation of Alma Pt. II.

          I n s t a l l a t i o n  &  C o m p a t i b i l i t y          

By default, you probably won't be able to get Jagged Alliance 2 to run on current gen Windows and hardware (original CD or GoG version). But the solution is simple: simply download this file, extract it, navigate to the $SYSDIR, and copy three of the files within it - ddraw.dll, libwine.dll and wined3d.dll - to your Jagged Alliance 2 install folder. Voilà, compatibility issues are, for the most part, gone. "For the most part"? Well, there are lag-spikes that you don't get on XP and with older hardware, but they are mercifully brief and rare. For complete compatibility you can try running Jagged Alliance 2 in VirtualBox with a WinXP SP3 guest. That's what I'm doing. I'm running the original CD version from 1999, patched to 1.12. About as authentic as it gets.
See also: Stracciatella.

          O p t i o n s  &  I n i t i a l  G a m e  S e t t i n g s          
There is not much to say here other than I'm playing the game like a newbie for the sake of this series of posts. What can I say? I just want to relax and enjoy the nostalgia. I chose sci-fi mode because I want to cover the bugs (think Aliens). I recommend that new players choose the settings shown in the pic, below-right. 

(No need to read the following; skip to the next section.)

It's not the purpose of this post to enter into extensive debate on the pros and cons of various settings, setups, and mods, but feel free to fire away in the comments section, telling me how disappointed you are that I'm not playing 1.13 flagged with STRATEGIC_EVENT_SEND_TROOPS_TO_DRASSEN. Just so you know, I have played Jagged Alliance 2 on and off since its release, and I've played various versions of 1.13 over the years, too. I don't recommend newbies touch Expert or Ironman with a ten-foot pole, let alone 1.13.

Just a quick note on 1.13: Yes, it's a great mod. One of the greatest mods ever. But I'm sick and tired of people who only praise 1.13, and who are vocal in recommending it to first-time players. It's all you see on the forums these days: "1.13, 1.13!" To those people, many of whom are just parrots and posers, I have this to say: "Get this straight: at the end of the day 1.13 is just an unofficial patch-mod, made by legions of fans, that expands on the base game. They didn't code the game, they didn't draw the art assets, they didn't design the systems. The brilliance of Jagged Alliance 2 was already there. So shut up about 1.13 for the first time in your life and remember the devs who, you know, actually created this game? They were known as Sir-Tech."

          O p e n i n g  F M V          

Gotta love these oldskool FMVs, pre-rendered in 16 bit color. So raw and gritty. And always to the point. Here, tanks are shown rolling into the town of Omerta and blowing things up, and the citizens of Omerta are shown being mowed down by automatic weapons. This is how a dictator took control. 

The FMV then cuts to a cafe in Prague, where you are shown being hired by Enrico Chivaldori to liberate Arulco and eliminate its evil queen, Deidranna. Enrico is a blue-blood who married Deidranna for political purposes. He went into exile when she turned against him and is assumed to be dead by Deidranna. Enrico gives you a briefcase full of cash and a note to take to the leader of the rebels in Omerta, Miguel Cordona.

So your goal is clear: liberate Arulco and eliminate Deidranna. Getting on-side with the rebels and gaining control of the mines is also advised: you need allies and cashflow. To hold liberated sectors against the queen's reprisals you will also need to train militia. How can one person with a laptop make all this happen? Well, you are going to have to hire a squad of mercs...

You create your starter squad by means of I.M.P. and A.I.M., two separate chargen processes that are detailed below.

Check out the user interface. It's a laptop! How cool is that? So appropriate for a game that came out when they were all the rage (I still use a laptop for globetrotting). You are looking at one of the best user interfaces in gaming history. Srsly! It's full of info and an absolute joy to use. Fits the theme and era perfectly.

Anyway, check your emails and read your recon report that consists of several pages of background lore on Arulco politics.

Don't forget to check your email from Psych Pro Inc. It gives you the password needed to access I.M.P.: XEP624. Type it in to start I.M.P. chargen.

   I n s t i t u t e  f o r  M e r c e n a r y  P r o f i l i n g :  
   I . M . P .   

Ooh, stats! I like stats. This is where you make your own character. You can only make one I.M.P. in version 1.12 of Jagged Alliance 2, but that's all you need. It's supposed to be your personal touch to the game. The good thing about I.M.Ps is that you can tailor them how you like and their upkeep is free, unlike hired mercs. The two most important aspects of I.M.P. chargen are Personality Profile and Attributes & Skills.

          P e r s o n a l i t y  P r o f i l e          

My advice for a new player is to just answer the 16 questions honestly and see what comes out of it. Then, skip to the next section! ...

Oh, you're still here?

Ok, there are hidden mechanics at work in the profiling process that can net your I.M.P. bonuses or penalties when questions are answered in certain combinations, but at the end of the day it's just for a bit of fun. If you can't help yourself and absolutely must power-game, I can recommend a few combos that are useful, off-hand:

Night Ops (Expert): 6433 2232 2113 2244: This gives you many +2 bonuses during combat at night. It is one of the most valuable traits to have because you can't always avoid nightfall.
Stealthy (Expert): 4233 2442 2117 2444: Merely stepping on a twig can alert the enemy to your presence. This trait makes it a lot less likely that you will do that. You will gain +50% to moving around unseen and unheard. Choose this if you enjoy scouting out the place and finding the best vantage points from which to mount an attack.
(You'll start off packing a silenced Beretta 93r if you choose this trait.)
Teacher (Expert): 6144 2442 2123 2444: This gives you a large bonus to training militia (+60%) but I've never needed it because I always have Ira and Buns for that purpose. I just put it here for people who would like to have a passive I.M.P.
Auto-Weapons (Expert) & Psycho: 6341 2444 2114 2444: Your to-hit penalty for burst-fire is reduced to one quarter. The Psycho attitude means you will occasionally overkill with burst-fire (wasting ammo), but it's fun with FN-FALs and by end-game you will be glad you have it. Believe me.
Ambidextrous/Auto-Weapons: 6441 2441 2114 2424: Ambi means you can dual-wield pistols and SMGs without incurring the 20% to-hit penalty. Auto-weapons means your to-hit penalty for burst-fire is reduced to one half. Get a hold of two silenced MAC-10s and go to town. This is a badass playstyle but note that your common FN-FALs [*] and the rare G-11 outstrip ambis when it comes to killin' power. Pistoleering is also a lot of fun with ambi, and you will find decent pistols itemized in the campaign. Just make sure you have the mobility to run rings around the enemy.

[*] This is the best all-round weapon in non-Tons of Guns mode. It can be fitted with Sniper Scope, Laser Scope, Gun Barrel Extender and Rod & Spring for total awesomeness. There is also an underslung grenade launcher available. Silenced MAC-10s, high-end pistols and the G-11 win on style points, though. The Dragunov sniper rifle wins in Tons of Guns mode.

None of the above Profile combos possess any negative attitudes, such as Coward or Pessimist. I would avoid melee-based traits for newbies since that playstyle is very hard to coerce (i.e, Hand-2-Hand, Martial Arts, Knifing).

You should check your I.M.P. in the Personnel Manager to confirm your trait. Here is mine:

My Psycho attitude doesn't show up, but it's there. Just waiting to trigger...

Note that you're not forced into a playstyle based on the outcome of the profiling; it's just a bonus or an amusing penalty; f.e, Claustrophobia. For the most part, your Attributes & Skills are much more important. So let's talk about those next!

          A t t r i b u t e s  &  S k i l l s          

You will be presented with 10 sliders that represent your degree of proficiency in five attributes and five skills, which are by default set at 55. All of these can be raised up to 85 in chargen (and higher in-game) and skills can be reduced to 35 or even dumped to zero (Attributes and Leadership cannot be zero-dumped). In addition, you have a pool of 40 points to spend. So what to do?

First of all, it's important to note that squad members level-up their attributes & skills by using them. The more they do something the better they become at it. Makes sense. Then they may gain an actual character level which increases their overall effectiveness [*]. Now, the Wisdom attribute increases the rate at which skills improve. Ergo, the first rule here is that I.M.Ps should max Wisdom to 85.
[*] Examples are: they become more stealthy, they get quicker at targeting, they get more "interrupts" (explained later), and they get better at detecting danger.

The second rule is that I.M.Ps should be healthy, nimble and strong. That means high Health, Dexterity, Agility and Strength. These are important stats that bestow a range of benefits, some obvious and some not so obvious. Just trust me on this and don't make a cripple; don't gimp your I.M.P.

For a first run, I don't recommend dumping any stats below 35 because that means they can never be leveled through use. That said, your A.I.M. mercs (see next section) can always fill in for any glaring inadequacy that your I.M.P. might have, so it's entirely up to you whether or not you min-max. This is the third, more flexible rule.

The above-left pic shows the stats that I recommend for new players (no zero-dumps); the above-right one the stats I have gone with for this particular run (min-max). Note how Marksmanship is not maxed in either. It does not need to be maxed because with high Wisdom it will increase quickly and you will get to see your I.M.P. grow into a professional killer. An example: An I.M.P. who starts off with Marsksmanship 60 and Wisdom 85 can easily reach 90 by mid-game and 99 by end-game. And that is without forcing the I.M.P. to take the shots, or take long range shots (which seem to increase skill gain even more). In other words, no favoritism or manipulation. Just naturally playing the I.M.P. as one member of a squad.

The same goes for the other four skills; indeed, your I.M.P. need not be a combatant. I.M.P.s can be teachers who just stay in town to train the militia. Or mechanics who stay in town fixing stuff. But yeah, just remember to max Wisdom in order to level your skills more quickly.

I recommend dumping your other skills to 35 or even zero, as there are AIM mercs available early who can pick up the slack. Note that you MUST hire mercs that fill in for your glaring inadequacies because these skills ARE necessary.

Remember that I.M.Ps are not crucial to your success - afterall, they constitute only one member of a six-strong squad and you will have a few squads by end-game! - but you might as well make them useful and capable of growth since it's your personal touch to the liberation force. Just don't agonize over it.

Confirm your I.M.P. by authorizing the $3000 payment to Psych Pro Inc.

   A s s o c i a t i o n  o f  I n t e r n a t i o n a l  M e r c e n a r i e s :  
   A . I . M .   

A.I.M is awesome. It's where we hire our mercs, some of whom are more professional than others. Unlike the one-off I.M.P chargen A.I.M is accessible at any point during the campaign, from your laptop UI. Now, at this point you should still have $42,000 at your disposal after creating your I.M.P. Be thankful for that, because AIM can really hit your back pocket. As such, I tend to go for cheap, inexperienced but high Wisdom mercs who have lots of growth potential. Look for doctors, teachers, explosive experts and engineers (mechanics & electronics). You need mercs who can heal, teach, blow things up, repair items, pick locks and disarm alarms, traps and mines. For this reason, I tend to enlist the services of Barry, MD, Dr. Q and Buns/Spider ASAP. They all have Wisdom of at least 90, which is what you want because it means they learn fast. It's fun and rewarding to watch smart people get better, isn't it? They can't hit the broad side of the barn when they drop down from the chopper in Omerta, but they gradually train themselves into some of the sharpest snipers in the world over the course of the campaign. You won't bat an eyelid when they request more money from you as they level-up, because they are worth every penny.

That said, it's a lil' cheesy - and expensive - but there is nothing wrong with hiring one experienced merc for a single day. Guys like Lynx, Magic and even Gus. This helps out hugely in the first liberation; after which, you can ditch them and keep their stuff. Having access to a Mini-14, a Silenced Mac-10 or a H&K G-41 and a set of kevlar armor gives you the upper-hand in the early going, which can be an uphill battle for newbies. I'm taking Gus for a day just to get his gun, ammo and armor. I've done the Omerta - Drassen run a hundred times and just want to speed things along a bit for the purposes of this walkthrough.

Note that depending on your playstyle you might want to look for stealthy and nightops mercs. There are a range of approaches available to you in this game. Hire who you like. These are just recommendations, afterall. Here is my IMP and some of the mercs I'll be rolling with by the time I reach Alma:

Ok, got your starter squad ready for action? Let's take a look at the situation at hand.

          M a p  S c r e e n  a k a  S t r a t e g y  M o d e          

You will end up spending a lot of time on this screen though at this point in the proceedings there is not all that much to do other than become a lil' accustomed to the map. Currently it shows that our squad is hovering over A9: Omerta in a chopper (IN TRANS). This will be the first sector we need to liberate from Deidranna's forces. We will then need to head east to A10 to hook up with the rebels and find out what their situation is. After that, we must take the town of Drassen, gain control of its mines and train the militia to hold it against Deidranna's reprisals while we head off to liberate other towns. You can see that there are several towns in need of liberation, some which are more difficult to take control of than others. You don't need to train up militia in Omerta because the rebels manage to hold control of it after you take it. Plus, there is no mine so the queen isn't all that interested in reprisals here (of course, if she knew the rebels survived her tank assault then that would be another story). Later, other locations will appear on the map, such as SAM sites and the like, and some NPCs will mark locations on the map when they give you a quest. Note also how the map is layered: you can click on the these layers to show subterranean areas; however, we are not concerned with them at this point.

Continued in Part II: Liberation of Omerta!

Isometric, ftw.

          E o P          


  1. Wow this game was awesome and still is. it's a pity I've still to finish it (Instead I finished the 1st, despite the fact that it was much more limited: you couldn't create your character, there were few options, few weapons & items, and I don't remember any quest), but my excuse is that I was able to find it only recently (unlike the first, this game was really hard to find!).

    1. Yep, this game is pure wizardry. The design and coding is a work of genius. I think a strong argument can be made for it being GOAT. Can't believe it doesn't get more love.

    2. The improvements over the 1st JA are really a lot, and the character creation is the one I appreciated most... more than better graphics.

      The only thing I didn't like of the game was searching for the lost pilot...

    3. That quest can be a lil' tedious, yeah. And difficult for first time players. 1) You would have to be paying close attention to the hints in dialogue to even know about him and where he might be. 2) You have to explore up to four swamp sectors to locate him. 3) That can be mean bumping into roaming enemies.

      This is one of the reasons why I don't recommend 1.13 to new players. They already have enough to deal with.

      Skyrider's voiceset is also a bit annoying. There is a Skyrider silence patch for that.

    4. Hm I hated that swamp more than his voice!

      Speaking about the mercs you listed, why not Stephen or Buzz? They have good marksmanship and amazing wisdom (well Lynx hates Buzz and this can be a problem)

    5. They are expensive to hire in the early going, and won't grow all that much in MRK. Still, there is nothing wrong with them at all. AIM doesn't have any useless mercs on offer.

    6. True, but someone told me that Dr. Q becomes rather greedy after some days. He's still a good mercenary (only JA1 had joke characters) anyway, but I usually prefer the others medics.

      Oh and about the custom mercenary starting equipment, does it depends from the skills or attributes?

    7. Good question. Yeah, it does a bit. Like Stealth experts start off with a silenced Beretta. Skills, too (decent mechanics = toolkit, decent explosives = TNT, decent medical = medkit). Not sure about Attributes.

    8. I think that you got the MP5 because you have the Auto-Weapons (Expert), correct? I had the Ambidextrous/Auto-Weapons and they gave me the Beretta 93r. Someone says that a high Marksmanship gives you a better gun (MP5), but I'm not sure.

      Also, I don't understand the Personality changes. ^^'

    9. Looks like a high MRK gives you the MP5 without AutoWE. Just made an IMP with Teacher/ambi dual-trait and 85 MRK; got an MP5. That said, starting equipment has never been a huge deal to me because I tend to roll with a balanced squad from AIM. I also tend to prefer (assault) rifles to SMGs. (Mostly I go with Commando/G41 over MP5 and FN-FAL over MAC-10.)

    10. Yes, true, I just made an autoweapon expert and I got the silly Beretta 93r... but I found a shotgun in the first map!
      Smgs are ok and are especially useful in the beginning of the game.

      Now I'm trying to play with a cheap squad (but I'll take Stephen when available just because Meltdown loves him!)

    11. Glad you're playing, too! What are your parameters of play? I'll try and have my Alma write-up posted in a few days. It's a big town to cover.

    12. Well I started playing in 2015 and the game still runs (like Prince of Qin...these old games doesn't even need reinstalling).

      As parameters I run Experienced, with Tons of Guns and Sci-fi. Experienced gives a better equipment to enemies, but it's not bad since this means better loot.
      Strangely my version (german/uk) has no ironman option but a different choice: you can choose to have "timed turns" but I turned it off.

    13. You will find the Steyr Aug in Tons of Guns mode. It's got +8 rng, -2 dmg and +10 mag over the FN-FAL but costs more APs in single-shot and burst-fire modes. I guess the main benefit of the Steyr Aug is that it uses 5.56mm ammo, which is MUCH more common than 7.62mm.

    14. So far I wasn't that lucky with findings. By the way I doesn't use the 1.3 mod and I wonder if I miss something.

    15. Early game doesn't itemize much 5.56/7.62mm ammo but by mid-game you will find tons of 5.56mm for your Steyr Augs.

      1.13 adds a lot to the game. Makes it harder, more complex. Depends on how you set up the XML (mod is highly configurable). I'm not using 1.13 for this run because this write-up is for new players, and just for nostalgia on the official game released by Sir-Tech. I might do a specific write-up for 1.13 in the future, though.

    16. Yes, I clearly remember having a lot of 5.56, while 7.62mm ammo was more rare. I'm not that happy with my new psycho character, he wastes too many bullets.

      I don't use 1.13 since I didn't know of its existance, by the way I'd use it only for the extra mercs (if I am right, they're the same found in JA2:Unfinished Business, that I played before obtaining JA2. It wasn't that good.) and weapons.

    17. Yeah, Psycho is not for everyone. In the early game the involuntary bursting can be wasteful of ammo. And APs. Like, you step out of cover with the intent of firing once and ducking back into cover, but you end up bursting and leaving yourself open to retaliation. It's best for I.M.Ps that are tanks and have medics on-hand.

      I haven't completed Unfinished Business. It's a lil' too linear and simplistic for my liking. I don't doubt it can be fun but I've never been bored enough of the original campaign to really try it for long.

    18. I'm used to play a two-gun mercenary, but I can always give him a single shot weapon to avoit the waste of ammo.

      I can't remember if I completed JA2:UB or if I had to stop right before the end due to a bug... but I surely played it a lot even if I won't do that again since it's just a combat scenario and lacks of several features that makes the original game really interesting.

    19. Yep, just give him a Ruger Mini-14 in the early stages and an M24 or Dragunov in the later stages when you don't want to burn through ammo. No biggie.

  2. What do you think of Jagged Alliance 2 - Wildfire?


    1. Never played it or looked into it. :P

  3. Lilura! I am loving this write up. I tried JA2 a few years ago, jumping right into 1.13 and it was too complicated and difficult for me. So I dropped it for other gaming pleasures. But I recently played Divinity original sin 1 + 2 and was looking around for another good turn based combat game, and well, here I am. Your retrospective has inspired me to give it another go, without 1.13. Thanks. I also have been enjoying your other retrospectives. Your site has been flagged as one of my favorites.

    1. Thanks for flagging lilura1 as one of your fave sites, angiras. And I'm glad you are giving 1.12 a shot, which is the authentic JA2 experience. As a fan of turn-based combat systems, you might like to also check out Troika's Temple of Elemental Evil, with Co8 Lite and Temple+ installed. Cheers!


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