I always appreciate when a developer ventures out into the unknown and works to bring something unique to the table. SO when Pagan Online, the fast-paced hack, slash. Loot ARPG was announced on Steam’s Early Access I was a bit intrigued by the whole affair. Boasting a desire to advance the ARPG formula while still holding firm to its rooms, Mad Head Games has set out to deliver a fresh perspective on one of my most beloved genres.
So with that in mind I’ve spent the last week hacking and slashing my way through Pagan Online’s early access experience. Although the game is still very much in the early access stages the whole affair was in fact a fresh take on the ARPG genre. So without further ado grab that coffee, kick back and enjoy this first impression piece on Pagan Online.
Set in Slavic inspired fantasy setting, Players awake to find themselves in a world where the gods are dead. As a result evil forces that had once been kept at bay are now flooding into the world threatening all the inhabit it. Each player begins their adventure by choosing from three available heroes. This choice is crucial as it will be some time before you’ll have the opportunity to unlock other characters. In typical fashion Players will choose from three basic archetypes, a tank, Melee DPS and a more ranged DPS. As is my typical choice I went full board and sword, witch beefcake Dwarf ready take on the hordes that awaited.
Interestingly Characters in Pagan Online are very much ability and combat style locked. Unlike many other games in the genre, Pagan is really focusing in on mastery of the characters. Each has a unique set of skills that offer advantages and disadvantages in combat. In the case of my Dwarf I had no problem going toe to toe with the fiercest of baddies but struggled to take down enemies quickly in timed events. It's an interesting way of balancing combat for co-op players and in many ways I think would make the process easier for the developer to manage.
The world building for Pagan is polished and lovely to look at. Each area of the map is themed exceptionally well and carries with it a very AAA shine. Levels themselves are currently very linear, which is a bit sad considering how beautiful the world design is. The game uses a basic public hub for crafting, venders, grouping and mission selection with levels being a closed affair.
This coupled with the aforementioned linear design does take away from the experience. Several times during my playtime I really just wanted to go out into the world and explore all the little corners just off screen. It’s unfortunate that each level feels more like a glorified firefight or horde mode rather than a living breathing world. I’m not privy to the developers long term plans for the world they are creating but I hope they flesh this out to a full world experience for players.
Combat is exceptionally well polished for an early access title. Interestingly Mad Head Games has decided to break away from the traditional mouse centric combat of most ARPG’s and instead has opted for a WASD movement scheme with the mouse cursor acting like more of a directional guide for combat abilities.
The first few moments of gameplay felt awkward and slightly unsettling but after a few minutes of fumbling across my keyboard everything started to make sense. Within a half hour I can’t really imagine playing any other way. Granted the controller is supported but is still in development so things like UI don’t always clearly communicate which face buttons activate which abilities.
Despite the foreign controls, Pagan Online is a smooth combat experience. Combat feel crisp and responsive which some beautiful animations. Although not as quick paced as Diablo 3, Pagan offers players a much more strategic form of combat. Abilities are on cooldowns forcing players to evaluate their enemies, their strategies and how best to engage them all within a few seconds. This lends itself nicely to the aforementioned Character system as you’ll spend a lot of time getting to know your character.
This isn’t to say you won’t be able to play as other characters. Each character, aside from your starter, is purchasable via an ingame currency that is collected by completing various missions. Thankfully there are no microtransaction so when you see a player rocking a particular character in game you can rest assured that that character was earned the hard way.
This does bring up another concern I have for Pagan Online. Currently the only way to unlock new characters is through what is, at the time of writing, a very long argous grind. Don’t misunderstand me, I understand that by nature ARPG’s are the classic grind fest, but in the case of Pagan, because it is so linear in level design, the grind gets old fast. This coupled with the reality that outside of initial skill unlock the only progression comes from gear leveling, players may struggle to want to keep going. Remember to take this critique with a grain of salt as the game is still very much in early access and many things could change.
As mentioned the game also has a hub area that offers everything from venders to crafting. Pagan Onlines current crafting system is actually pretty polished with the player collecting materials in world and imbuing recipes into existing gear. This in turn improves the gear. One great part about the system is that you can actually imbue the gear more than once and then choose which states you like the best. It was a fun and engaging crafting experience and for me that’s a pretty sweet change of pace.
The one thing that I was not able to try during my time was co-op. Mad Head Games is currently working on finishing up the mechanic and as of the time of writing, not ready to implement it into the game. Based on how my meat shield Dwarf played I look forward to the time when I can drag along a few DPS to help push back the hordes of evil that await us.
Currently Pagan Online is a very polished Early Access title. From this perspective it's a fresh take on the ARPG genre with some room for great development moving forward. According to the Developers their desire is to allow players to help shape the direction of the game. So if you're looking for an engaging ARPG experience and are okay with walking with the developers as they continue to polish and further develop their title.