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Pagan Online: Wargaming.net Strikes Again

By Red Thomas on May 02, 2019 | Columns | 0

I’ve played a number of Wargaming.net titles over the years and I’ve enjoyed nearly all of them.  I like that they’ve branched out a bit and started getting into the publishing game, which is what led them to picking up Pagan Online, which was developed by Mad Head Games.  Much like Master of Orion, this is a step into new territory for Wargaming and there are a few parallels to be found.

I applaud Wargaming for taking the jump and I think the game will probably prove to be a good thing for them in the long run, but I’m a little less confident about Pagan Online itself.  There are definitely some redeeming features, which I’ll get into a bit today.  I also think there is an audience that’ll enjoy the game, but there are a few concerns that I’ll dive into, as well.

The Upside

Wargaming does one thing very well.  They take genres that have been complicated in the past and make them incredibly approachable for the every-day gamer.  Their tank, air, and naval sims have all proven their expertise in that domain.  Each takes a genre that’s traditionally had a fairly steep learning curve and usually comparable barrier to entry, and they’ve made those games easy to play and fun for more people.

Part of their success is a really fine touch with the user interface, where they often demonstrate elegance through simplicity.  Wargame’s UIs are always very clean and easy to read, which helps a lot with making their games more approachable.  They then take it further by simplifying the rules of the game, as they did with Master of Orion.  Not only does that make the game easier to understand for more people, but it often results in a game that can be played in short periods.

Pagan Online is a visually appealing game, but the Dukat portrait, voice over, and script makes me wonder if they drug-test their employees regularly.

The developers did just that with Pagan Online.  The UI and control schemes for the game are simple and uncluttered.  It’s a design that works very well with the action-combat control scheme.  I think the marriage between the two was unique and definitely successful.

The simple action controls are easy to pickup and make the fast-paced combat feel fun and engaging.  Mad Head Games did a great job of creating a UI that looks similar to what you’d find in any other game in the genre, but I think they did a particularly good job of providing feedback to the player about their readiness of skills through the UI.  Icons dim and drop down on use, slowly raising back up and brightening again when they’re ready to be used again.

As I said, the UI is relatively spartan, which was a very smart design choice because it also allows the player to experience more of the game environment.  On one hand, this is a very practical choice in that being able to see around your avatar as waves of enemies dogpile you is key to survival.  It was also a good move aesthetically because the game world is artistically well done.  I enjoy games with pretty environments, and Pagan Online definitely has that going for it.

The Downside

While I haven’t gone too far in the storyline yet, I’m already really bored with it.  There’s nothing particularly novel in the story.  Your unkillable avatar is explained away due to your divine nature and it’s said that this somehow limits your time on the mortal plane, but there’s no reinforcement of that in the gameplay.  I think it’d be a little more interesting if they’d implemented some sort of escalating debuff over time.  That’d match the story as it was presented to you by the old man who serves as your guide to the mystical.

I think it would have helped, but not enough.  Pagan Online would still suffer from a very snooze-worthy script.  The dialogue has the definitive feel of an afterthought, and there’s no amount of voice acting that can make up for that level of disinterest.  Frankly, the merchant Dukat was nearly enough to make me quit right there.  I recognized the voice actor, though I just can’t quite place where all I’ve heard him before.  He’s such a caricature of a merchant that it killed what little seriousness the game had managed to generate to that point.

I also felt like there were missed opportunities, like why can’t I kick these guys into this pit or off the edge of cliffs?

I also didn’t like the way character unlocks worked in the game.  You’re forced to choose a character to start with and then the others can be unlocked through play.  You have to grind like crazy to get them, though.  Because skill trees are pre-set, you don’t have a whole lot of flexibility, either.  I wanted to play a caster-type, but the closest I could get was a whip-wielding life-stealing character.  To get anything close to what I would have liked to play, I needed to unlock the other characters.

Also, it’s hard to really tell whether you’ll like a character or not, but once you’ve unlocked him/her, that’s it until you can get to another.  To be fair, the assassination missions are supposed to drop the shards needed for unlocks pretty well, but that’s after playing the game for a bit and potentially being stuck with a character you don’t like for a while.

The Flipside

Despite some pretty good design choices and a clearly well-developed game, I just couldn’t get into Pagan Online.  I’m pretty sure at least some of it is really more because I’m not a big fan of the grindy bash-em-up games with hordes of monsters to wade through.  If that’s your sort of game, you may really like this one.

The story didn’t interest me much, but I think the game will become more interesting once you can play with friends.

I suspect this may be one of those games like HELLDIVERS that I don’t really care for much when I’m playing alone, but one that may be fun with friends.  I think some of the kids in my family may actually like the game a lot due to the fast-paced combat and really well-done visuals.  It’s just not enough for me, though.

Don’t let my impressions turn you off if you do find yourself enjoying games that use the action-combat style, though.  For one, this game is truly well produced and as with all games in the Wargaming catalogue, it’s very straight forward, easy to learn, and can be played in short periods.  All stuff I appreciate, especially as my life has grown busier over the years.

Another thing to keep in mind is that multiplayer isn’t in the game yet, which I think would help to improve my personal enjoyment of the game a lot.  When multiplayer is added, Pagan Online could easily land in one of my “…With Kids” articles, and I think some of the younger ones would enjoy the game.  Until then, I’ll be giving it a pass but would definitely encourage anyone who thinks they may be interested to check out a few streams or videos before making their own decision.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.