Pagan Online takes a lot of inspiration from Diablo. It’s hard not to compare them. Both are isometric action RPGs (ARPG) and both feature gods, monsters and demons.
Even Creative Director Uros Banjesevic of Mad Head Games acknowledges the comparisons. They’re actually something he takes as a compliment as he grew up playing Diablo and considers the series the benchmark for ARPGS.
When I asked him how he felt about being compared to Blizzard’s seminal series he said, “Being put in the same league is music to my ears.
“To be compared to one of the superstars and pioneers of the genre is incredible.”
Comparisons are fine and certainly help players understand what Pagan Online is, it’s quite a different experience when you get down to it.
Ok sure, in both games you have a number of different heroes, using different abilities to take out mobs of enemies. However, saying that Pagan Online and Diablo are the same is like saying Call of Duty and Battlefield are the same.
They occupy the same space, have similar aims and goals but go about them in vastly different ways.
One of the most notable and immediate differences with Pagan Online is the way you approach combat. Instead of coming across wandering mobs, combat in Pagan Online is all arena based.
At least in early access it is.
Fill the Lanes
What this means is that each map is a series of lanes or pathways connected by larger nodes. When you reach these nodes, combat is initiated and you’re unable to proceed until you defeat all enemies.
Banjesevic says that Pagan Online has been designed with MOBAs in mind which makes sense after you’ve played it. However, he also says that the team at Mad Head Games has been impressed by Warframe and hopes players will see some of that game coming through.
When asked if players might be able to drag mobs across the map in the future he said that it might happen. He didn’t offer a timeline for that but it’s an interesting idea given how the combat currently works.
That being said, your combat experience is going to be vastly different depending on which hero you choose. There are eight different heroes, all wildly different from each other and able to be unlocked in any order the player chooses.
When you first boot up Pagan Online, you have three heroes to choose from; Kingewitch, Anya and Istok. The remaining five are unlocked by collecting Hero Shards. These shards can be earned a number of ways but the best is to complete Assassination missions. When you earn enough you can unlock a new hero and the shards are also used to unlock cosmetics like emotes, skins and pets.
Other games require you to choose your hero at the beginning, finish the game and then start again with a new character. Not Pagan Online. You choose which character you want to play as when you want them.
Choice is key with Pagan Online and it extends beyond the choice of heroes and into their individual builds and loadouts. Banjesevic mentions MOBAs again here and says that Pagan Online gives players the ability to create different builds “on steroids.”
He says that there are three legs which support the Pagan Online stool;
- Making it fun and giving players the tools to min/max and play how they want.
- Creating a story-driven ARPG with hours of content.
- Create mechanics with intersections that allow for premium events, rewards and unique encounters.
For the first point, Mad Head Games has included a huge number of weapons, armour, items and gear. Each of these has a stat (or stats) that changes your overall Might, armour rating, damage, evasion etc. It’s here that you can tinker with your hero until you find the perfect build.
For example, Charms, Wards and Tomes each have two stats; Armour and Evasion. Some will have a much higher Armour rating while others will be be stronger in Evasion. By mixing, matching and experimenting, players will be able to tinker with their hero down to the micro level.
Customisation doesn’t end there though. Players are able to further alter the way their hero plays through the Skill Tree. Here players can individually improve the stats of each ability they’ve unlocked. At the fourth and 10th level of each ability, players have a choice for how to upgrade. And this can be changed at any time.
Mad Head Games has also included a crafting system. This allows players to create an enormous number of items with specially designed stats.
Stay awhile and listen
For the second leg of the stool, from my time with Pagan Online, I have to say, Mad Head Games has succeeded. Based on Slavic mythology, there’s a deep and engaging story that plays out throughout the game.
I asked Banjesevic about the influence the myths had on the game and he said that in Serbia, grandmothers tell children the stories of the Slavic gods to “scare the shit out the them.”
However, he believed that the mythology would be accessible by a western audience. This is due to Pagan Online being presented in a western, Diablo and League of Legends style package.
That doesn’t mean that the mythology has been pushed to one side though. Banjesevic tells me that the characters and monsters in the game are all based on the Slavic myths. He picks out Baba Yaga as a good example.
In the myths, Baba Yaga steals children and stuffs them in her basket. In Pagan Online, Baba Yaga carries a basket and throws food out to attract the children and lure them in. Everything in Pagan Online is rooted in Slavic mythology; names, lore and abilities especially.
Play and Play and Play
As for providing hours of entertainment, from Banjesevic’s best estimates, it should take around 50-hours to complete the game with one character. And that’s if the player is absolutely ripping through the game.
That’s a huge number and considering there are eight heroes, multiple builds and tonnes of extra content, Pagan Online is going to keep players busy.
When Mad Head Games calls Warframe and influence on Pagan Online, it’s talking about the hub and mission structure. Players are housed in the Pantheon and from here they choose what they’ll do next. The Pantheon hosts every other feature of the game; crafting, vendor, skill tree and so on.
When you complete a mission, you return to the Pantheon and choose another. However, should you get tired of the campaign there are also Expeditions, Patrols, Assassinations, Survivals and Defenses. Even in early access there is a phenomenal number of missions and scenarios to tackle. When you see just how much you can do, 50-hours starts to sound very conservative.
What’s it like?
The third leg or pillar for Pagan Online is to create a game with unique mechanics that lends itself to rewards, events and encounters.
This is just a fancy way of calling it a Game as a Service (GaaS). Pagan Online is most definitely part of the growing GaaS genre with both Wargaming and Mad Head Studios saying that they plan to aggressively support the game.
From Wargaming’s perspective, Jacob Beucler, Product Director says that an ARPG fits perfectly with the publisher’s update cadence. Beucler says that “Games as a Service is a way of life for [Wargaming]” and that Pagan Online will see updates every two weeks. Banjesevic also confirmed that the game’s endgame will have “a lot of content.”
Included in future updates will be new heroes, maps, loot and more.
As for how it plays, I’ve been really impressed with the time I’ve spent with Pagan Online. Combat is fast and fluid and abilities feel suitably powerful and theatrical. Even though combat is restricted to the “arenas” of the map, each encounter feels unique thanks to the range of enemies and abilities.
Variation in combat is also helped by the different heroes and different loadouts they are able to carry. While I opted to play as Kingewitch, Pagan Online’s Barbarian, my fellow Pagan Online player, Greg, opted for Anya. While he claims her closets comparison to Diablo is the Witch Doctor, he told me that she plays very differently.
She’s fast and highly manoueverable with low health. Key to her survival are her vampiric abilities. She uses blood and bats to attack and regain health while darting around the arenas using her ranged whip to attack from afar,
Kingewitch is totally different. Not quite a tank, but nearly, he uses brute force to decimate the waves of enemies. He swings a massive sword, or axe or hammer, and can leap into the air to bring down a crushing blow. He’s certainly not overly fast, but he’s not a slow character either.
He’s perfect for beginners.
Pagan Online is still only in early access, but there’s a lot to love. While four-player co-op is coming, two-player co-op is available at the moment.
There’s tonnes to see and do and both Wargaming and Mad Head Studios are committed to delivering continuous and ongoing updates for a long, long time.
If you like ARPGs, MOBAs and/or Warframe then Pagan Online probably going to be something you’ll have lots of fun with.
Pagan Online is available in early access on PC now.