Wargaming is quite well known for its series of free-to-play online war games, including World of Tanks and World of Warships. As a result, it would be the last company that you would expect to release a new action role-playing game. Yet, this is exactly what it’s have done. Pagan Online is a new title from Mad Head Games, published by Wargaming, and from my limited exposure to it in its Early Access form, I can already suggest it’s a game to keep an eye on.
In addition to the unexpected publisher, the decision to release an ARPG in the current environment may also seem a strange decision in itself. Not only has Diablo dominated – and will continue to dominate, let’s face it – this genre for many years, but Path of Exile has also built itself quite a solid following over the years.
More than that, though, the next 12 months seems like the ‘Year of the ARPG,’ with the recent release of Warhammer: Chaosbane as well as several other titles in the pipeline. So, is it really a good idea to release yet another ARPG now?
Well… why not? You can read our preview here.
The truth is, Pagan Online is not an ARPG like the others. In fact, it’s very far removed; so much so that I would argue that Pagan Online should find a fanbase of its own simply based on the fact that it’s doing something to the beat of its own drum.
Where other titles will need to battle Diablo 4, PoE v4, and Torchlight Frontiers to gain their own place in the ARPG leaderboard, I truly feel that Pagan Online is different enough to stand on its own.
Mad Head Games, the developers of Pagan Online, has referred to three main influences for the game – Diablo (naturally), MOBAs, and – completely unexpectedly – Warframe.
If you know me, you know I love Warframe, but Diablo and Warframe are extremely different games, so it was hard for me to understand how this combination would work.
For one, Pagan Online doesn’t put players into large maps and send them searching across them for items that will drive the story. Missions play out over 10-20 minutes and players are largely guided towards their objective on a small subsection of a much larger map.
This means that a player could jump in for a quick session if they want, or do multiple missions when they have more time.
Within these missions, enemies drop various kinds of loot. This includes actual equipable items (more on that later), gold, health potions, blueprints, recipes, and resources, recipes used to reforge items and blueprints to forge Legendary items.
That said, the main reason to replay missions is to collect resources.
Sounding like Warframe yet? If you need more proof, consider the mission types themselves.
Grinding for Gold
First, you have your more Diablo-like Acts – story missions broken down into several bite-sized missions. Next, you have Missions, which are based on player Might level (essentially a measure of player power) and play out across Defence and Survival mission types.
Here players defend an item or stay alive for a certain period of time, respectively. Play enough of these Missions to collect Keys, which are used to unlock Assassination missions – these are much more difficult boss encounters that award Hero Shards, which are used to unlock cosmetics. Completing an Assassination for the first time will also award a Hero Soul, which can be used to unlock a Hero of your choice.
This brings us to the Heroes themselves. Keep in mind that there are eight Heroes in the game and who you use to approach a certain mission is entirely up to you.
Unlocking them, though, does require Hero Souls, but given these are now a guaranteed award for Assassinations (and that they can be used to unlock your choice of Hero), it’s not a major issue.
These Heroes are set in their Abilities, not unlike MOBA characters. That is – they each have seven Abilities, one of which is effectively an Ultimate, and each operates on a certain cooldown. It is not possible to change these Abilities, but players can augment their effects at certain points along the skill tree.
This skill tree is limited at present, but Mad Head Games has stated that a more complex skill tree is in development, so fear not.
Augmenting Heroes is currently done via equipable items, including weapons, books of lore, amulets, and rings. Each will have an effect on overall power or armour, but rarer items will also have an intrinsic effect that can augment players further; Poison Damage or Resistance, for example, or increased Dexterity.
This is pretty standard stuff but really needs a major rework, in my opinion. For one, it’s not so easy to determine what is what in your inventory and it’s not immediately clear which is the better choice.
I guess this will take time to learn, plus the game is still in Early Access, so there is plenty of time to improve. I suggest a rework of the Inventory would likely be the only way to address this.
Dress to Impress
Character customisation, which is a major aspect of Warframe and clearly a major focus for replayability here, still needs some work.
Collecting Hero Shards (which are specific to a certain Hero) in standard missions and Assassinations allows players to “purchase” skins. Players can also apply a colour variation to further augment these skins. However, I find this somewhat low impact.
Ideally, a system that would allow players to fully customise the colour of the character and the chosen skin (a la Warframe, naturally) would further flesh this out, as would the capability to apply weapon skins with equipable weapons – it only makes sense to me.
Of course, I’d also like to be able to switch out colours for the weapon as well, but beggars can’t be choosers.
So how does the game actually PLAY?
To be honest, it feels more like a cross between a MOBA and Diablo – the Warframe influence has a more global design influence than within the individual missions. Players move about using WASD, which itself feels different to Diablo, but allows for more control over Abilities.
The ability to play with a controller is in the works but is somewhat more difficult to implement than the team realised, as the game was designed primarily with mouse and keyboard in mind. From my experience, the game is currently best played with mouse and keyboard, but I really hope to see a solid controller config implemented soon.
In missions themselves, the player needs to juggle Abilities and cooldowns, luring tougher enemies and mobs into certain Abilities and monitoring health. Strangely, the devs have chosen to lock players into certain areas when mobs spawn, making each section of the map feel almost like an arena.
While I enjoy this in practice, it does detract from the overall experience. I don’t necessarily like being locked into an area and would prefer a little more freedom. Moreover, it really makes the game feel so much more linear, which is less than ideal.
What is it that I like about this game anyway?
Well, first and foremost, it’s fun. I enjoy the Hero that I’ve chosen (and to be clear, I have unlocked a second character, but I’m yet to get a feel for him), and her Abilities are powerful and varied. I enjoy the pick-up-and-play short-form mission types and the grinding of missions for resources.
I love the fact that there are multiple Heroes and that players can switch between them based on their needs and I also love the fact that there are skins to grind for. It’s really the perfect game for what I enjoy.
That said, there’s a lot that needs to be built in here and there’s a lot that I am yet to actually experience, so I can’t comment on it just yet (such as the end-game experience).
However, the game in its current form is already extremely playable, with a serious amount of content. It’s not expensive in Early Access (@ $20 USD), and is really only going to get better.
Just look at Warframe and Path of Exile in their early years versus what they both are now. I hope that Pagan Online ends up growing and developing in much the same way. I’ve got a good feeling that will be the case.
Personally, I think now is as good a time as any to jump on the Pagan Online bandwagon – at least so you can brag about it in a couple of years when the player population has grown.
Wargaming has provided PowerUp! with multiple Early Access codes for Pagan Online.