Mad Head Games and Wargaming.net got together one day and decided, “Hey! Let’s make an ARPG.” At least that was my initial impression when I first started reading about Pagan Online. A game where you play a recently deceased hero on a quest to fight against creatures from the Shroud and to find the missing gods, restoring them to their thrones in Pantheon in the process. But does this heroic endeavor standup as a go-to ARPG? This is our Pagan Online review for PC/Steam.
Graphics in the game are stylized and have a pretty good feel to them. Characters are very distinct from one another and their movement smooth. While I find them appealing, for the most part, I can see this graphic style turning some players away. The world is beautifully done and the further I progressed through the campaign the more I enjoyed the visuals. The voice acting in the game is cheesy, but it fits well with the aesthetic and the basic story being presented.
You begin the game by picking a character, in early builds this was out of 3 options: Kingewitch The Juggernaut, Anya The Blood Ritualist, and Istok The Stalwart Protector. Each character does what it says on the tin and with a unique playstyle that you can change up by spending point in different abilities as you level up. Hopefully, in the release version, you will be able to pick one out of all the heroes due to the currently existing balance issues, see below. The animations are great for the characters giving the combat for each one a unique feel.
There are different types of quests/levels you can choose from in the Battlegate which include the campaign, missions, and assassinations. The campaign is self-explanatory, as you progress further and upgrade the gear might score of a given character you will be able to complete missions to obtain keys that will then let you attempt assassinations. The first time you complete an assassination you will receive an unlock soul that can be used to assess any one of the other heroes. Different assassinations will also drop character-specific shards that can be used to customize your hero’s appearance in the Hero Forge. While in between missions you can easily swap between the heroes you have unlocked by using the Hero Forge, you do have to level each of them up separately though.
Combat in the game is the standard fare you have come to expect in an ARPG with different monster types and bosses which will have various special abilities. After getting used to the WASD controls I can see why the developers choose to go that route the more I played. I am happy to say though that for players more interested in more traditional ARPG controls you can switch to point and click to move in the options. I did try using a gamepad for a good 2 hours and to be honest, it was a horrible experience, unless you are diehard for using a controller, I would skip it until the controls are tweaked.
The options menus also are done quite well and have many customizations that I enjoyed tinkering with to fit my playstyle. Some though, like basic auto-loot for gold and crafting materials, I was surprised were not turned on by default.
My wife Dkonen go involved with the game early on and her impressions span from the start of EA to now.
“Pagan Online has improved significantly since it’s first few days-I bought in early, so I had a bit of that experience. I say a bit-because Pagan just couldn’t snag my interest. I like ARPGS for their easy turn-brain-off ness, and Pagan just didn’t hit that level, and it’s largely intentional, from what I understand.
The loot is less, you need to be more present and your characters are locked and honestly, horribly balanced. That’s been a factor since the early days and has barely improved, if at all, despite the expansion of character advancement. Itemization both is and isn’t a thing, as it’s kind of sideswiped by playing the right character with the right reflexes, minimizing the loot pinata feel I’ve come to expect in a good ARPG.
Maybe if I was a MOBA fan I might like this more, but I’m not. I’m sure there could be a niche for ARPG/MOBA hybrid games, but for me, it’s a non-starter. It’s a shame too because the devs are lovely and their communication has been great, but Pagan, as a game, just isn’t doing it for me.”
Unfortunately, some issues are holding Pagan Online back from really shining as an ARPG. The first of which is character imbalance, some character abilities seem ineffective to completely useless and it is much easier just to circle your opponents while using the primary attack. There are also several bugs I have experienced with different character abilities, while not game stopping, essential meant I had a useless slot taken up on my very limited amount of active abilities, some abilities would only work on certain maps. When you first pick a character, certain ones are vastly more effective than others and this can slow/halt your progression through the game’s campaign until you unlock other characters that can handle certain fights more easily.
The gameplay loop, as you travel from location to location on a given map translucent walls appear and you must fight off waves of monsters. In certain missions, you have an objective to defend, a specific target to kill or simply the goal to survive… the wave fights, that’s it. I did not find another interesting boss fight until the end of Act III, which was a bit rough until I figured out the mechanics, and there were still waves of enemies but thankfully less translucent walls.
The maps are another issue. Each map is reused ad nauseam and is static in design. Progression paths through a given map are created by blocking off routes with debris depending on the level. This removes/lessens the feeling of explorations and depth to the world. The game could greatly benefit from some procedurally generated maps where players can explore while they are leveling and at the same time, for the developers, please get rid of the transparent walls for every single fight…as it stands the game feels very much like the enemies are waiting in every “room” for the player. If maps can be made to be more dynamic the replayability of the game would go up quite a bit. As a player, I want to explore and discover the world during my journey, not be shown the same thing again and again. The environments look great otherwise.
Overall, Pagan Online has the potential to be a great ARPG, unfortunately, it currently falls short of the mark. Which is a shame because I like the development team behind the game. They seem to really care but their product and engage regularly with the fans. The game currently works as a temporary break from other ARPG offerings but not as a fulltime replacement. The character imbalances, lack of exploration and limited replayability is currently holding it back from being a great game.
Game keys were provided for the purpose of review
Compare to: Diablo 3 and Path of Exile