There are quite a few people hyped for the next ARPG worth sinking your teeth into, especially since the disappointing announcement that “Diablo 4” would be a mobile rendition of the game (“Do you guys not have phones??”). Pagan Online, developed by Mad Head Games, is catching the eye of quite a few people with its fast-paced clicky combat and Slavic themed storyline. I recently had a chance to go hands-on and enjoy the game at my own pace and stand at the ready to share my notes. So strap in, grab your hammer (or spellbook) and get your monster-slaying spectacles on – we’re diving in.
Before you get to character creation, you’re treated to some cutscenes that explain where you land in the story so far. Without revealing too many specifics some powerful beings aren’t where they’re supposed to be, some evil forces are doing some evil things, and you’re one of many on a mission to do something about it. Moving on to character creation I can say this: there isn’t any. At the time of me playing it, there are eight heroes you can choose and switch between at will between missions – each with their own levels – that have their own look and gender. You can customize the look of them to an extent with costumes that exist and are purchasable with shards that drop while you’re on missions. I want to make this clear: there was not a cash shop to purchase shards to unlock these cosmetics. It was done with gameplay only. Some of the costumes would significantly alter the aesthetics of your chosen hero so the breadth of options is significant and the system easily allows for more to be added as development continues.
However, the fact that players won’t be able to make a character at the start that they bond with, customize and pick the gender of is going to turn off some gamers. For a good portion of players out there, a part of the joy of the journey is doing it with a character they’ve created and identified with. While there are eight heroes to choose from at the time of this writing (and two more in testing) it’s entirely possible that someone might not find the right look.
Mechanics wise a fair bit is going on, though it’s relatively easy to understand. You’ll have to keep track of multiple experience bars, arguably the most important being the legacy experience bar and level. This is your experience bar as the overall player and represents the account level, so to speak. It gains experience and levels by leveling up the different heroes at your disposal and your legacy level is the check for more and more powerful gear. So while you could just pick one character to level to cap you would hinder yourself from the best gear because you wouldn’t have your legacy level high enough to equip the good stuff. The cool side of this is that there are no hero level requirements on gear. So it’s really easy to level up your alternate heroes once you get one hero in the upper ranks and your legacy level up there. A level 1 Lukian (a ranged mage) could equip high-level gear for Legacy 5 and roll through hard missions and level up on speed mode.
Coming down a notch each of the characters has their experience pool that works just like any other experience pool would. Kill monsters, finish quests, get levels, repeat. As you level you earn skill points to spend on your ability tree to get new abilities and augment existing ones. While you’re out earning this experience hero shards will drop. These shards aren’t generic – you won’t just collect a bunch of shards that can be used on any hero. The shards that drop are specific to a certain hero and are used to unlock the pets and cosmetics for that hero as we discussed earlier. All my heroes started with 150 of these shards, enough to buy one of any of the costumes, and the rest is ground out. These shards aren’t to be confused with hero souls which are only dropped from certain missions called Assassinations. Hero souls are used for unlocking playable heroes because, as I didn’t mention above, you don’t start with being able to choose from all the heroes – you’ll get to choose a berserker type, a tanky type, and a succubus type that self heals.
Once it came time for the combat I did find myself having a pretty good time. Like any game, there are things that I found to be an annoyance however the pros far outweigh the cons for me. For the vast majority of my review time, I played Anya, the aforementioned ‘succubus’ type. Going off the actual game description she’s a life leech ranged caster with intelligence as her primary stat. Combat at its core feels good. The ability animations are fluid and work well together and mobs don’t die so fast that you aren’t able to use multiple abilities to pull off fun combos. One feature that is bound to drive some people up the wall, however, is that some of your special ability animations, and therefore the ability, can be interrupted by being hit. Being a big Dark Souls player I found this enjoyable as I had to take it into account when fighting but I can see how for a hack ‘n slash it’s not likely to be a feature many would enjoy.
As with all ARPG games, prepare to click a lot of fallen loot and make trips to town to sell your wares. This brings me to some of the annoyances I found with Pagan Online. Firstly – there’s no way currently to go back to ‘town’ (the pantheon) mid-mission to drop off your full inventory and port back in to continue. There have been many times I’ve found myself deciding mid-mission what’s worth keeping and dropping other stuff on the ground so I can pick up a piece of gear that I wanted. This is no way to live! Luckily – well not really – you always have to go back to the pantheon between missions. As the individual missions aren’t very long I felt like I was spending too much time going back to pantheon just to immediately start a mission again and found myself wishing that they would just meld together.
While we’re speaking of the main hub of the game I have to say the folks over at Mad Head did a great job with its design. The purists among us can run around to all the various vendors and mission hubs, hero gates and crafting stations but for the lazy among us, all the features can be accessed from the menu across the top of the screen. You’ll be able to start your next mission immediately from a button at the bottom of the screen if you’re wanting to continue the story or switch things up and go to the battle gate where you’ll be able to pick from a variety of different missions – from hunts to assassinations. The assassinations are no joke, either, as Pagan Online delivers some quality boss fights in terms of difficulty.
Pagan Online sets out to deliver a fun, fast paced hack ‘n slash loot grinder game with interesting mechanics to set it apart from all the other mainstream ARPGs on the market. In that vein I think it succeeds in setting aside a corner of the market for itself with interesting thematics, heroes and mechanics. While it may not have the seasonal grind of Diablo 3 or the ability trees that require a doctorate like Path of Exile, the game serves up quality fun with minimal frustration.
- Great Graphics
- Engaging Combat
- Slavic Theme is Incredibly Unique
- Minimal character customization
- Returning to the main hub after every mission is repetitive
- Can feel overly grindy at times