Something quite different from a familiar name, Pagan Online is an action RPG from Wargaming – developed by Mad Head Games. It’s out in early access on Steam right now, and is also available through Wargaming’s own platform. Time for a preview.
What we know
Based on Slavic mythologies that will likely be unfamiliar to most, Pagan Online is an action RPG that draws inspiration from the likes of Diablo with its hack and slash and loot-based gameplay. It’s being developed by Mad Head, a studio that mostly has smaller titles under its belt – making Pagan Online easily their most ambitious title so far. It’s also a bit of a departure for Wargaming, who we mostly know from their tank, warship and warplane-based MMO universes. They’ve branched out before (Master of Orion is the best example there), but this is a new genre for them as well.
Although it’s easy to think of Diablo when you boot up Pagan Online, there are plenty of differences as well – and not just in terms of the setting and attached lore. One striking example is the game’s control scheme, which uses a keyboard and mouse combination but feels like it could easily make the jump to a gamepad (and a later console release?). Instead of using a mouse to indicate where you want to go, you use traditional FPS controls – giving me the sense that this would easily translate to a left thumbstick, but there isn’t currently any gamepad support here.
There is also a ton of cosmetic customization for your heroes, in addition to the ability to unlock and upgrade weapons and gear. This emphasis on cosmetic upgrades has never really grabbed me, but it certainly fits with most gamers’ current sentiments and the Wargaming universe in general.
What we saw
Available since the middle of April, we test drove the Early Access version of the game on Steam (which still requires a Wargaming account). The game’s on the verge of receiving another update with patch 0.2, but the changes in that version have not been tested for this preview.
What’s also noteworthy is that while the game’s title is Pagan Online, very few online elements were present (or needed) during our playthrough. In that sense, the game plays more like a traditional action RPG than it might in a few months time.
What we thought
It was hard not to draw parallels between Pagan Online and Diablo – despite the different setting, there are plenty of dark dungeons that remind you of Blizzard’s classic, as does the camera angle. Pagan Online does blend these dark settings with more colorful imagery as well though, providing subtle hints of games like Torchlight as well.
Although unique in their Slavic origins, most of the available heroes (some of which have to be unlocked first) feel a tad familiar in how close they are to tropes of the genre. There is a decent amount of enemy variety in the game already, and you regularly get ambushed by them as well – in situations where you’re trapped in an area and have to fight off a few waves before being able to continue.
The game returns to a central hub (the Pantheon) after a mission, and missions in general are pretty short. We had some trouble relating to the story because of this, as that “epic journey” you expect isn’t visualized as such – but perhaps this will be more fleshed out in the future. After all, despite solid gameplay Pagan Online is far from done – especially when considering the “online” portion in its title.
We already mentioned that the control system feels like it could make the leap to consoles, and some of the gameplay fits the same description – missions are often no more than 10 to 15 minutes long, and the action feels smooth and dynamic. Part of that are a few handy markers that appear in combat, including area of effect indicators for weapons and color indications for threat levels – moving the game away from the old “clickfests” that RPGs could turn into with a more tactical element.
Pagan Online could still use a little polish as a single player adventure (some areas are marked as ‘coming soon’), but the biggest question mark is how big of a role “online” is going to play, and how that will impact the experience. We’ll know more as development continues – our understanding is that cooperative play should be coming soon.