In Pagan Online, players can expect an isometric Diablo style viewpoint. Though this is no point and click adventure. Expect the typical WSAD setup, with the mouse in use for picking up items or aiming particular attacks. This control scheme may feel a little schizophrenic to some. A kind of game format that cannot decide if it wants to be Diablo or something else. In the end, it works and is very easy to pick up. While each hero differs drastically in the combat opportunities they offer, the control scheme instils a quick understanding of how to use a new hero. Mad Head Games aren’t trying to replicate Diablo in a massive PvE format. They are simply doing their own thing with Pagan Online and it is frankly refreshing.
Pagan Online is available in Early Access today on Steam.
At this middling stage of the game’s development, still in Early Access build, Pagan’s needs for improvement are subtle. For instance, the start of the game is presented as showy. Occasional animated cutscenes and gameplay cutscenes which eventually ebb away to the mission-after-mission grind. That said, Pagan Online has something Warframe (surely an influencer in Pagan’s development) didn’t have for many years. A fully fleshed out story.
When we think about PvE loot grind games, story is not one of the first things to come to mind. But even now, Pagan’s fleshed out story impressed me. As a fallen hero, the player will be reincarnated at the Pantheon of the Gods. This will serve as the player hub world, offering everything from party formation to crafting to cosmetics and commerce. Only, this Pantheon of the Gods has no Gods in it. The four Gods of the world of Pagan Online have mysteriously disappeared. Which is a bummer as it was them who held the fabric of the human world together. As a result of their disappearance, it’s up to the reincarnated heroes to kick demon butt as they pour into the world and decimate mankind.
On top of that, we are guided by the ominously named Old Man, who seems to know a heck of a lot. Players will have the option to hop quickly into the next chapter of the story with a conveniently placed button. Then there’s the ginormous avenues for grinding in the huge amount of side content to be had. That said, it’s important to understand the significance of Mad Head Games’ focus on story in Pagan Online. When Warframe was starting out, it had an identity crisis as it underwent years of growing pains. Even today, the most hardcore of Warframe fans remain puzzled on certain topics. Pagan Online has known what it wants to be from the get-go.
The result is a cartoonish game with a deep book of lore for those willing to invest in it. Each of the heroes are well voiced and witty and the overall tone of the game fits the chosen artstyle. This will offer a warm welcome to those hopping in for the first time.
Pagan Online’s combat is very simple. Which is why it can be so delightful. Left and right click make light and heavy attacks. From there, a small tree of extra abilities can be unlocked and upgraded with each level-up. These extend to variants of dodging per hero with a press of shift, an AOE attack with space and a ranged attack with the middle mouse button. As previously mentioned, this is a very tight control scheme that lends nicely to the frantic battles found in Pagan Online.
Every move, aside from light attack, has cooldown time. This cooldown time benefits Pagan’s combat in several ways. It supports a healthy a co-op experience where perhaps cooldowns would leave one hero exposed, allowing another to support. On a more solo basis, good management of these cooldowns will mean the difference between life and death. Should all heroes fall in battle, it’s back to square one! As players level up, enemy scaling feels just right, as waves of spawning enemies always present a challenge. There is no risk of switching off and simply holding the attack button here.
Making use of the environment is also a cool feature. Players will need to get the knack of understanding enemy wave movement. A well timed whack of an unstable wall could make life a lot easier. Heroes can also make use of smithies and cauldrons to increase attack power or reset cooldown time. But they’ll need to be careful, as hitting these will result in an explosion damaging all within its radius. This, combined with the ability to set off fireworks and dynamite makes for some great tactical application.
The Loot Grind
Mad Head Games’ approach to loot became apparent after their BFP (Big F***ing Patch). Prior to the patch, loot drops were problematic. Heavily under levelled gear would drop, good for nothing but selling or freeing up inventory space. I ended up doing the last thing players should do in a game like this. I sold the contents of my inventory with reckless abandon time and again, just to make space for the next run. This would eventually become a habit before each run. Whenever I forgot to do this, it would just mean dropping things mid-run on the off chance something good dropped. This highlights a dire need of a “deconstruct” function in the crafting menu of Pagan Online.
After the BFP, under-levelled gear drops are still present but lessened. The reasoning process of deciding whether or not to stick with certain items is now less “off the cuff”. However, Pagan’s loot game still requires more refining. The amount of variety on offer is in a great place. Yet the stats tied to that variety soon become problematic. Crafting new items and weapons requires schematics that ask for resources players won’t encounter for hours. To sort all this out, what Pagan Online needs is a deconstruct function that returns resources to the player.
Not to mention, inventory screens and highlighted items can prove a little cumbersome, taking up too much of the screen at times. Pagan Online does offer a Stash to keep items without cluttering your inventory. But in its present state, I felt no need to stash things as I continued to find better and better gear, making anything I held onto instantly redundant. Again -- a deconstruct offering would resolve this. The only exception to the rule was holding onto weaponry for other heroes that would likely become available dozens of hours down the line.
Despite these issues, Pagan Online is on the right track when addicting players to farming loot. Every run will direct you towards the goal, but there are plenty of avenues to explore. These could include new waves of enemies for that sweet XP grind. It could involve a chicken, laying golden eggs (careful not to whack it during combat) or a Battlechest. Battlechests contain super rare gear and lock once the timer is up. This makes for a guaranteed urgency at the start of every run. All of this combined means players will be keen to explore each area thoroughly for the best results. Everything from abilities, to crafting to character stats are things that can be levelled up and grinded out. In fairness to Mad Head Games, they have created mechanics within each run that facilitate the grind of each very well indeed.
Pagan Online will likely surprise many first time players with just how many enemies it offers. Every run will throw low level cannon fodder at you. After so long, it’ll mix in a tougher enemy… Then a tougher enemy again. Until eventually some serious crowd control is needed, keeping players on their toes.
The range of enemy types currently in Pagan Online is mind boggling. I’m not talking mere different coloured versions of the same character model. Just about every kind of fantasy bad guy imaginable is here. Toxic zombies to rabid bears. Dual blade wielding wraiths to mortar launching goblins. Fire and ice elementals all the way to bomb droppers mounted atop a flying pig. If you can think of an enemy type from your time playing fantasy videogames, it will likely be in Pagan Online in some form or another. Each of the baddies I have listed all have different attack patterns, strengths and weaknesses and some may even buff their allies.
Pagan Online isn’t even at full build stage and seeing how many enemy types are in here now… It boggles the mind how hard Mad Head Games have worked. What I was most grateful for was how fresh it kept things. I continued to be challenged in new ways, well into my playthrough. This kind of variation in the things trying to kill our heroes encourages an understanding of Pagan Online’s systems. A learning process that will take time but offer back a rewarding experience to those who stick with it and the new levelling up system.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, Pagan Online is nothing to write home about. It being an isometric game, the environments look great in its cartoon style. But as earlier cutscenes will demonstrate, character models can look a little rough around the edges. This is almost a non issue given how far away from them we are 95% of the time. Regardless, Mad Head Games have put plenty of effort into the heroes as they will pop up in your face for all the customisation settings.
It’s actually a good thing that the graphics aren’t too hyper detailed. At times, Pagan Online will have so many enemies on screen at once, it’ll give your processor a good workout. To tone things down on the detail side of things means we’re less likely to tussle with frame rate issues, though they do crop up from time to time, regardless. Perhaps a little more optimisation and polish can be done. No doubt, Mad Head Games are working on that as we speak. As things stand, Pagan Online is a low to mid-range PC friendly game.
Sound is also something that has a long road ahead of it. After the BFP, Mad Head Games slipped in some new music and occasionally fresh FX could be heard. The update had reset my account which allowed me to rewatch previous in-game cutscenes. This unfortunately highlighted that some sound cancellation has yet to be fixed. Aside from that, music is of a good standard. Voice acting is occasionally corny and sounds a little forced but for the most part, well performed. In other words, it’s never of a standard that brings back memories of the original Resident Evil games.
The Question of Monetisation
Casting an eye over the customisation screen, I could see various virtual currencies. As it would with anyone, this set off alarm bells. Playing devil’s advocate I tried to acquire things I didn’t have the virtual funds for. An attempt to coax out a “would you like to buy more” kind of screen. I tried in as many of the menus I could only to find no such money grabbing messages. It is safe to assume that, if after all this, nothing asked me to open my wallet -- there is no monetisation in Pagan Online.
Still not convinced, I scoured the internet. Plenty of perhaps fair assumptions floating around; cynical pay-to-win comments here and there. Checking the official website, unlike Warframe, there was no marketplace to be found. I remain sceptical. While Pagan Online is currently not monetised, it would be a small miracle if it never found its way into the game. All the systems appear to be in place. Collecting enough gold to unlock certain cosmetics would take dozens of hours of uninterrupted play. Certain currencies are very difficult to get through gameplay. All of it is strictly speaking -- accessible. Perhaps even more so than other money funnel titles of this day and age.
My professional opinion is that Mad Head Games are playing it smart. Is Pagan Online worth monetising? Does it have enough players to sacrifice the portion that would walk away after introducing monetisation? Are there enough aspects of the game to monetise at present? These are all questions that have likely already been asked at the studio. Although, I’d put money on Mad Head Games seriously considering it once Pagan Online reached version 1.0.