Getting into Early Access games is a risky business.You are essentially paying for a glimpse, a vision of what the game will look like a few months(or years) down the line when it gets fully released. Sometimes the game gets only better with new content and features added(Minecraft). Sometimes it is initially exceptional, but it gets worse along the way(PUBG). And sometimes it never gets fully done at all(Spacebase DF-9). Question is, it is always a gamble.
Pagan Online offers a bit of good and bad. It has a lot of strengths, but also carries some problematic decisions. Looking at the road map(of sorts) and what the creators’ intentions are, the game has big potential. The question is how it stands now.
Pagan Online is an Action RPG with a strong emphasis on the “action” part. For starter, it skips the typical mouse click control scheme for WASD+Mouse one, similar to Battlerite for example. This means that how your hero moves and where you cast their spells are two separate things. It needs some time getting used to, especially if you have spent a lot of time in Diablo or Path of Exile, but I believe it is the better control scheme for what Pagan wants to be. The developers mentioned in an article that controlling your heroes this way allowed the game to be more fast paced. Truth be told, I found it to be more tamer that the classical ARPGs where you live by the one hit or die by it. Here the combat is far more methodical with positioning and proper skill timing being far more important than pumping your right mouse button like a mad man. I must say, I really enjoyed this type of combat and found it to be a refreshing change of pace. Bosses were where the combat truly did shine for me. The ones I encountered were really well made and required both precision and quick thinking in order to be defeated.
All that said, the combat is not without its problems. Battles can drag on far too long, if you go with a tanky build, instead of a dps one. Also, thought the combat is generally very good, it feels lacking in certain aspects. The sounds when you hit someone could use some improvement and be a bit more punchy. You, also, can’t cancel animations which can make the combat feel a bit sluggish at times(the Devs are looking into that last one).
So you smack things, but what for(apart from the sheer enjoyment of it)? Well, to save the world from the ULTIMATE EVIL, of course. The story is the typical fare of good versus bad, and it’s fairly unintrusive. What sets it apart is the inspiration from Slavic mythology, something so underused in our current pop culture. You will learn about ancient gods such as Perun(similar to Zeus) and Chernobog(American gods, anyone?). You will fight strange creatures with even stranger names. Overall, it’s good stuff, albeit a bit basic at times.The campaign should be around 50 hours, according to the devs, and I must say, that’s quite impressive for an Early Access title in such an, ehem, early stage.
To help you battle this ULTIMATE EVIL you will use the services of eight heroes. During my playtime, I checked three of them and maybe would have unlocked one more, had I been more methodical. All three heroes I played felt really good, each with a unique play style and design.
You start the game with just one dude(dudess), and can unlock the others during your play session by finding special shards during the campaign or by killing certain bosses. Every hero has a set of skills, similar to a MOBA, which get unlocked as you level it up. Most of said sills also have an upgrade tree, but at present these trees are currently quite uninspiring, only adding more damage from most of upgrade points. Thankfully, the developers have stated that a redesign in already on its way. Let’s hope that we will get more robust upgrade paths, that will allow for more interesting builds and specializations.
Once you unlock a new hero, you don’t start the game anew, but instead need to level it up by either replaying story levels or by doing zone missions. In theory, this is fine and dandy, if there wasn’t one huge problem: the levels themselves. Unlike Diablo and PoE, levels in Pagan Online are not procedurally generated, but are hand made and only a few. Same levels are often reused not only in story missions, but in the side ones as well and believe me, you can play the same level over and over again only for so long. The problem is so glaring that I quickly lost any desire to level up any new heroes I unlocked and opted to push through the campaign with my original hero instead. This is a big issue that needs to be resolved, if the game is to persist. Here is hoping that new levels will be added soon, as otherwise the redundancy can be quite tiring at times.
Since we are on the topic of serious problems, there is even bigger one than the levels and that would be the items in the game. A key part of every ARPG, items and interesting and powerful items in particular are one of the driving forces, always pushing the players and having them spend countless hours in search of that special artifact. Well, not so in Pagan Online, I’m afraid. Here items of higher rarity only wield better stats and nothing more. There are artifacts that have special properties, but you gotta craft them and for fifteen hours I only found three recipes. Maybe I did not play the proper side missions or was just out of luck, who knows. End result is, however, that at some point I stopped getting excited about drops, but nothing interesting ever appeared. Add to the fact that there are no armor pieces, only weapon and jewel equipment and finish it with the fact that there are only a handful of weapon skins for every type. You can get hyped for the same ax model only so many times. Again, I cannot stress enough how much of an issue this is. Paying the game with your hero visually unchanged(there are skins but only a few and are not so easily unlocked) can rob you of that sense of reward and when the rewards do not add much to the gameplay, it is double trouble.
On the way out, I will mention the presentation, which is more than excellent. The Pagan Online runs on Unreal 4 engine and it is quite beautiful to look at. It resembles Diablo 3, but is more cheerful and definitely has its own(slavic) personality. Heroes and enemies are nicely animated and are rich in details. The levels are also very well done and although not so big, the backgrounds always add a sense of grandeur to them.
Sound is also excellent(add more punchy sounds though, pls). The voice actors definitely carry the otherwise standard story, my favorite being the pompous dragon Kablar which banters you thorough one of the acts. The music, nicely using Balkan folklore motives, is perfect for the setting and adds so much to the overall atmosphere of the game.
Well, after all is said and done, one question remains: is Pagan Online worth playing as of right now.. If you are itching for a new ARPG, you can easily get twenty or more hours out of it. The game is beautiful and is far more polished than most Early Access titles. Which is a great deal for a 26-ish euro game, if you think about it. However, it you are on the fence, and you are looking for a deeper, more complex experience, I would suggest you wait. Pagan Online is promising, but requires more in order to become something truly special.