I first played Pagan Online the moment it opened its doors to Alpha players. I was fortunate enough to grab the ear of one of its developers on Twitter, and was kindly gifted an access code. I’ve dipped in and out of the game relatively infrequently since it arrived on Steam, but have followed its development closely.
As someone who loves loot-em-ups, whether dungeon crawling or more modern variants (such as Destiny or Division 2), Pagan Online should, for all intents and purposes, scratch a certain itch. There’s something undoubtedly moreish about a Diablo perspective, but what has never quite resonated with me is the control method of Blizzard’s famed IP.
The game looks great, but you can't soom in (which is a bit odd).
The clicky nature of the Diablo series doesn’t really make for exciting combat, and even Path of Exile, arguably the superior variant, still failed to move to a more modern approach. While there’s no mistaking that both games offer some level of skill (notably cooldown management and positioning), it would be wrong to suggest that a click-to-move system is superior to free movement. While I’m happy to accept that’s largely a matter of personal choice, you only have to look at the Diablo PvP of old, in comparison to Battlerite, to realize that the skill ceiling of one, is infinitely higher than the other.
I’m pleased to say that Pagan Online, developed by Mad Head Games, decides to forge its own path, and as far as I can see, is the first loot-em-up/dungeon crawler to actually provide players with WSAD movement. Considering how much I love Battlerite’s control system, it’s a relief to think that Pagan Online is forging a new path within the genre. While it doesn’t take movement as far as I’d like (Hero direction should be lead by mouse-pointer, not just WSAD) the potential is undoubtedly here.
If Mad Head Games were feeling particularly brave, I think they’d do well to replicate Battlerite’s movement system. It’s faster when using basic attacks, still has the same perspective, often feels more satisfying and actually has weight to Heroes (Pagan Online is a bit “skatey”). Not only that, but because of the half-in-half-out Pagan Online has adopted (you don’t get mouse-look out of combat), it has a few combat niggles, such as directional dashes being lead by where your character is moving, rather than your mouse pointer taking precedence. Many a time I’ve missed my dash because I’m not only used to Battlerite’s movement system, but because it feels a little odd not to have your mouse pointer determine directional actions.
For example, Anya has a dash called Vitality Rush that allows her to move through enemies while stealing their health. Like every ability in Pagan Online, It looks and feels great, but if I’m moving backwards away from enemies (pressing S) and I’m facing towards them, I’ll not dash forwards - I’ll dash even further away. With your mouse pointer determining where you face in combat, it surely has to determine ability direction.
As it stands, I’m convinced that if Pagan Online provided full mouse-look movement at all times (not just in combat), and removed many of the restrictions for movement when using abilities, not only would it be stronger for it, but it would allow Mad Head to create far more dynamic encounters.
Outside of combat, the game is typical of the genre, with plenty of enemies, locations and loot to bash your way through. With near instant load times, combined with unique Heroes and skill sets, Pagan Online ensures there’s variety, and an immediacy to play. With the Battlegate always at your fingertips, you’re only ever a couple of clicks away from diving straight into the game world. That’s something I really like: there’s no messing, and play can be achieved in just a couple of seconds. After a long day at work, or when I’ve only got half an hour, it’s great to be able to just login and romp through the sizable campaign set across multiple biomes.
On the subject of Heroes and loot, it’s too early for me to make balance suggestions, or whether end-game loot and its supporting systems provide longevity, but I can happily confirm that the two Heroes I’ve played (Anya and Istok) are a lot of fun. Both play completely differently, and while I prefer Istok (who doesn’t want to wield a great big hammer while smiting enemies?), there’s no mistaking that Anya’s whip, combined with her AOE clear and life stealing, is potent. There’s a total of 8 Heroes, which can be unlocked through play. The skins available in game for all of them look incredible, and Dameer in particular (he has a pet bear), is particularly enticing.
As you can see from the right, loot isn't displayed traditonally and is a little confusing.
Just going back to the loot system briefly, I have to admit I found it a little confusing at first. Your inventory and armor/weapons you can equip, are broken down into your primary weapon, as well as 7 additional slots (2 Amulet, 2 Rings, 2 Defensive). It seems a little odd to display gear in this way, especially when players are so used to the typical setup of armor pieces (head, chest, gloves, legs, boots, belt, rings, necklace). It’s also fairly confusing to manage your inventory and know which items correspond to which slot, as some necklaces look like defensive items, and hovering over it doesn’t tell you what it is, until you try to equip it (unless I’m blind). I think changing the Gear layout so it’s more traditional, while ensuring items are clearly marked, and easily distinguished (maybe have all Defensive items as one consistent style, rather than multiple?) would be best.
With the announcement today that Pagan Online is set to implement Co-Op play, across Missions and Assassinations, as well as Campaign (soon!), I think Pagan Online is set to carve out a solid niche for itself. If Mad Head can remedy some of the minor combat niggles, and ensure itemisation and its menus are clear, it should do well. If nothing else, it has massive potential to snatch players from Diablo 3 and Path of Exile who’ve grown tired of what they’re already playing, or even those new to the genre looking for something less clicky. I'll keep you posted on how I get on, when I play more.
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