Pagan Online is a game going through a serious identity crisis. It isn’t quite sure of what it wants to be, mixing several genres into one without settling for a unique identity. Is it trying to be a Diablo-like, a MOBA, or a bullet-hell shooter? Should it be aiming for the occasional bout of Dark Souls hardcore difficulty when it lacks the same depth and skill-based gameplay of From Software’s series?
Several things have changed since we last played Pagan Online during the Early Access phase, and not everything was for the best. The difficulty was significantly increased, and you’ll spend less time crafting gear and weapons because the recipe drop rate changed from reasonable to appalling. Progress turned from smooth into a grind, artificially extending the difficulty of a game that was – and remains – enjoyable, while offering a decent challenge.
Pagan Online has its heart in the right place, with gameplay and mechanics that work; it can be addictive and rewarding. However, it is going down a niche road that isn’t going to please every fan of… Souls-like twin-stick shooter MOBA action RPGs?
The Gods Are Gone and Locked the Classes
Pagan Online is based on Slavic mythology and features a compelling setting, with enough lore to keep you entertained. Most players probably won’t pay attention to it, but the character and creature design draws from these myths and is one of the game’s strengths.
There are 10 classes to choose from, offering a nice mix of melee and ranged characters. Choosing a purely melee class to begin with isn’t advised, as it highlights the frustrating difficulty that you’ll suffer through, mostly due to the sheer number of ranged enemies that won’t leave you at peace. A ranged class is potentially deadlier, being able to take down foes from afar, sparing you the trouble of running to those despicable wraiths.
Valeria or Anya are two good options, but whoever your favorite is, make sure that you choose wisely, because the other classes will be gated off, accessible only through a convoluted system that feels more suited to a free-to-play game. Pagan Online doesn’t feature in-game purchases and allegedly never will, but restricting your class choice ends up being more frustrating than challenging.
Completing an Assassination mission for the first time will grant you a Hero soul, which you can use to unlock a new class. However, you need specific keys to access these missions as well as a certain Might rank, feeding into a grind that Pagan Online is no stranger to. The other way to unlock classes or skins is by collecting Hero Shards. The drop rate is very low, which means that you’ll need several hours of gameplay to get the shards that you need. Still, it’s an evolution from the previous system where hero shards randomly dropped, and you were stuck with a hero that you probably didn’t want to play.
In Pagan Online, you use a gamepad or WASD controls to move your character. This choice gives you a confident twin-stick shooter feel, with a sense of urgency and restlessness as you need to constantly move around. Map design is fairly straightforward, even somewhat basic, with locked areas where waves of enemies spawn, some of them rushing in your direction while the ranged opponents hit you from a distance. It’s a debatable choice, occasionally frustrating due to the feeling of being walled in a small place, not to mention the times when you are stuck between a mob and an obstacle. No amount of dashing will keep you safe from harm.
No Time for Crafting, Get Going
The Pantheon serves as the hub location where you go between each mission. This is where you will sell unnecessary items, manage your inventory, upgrade your skills, and craft… sort of.
Crafting feels superfluous and could be altogether removed from the game. In previous builds, it felt good to get new recipes and upgrade the stats of any piece of gear or weapon. It was a small boon that could help you out, adding another layer to the game. However, the recipe drop was drastically lowered, to a point that crafting is nearly useless. You may use it a couple of times in a dozen hours, most likely with underwhelming results.
The skill tree also feels like an afterthought, going through a revamp due to player criticism, but it doesn’t feel like a significant improvement. While it adds more steps to each ability, it remains terribly simply when compared to the likes of Path of Exile.
To level up your character, you need to find the right balance between campaign missions and alternate challenges, such as defense tasks or expeditions. Every mission contributes to your hero level, and every hero that you play adds up to your legacy rank. It’s a grind-based system that feels frustrating by the slow pace at which you evolve, and by the compulsory repetition that arises from these missions.
The fast and furious gameplay can be enjoyable, as soon as you get to grips with the way that the mobs usually spawn on top of your character. Loot only drops after the entire succession of waves, so if you desperately need a health potion, you’re out of luck. The enjoyment that you derive from Pagan Online is tied to your character choice – it’s hard to conceive how a pure melee character will be able to take on Vukashin on hard mode. This two-stage boss battle may easily run for over 15 minutes, requiring nerves of steel and steadfast concentration.
Pagan Online features co-op play, but this is only available for the side missions. There is no option to play the campaign with a friend, which is a shame. It would make for a more rewarding experience and open new tactics and ideas. Remnant: From the Ashes is a new loot-driven game that allows for this type of co-op gameplay and it immensely benefits from it.
Pagan Online plays at an unyielding pace, with no time to breathe apart from the transitions between battle areas. The action-based controls and restless opponents offer a great challenge, with enough diversity to keep you thinking about new strategies and dashes.
However, it isn’t pretty when you are swarmed by a wave of enemies, spamming abilities in the hopes that you get to move again, without depleting your health potion stock in the process. Map design is far from perfect, with some crowded battles taking place in corridors where you can barely move without being blocked.
Pagan Online is an implicit grind, with low drop rates for legendary items and hero shards. It enforces repetition on you, up to a point where you end up feeling bored of playing the same missions. With a legacy experience system that requires you to play with the various classes, it is going to be a while before you get to unlock all of them. It’s best to play it in short bursts, otherwise the grind will take its toll.
There isn’t anything groundbreaking or particularly remarkable about Pagan Online. However, the Slavic mythology setting is interesting and the way that it mixes twin-stick shooter and action RPG mechanics is welcome, despite not being suited to everyone’s tastes.
Learning Curve: 7/10
Once you learn how the hub works and get a feel for your main class, Pagan Online doesn’t offer any kind of obstacles to your enjoyment. It’s straightforward and easy to understand from the outset.
Graphics / Sound: 7/10
There is a gloomy, desperate feel to the world of Pagan Online. It’s fitting, considering that it is a world of fallen gods and powerful dark forces. It’s a good-looking game, although a few of the maps could use some bells and whistles to make them more pleasing to the eye. The classes look varied enough and have distinct personalities that make them stand out – a few examples include Masha, a fortune teller; Kingewitch, a barbarian; and Morokh, a grim reaper-style of abomination.
Apart from the occasional piece of cheesy voice acting, Pagan Online features some decent voice work. The action is marked by endless sounds of weapons and projectiles, reinforced by the shouts of fallen enemies.
Value for Money: 7/10
If you can look past the grind and enjoy the challenge that it requires to unlock other classes and build your legacy rank, there is a lot for you to look forward in Pagan Online. Between campaign, assassinations, defense, patrol, expeditions, survival, and co-op, you’ll find that there is a lot to keep you entertained. It’s far from an expensive game either, so it’s likely that you’ll get your money’s worth.
There’s a great game trying to show its face in Pagan Online. Some questionable design choices stop it from realizing its full potential. There is no conceivable reason to have the classes gated off; the crafting system could be entirely removed and no one would even notice.
However, it offers furious and enjoyable loot-driven gameplay, along with a fair serving of frustration. If it was a full-price game, it wouldn’t get away with some of its trappings; as it stands, you could do much worse than this.
All-out loot-driven action
Good number of classes
Good visuals and setting
Co-op gameplay for side missions