By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I love Action RPGs — Grim Dawn and Diablo 2 are some of the most fun I’ve had in a hack ‘n’ slash loot fest. There are things about Pagan Online that are fun, enjoyable, even rewarding. Pagan Online still has a ways to go though; some of the design choices do not make sense. The world is grimdark and gorgeous, which I love, but the grind is real. Except not all grind is created equal.
You Start Off Dead:
Extra characters should not be a chore to unlock, especially if you only have three options to start with. Make the wrong choice and your initial experience is miserable. Example: melee characters aren’t fun for very long in Pagan Online. Plenty of ranged enemies shoot beams of frost that slow or stun you. While you have a dash ability to avoid these attacks, these mages often appear in several spots at once, leading to the inevitable conclusion that you’ll be frozen and a horde of enemies descends upon you like a microwave dinner. There is no hope, no salvation. The beginner experience in Pagan Online feels brutal in a few different ways: you do not heal between missions; your health potions are not refilled, and you have to spend gold on them (50 gold per potion, 9 max); gold is sparse over the first few missions. I found myself dying on missions, with no potions left, and having to go back to easier missions to farm gold so I could progress. This hump did not last long for me at least, since I was playing a ranged character.
I’m all for a good challenge. It’s important for an Action RPG, but there needs to be more balance in the strengths and weaknesses of the characters. Speaking of characters, unlocking characters has taken me on quite the mental roller coaster. Here’s how it goes: through Missions (separate from the campaign), you pick up key shards. Said key shards open Assassination Missions. Assassination Missions offer shards/souls for the various characters in the game. You need the right Soul Shard to unlock the Hero, or 50 of the character shards. It’s a confusing, silly system, and each Assassin Story is a little deeper into the story than the last. This means you have to do an absolute maddening amount of grinding to have a shot at new characters. Remember, this is all separate from the main story, which would be more bearable. Additionally, the Battle Power suggestions for these missions tend to be more difficult than normal maps.
Battle, Battle Power, Waves of Foes:
Battle Power is a measure of how strong your gear is, based on an item level formula. Optional stages typically display a recommended Battle Power, which mostly feels accurate. While most stages feel harder for melee characters at first, picking up some better gear will alleviate some of the stress. Items do have a series of standard rarities but do not have typical level requirements. Instead, they have Legacy Ratings. Your Legacy Rank is another level, based on your characters’ total levels. Leveling your various characters will boost that legacy level, and give weaker characters access to better gear. That part feels awesome — it’s the actual unlocking of characters that is frustrating. Once you’ve selected your starting character, that’s all you have access to. From there, you must grind the story/missions for anyone else.
Now that you’ve picked a character and unlocked the ability to actually go on missions and complete stages, what do these consist of? The world map has several regions, and each region has its own biomes and stages. You’re going to see a lot of the forests map, the snowy town map, and the empty cathedral map. The maps themselves are linear, with the occasional offshoot to try and find treasure. The controls are tight and responsive (I’ve had abilities not fire and go on cooldown, but I chalk that up to stuns I didn’t see happen). Each map is a series of paths broken up by small, open areas. In these areas, waves of enemies begin to spawn, and you cannot progress until they’re all dead. As you kill more creatures, a meter fills that I wish the game made a bit more clear; the tutorial does not specify what it is for. Further into the map, you will see the words “Final Wave”. This is the boss encounter, and once you’ve defeated the boss and its minions, the stage ends.
There are special timed treasure chests that show up on maps too. This is an awesome concept until you start a stage, and realize you only have 30 seconds to complete a chest. Worse still, it disappears the instant you enter the stage. Once you actually find this chest, you have to complete whatever encounter you’re in. Only then can you loot the giant treasure chest. It’s great when you can open one, but it did not happen often enough for my taste. More often than not, I’d find myself missing out by several minutes. Overall, the stages are pretty linear and predictable. At first, I loved the enemy designs; however, I got tired of seeing the same things over and over for 10-20 hours. Enemy packs began to feel the same. They became nothing more than glowing sacks of gold and treasure.
Character Growth and You:
Every character starts at level 1, but you can enhance them with strong gear. Upon unlock, new characters only begin with a single ability. Unlocking abilities is accomplished by the standard ARPG trope of leveling up to gain access to new skills. You don’t automatically learn new skills, though; you have to go to the abilities window and activate it. Only then can you put your new-found power to use. As you level, you also pick up skill points, which can enhance your abilities in some pretty awesome ways. These skill points can be used to enhance your Auto-Attack too, which was a nice touch. The passive upgrades to your skills are all pretty awesome, and this part of the game I loved. You can respec if you change your mind.
The other option to growing stronger is getting better gear. The higher the difficulty of your adventure, the better loot you’re likely to receive. While one of the tool-tips says crafting gear is the best way to upgrade, I’m not sure I agree. Here’s how crafting works. Through the course of completing stages, you pick up recipes of varying rarity and stats. These can be weapons, accessories, or anything else you can equip. There are also Legendary Recipes, that also require certain Legendary items to put together in addition to a common version of that item. If there’s a means to use Rare/Epic items in crafting, I did not see it. I only ever crafted one piece of gear that was better than anything I already had. Once you use a recipe, it’s gone forever, so you have to consider what you make. At least you can see what primary stats the gear will feature. I appreciate that much at least.
Valhalla Awaits: 3.5/5 (Good)
I don’t dislike Pagan Online. It’s got a cool art style, I like the story, and the characters all look badass. It’s a shame that it’s so much grinding and so much damn work to get more than one character. That’s my largest complaint about the game. I already hate shard collecting in free-to-play games. I’m not going to like it anymore in a retail game! While my first two character unlocks did not take much time, there has to be a better way to unlock characters besides gating them beyond content and grinding. Additionally, Pagan Online is not as fun as a melee character. The greater the number of ranged units, the more stressful it became.
I like what’s on offer, and Pagan Online has a lot of charm, but it doesn’t do enough quite yet to tear me away from the other ARPGs that already litter my library. To the developer’s credit, they’ve been very open about what they are doing in the game. They pay attention to feedback, so I do have a lot of hope for the game in general. I’m also grateful characters, skins, etc. aren’t locked behind real-money lootboxes. Instead, they gave us grindwalls.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
Pagan Online Gallery: