Earlier this year, Wargaming ventured into unusual territory by publishing the very untanklike Pagan Online, a MMO that straddles the line between Diablo and Warframe. It wasn't available in Australia or New Zealand when it first went into early access, but those doors opened during the madness of E3 week, and the developers held a briefing with local media to outline where the game was headed.
Pitched as a reinvention of hack and slash ARPGs, Pagan Online has a pretty simple premise. You make a character from a series of classes — they're a little like League of Legends characters, with their own, spells and abilities that remain fixed for perpetuity. Istok is a giant tank with a hammer akin to Reinhardt; Morokh is a decrepit assassin with a scythe, who functions more or less how you'd expect a bony Reaper to.
What surprised me most about Pagan Online, a new action role-playing game that launched on Steam Early Access last week, was how meaty the moment-to-moment fighting felt. When I launched an attack and connected with a wave of enemies, it really felt like I was messing up their day.
A key difference with the gameplay is the control system. Rather than clicking on the ground and then using abilities at will, much like Diablo, the character's movement is controlled through a FPS-like WASD system. Abilities then fire out from the direction that the character is facing. It's a little more like MOBA controls than a standard ARPG, adding a slightly higher skill ceiling into a genre that has traditionally been built around positioning, loadouts and min-maxing of characters.
The campaign itself carries out over five acts, with each act having about two or three missions from what was shown. There's separate missions and "assassination" boss battles outside of that, which the player can grind through for extra loot. The current early access build offers solo and co-op for up to two players, although a lot of the core features are still being built out (like a Destiny-esque vendor who holds any loot you didn't pick up between missions). Each of the level layouts and enemies are procedurally generated, as well as the challenges that appear throughout each level.
Missions are launched from a central hub, the Pantheon dimension where the Gods reside. The levels themselves aren't connected — there's no open world or transitions from one location to other in-game. But Pagan Online is designed to be digestible, even though press were told that the full story campaign would take about 50 hours to work through at launch, although each level should only take around 10 to 15 minutes.
The developers also spoke about the game's Slavic origins, although they stressed that it wasn't leaning into some of the more horrific elements from Slavic mythology.
"The elements of that design are from the Slavic mythology; for example, if you see Baba Yaga, she stole children in Slavic mythology, she's got that basket head, you're going to see her as one of the enemies in the game, she's going to be throwing food from kids at you, and you're going to look at a lot of these in terms of examples, lore, design and abilities itself," Uros Banjesevic, founder and chief creative officer of Mad Head Games, said.
I asked about what the general roadmap for Pagan Online was, given Wargaming's focus as a games-as-a-service publisher. Jacob Beucler, product director at Wargaming America, explained that the content cadence would be quarterly for major updates.
"It's not easy [turning an ARPG into a service]," Beucler said. "You have to have great core loops, you have to build it intelligently, you have to build it for your audience and pay attention to your audience. That's why early access works for us, to be fair — it's rough around the edges, we know that. The balance is a longways from where it should be. So we think a really highly iterative approach to delivering this product, and doing that is the challenge," he said.
A key note is that while Pagan Online has regional servers, those servers won't be based in Australia. The developers confirmed that Australians and New Zealanders would connect to Pagan Online through servers in Singapore, an experience fans of other Wargaming games know well (World of Tanks only got an Australian server in 2018, with the server operating 24/7 since mid-2019, and Australians connecting to the SEA server in Hong Kong if they want a larger player base).
Pagan Online is currently live for Australians and New Zealanders through Wargaming.net and Steam for $30. A full 1.0 launch is due later this year.
Clarification: Added note that the Australian WoT server is now operating 24/7, while the SEA WoT server has been relocated to Hong Kong, having been previously based in Singapore.