I’m not sure why Pagan Online, the latest action RPG from Wargaming and Mad Head Games, got a ninja Early Access release recently in Southeast Asia. Why wouldn’t the publishers behind the successful World of Tanks games toot its own horn about breaking into a different genre of games?

Perhaps it’s due to the recent feedback the team got regarding the game’s “controversial” control scheme. But maybe because they have a slow burner in their hands and decide not to go all out until launch; the same can be said for other online action RPG Paths of Exile.

Control Mish-Mash

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Back to the controls: unlike in other action RPGs, Pagan Online allows you to control your hero with the WASD keys for movement and your mouse for aiming/click-attacking. Most players are used to the Diablo style of movement and attacking and fighting in motion method to prep themselves for the endgame.

Honestly, with the way each mission and fight is structured, the WASD control scheme and a dodge mechanic gives this game a twitch-style arcade feel that reminds me of an isometric fantasy-laced version of Geometry Wars or Nex Machina. Except with escalating gear and power levels.

Yeah, I forgot to mention: all missions and quests in Pagan Online are done in instances similar to earlier action RPG games like Dragon’s Nest and pretty much all your mobile games out there like Dragalia Lost. You don’t explore a sprawling map like in your Diablos and Grim Dawns; all your fighting is done in 5 minutes or so in short levels.

And instead of getting randomized loot, you end up with semi-powerful loot and a ton of crafting recipes. You will be using the game’s crafting system to make your own purple-colour high tier weaponry or equipment to bolster your Might – the game’s measurement of power so that you can tackle the tougher dungeons. Most of these missions are either “survive and kill waves of enemies” or “hunt down this one boss” or even “protect this macguffin by fending off the horde”.

Suffice to say, this part of the game gets really addictive once you’re in the zone; you’ll be hard-pressed to leave your keyboard and mouse setup because of “one more” dungeon run or “one more” defence mode mission.

Character Arcs

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I’ve only played two characters so far -Anya and Masha- because their playstyles are interesting and don’t seem too typecasted. I’m not accusing the rest of the cast for being boring; it’s just that Anya’s ranged blood-leeching attacks and Masha’s evasive tank gameplay style seem to fit what I’m going for with a new action RPG -action in motion.

Unlocking characters and their outfits require you to collect Shards; to get these specific shards you need to complete Assassination missions, which require keys you get from other side missions to grind your character to kingdom come. While these missions are serviceable in its default difficulty, the real challenge starts once you bump it up to Hard or higher.

The loot drops will be great, but you’ll be constantly pressing the Dodge key and managing your mana and cooldowns while you’re on the run from enemy mobs overwhelming you and ranged foes just pelting you to death from a safe distance.

There are a number of ways to kill your onslaught of zombie hordes, projectile-chucking teleporting-savvy mages, and giant brutes with mortar cannons, and they will hit you hard unless you’re diligent with the crafting and repeated instance-farming. Having reflexes to activate your specials in a row while noting their cooldowns help too.

For instance, my Anya lays down a Blood Heart skill which acts as a magical equivalent of a C4, but I can keep striking it to increase the blast radius. Meanwhile, her dash allows her to leech life from any enemy in her way. Coupled with a few bleed/slowdown effects and more skills that allow her to siphon more life, kiting enemies and keeping at max range via her whip strikes becomes more fun and even invigorating in higher difficulties.

Meanwhile, Masha has wide melee strikes that hit enemies clustered together. She also has an AoE special that blinds nearby enemies. And if they miss their attacks, she gets a couple of buffs and even heals for a bit. And she can teleport via the power of tarot cards. It’s all goofy, but it somehow works visually and in an action RPG killing spree kinda way.

Point is, you’ll find someone to love and play as the whole way through even if the initial three characters -Kingewitch, Anya, and Istok- aren’t your cup of tea. I’m sure there will be long-as-heck video guides on Lukian’s dual-affinity playstyle and Dameer’s pet-based class combat.

Cult Following

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Pagan Online reminds you constantly that it’s a hybrid of past loot-and-shoot action RPG titles like Warframe but with the perspective and trappings of Diablo. Does it succeed in eliciting joy from action RPG fans like myself? Undoubtedly yes, because once you start popping this new set of Pringles can, you can’t stop.

I’ve sunk in 15 hours mastering the ins and outs of the aforementioned blood mage and ninja gipsy, all the while tweaking and perfecting the art of crafting to make sure they’re up to the many challenges ahead. I do miss seeing my characters have their ridiculous equipment on display since all cosmetics parts are based on the hero’s current skin. It would make sense to see your crafted gear be on display, right?

Speaking of characters, their skill trees are pretty basic since all their moves are pretty much what you see in the character selection screen. With not much to look forward there, players will need to get their jollies from getting loot, and then crafting new and better weaponry with all the recipes they have amassed.

It’s a different kind of tedium, but at least it’s pretty to look at and controls just fine.

But fear not: Mad Head Games are going to bring out a huge patch for the game next week, featuring new skills and character progression bits, as well as new loot and crafting systems. It’s worth the progress wipe; this game is still Early Access, remember?

If Pagan Online sounds like your cup of short burst tea, check it out here.

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