Reviews

Lost Ark review in progress — You got MMO in my ARPG!

I’m a sucker for Korean MMOs and RPGs. They have the deepest character creators, they look absolutely stunning, and they play like a firecracker attached to a bottle rocket with a sprinkler strapped to the side. It’s all chaos and color and frankly there’s nothing quite like them. Lost Ark actually came out in December of 2019 in Korea and has been slowly inching its way across the globe until Amazon picked them up for a release here in the United States. Receiving a full makeover, the game is frankly a bit hard to classify. Part MMO, part ARPG, the game is so massive that there’s no way I could do it justice for launch. That said, if my friends list is any indication, everyone is playing it. Let’s dive in and see if Smilegate, Tripod Studios, and Amazon have managed to crack the North American market with this Korean hybrid.

First and foremost, the storyline is as pure trope as it gets. A holy Ark was split into seven artifacts and placed into the realm of Arkesia to stave off the invasion by a horde of demons. Well, that’s going about as well as you expect, and 500 years of constant war against Lord Casaros and his demon army has left the world broken. Only a group of worthy heroes (read: you) can save the world from certain destruction by using the combined power of the seven Arks. Guess you’d better get to collecting.

Lost Ark 101: The Story of Arkesia

There are five primary classes in Lost Ark to choose from, with each carrying subclasses underneath. Warriors can become Beserkers, Paladins, and Gunlancers. Martial Artists can be Strikers, Wardancers, Scrappers, and Soulfists. Gunners can specialize as Gunslingers, Artillerists, Deadeye, or Sharpshooters. Mages can further their class as Bards or Sorceresses. Assassins may become Shadowhunters and Deathblades. Well…eventually. You see, at launch only some of these classes are available, and there are still three class slots that look to be set aside for future archetypes. This is clearly an area where Tripod intends to invest at a later time. By way of example, my Martial Artist only has the option to be a Striker, with Wardancer, Scrapper, and Soulfist being unavailable at the time of writing.

Tying directly into the MMO side of things, these subclasses grant you five to six specialized attacks loaded into your hotbar that help make those characters unique. For example, a martial artist specialized as a striker is all about direct damage close up, but a Soulfist can pull foes in and pulverize them with devastating AOE and directed energy attacks. So far, every class I’ve tried has felt incredibly unique, each folding neatly into a well-constructed team for larger boss battles. Obviously more playtime is needed, but it’d take months, if not longer, to plumb the depths of all the options, and that’s only if they don’t keep adding more!

Lost Ark: Launch Gameplay Trailer

Character levels stretch from 10 to 60, and that’s where the game feels closer to an MMO than an ARPG. Games like Diablo rarely feel like a grind until you start hitting the additional difficulty levels beyond normal, but Lost Ark feels more like Bless Online or any Korean MMO. The relentlessly grimdark-but-there’s-hope storyline (or at least what I’ve seen thus far) doesn’t help the situation, but at least you can grind it out with friends.

If I had a complaint about most ARPGs it’s that they offer little in the way of variety of location. That’s not the case in Lost Ark. Borrowing from the MMO side of things, the world of Arkesia is as massive as it is varied. Dense forests, tightly packed streets, damp and dark caves, desert dunes, a cyberpunk-looking city, lush fields, icy tundras, and fetid swamps are just some of the many locations you’ll visit. And if that wasn’t enough, soon enough you’ll be granted access to a boat of your own, opening the world even wider. You’ll even explore an island on the back of a cosmic world turtle, a common myth in Asia come to life. I’ve obviously not explored everything the game has yet to offer, but every biome is a feast for the eyes.

If you look at any screenshot of the game you’d be surprised to know that this game runs on Unreal Engine 3. As all of the spotlight settles on the power of Unreal Engine 5 these days, the Tripod Studios team has shown that pure dedication to an aesthetic and understanding of a toolset is more important than simply using the newest engine. As such, this game will run on any reasonably specced machine from the last 10 years, and look good doing it. That said, there are thirteen different graphic options to tweak, and even a HUD adjustment if you happen to be playing this from your couch to adjust the game to work for whatever you’re using. There’s even 21:9 aspect ratio support for you people with the monitors that stretch that far.

Lost Ark Gameplay Introduction: Welcome to Arkesia

I don’t normally bother with free-to-play games as they are riddled with pay to win garbage and microtransactions. Frankly, that was an apt description when I played a Korean version of the game about two years ago. Well, Amazon wanted to ensure the game was palatable to a North American and European audience, instituting a number of important improvements necessary for the game to be successful. You’ll see the usual multiple currency F2P thing, with silver, gold, crystals, and royal crystals being on offer. Silver is earned through pretty much everything you do in the game and can be exchanged for crafting materials, travel, and basically anything other common use. Gold is used for consumables, higher end gear, and reforging your gear when you hit the endgame. Crystals are also currency to acquire gear, and you can exchange gold to pick em up. Royal Crystals are the only currency you can buy with real-world money, and they can be exchanged for crystals, cosmetics, and items.

In practice, you’ll earn gold that can be traded up to crystals, and that’s where you’ll be spending to obtain just about everything in the game. Realistically you could grind your way to just about anything in the game, though the cosmetics in Mari’s Secret Store are always tempting. Thankfully, just about everything can be earned if you put your mind to it – nothing but the Founder’s Pack and services like name changes and customizations, piñata mounts, and much more are available to grind out or simply buy for real money. You can read up on the official statement made by Amazon and Smilegate RPG right here to see all the ways they updated the game for its release here.

Lost Ark: Classes Series - Martial Artist

The biggest lure in Lost Ark is the combat. The character classes, even at low levels, feel like unstoppable killing machines able to string together magic, melee, and more particle effects than you can shake a stick at to decimate anything in their path. New powers let you change up your attack sequence, offering some additional nuance. It lacks the engagement and dynamic movement of an MMO like The Elder Scrolls Online, matching far closer to a game like Final Fantasy XIV, but it still feels like a dash of Diablo got into your old-school MMO. Throwing your friends into the mix, however, is where the game truly shines. Don’t doubt that for a second as Lost Ark just ripped past 1 million concurrent players on Steam, and it’s only been out for one day.

Our experience thus far is mostly positive, but still a little mixed. The complimentary classes work remarkably well, and instanced dungeons are a blast, but there are a few things that aren’t as fun. Teamed up and ready to play with friends, we were often frustrated by moments where we were dropped into dungeons and quests solo. We partied up to play together – it’s frustrating to suddenly be playing a single player game. Additionally, the missions are very, very fetch-driven. After a short period of time, most of my friends were admitting that they were just hammering the G button to skip the dialogue to get back to action – not exactly a rousing endorsement. At least the pace remains constant – you’ll be zipping between areas so fast that you’ll forget everything behind you in favor of blasting baddies en masse.

Lost Ark: Classes Series - Assassin

I’m working with a Founder’s Edition of the game, and that grants a ton of special goodies and bonuses, but I was surprised to see that it only affects a single character in most cases. Things like mounts and money seem to be shared, as are titles, but bonuses and Founder gear packs are not (or if they are, it’s buried in the labyrinth of menus in this game). This means the first character you try is going to get all the goodies – hope you like that toon as they just got all the toys.

It’s not a surprise in a free to play game that the gear is highly incremental. There are set pieces, but there’s so much gear dropping at your feet every time you set out that it never feels consequential. What does +3% feel like over the +1% you had before? Not much different. There are 15 slots for gear, a spot for titles, a guild ranking, a PVP flag, another 10 skins and “virtues”, six spots for engravings, and none of this even takes into account the whole card system or the other myriad mechanics you’ll uncover over time. This is something that can be tweaked over time, but with a lot of folks playing for the low low cost of nothing, it’s unlikely.

Lost Ark: Classes Series - Mage

Leveling up, you’ll earn skill points to level up your various powers. Put enough points in and it’ll also give you specializations for each power, granting additional attack power or boons. Frankly, it can be a bit overwhelming, but hitting the “Recommended” button will give you some suggestions on how to proceed. Better still, the skills can be anchored to a particular boss or dungeon, giving you recommendations on how to tackle that challenge. That’s a positive, but it’s a bandaid. Let me explain.

The last major hiccup with Lost Ark is structural, and frankly impossible to change at this stage. Put simply, the game is a lot to take in. Every single screen in the game seems to have it’s own mechanic, currency, collectible, or thing to keep track of at any given moment. Screen after screen of details, data, keywords, mechanics, and more make the game feel overwhelming for more casual players or those new to ARPGs. It’s easy to point and click your way to obliterating foes and fiends, but to really understand your character and their capabilities, you’ll need to do a lot of reading and research.

Lost Ark: Classes Series - Warrior

I’m surprised to be able to say that I don’t feel the icy hand of microtransactions or restrictions quite yet. Earning currency feels like it’ll give me cute things like a rideable pinata or a cool skin, but none of it feels necessary so far. Sure, investing in boons will grant you free fast travel, but the cost of fast travel is mitigated by grinding out some gems or coins. It’ll be hard to judge the effect until my crew is further into the game, but so far so good.

There’s a lot to see and experience in Lost Ark, and the asking price to try it is just your time. It’s very clear that this game is a juggernaut, and even friends of mine who aren’t into the genre have had their interest piqued enough to give it a go. Here’s to hoping Smilegate, Amazon, and Tripod Studios can capitalize on an incredibly strong start and fulfill the promise buried under all these screens.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).

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