Lost Ark Review
Lost Ark is an MMO-ARPG that’s been available for a few years in South Korea, but is just now making its debut in North America through a publishing agreement with Amazon Games. You don’t need to know anything about that, though. The takeaway here is that the years that it took the game to arrive here have given the game time to mature and add content, so it won’t have to go through the usual growing pains associated with an MMO launch.
You’ll begin Lost Ark in the same way you begin pretty much every other MMO, by creating your character and selecting a class. Unlike those other MMOs, though, Lost Ark gives you the chance to take each class out for a test drive before you make your commitment. You’ll have access to a representative set of attack skills for each class and subclass, and can test them out in an arena setting that lets you spawn different types of enemies, even bosses. The available classes are gender-bound, so if you want to be a Warrior you’ll have to play as a male. Two of the classes, Martial Artist and Gunner, at first appear to give you a choice, but the male and female versions of these classes have their own unique skillsets and so are essentially different classes. Rounding out the available classes are the Mage and Assassin, both female. Each class also has two or three subclasses, which you’ll have to commit to at the beginning rather than choosing your path once your character has reached some requisite level. The classes basically align with the type of damage archetypes typical for an MMO, AOE, DPS, ranged, etc., and if the class names don’t give you an idea how they align, you’ll pick it all up after giving them a test run. As for your character’s appearance, the game gives you a number of options. It’s mostly about combining plug and play parts to create your look, but there are enough combinations here as well as a few sliders to edit features that will keep you from constantly running into doppelgangers.
The game’s story involves finding the titular Ark in order to prevent an impending demon invasion, and it’s doled out to you MMO style rather than ARPG style. That is, story-advancing events and cutscenes are spaced out, with a lot of small fetch-it or kill-it quests in service of NPCs in exchange for experience. The main story is interesting enough and the cutscenes can be impressive, but I didn’t find most of the NPCs and their reasons for seeking my help to be particularly interesting or memorable. The game keeps you on a pretty tight leash as you make your way towards the end game, so while there is a big, beautiful world to explore in the game, you’ll be constrained to a set path through only a part of it for a while.
Each character has a primary attack that is initiated with a right-click of the mouse, but most of your damage will be done by using your skilled attacks. Unlike most action-RPGs which require you to click on top of enemies to attack them, the direction of your attacks is determined by your facing so you’ll need to keep track of exactly where you are when facing enemies and maneuver accordingly. You even get a bonus to your damage if you attack an enemy from behind. Also, unlike most action-RPGs, your click-based attacks are not your primary method of dealing damage. You can equip up to eight attack skills which are tied to hot keys on the left side of the keyboard. While the skills have cooldown timers between uses, the timers are all pretty short and since you have so many active skills there’s almost always one at the ready. Each skill has its own particular use, but you’ll so often find yourself mobbed by enemies that it really doesn’t matter which skills you use as long as you keep using them. Seriously, the spawn rate in this game is crazy – it wasn’t uncommon to see enemies popping into existence before I finished off the rest of the original mob.
Things were different in the game’s instanced dungeons, though. There the dead stay dead, and you’ll find yourself facing some tougher enemies. Here it does pay to understand how each of your attacks is executed, because some will be better against certain types of enemies. Boss fights are battles of attrition, more so for the boss than you, though. Bosses have large, multi-tiered health bars that you’ll have to grind down with constant attacks. Boss attacks are telegraphed before they are made by the display of red hit zones and you’ll be able to get yourself out of the way before a majority of these attacks are executed. The battles go on long enough that you’ll inevitably take a few hits from these attacks, but health potions are always in very abundant supply in this game – it wasn’t uncommon for me to enter into one of these battles with a hundred health potions on hand.
Although it often feels like you’re spamming enemies with special attacks, at least you’re doing it with style. Each attack has its own unique animation, as you move from one attack to the next the animations smoothly transition from one to the other. It’s really fun to watch your acrobatic attack sequences cut through a mob of enemies.
In spite of all of the carnage you’ll unleash, leveling in the game is a slow grind. Character levels can be separated by six figures worth of experience points that you’ll need to accumulate when the majority of the enemies that you’ll face will be handing out single digit points per kill. Even if you try to maximize your experience gained per time played ratio by focusing on the main quest line, you’re still in for a long road to the end game. And the game doles out new capabilities at a snail’s pace. It was into the game for over twelve hours before I could even begin gathering resources.
Luckily once you reach there the game will hand you a Power Pass so you can get an alt to the end game without going through everything all over again (unless you want to, of course). While on the topic of alts, in addition to your character level the game tracks your roster level. As you hit new roster levels you’ll earn bonuses that will be applicable to all of your characters. On the other hand, some items that you’ll acquire during your adventures must be bound to one character, so you’ll still probably want to give your main all of the good stuff instead of holding items with a view towards spreading the wealth sometime in the indeterminate future.
The MMO ARPG genre brings two things to mind: battles against hordes of enemies and loot. Lost Ark nails the first, but completely whiffs on the second. The gear in the game is boring, endless armor and weapons that basically look like the last item you’ve equipped but with different stat modifiers (I think that the game is more interested in selling you cosmetic items than it is in launching them from the corpses of your vanquished enemies). Every time you pick up some new gear, you’ll make a quick check to see if the numbers are good and either equip the item or leave it in your inventory to sell and then move on. I suppose this may be welcome to those who hate having to constantly micromanage their equipment and making the decision between something that looks great with their other gear and another thing which has slightly better stats, but I think that most gamers actually enjoy a never-ending parade of exotic loot. This makes the aftermath of boss fights particularly disappointing – at the moment that you should be hoovering up a ton of great rewards, you’re picking up a number of copies of what you already have with a different plus or minus here and there. There are a lot of things at work behind the scenes that will apply the kind of modifiers to your character you’re used to getting from your gear – the aforementioned roster level bonuses, card sets, and more – but it’s kind of complicated to dig into everything and figure out how it all works. The game doles out tips as you play, but even with those I spent a chunk of time poking around all of the game’s features and subsystems before getting a grasp on how they worked.
Once you make it through the game’s “opening”, more gameplay options open up with the end game. You’re given a ship which opens the game’s massive world for you to explore – ships are more than just a means of conveyance in the game, though. You’ll need to manage your crew, upgrades, and maintenance, as well as deal with dangers and encounters while at sea. You’ll also have the opportunity to have land-based holdings in the end game with Strongholds. A Stronghold is your own instanced private little kingdom. You can expand it by building new structures, as well as recruit minions to craft items for you, conduct research, or conduct missions on your behalf.
End game player modes include a variety of PvE and PvP options. For the soloists you have Chaos Dungeons and the Tower, the former a wave-based horde mode of sorts and the latter a series of challenges with an occasional boss fight tossed into the mix. For a game that can often feel like a grind making it to the end game, it’s not too surprising that the end game modes can get pretty grindy at the end. The next two modes, Boss Rush and Guardian Raid, can be soloed or taken on with a party. Boss Rush is one boss battle after another. Guardian Raid is another boss battle, but this one requires you to hunt down the boss. Once the boss is located and the battle ensues, you’ll have to contend with limited consumables and knockdowns, giving this a mode a bit of a rogue-lite feel. Abyssal Dungeons are the game’s answer to raids, each having an item level and player count requirement, and a limited number of times that they can be run in a week. The PvP modes are all various takes on deathmatch gameplay. There are team and free-for-all matches, as well as a Team Elimination mode which swaps the open battles of the other deathmatch modes for a series of duels. All PvP modes feature a level playing field as far as gear and skills go, so they emphasize skill over gear.
Given that Lost Ark is free-to-play, it’s certainly worth your time to have a look at it. Just don’t go into it expecting the second coming of Diablo or you’ll quickly find yourself disappointed by the underwhelming loot, milquetoast characters, and pedestrian story. If you can put that aside and have the patience to push your way through the game’s grindier stretches, you might find yourself enjoying the game’s combat animations, overall sense of style, and range of activities once you finally reach the end game.
Final Rating: 78% - Better loot would make the grind to the end game feel less like a grind.
Note: A review code for this game was provided by the publisher.