Lost Ark – Part 1

The mechanical gameplay of an ARPG, and the…. well, everything else of a F2P MMO.

Author’s Note: It turns out writing a review of an entire fucking MMO is hard. As such, this article is an overview of my feelings on Lost Ark. There will be a few more follow-up articles that dig into specific elements of the game over the next few weeks.

Lost Ark is a MMO-ARPG that was first released in Korea in 2018, and got published worldwide by Amazon about 2 weeks ago. I’ve had a lot of fun playing it so far, but I don’t like how it handles its in game cash store. Ignoring its grindy mechanics, there’s what amounts maybe 20 hour opening campaign that was quite fun to play through, and if you like ARPGs, but not MMOs, it may be worth downloading just to play through that.

Okay, that covers all the big points I’d like to make about the game, as per the Gametrodon editorial policy of not making you read 15 paragraphs to figure out if you’d like the game. Now it’s time for those 15 paragraphs, starting with a bit of context on the sorts of games I like. It’s relevant, I promise.

I dislike MMOs about the same amount that I do enjoy ARPGs. I have tried WoW multiple times and bounced off. I did the free trial of MMO Final Fantasy, and had pretty much the same results.

For ARPGs, though, Path of Exile is my second most played game EVER after Dota 2, and I’ve been playing Dota 2 for over 11 years at this point. Steam says I have 1600-ish hours in PoE, and all of that time was before I switched over to using the game’s standalone launcher.

Anyway, the point is:

  • 1. Oh god I’m old, and I’m going to die
  • 2. Lost Ark is theoretically a MMO-ARPG. This means it’s a combo of two genres, one of which I love, and the other I… well. Hate is the wrong word. Hate implies some sort of emotion. And I simply don’t care about MMOs.

Anyway, if you’re wondering how I feel about Lost Ark, all you really need to know is that instead of writing this article, I’ve just been playing the game non-stop. I sat down yesterday to write this, told myself I’d log in to get some screenshots, and then played for something like 5 hours.

The only reason I’m not playing right now is that I know that if I so much as boot the game up, the probability of this article being finished today drops to zero.

This is not to say that Lost Ark is perfect. I’ve logged 113 146 hours in it so far, and I have some issues with the game. But I’m also not planning on stopping playing anytime soon. In addition, there are so many systems involved in Lost Ark that I can’t cover them all. So instead I’m going to try to give an overview of the game’s portions, and enough info to let you decide if you think you’d have fun with it.

A lot of other folks I’ve seen playing the game have divided the game into early game and post game sections. I don’t hate this categorization, but I’m going to break the content down a little differently.

There is a solid early game campaign that is fairly linear, and has zero freemium bullshit. It’s not too different than playing through the story portion of Path of Exile, or the Diablo campaign. At the same time, it’s also sort of a tutorial for later content.

Generally speaking, I liked these portions of the game. The story is a solid B, the design of many of the actual areas is impressive, the dungeons are fun spectacles, and it’s just a solid ARPG. I want to make a quick special shout out to one specific feature here though, and that’s questing. See, Lost Ark looked at every other game that has you go out, collect eyeballs, and then return to Fred the Eyeball Eater and went “What if we just made it so that after you finish the quest, the person you turn into was in the direction you needed to go next as part of the main story instead of forcing you to trudge back into town with the eyeball sack” and it makes things flow a lot smoother. There’s almost no back tracking required for quests as part of the story progression.

I also really like how Lost Ark’s skill system works. You start with a large set of your abilities unlocked, and you can respec your combat abilities for free. This makes quickly switching things up feel fairly painless, and not the slog that it can be in something like PoE. I will also say that while playing through this first portion of the game, while I took a few deaths, there was nothing challenging enough to make me want to switch up my build. My main was an artillerist, a rocket launcher-toting DPS class, and it wasn’t until end game and raids that I actually read though what my abilities did.

The other part of Lost Ark though is the “end game” content, and this is where the Freemium and MMO genres rear their (ugly) heads. At certain points in the story, you’ll be blocked from progressing to the next part of story content until you reach a high enough item level. The way this works is incredibly simple: you stick your item into a gear upgrader, feed it magic shards until it’s full, and then spend more resources to try to upgrade it.

You can also just move your upgrade level to another piece of gear via gear transfer, though this does destroy the gear used as an input.

You’ll note that I said “Try,” because in Lost Ark, you only have a chance to upgrade your gear. If it fails, you’ll need to gather materials to try to perform the upgrade again.

Author’s Note: Apparently this a common mechanic in some Korean live service games. At least in Lost Ark, you only lose the materials invested in the failed attempt, instead of apparently destroying or downgrading your item?

So how will you get these materials? Well, by engaging in either the end game content, or exploring the world. Let’s start by talking about end game content. There’s a bunch of it, and it includes the following:

Chaos Dungeons – AKA “murder massive packs of enemies with your friends.”

Guardian Raids – ARPG Monster Hunter where your teammates are new to the idea of “not dying.”

Abyssal Dungeons – MMO-style raids, where you’ll learn that no one knows the raid mechanics, including you.

There are also several other modes, including PVP, Platinum Field, and Cube Dungeons.

While you can run end game content almost as many times as you want, you can only really get rewards from a given number of runs per a day. If you want more gear and equipment, you’ll have to find somewhere else to earn rewards (most likely something in the game’s islands and other content systems). You could also buy gear off the game’s in-game market, or from one of the gold farming sites you’ll see advertised by the bots spamming many of the chat channels day and night. But, most likely you’ll get them from islands.

Prepare to spend a non-zero portion of your time waiting around for Islands to pop, and not even be made about it, because TOOKI TIME.

Islands are one of the biggest portions of Lost Ark’s content. After a given point in the story, you get a boat, and can sail around, stopping on various islands. Islands tend to have their own stories and mechanics which can range from being mostly self-contained, to sending you on sprawling quests across the rest of the entire world, to just being permanent PVP murder holes.

Okay, so now that we’ve talked about everything I like about the game, let’s talk about the monetization.

Lost Ark is not the greediest or unfairest game I’ve ever seen in terms of monetization. With that said, it is 100% a “Pay for Convenience” sort of game. The game has a membership system at $10 a month that provides a variety of conveniences, and makes it so you don’t have to pay a fee to use the game’s intercontinental teleports. In addition to that, the game’s premium currency Crystals can be used to purchase gold somewhat like how WoW’s membership tokens work. Crystals can also be used to accelerate research cooldowns at your base, instantly finish daily quests, and reset the timer on stored warp points called “Bifrosts.” In simplest terms, there is no cash shop selling godly weapons, but you absolutely can spend real money to purchase materials to upgrade your gear.

Overall though, I’ve found Lost Ark fun. There are a variety of systems and collectibles I haven’t really touched on in this article, including the world bosses and timer events, the Stronghold mechanics, and skills and how the passive abilities called engravings work. But the end result is fun game, even if it has some weirdness, like the gender locked classes, and Pay 2 Progress Faster mechanics.

Don’t Buy Repacks – Card Game Rant

Collectible Card “Repacks” are marginally less garbage then people who sell them. Which is to say they’re still pretty garbage.

Time for another card based rant, because nothing fills the content drought like rage and fluff. But it’s not like anyone is going stop me, so I’m posting anyway. Today we’re gonna talk about the absolute garbage that is a repack.

I’ve spent a non-zero portion of time browsing stuff on various sales apps recently, and there’s something that appears a lot of that drives me absolutely insane: repacks masquerading as either singles or actual packs.

Let me say something very simple: REPACKS ARE WORTHLESS. NEVER BUY THEM. If you think that someone is actually going to repack a very expensive chase card into one of their boosters and then sell it under its market value, you have a far more charitable view of human nature then I do.

There are other reasons that repacks are worthless as well. They tend to offer a very low number of cards, and it’s better value to buy singles, or if you really want that lottery ticket experience, to buy actual sealed boosters.

Now, ignoring everything else about why repacks are garbage, there’s something important to understand about why buying repacks from your fellow players is a bad idea. It has to do with the price to buy cards, either sealed, or as singles.

Brick and mortar game stores generally buy products for 50% of the retail price that they sell it to you for. This means that if a booster box is selling for about 130-140 in a game store, the store selling it to you bought it for likely around $70 from the publisher.

The absolute cheapest I have ever seen a booster box sell for is $80. This was a somewhat under the table deal the store had with an individual who supported the store extensively and helped to run events for the game
the box was for. That still had a bit of margin built in, as small as it was (LGSs are businesses after all).

In any case, when you buy a repack, you’re likely buying it from one of two places:

  1. A fellow player/collector of the game who bought so much shit they’re trying to make money back by selling all the chaff and other things that they don’t want.
  2. A LGS that cracked boosters, took all the good stuff out to sell to their customers, and was left with a bunch of loose commons no one will ever buy.

In short, you are paying money for the trash someone else doesn’t want, and is now trying to offload.

Now, there’s one other group of folks who might look at these repacks, and potentially see them as a good deal: parents buying cards for their kids. This is the group that’s being taken advantage of here.

I don’t have kids, so I’m not going to make any statement on the difficultly of trying to raise children. Most parents probably have better things to do with their time than to try to understand the minutiae of cardboard cutouts with magic animals on them.

The thing is, if these folks did understand what they were buying, they could still get a better deal for their money. Based on my experience, I cared about two things about a card when I was a kid.

  1. Card is shiny.
  2. Having as many different cards as possible.

If these parents wanted to get the most value for their cash, they could just go onto TCG player, buy a bunch of jank GX/EX/V’s, find a bunch of cards at about a 1$, buy two copies of 10 of those cards, and bam, 20 Ultra Rares for $20. 1 copy for the kid to keep, 1 copy to trade.

Of course, they don’t do this, because they’re more concerned with things like food, shelter, and the ongoing worldwide disaster we’ve been living in for the last two years than cardboard animals.

So when their kid asks for Pokemon cards, and they can’t find any at the store, they go on to whatever digital marketplace they happen to use, search for Pokemon Cards, see these shitty repacks, and go “Alright,” buy them, and then go back to other far more important things.

Anyway. The point is that repacks are scummy, people who sell them are scummy, the “Target audience” is folks who don’t know better, and repackers are bad and should feel bad.

Screw repacks.

Peggle Deluxe/Peggle Nights

Author’s Note: Between various things, this week has been long and not entirely productive. As such, this writeup for Peggle is somewhat phoned in. With that said, Peggle and the two games I mentioned yesterday are worth playing, but this writeup is somewhat content light.

I have a hard time writing a “review” of Peggle for the same reason I’d have a hard time writing a review of a jar of Peanut Butter. There’s a lot similarities between the two, mostly the fact that if you place either of them in front of me, leave, and then return several hours you will discover that I have consumed the entire thing, and upon asking for my opinion, I will respond with “It was pretty good,” and “Do you have any more?”

The point is, like peanut butter, I like Peggle, and I enjoy it, but I can’t quite tell you why. That won’t stop me from trying.

Some brief history: Peggle was published by PopCap games, back before they acquired by EA. I mention this not because “Ah, yes, the good old days” but more to give a sense of time, since that was back in 2007 when you could do exciting things like eat in restaurants. And also because the maximum resolution supported is not high.

This image of the menu is maybe 80% to scale.

So, if you expect things like “adjustable resolution” and “performance sliders” you may be about to have a bad time. Otherwise, let’s continue.

You might notice that this review has two games in the title, Peggle Deluxe, and Peggle Nights. And you might wonder why I feel confident in reviewing two games at once, and the answer is simple: Peggle Nights is effectively just an addon pack for Peggle Deluxe. Peggle Nights has new levels to play, and one new character. And that’s it.

The game has a variety of modes, including Adventure, which has you play through a series of levels as a character, duels, where you take turns with another player or a computer trying to get a high score, various challenges, and just a freeplay mode.

Outside of the challenge mode, though, the various levels play somewhat similarly. You click to launch balls, and they bounce around hitting pegs.

Green pegs give you a boost based on the character you’re playing, blue pegs give points, and the goal is to get rid of all the orange pegs. If you score above a certain amount of points, you get an extra ball, and if you get the ball to land in the pot at the bottom, you also get an extra ball.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’m just gonna post this GIF and call it a day, since that has to be worth at least several thousand more pictures.

Peggle is simple, enjoyable, and it’s incredibly compelling to going for a high score in a level, or to just try to beat it for the first time in adventure mode. It’s the same sort of pleasure as things like pinball, where it feels like a combination of skill and also just being at the mercy of the board, and as such you just keep playing.

Peggle is something like 15 years old at this point, but you can still find it on Steam and various EA stores if you’re interested, and I am out of effort to continue writing about it, so I’m just gonna end this post here.

Mini-Games – Peglin Demo and Crow Story

Two free things, ones a demo, and ones just a short game to check out.

Today we’re gonna be talking about two very different games, with… actually pretty much nothing in common. Maybe the amount of time it takes you to play through them? They are respectively, Peglin and Crow Story. Oh, also, they’re both free.

Crow Story is a very short 3D platformer. Playing through the entire game will take you less than an hour. You control a tiny little crow, and you try to make it to the end of each level. There is a story, but it’s told without dialogue, and it’s kind of “Blink and you’ll miss it.”

There’s not very much to Crow Story, but the game doesn’t ask much for your time, and as such it’s a perfectly reasonable way to spend an hour, just hopping around, and swearing when you screw up and get thrown off a ledge.

It’s a small, simple project, but it’s a complete project, and I think that’s worth praising. You can play it here.

Peglin is a roguelite game that uses Peggles breakout/pachinko style mechanics for dealing damage. You venture from area to area, collect items, and just try to survive. Right now it’s just a demo on Steam, but it could turn out to be something fairly interesting.

While I’m not sure how I feel about the trend of “What if we took X and bolted on Roguelike Mechanics?”, I like it a hell of a lot more than “What if we took X, made it a freemium mobile game, and added a lottery ticket system?”

You can play the demo here.

That’s all I’ve got for now. More posts up later this week. Dishwashing has been brutal recently.

The Worst Video Game Business Models

Remember, just because you think monetization models have hit rock bottom doesn’t mean that the business people agree.

This isn’t a full article in any sense, but I’m annoyed, and so I write. This is going to be a brief list of specific games with business models that I hate and/or think are incredibly stupid. In order to be on this list the game had to be at least somewhat released, and do something uniquely and impressively shitty. Blind boxes, overpriced microtransactions, and “Surprise Mechanics” are all very well and good, but the games in this article all looked at those mechanics and went, “We can do worse!”

Axie Infinity

Ah yes. Axie Infinity, otherwise known “Pokemon But On The Blockchain And Worse.” It costs something like $150 (Oops, like $30 now, cuz Crypto) per Axie, and you need 3 just to play, which makes Axie Infinity cost about $90 $450. And fuck the blockchain.

Okay, so before the big Crypto crash recently, these things were a lot more expensive.

Princess and Conquest

Princess and Conquest is a Pornographic Action RPG with Political Simulation elements. I have a writeup on it. While you can just buy the game for like $12, that doesn’t actually get you all the stuff in the game. If you want all the characters, you have to be subscribed to the creator’s Patreon at the $20 a month tier so that when the limited character distributions are done, you can send over you save files to be modified. Also, a good half their updates are also behind a paywall?

Here’s a better idea: I already paid you $12. How about instead you just fucking add the content to the game?

Star Citizen

The true master of NFTs before NFTs existed, Star Citizen has been in development for just about 10 years now! Chris Roberts promised a space MMO with 110 explorable solar systems, hundreds of ships and players, and fidelity unlike anything ever seen. With over $500,000,000 raised over that time period, they’ve delivered a buggy tech demo built in Cryengine with one solar system that doesn’t support more than 30 players in a server. That hasn’t stopped them from selling ships for hundreds of dollars, not all of which are actually in the game, and having a pledge reward tier list that goes up to the $25,000 mark.

None of these actually include the “game package.” You have to buy that separately. I’m also not sure all of these are actually in the game.

Yu-Gi-Oh: Master Duel

Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links had a model for digital TCGs that I actually rather liked. While the prices per nonexistent cards were fairly high, there was a box system where each “Box” of cards had a specific set of cards in it, and after you pulled a given card, it was removed from the box until you chose to reset it. This meant that if you were really after a specific card, you were guaranteed to get it if chose to buy out the whole box. Then, after getting that card, you could reset the box and start again if you so wished. It still cost too much god damn money, but I actually bought a fair amount of boosters for this game when they went on sale, and it was better than most digital TCGs that guarantee you a great big fat fucking nothing.

So it was almost impressive to me how badly Master Duel, a different video game for the exact same card game, choose to do their model.

Instead of having individual boxes that are released in small sets, every single box pulls from the same set of over 6000 or so cards, with higher rates for the “Featured” cards for that box. In addition, if you pull a card of the two highest rarities that correspond to a secret pack, you unlock the ability to buy cards from that secret pack.

But only for 24 hours. And again, only half the cards you get from those secret packs are actually the featured cards, so you might not get shit. I have other problems with Master Duel, like the fact that the general power level for Yu-Gi-Oh makes the speed of MTG’s Vintage format look like a casual draft cube. But the fact that someone looked at limited time gacha draws, and TCGs and went “How can I combine these and make it worse?” earns Konami a big “Fuck You Motherfucker” and Master Duel the 4th slot on this list.