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.