Lost Ark review-in-progress

Lost Ark was released in the West this past week after a successful closed beta back in 2021, after a few successful years in Korea, Russia, and Japan. This game is huge, with very satisfying combat and layers upon layers of depth, each will compel you to come back day after day.

There’s been a good build-up for Lost Ark since the announcement earlier last year. I really enjoyed the closed beta test, and have been looking forward to the full game launch. Things got off to a slightly mixed start. Founders could access the game on the 8th of February, and it was super smooth until Friday and the floodgates opened up with the game being free to play. Since then it’s been very difficult to log on in the evening, often with queues of around 13000. Therefore, I’ve been getting up early and playing in the early hours of the morning to make sure I can get in.

Before I jump in too deep with my experiences of Lost Ark, it’s worth a refresher on what Lost Ark actually is, as you may be hearing about it for the first time. This is a massively multiplayer online action RPG. From a gameplay perspective, the action takes place from an isometric view and you could draw comparisons to Diablo and Path of Exile in terms of what the game looks like. There are loads of classes, subclasses, NPCs to talk to, combat skills to learn and upgrade, plus trade skills to learn and resources to gather. The sheer depth of Lost Ark is staggering, it’s huge, and it’s bound to keep you busy for months.

One of the benefits of Lost Ark is it’s been out since 2018 in Korea. That means there’s plenty of content, plus the eastern audience has been through the growing pains of Lost Ark. The team knows what works and what doesn’t, they’ve been through the bugs and the performance, and the streamlining of some features. Lost Ark has been brought to the West by Amazon Game Studios, interestingly close to New World which is another MMO. The game itself is developed by Smilegate, which may not be a huge name in the West, but Lost Ark is likely to help them establish a good reputation outside of Korea.

In terms of the story, environment and classes it’s very fantasy-heavy, so we have Warriors with Swords, Assassins with huge knives, and Dark Powers, plus sorcerers you can cast spells and use magic to their benefit. I haven’t finished the campaign yet, I’m currently working my way through the ’30s in terms of leveling up my main character. However, the story is focused on the classic battle between the Light and the Dark, there are demons, humans, and plenty of other races too. The environments are varied including the classic forests, deserts, and mountains.

Once you get out of the first continent, things really start to open up, not only in terms of scale but in terms of diversity related to different enemy types and character models. One of the environments I enjoyed the most was the vast Salt Flats, then just recently I had to save a new King from a huge Werewolf. The story is OK, it’s tricky to take it all in due to the vast world, but I’m following Armen, a half priest half-demon, who seems to be struggling with his identity, plus engages in the occasional battle with another demon who’s on our tail the whole time.

I touched on the class system before, there are loads to choose from, each with very different playstyles. One of my backgrounds is Destiny, and in that game, you get to choose from a Titan, Hunter, and Warlock. While there are some small differences in playstyle, it’s largely the same experience across the three. Here in Lost Ark, there are five classes to start with including Warrior, Martial Artist, Gunner, Mage, and Assassin. Classes are split into subclasses even further, and I’ll use the Warrior as an example. Here we have three options including Berserker, Paladin, and Gunlancer. The Berserker has a huge sword, Paladin is a little more nimble, and can operate as a support class, then there’s the Gunlancer who has a combination of a Gun and Melee weapon, in a very similar fashion to Monster Hunter. All classes have a very distinct feel to them, plus you get to try them all out in detail at the start of the game if you want to.

I’d say the main hook of the game is the combat. The environments are pretty, the story is fine, but the combat really is where it’s at and that sings. Lost Ark does a great job of making you feel the combat, even though the game is from an isometric angle and you are a certain distance from the action. Here you can feel every sword swipe, every bone-crunching slam, whether you are smashing your enemies with a sword or burning them alive with a fiery spell. You have your standard attack, dodge, run, walk, fairly standard movement options for the battlefield, but you also have some special attacks which are bound to 8 keys. You start out with a few and unlock the abilities over time. To further customize your abilities we have the Tripod system, whereby we can add points to abilities to level them up. This gives us more speed or endurance. I haven’t had the chance to get into too much depth with the system yet, but it looks like I can completely customize my playstyle, and I imagine this is something I will get into more for the endgame. At the moment I am still leveling up, understanding my skill trees and options.

To build on the combat, one of the big arenas for practicing your combat skills is in Dungeons. On each continent, you tend to have three Dungeons, and these are discoverable through the main campaign. You also have secret Dungeons and battles which can be picked up through hidden scrolls which can be found through side quests. Dungeons so far have been fantastic and I have only really scratched the surface of what’s on offer. There are caves, catacombs, ancient ruins, and castles. Dungeons offer bit set pieces, massive battles against scores of enemies, plus some really interesting boss mechanics. At first, you’ll cut through enemies like butter, but as you progress mechanics will get trickier. Some Dungeons are smaller, some twist and turn, and can last up to 20-30 mins. You can jump into Dungeons on Normal or Hard and also it’s easy to matchmake. Everyone I’ve met so far has been pretty chilled out, although there have been some issues with cutscenes as there’s a voting system on whether to skip or not.

As well as the combat, there’s also a bunch of trade skills to learn. These open up a little bit later into the game, roughly ten or so hours in, but you can pick up trade skills like hunting and gathering. You can smash rocks for basic materials, fish for food, gather other resources, and even use a sonar scan for hidden artifacts. All of these skills are introduced in a fairly basic level, but much like the combat skills, you can also level up these trade skills, which offers another layer of depth to Lost Ark.

I’m roughly 15-20 hours into the game, and so far I’m hooked. I’m looking forward to getting to the endgame, as these types of games tend to start once you have reached the endgame. I haven’t yet got into my Settlement, Chaos Dungeons, and Guardian Raids. I haven’t got into PVP, or dug deep into my skills and customizing my builds. There’s so much of the game I haven’t seen or tried yet, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting stuck into that. Lost Ark is free to play, it can be a little tricky to get into the game during sensible hours at the moment. If you are in North America, then it should be fine, but if you are based in Europe then it’s going to be difficult for the time being. Amazon and Smilegate are working on adding plenty of new servers to Europe very soon, but for the time being there’s a queue at peak times.

We have a lot of content on offer in the game. We have all the classes, subclasses, continent,s and activities I have discussed. But this isn’t all. Given the game has been out since 2018 in Korea, there’s loads more content to come. Seasons worth of content we have yet to see, new classes and subclasses that are only available in other regions. Therefore, as well as the current slate of content, we also have a lot to look forward to.

All in all, Lost Ark is fantastic, and certainly lives up to the massive hype. It’s also breaking Steam records left, right, and center, with over 4.5 million players worldwide, and 1.3 million concurrent players in the first week. It only seems like it’s going to grow, so I’d recommend getting in there on the ground floor early.