With another 65 hours, five more characters created and leveling a Sharpshooter to 50, my initial impressions have not changed much. Lost Ark by developer Smilegate RPG and publisher Amazon Games is a lot of fun if you like the idea of an MMOARPG. Lost Ark is initially a slow burn that has potential, the localization is progressing well, and the servers are stable. While I can see that there are still elements that need more polish, it does feel ready to go. But where does a game like Lost Ark currently fit in the MMO landscape, and will the delayed release, until early 2022, cause any issues?
Let me start by touching on one of the Lost Ark's strengths. The storyline in the game is lackluster at first, and by removing the initial base class content for the first nine levels, it feels like some of the class fantasy/identity and world-building elements are missing. Thankfully, as you progress through the vibrant world of Arkesia, the story gradually picks up steam. I became invested in the various characters and each new story arc the longer I played.
The controls take some getting used to and will not be a good fit for everyone. The first 20-30 hours is mostly an ARPG isometric experience where you progress through a linear storyline and complete side quests. Though the combat is spot on, and the overall gameplay feels great. Depending on your advanced class, playstyle can vary quite a bit in how you approach enemies and bosses.
While I was playing, the gameplay felt so familiar that it kept bothering me. Then I remembered that Lost Ark uses Unreal 3, which in turn reminded me of Marvel Heroes. The focus on using abilities in combat, timing your animations, being able to easily swap between characters, and linear story progression all brought back memories.
I also noticed a few improvements when compared to the closed media beta event from the previous week. These included quests that used emotes, where the quest tracker would show the wrong slash command and almost flawless server performance. One new issue I rarely ran into was a bug where I would lose all my character sound effects after swapping between programs. But it seemed to vanish once I transitioned into a new area and was nothing more than an annoyance.
At level 50, I was able to unlock my class’ awakened ability that provides a signature attack which can be used every four minutes so long as you have the special resource for it, complete a few Chaos Dungeons, and have a look at the various menus of other activities, like upgrading my gear. After some additional research, these activities are only the beginning of what can be done at the higher levels. Examples of other activities include sailing to different islands for collectibles, dailies, weeklies, guild requests, and eventually participating in Legion Raids. There appear to be lots to do, but some activities, such as Chaos Dungeons, are time-gated and can only be completed twice per day per character. Hence the need for alts if you want to gather more gear and materials.
Next, let me clarify my definition of pay to win: it is the ability to purchase a mechanical advantage over other players in PvE or PvP with real money. Is Lost Ark, in my opinion, pay to win? For PvE, currently, it has a few elements of pay to win still present in the technical beta version of the cash shop. It should be noted though that the shop is still a work in progress, was somewhat limited during the beta, and that Amazon is continuing to make changes for the western region. In my opinion, it is in a pretty decent state at the moment.
What specifically jumped out at me? The cosmetic skins provide PvE stat bonuses and the ability to purchase in-game items using Crystals. Crystals can be earned through gameplay, spending gold in the exchange, or by purchasing Royal Crystal for real money to then buy crystal packs. To avoid leaning too far in the direction of P2W I would like to see a cosmetic skin with the same mechanical stats available as a gameplay progression reward, and a balance will have to be carefully maintained so that a player can earn crystals in-game at a reasonable rate versus buying crystal packs in the cash shop. Regarding PvP, the system is separated from PvE gear, so there are no issues there.
Where does Lost Ark fit in with the other current MMO offerings? For me, I loved Marvel Heroes not only for the setting and story but also the gameplay. Lost Ark has a similar feel, and while the gameplay can be repetitive, it is a game that I can sink into at the end of a day. During the closed technical beta, it was easy for me to jump into a dungeon with a friend. Having the two of us run around clearing packs of enemies was satisfying and fun. I can’t wait to jump back in with a group of guildmates as a Paladin.
I could see some players just leveling up one character to experience the storyline until new PvE content is released, while others may find the compartmentalized PvP engaging. If you are someone like me, who likes having multiple alts, this game could become your primary MMO. However, don’t go in expecting Diablo 2, Diablo 3, Last Epoch, or Path of Exile. While it does have similar elements, the combat nuances and various endgame activities set Lost Ark apart. The endgame will appeal, I expect, to a lot of players due to the sheer amount of different activities that in many cases are solo but can also be completed cooperatively.
Smilegate RPG and Amazon delayed the release until early 2022. This choice has me a bit concerned for a few reasons, even though I understand the developers wanting more time. First, I see many players hungry to play after waiting years for a NA/EU release. So much so that some influencers are recommending playing on the RU servers to tie them over. Potentially, pulling some interest away from the NA/EU release and leading to possible player burnout. Second, it seems like every game has been pushed back into 2022. The gaming industry is setting itself up for one hell of a competitive year. Lost Ark will be competing for attention with games like Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons and Elden Ring.
On the plus side, Lost Ark is free to play, so it will have an advantage if the game can get past the stigma that similar titles carry for having pay to win cash shops. While the game does feel ready for open beta or a soft launch, I can see certain areas where the localization still needs to be completed. For example, the guide button for the Chaos Dungeons plays a tutorial video in Korean.
With the developers taking the extra time for localization and polish, I hope they include a few more of the six remaining advanced classes currently missing in the NA/EU release. Doing so will provide more choices for players, and since the classes are gender locked, the more options there are for players, the better. In the meantime for those waiting, the announcement of an animated series was tweeted recently by the official Lost Ark Twitter account. I have no idea if they are full-length anime episodes or just animated shorts, but we will find out on November 16th.
Lost Ark has the potential to capture players' attention long-term so long as the release is not too far off, the PvE content patches after release are released at a decent pace, and that PvP continues to be separate from PvE progression. While the game is a slow starter, it has kept me playing until the sun came up for a few nights already as I cleared just one more area or pushed to unlock the next continent.