Lost Ark stands out from the usual stable of Korean MMORPGs by emulating the click-happy hack and slash gameplay of Diablo and other action-RPGs.
Originally out in 2019 in Korea, Lost Ark recently launched in North America by Amazon Games. It shot to the top of the Steam charts, and has remained in the number two most played slot on Steam, with around half a million users playing at any one time.
It’s a refreshing free-to-play MMO that doesn’t bombard me with microtransactions, multiple currencies, and in-game purchases. The combat is quick and satisfying, but I wish the world and story were more interesting.
Lost Ark makes a few smart choices right from the start: full character customization, including face, hair, eyes, etc; and a full class tester for each advanced class.
I can choose between five different classes to start: Warrior, Martial Artist, Gunner, Mage, and Assassin. Sadly, the classes and advanced classes are gender-locked. That means you can only play a female mage, or a male warrior. Lame!
Each class has its own advanced classes, which are unlocked right from the start. The advanced classes alter the style and moves of the base class in cool ways. The Gunner, for example, will become either a bow-shooting Sharpshooter, a gigantic rocket-cannon wielding Artillerist, or a gun-juggling Gunslinger (or Deadeye for males, for some reason). The Artillerist builds up damage via attacking, the Sharpshooter can summon an avian ally, while the Gunslinger can swap between three different guns on the fly.
Testing each class and their unique abilities is incredibly helpful. I can properly gauge the playstyle of a class before committing any time. I can even spawn monsters and bosses to see abilities in action.
Combat is where Lost Ark shines, which is pretty obvious given the action-RPG genre.
I start the game already at level 10 with five or more skills on my hotbar. Every move is flashy and satisfying to pull off. There’s barely any mana usage or cooldowns, whether my Deadeye is whipping around rapidly firing pistols, or my Shadowhunter is summoning a spectral claw out of the ground to knock enemies into the air.
The focus is on empowering the player to let loose with their full power in every fight — and I love it. It’s a far cry from starting out with only basic attacks fighting a single zombie at a time in Diablo 3.
On the other hand giving the player so many tools right out of the gate makes the early game laughably easy and borderline boring. Only during a few boss fights do I need to bother with dodging and positioning, but I can see where that could become much more important later in the game.
Early game woes wouldn’t be so bad if the world of Lost Ark were more interesting. Instead I’m presented with a generic fantasy world of invading demons, and a parade of one-note, melodramatic characters.
One of the earliest quest chains involves wandering around the starting town talking to people and occasionally pressing a button to interact with something, which is about as fun as it sounds.
Leaving the town to fight monsters and complete quests is much more enjoyable. I’m given a horse right away for quicker travel, though the early zones are disappointingly tiny. Seeing other people with exotic mounts and cute little pets is part of the jealous MMO loop that motivates me to keep playing, though I’m sure much of it can be purchased in the in-game store.
The exciting class progression and fun abilities is keeping me invested so far, despite the eye-rolllingly suggestive armor and instantly forgettable story. And I wish there was a lot more loot. But as a free-to-play Diablo-like MMO, Lost Ark is impressive, and I’m eager to keep playing.
Lost Ark is free-to-play on PC (Steam). It’s rated M for Mature, with Violence, Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Language, and Use of Alcohol.