The Western release of the second most popular game in Korea has been hyped and anticipated for a year and a half now. But how will Lost Ark actually fare in the West and was the wait truly worth it?
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing games have taken on a culture of their own in Asia. Lost Ark has been going strong for years in Korea before being released in the West but will it pave the way for future MMORPGs or fall by the wayside due to differing cultures?
STORY AND WORLD
Ever been enamoured by an epic fantasy story? Are you a fan of the Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion, The Wheel of Time, and other such works spanning worlds and eras? The story of Lost Ark was made for you then.
Developers have divided the history of the cosmos itself into 6 different eras, with each era having its own difficulties and strife. Players arrive once the sixth era has started to show signs of unrest, and it is upon them to save the world from demon hordes.
However, this is still an Asian MMORPG. You will start out doing fetch quests at the beginning to battling a literal Demon God at the game’s end, making the main storyline a vanilla power fantasy, with gear and events turning “epic” from level 10, with the accompanying flashing lights.
This trope has been done over and over again, but do not be discouraged. There is a reason for that. Because, if it’s done right, it very much works. And Lost Ark has more than done such a thing.
The way Smilegate have achieved this is with the Island system. The world of Lost Ark is covered with all sorts of islands, apart from the main continents, of which each has its unique story.
These may be put in place as a way of implementing a game mechanic, while others revolve around the islands’ history and the lives of the inhabitants within, with stories of love and horror abound.
It must be pointed out that the beauty of this game is not found in the base worldview of either the islands or the main continents, as Lost Ark is a game with a top-down point of view.
Instead, it focuses on cut-scenes that are one of the rare ones you will not skip, or hope they end as soon as possible. The voice acting is very well done, camera angles are on point and characters feel alive, with every one of them having their own motivations and ambitions, giving an emotional depth to the game.
The game does not take itself and its story far too seriously, however, containing quite a bit of humour, added in the character interactions, and item descriptions. It brings some joy to what is obviously a world filled with suffering, as not to bog down players with unneeded scenes of tragedy unless the situation calls for it.
Lost Ark is a Massively Multiplayer Online Action Role Playing Game. Even the acronym, MMOARPG, is quite a mouthful. The action part means that Lost Ark's combat is not reliant on pure stats, although they play a role, as much as it is on player skill. Every player is free to find a fighting style that suits them the best and optimize their character with that in mind.
Lost Ark avoids tropes that can be found in all other MMORPGs, or at least most of them. The Holy Trinity of a frontline, DPS, and support character is left behind, with so many options of classes and customizations offering all kinds of synchronizations between them.
Each class has a completely different playstyle. Each time you play with a different class, it is almost as if you are playing a new game. Some can ride a gigantic mechanical device and the Shadowhunter, our personal favourite, can transform into a demon.
Even the same class can be played differently depending on the tripod, engraving, jewel, and equipment item. There is one, large, stereotype that all Asian MMOs share which will ruffle some feathers in the West. Classes in Lost Ark are gender-locked, which curbs quite a bit of the potential customization at hand.
Lost Ark player-base has started ranking classes based on their power levels and utility. This basically means that you may experience some issues with finding groups to raid with as certain combinations are sought far more than others, and those unrecognized as meta are outright rejected from participating. This is no fault of the game’s design though, but the climate of the gaming industry as a whole being geared towards specialization and excelling in just one field.
The PvE aspect of Lost Ark is vast. Even players that have played the game for years cannot confidently say they’ve thoroughly explored every aspect it has to offer. It includes everything from challenging Abyss Dungeons, Chaos Dungeons where you mow down everything in your sight, slaying World Bosses in Guardian Raids, to card mini-games and finding secret treasures with treasure maps. The world, though depressingly bleak at times, feels alive, and it is up to you to fix it.
One un-explored part of the PvE content, seeing as you spend a lot of time in the sea while sailing, is naval combat of which there is none.
If you’re stepping into Lost Ark, knowing that it’s an Asian MMO with all the grind that entails, be aware that this is one aspect of the stereotype the game has decided to not only keep, but expanded upon with daily missions.
For those that are not fans of the leveling grind all that much, Lost Ark offers the Knowledge Transfer mechanic which levels your new characters to the maximum level using the knowledge your first character gathered in your first playthrough.
PvP on the other hand can be divided into four distinct categories. The PvP Matching is a mechanic where players are levelled equally. You set your own engraving and characteristics and need no equipment. It is a way for players to match skill versus skill in the purest fashion.
The PvP islands all have different themes and content, making each of them a unique experience to play. Guild Wars and Rowen are, as of now, either not developed due to the lack of actual Guilds in the West, or in development by Smilegate, respectively. So we can expect the PvP content to match the PvE content in quantity soon enough.
The overall gameplay is a smooth and fluid affair. Moves flow from one to the other with no clunkiness if executed correctly, almost as if you’re playing a fighting game rather than an MMOARPG. The combat and controls take some getting used to, however.
Lost Ark has a lot of moving parts, and at first, you’re more likely to be smashing buttons than thinking your moves through. As the content gets more and more challenging, however, this stops being a viable strategy with proper abilities used with exact timing being the key between success and death.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
While the focus of the game is found in its combat system, the graphics and sounds are not too far behind either. Lost Ark is not an ugly game by any stretch of the imagination, but the years can still be felt at some points of the game, such as when looking at “detailed” statues in dungeons.
However, much in the same way that World of Warcraft has made their graphics a brand more than anything else, so has Lost Ark. The game offers a perfect blend of the aeni style, the Korean equivalent of Anime, and realism, one which can withstand the test of time.
The flora and fauna found in Lost Ark are diverse, with each new region encapsulating its own distinct feeling, and not being a mere recolour of a few basic tree and land models.
Music is an incredibly important component of Lost Ark. The feeling of scope and the magnitude of some Raids and battles is enhanced by incredible music scores. Korean players believe that it is the music scores of the First and Fourth Legion Raids that made Lost Ark the second most popular game in their country.
The most worrying part of any Asian-made MMO is microtransactions. All of the grind can, usually, be avoided by forking over some cash to the developers and outfitting yourself with the best gear, using come premium currency, or, even worse, buying items that the free-to-play player base has no access to.
Amazon Game Studios, as the publishers of Lost Ark in the West, have tried to make the game user-friendly to the potential western player base that heavily frowns upon such practices. As such, while microtransactions still exist in the game, everything that can give an unfair advantage to players in the end-game can be acquired with an in-game currency, with the only things locked behind a pay-wall being some quality of life improvements such as half-price ship tickets and name changes.
Lost Ark is an MMOARPG that is already a household name in some parts of the world. The success and quality of the game is not in question. The only thing that is, is how successful will it be in the West? As a game that is easy to pick up, and very hard to master, it may not have the cult following it has in its home country at first, but it will garner a casual player base very quickly.
It cannot be overstated just how vast the in-game world of Arkesia is. Focusing on any particular part of it in our review would make us disregard everything else, due to the sheer size of the available content in question.
This is one of the selling points of the game, but can also be one of the issues western players find. While MMO fans in the west like to boast about their love for the grind, Lost Ark offers far more than we are prepared for, as we’ve not experienced the game from the ground up.
Undoubtedly, this will be rectified with time and the knowledge transfer mechanic, though.