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Lost Ark review: A tale for the ages

Smilegate and Tripod Studios bring a quintessential MMO to the west with Lost Ark.

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Lost Ark was first released in South Korea back in 2019, where it saw great success and garnered a steady player base over the past few years. Now, the game has been released in the west with the launch of NA and EU servers with the help of publisher Amazon. With high expectations surrounding the launch, we jumped into Lost Ark to see what the game has to offer.

Arkesia’s finest

A player’s experience in Lost Ark is in large part defined by their starting class. There’s a great range of options at the beginning, with subclasses that provide unique benefits in gameplay. For example, if you’re someone that likes to play a ranged DPS role, the Gunner class is right for you. Within the Gunner are the Gunslinger, Artillerist, Deadeye, and Sharpshooter subclasses. If you’re more comfortable in a support role, the Bard and Paladin play very differently but are both excellent options.

Players will appreciate how unique each class in Lost Ark feels, while still being completely viable throughout all the game’s content. Regardless of what I played, I never felt like I was using the wrong class or like I had made a misstep along the way.

What I did find a bit odd is the fact that Lost Ark gender-locks all its classes. For example, Berserkers have to be male, and Sorceresses have to be female. It’s an odd restriction that feels outdated when allowing more customization wouldn’t hinder gameplay.

Lost Arks

The story of Lost Ark centers on a world currently at peace, but on the brink of being plunged back into deadly war. The Ark that powers the order of light was divided amongst seven gods, and players will need to find and reassemble the Ark to help drive out the darkness once more.

Lost Ark’s story succeeds on the backs of some well-written characters. Characters like Armen and Thirain were complex and interesting and I quickly found myself getting attached to them. Although the story is more or less a run of the mill narrative for a fantasy MMO, there are some genuinely surprising twists and turns along the way.

I was most impressed by how cinematic the story felt in Lost Ark. It’s an element that can be lost in MMOs, when there are hundreds of other “main characters” running around everywhere you go. The developer does a great job at instancing the story’s biggest moments, putting the player at the heart of the experience. The cutscenes themselves were also excellently done, even by MMO standards.

As is the case with so many MMOs, it doesn’t feel like you truly start Lost Ark until you hit the soft level cap of 50 and complete the main story. The world opens up, and there are countless directions to go and wonders to explore, regardless of how you choose to play.

Play the way you feel

In MMOs, every player is there for something different. While some are in it for the PvE and sweet loot, others work tirelessly to craft the perfect build for PvP combat. Some players simply enjoy the role-play aspect of playing a cool character in a fantasy world. Lost Ark’s greatest strength is that it fully satisfies all types of players.

In terms of PvE, there’s a bottomless well of content to explore. The world of Arkesia is teeming with dungeons for players to discover and explore. Lost Ark features a seemingly endless number of bosses, each feeling wholly unique from the others. Not only in visual design, but the stark contrast in their combat style, abilities, and weaknesses.

PvE is where Lost Ark’s co-op really shines. Playing with a group of friends, we were constantly strategizing, tinkering around with our abilities and team composition when tackling dungeons. We began to work like a well-oiled machine, with everybody having a different role to fill, whether it was dealing DPS, healing, or staggering foes. It felt like we were a true adventuring party.

The PvE experience is made even more enjoyable by being a part of a Guild. A staple of MMOs, this allowed me and friends, as well as several other players we met along the way, an opportunity to work together towards a common goal under one banner. We’re able to perform Guild Researches, which yield exclusive rewards and unlockables.

PvP players will find a lot to dive into with Lost Ark. Dedicated Proving Grounds areas allow players to go head-to-head in a handful of different modes. In PvP, armor stats are neutralized, putting all players on an even playing field. From here, you’ll have to build a loadout of stats and abilities. What’s cool is, the game unlocks all your abilities and provides you with the maximum number of points for both stats and abilities in PvP.

With the game giving you all your ability and stat points, PvP comes down to your ability to create a viable build and execute a strategy in battle. It’s an excellent approach to PvP, as I always felt like the most skilled player was winning fights, instead of the player that put more hours into the game or had a few lucky dungeon drops.

PvP also feels incredibly robust, rather than a tacked-on gameplay option. Climbing the rank ladder is an exciting challenge, and there are some worthwhile rewards to be earned in the process.

Taking it easy

Outside of all the fighting, which there is plenty to do, Lost Ark has a plethora of lifestyle and role-play elements to explore. For example, Life Skills. Life Skills include fishing, mining, logging, and gathering plants. Like with Combat Skills, each Life Skill has its own abilities and attributes.

Like just about every aspect of Lost Ark, Life Skills feel fully fleshed out. Fishing is enjoyably relaxing, solidifying its spot among my favorite fishing minigames in recent years. Chopping away at trees and mining for rare minerals is pleasantly mesmerizing, as I would kind of just zone out once I got in the groove. These Life Skills are necessary, too, as the resources they yield are needed to craft and perform other tasks at your Stronghold.

The Stronghold is essentially a home base for the player, an island that they can name and customize to their liking. It’s where you perform research and do most of your crafting. There are even NPC characters that live here and will give you Quests, as well as traveling merchants that will stop by and offer rare items.

Performing research, crafting new items and gear, and sending your crew on missions takes a long time. Several real-life hours, in fact. Because of that, I got into the habit of starting the longer tasks in the evening, when I was getting close to logging out. That way, when I logged in the next day, I was greeted with new unlocks and rewards from my previous endeavors, it’s a great gameplay loop that complements the dozens of other things you’re constantly juggling in Lost Ark.

Those looking to get a bit closer to the colorful characters of Arkesia can do so by building rapport with them. This is done through giving gifts, performing special emotes, or even completing Rapport Quests. As your rapport with a character increases, they’ll become more fond of you, granting you access to special items and Quests.

One consequence of Lost Ark’s many interconnected systems is the fact that the game simply has far too many currencies for players to manage and keep up with. There’s Silver and Gold, which are the most common currencies and are used to purchase basic items from NPCs and at the Auction House. However, there are also, Blue Crystals, Royal Crystals, Silmael Crystals, Peons, Pirate Coins, Rift Shards, and even more, if you can believe it. Some of them overlap, some are only valid in certain places, and some currencies can be used to buy other currencies. I often felt lost unless I frequently referred to a guide to remind me what a random shard or crystal was for and where I can get it from.

The world at your fingertips

The world of Arkesia is delicately crafted, with cool details found in every location. What I really appreciated was the lengths the developers went to to make each area feel unique from the other. Whether it's the fantastical castle of Luterra, the frozen tundra of Shushire, or the steampunk-inspired Port Harbor, there’s a vast number of regions to visit in the game, and they all feel uniquely distinct from one another.

So many elements of Lost Ark are beautifully complemented by music. The score is almost always present, but is often unrecognizable due to how well it blends in. It’s idyllic during those quieter moments, walking through a village, but booming and intense when you’re in the pit of a dungeon, facing a final boss.

There’s also some pretty superb audio design outside of the music. The notification bells are never too intrusive, which can be annoying in some MMOs. In battles, there are unique sound effects for different abilities for both player characters and enemies. If you blindfolded me, I could probably tell you the difference between an Arrow Wave, Charge Shot, and Deadly Slash.

There are also distinct sounds when traversing different environments, and when using mounts in those said environments. It all speaks to a high attention to detail that’s constantly present in Lost Ark.

To the adventures yet to come

Lost Ark is the gold standard of Modern MMOs. Smilegate and Tripod deliver an incredibly polished experience that gives players dozens of dishes to choose from, all equally delicious. It hits on all those classic MMO beats, while injecting a fresh style and approach to all of it. Lost Ark has already proven to have some strong staying power in the east, and is now set up for a long and fruitful lifespan in the west.


This review is based on Lost Ark, which is free-to-play on Steam and is only available for PC.

News Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
Lost Ark
9
Pros
  • Diverse class loadout option
  • Worthwhile story and character
  • Plethora of post-game PvE content
  • Wide range of environments
  • PvP feels balanced
Cons
  • Gender-locked classes
  • Way too many currencies to keep up with
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