Release date: February 11, 2022
Developer: Smilegate RPG, Tripod Studio
Publisher: Amazon Game Studios
From one standpoint, Lost Ark is a breath of fresh air, as we don’t see massively multiplayer online action role-playing games (MMOARPGs) very often. This Korean game features a gorgeous world, teeming with life and things to kill. It’s also a typical high fantasy story, where you must save the world from an evil ne’er-do-well.
Lost Ark has a pretty good foundation, though it faces fierce competition from the likes of other fan-favorite ARPGs, such as Path of Exile and Grim Dawn. It doesn’t break new ground, other than adding an MMO aspect to the genre, but at least it has loot.
The game has recognizable Asian video game tropes in it, including gargantuan swords, massive sets of armor and impractical female attire. And being free-to-play (F2P), you can probably expect the typical monetization tactics we’re all used to by now. (However, I didn’t see much in the test build I played, since most of the storefront hadn’t been finalized yet.)
Is this the new way to get your loot fix? Read on for our full review of Lost Ark.
Lost Ark review: Gameplay
Gameplay in Lost Ark is pretty simple. Left click where you want your character to move, and right click when you want to attack. You can map abilities and consumables to various hotkeys, as well as utilize class-specific ultimates and movements. It’s a simple gameplay loop, but it’s incredibly addicting and satisfying.
Simple does not mean easy, though, and Lost Ark can present a serious challenge if you’re not careful. Enemies will swarm you and, depending on your class, you may need to relocate to avoid becoming surrounded. Some of the classes, such as the Berserker, thrive on being in the thick of it, while others, such as the Gunslinger, need some distance.
Lost Ark allows you to choose from five classes: Warrior, Martial Artist, Gunner, Mage and Assassin. Within those main classes, there are various subclasses that specialize in different aspects of combat. For example, the beginner-friendly Berserker, part of the Warrior class, can tank through many enemies while swinging his comically large greatsword.
I spent my review time on the public test server, where many of the game's monetization systems weren't finalized, so I can’t speak to how predatory it may ultimately be. But rare is the F2P game that doesn’t have aggressive microtransactions, so prepare yourself before you head in. I have no idea if the game hamstrings you later on with a paywall or pay-to-win mechanics.
Lost Ark review: Story
The story in Lost Ark isn’t all that original. Your character is a chosen one who goes up against a big fantasy baddie. It’s pretty clichéd and full of tired fantasy tropes, but here’s the gist:
Long before the events of the game, a demon lord named Kazeros invaded from another realm to sow chaos in the world of Arkesia. Through the power of a mystical artifact called the Ark, the forces of Arkesia managed to bind Kazeros beneath a volcano and banish his demon horde.
The Ark was split into seven pieces, with one piece sent to each of Arkesia’s continents. But Kazeros is breaking free and is about to descend upon the world once again. You’re destined to stop him by finding the Ark and silencing him. It’s a mission fraught with peril.
I’ll give Lost Ark credit in that the worldbuilding and lore are both pretty solid, even if the story is rather mundane at times. This isn’t the first Asian game we’ve seen that attempts to take on Western fantasy tropes, and although it isn’t remarkable, Lost Ark’s narrative is far from bad.
Lost Ark review: Visuals and sound
Lost Ark’s visuals and sound are a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the level design is beautiful. You’ll see plenty of gorgeous vistas, rich forests and other eye-catching environs. But when it comes to character design, I’m of two minds.
There’s some decent character customization in the creator, but outside of that, I thought my characters looked a bit blocky and soft. I know that you don’t play an ARPG to get high fidelity models, so I don’t fault the game for it.
However, the animations are downright clunky. The walking animations are especially bad, with characters walking long after they’ve technically stopped moving, and the female characters having comically unnatural sways in their steps. In general, the animations look like something you’d see in a game from 15 years ago.
I found that the soundtrack fades into the background without being outstanding or terrible. The voice acting, meanwhile, is not great. From poorly delivered lines to some shoddy-sounding mic quality, the subpar voice work broke my immersion more than once. One of the prologue characters sounds especially bad.
Lost Ark review: Verdict
Lost Ark is a fun MMOARPG with plenty of things to do. It’s got several pretty backdrops and enough variety to keep you interested for several hours. Just don’t go in expecting a grand, epic story or groundbreaking gameplay. Lost Ark sticks to the core strengths of the ARPG genre, and that’s about it.
The developers could still fix some of the game's issues, as this is a live-service game. They could re-record voice lines, they could fix animations, and they could smooth out textures. But I worry about the monetization mechanics, since those can ruin a game.
Even so, Lost Ark has been out in Korea since 2018, so the money-making strategy must be tolerable. The jury is still out on Lost Ark's F2P mechanics in the West, but I’m deeply skeptical of any F2P game.
I think Lost Ark has some potential, but when it comes to satisfying my ARPG cravings, I didn’t find it compelling enough to draw me away from Path of Exile or Grim Dawn.