Lost Ark launches for Western audiences this week, with its three-day early access event starting today. Amazon Games, the publisher bringing Tripod Studios and Smilegate's RPG to the west, has been kind enough to let some of the press in a little early to play on a private server, so I've had my hands on the action-RPG MMO for a few weeks now. Much of the game was in place when I played, although I was missing a very big aspect of it: the broader social component. Because of the small sample size of players, all of my time in the world of Arkesia was by my lonesome. So, for now, I'm not comfortable dropping my final assessment on Lost Ark. Instead, here are some of my thoughts on this impressive free-to-play title after playing pre-release.
At launch, Lost Ark features five broader class archetypes (Warrior, Martial Artist, Gunner, Mage, and Assassin) with 15 total sub-classes to choose from, some only accessible depending on if you chose the male or female version of a class. I spent my time split between the Berserker and the Sorceress. Both give a great first impression, decked out with a handful of skills that showcase the flavor of that class. The Berserker is a hulking Warrior that carries a massive greatsword into battle to decimate everything in sight. This class features a lot of up-close-and-personal attacks like a shoulder charge, leaping sword slashes, whirlwind spins, and a ground-exploding AOE.
My Sorceress, a Mage subclass, utilizes the elements of water, fire, and ice, among others, to wash away torrents of foes in bloody heaps. Instead of having a dodge roll like the Warrior, the Mage blinks a few feet in the desired direction, adding a nice little touch to the class fantasy. Even after playing a class for hours on end, seeing a crowd of thieves or monsters explode into gory gibs using what's supposed to be an early game attack is surprising and fun. Unlocking more skills for both of my characters is always exciting, and I can't wait to check out even more classes when I start fresh with the upcoming launch.
Classes have plenty of customization in their sets of skills. Most fundamental is the configuration of your eight hotkey abilities. These are selected from a pool of attacks and skills you'll learn as your character levels up. Stacked on top of that are skill points granted on level ups that you can feed into each skill, unlocking perks that can modify that given skill. These perks can tack on additional burn damage to a fire-based attack, change the mana cost of an ability, or reduce cooldown times significantly. You can really make each character your own and heavily tailor these moves to fit your preferred playstyle. The system is super flexible, and I've loved toying with various builds to see how efficiently and stylishly I can wreak havoc on my enemies. Of course, you'll also be swapping out sets of armor and weapons as you loot countless items throughout the adventure, adding another layer to building your character.
Movement and combat feel weighty and satisfying, even when I'm on the receiving end of a strong enemy attack and sent tumbling to the ground. There's a need to be proactive about positioning and knowing where to approach from that's not present in other ARPGs. You'll need to avoid attacks from stronger mobs to stay on your feet, and knowing the tools you have at your disposal is key. It's crucial to pay attention to enemy signals and use a dodge roll to escape an AOE attack or crippling blow. It's fun knowing my character, while super deadly, is also venerable if I'm not paying attention to my surroundings.
Let's get the cat out of the bag now. Lost Ark is a free-to-play game supported mainly by a microtransaction model. Things you buy with real money include additional character slots, pets, mounts, and cosmetics, among other things. Some of these items have bonuses attached, like the 30-days Crystalline Aura, which doesn't boost any character stats but reduces cooldowns on certain tasks and non-combat abilities. Pets purchased from the shop grant a very small chance to improve the rewards you'd get on specific kinds of quests. Is it pay to win? Not exactly. I'm probably not going to spend money on items that speed up my progress, but It doesn't affect me if other people do. Still, it's good to keep in mind that these items exist and are for sale in the MTX shop.
I'm not enthralled in Lost Ark's narrative, which early on has me traveling from region to region across the lands of Arkesia battling demonic forces and more to retrieve a magical item called an Ark. My relatively short time in search of this Ark has taken me to quaint tutorial towns, plague-riddled encampments, and barren salt plains. Most characters are relegated to quest givers, but some folks have relationship side quests. You can build rapport with them by completing tasks, giving gifts, or playing music for them. I haven't seen a real payoff for this yet, but I'm happy to have found some way to attach to the locals I've come across.
Each map is unique and fun to quest through and explore. My favorite parts have been hunting down hidden dungeons with treasure maps and elite monsters to score more powerful loot. Delving into bigger instanced dungeons provides the most significant challenge, allowing for matchmaking with other adventurers and multiple difficulty options. Because I was never able to party up with anyone, I took on these challenges solo. I'm happy to report that even on a dungeon's harder difficulty (that garner sweeter rewards) I could complete them on my own, though it does take more tact and skill. Dungeons are also where you'll find the most dynamic moments in Lost Ark. Events may cause the typically isometric camera to pan and sweep in cinematic ways, allowing you to see more of the wondrous environments.
I was blown away by The Submerged Ruins, the first real multi-bossed dungeon that felt like a proper adventure. As I descended into its depths and faced the challenges inside, I had to drain the flooded floors below to continue onward. Each encounter posed a significant challenge (I was on hard mode, so your mileage may vary), and the ratcheting tension had me on the edge of my seat until I defeated the final boss. If more of the instanced encounters function this way, I'll be in for a good time.
Lost Ark has a lot of collectibles to find and tons of boxes to check in every continent around the world. Every area has monsters to slay, dungeons to find, and world bosses to confront. Searching every nook and cranny is full of precious Mokoko Seeds, Giant's Hearts, or parts of a stolen masterpiece. Progress made in these various collections and lists reward items like health potions, cosmetics, or cards. Those cards are also found by completing quests or are dropped from monsters in the wild, and they can be equipped in a deck of up to six cards that add stat buffs and elemental resistances to your character. Luckily, as far as I can tell, all of these collectibles, of which there are well over 1000, are shared account-wide, making collecting a team effort with your other characters.
Like collectibles, your Roster Level is shared across characters, increasing stats like Intelligence, Strength, and Dexterity for all of your characters. Little touches like these make me feel alright with having multiple alts in Lost Ark. While I have to follow the same main story for each new class, at least I have immediate benefits thanks to the work I've done elsewhere. It's a small way to show that the game and devs respect my time, and I appreciate not having to scour the lands for every Mokoko Seed every time I want to re-roll.
I'm excited to see what Lost Ark offers when the servers are live, and I can jump in and adventure with my friends. There's a lot of promise in this MMO, but playing in a private setting felt like I was missing a key part of the experience. Although, from what I have played, I recommend trying Lost Ark out if you're into action-heavy dungeon crawlers like Diablo. It's certainly scratching that particular itch for me, and there's a ton of content in there that can be accessed without dropping any cash. Lost Ark launches in full on PC on February 11 but can be played starting today for those who purchase the $15 Founders Pack or higher.