Smilegate and Tripod Studio’s newly localized Action/RPG Lost Ark initially launched in South Korea several years ago, and thanks to its western publisher Amazon Games, English territories are now getting their hands on it. While Lost Ark may look and play like Diablo or Path of Exile, it’s an MMO through and through, featuring engaging group content like dungeons, raids, and world bosses within a vast, explorable globe. My time with Lost Ark has had some ups and downs, but the more I stuck with it, the more I wanted to spend time in its world.
The open hours of Lost Ark are sometimes dull but necessary, setting the stage for what’s to come. After creating my character, I was whisked away to search for a mythical artifact known as an Ark, which stands at the center of a rather milquetoast fantasy narrative. Much of the leveling experience follows a military campaign to help a prince win back his land and claim his rightful crown as king while battling relentless demonic forces. Despite much of the plot not keeping my attention, it has some great moments. Important characters, such as the conflicted half-demon priest Arden and the magnanimous Prince Thirain, have compelling arcs that occasionally snapped me out of my boredom.
The world eventually opens up, allowing for free travel by ship to other continents that dabble in much more diverse and interesting aesthetics and themes. The critical path took me to places like an island with a Honey I Shrunk the Kids-like adventure featuring diminutive Mokokos where I was miniaturized smaller than a ladybug, a martial arts tournament in a Japanese-inspired land, and a high-tech continent full of futuristic robotics and mechs. Once I set sail for these unknown lands, the world of Lost Ark lost any sense of a cohesive identity, but after the opening hours I was ready for a drastic change in scenery, and the variety presented brings a lot of life to the experience. Because of this I find myself adoring the diverse late-game content much more than I care about why one country is living with cyberpunk body mods while others are living in the dark ages. I’m constantly looking forward to the surprises that await on islands I haven’t yet visited.
As an isometric game, Lost Ark’s world lacks some of the environmental splendor of other MMOs, though it shines in set-piece moments where we get a new angle on the world. The most spectacular points in the narrative or dungeons are spiced up and highlighted with camera shots that present a greater sense of the surrounding world and environments. The world becomes a much more interesting place when cutscenes pan and spin the camera to show off the ruins I am exploring or the hundreds of fiends storming a contested castle. These moments go a long way to making it feel like there’s much more to Arkesia – that this is a fleshed-out world that’s lived in and not just a primarily flat dungeonesque landscape.
I’m astonished by the level of customization available for each of Lost Ark’s 15 classes, thanks to the Tripod system. This gives each of your class skills three tiers of perks to choose from that can greatly modify those abilities. Some perks modify smaller aspects of a skill such as its attack speed or resource consumption; others apply elemental bonuses and can fundamentally change larger characteristics of the attack or spell. With my Soulfist character, I’ve set up my skill bar to focus on capturing enemies near me in stunning AOE attacks and finishing them with massive meteoric palm strikes or shredding them down with machinegun energy blasts. Skill points and the Tripod perks can be changed at any time for no cost, which left me happily experimenting for hours on cool combos that left hordes of demons exploding into a satisfying gory mess.
Much of the game’s content can be completed alone, including dungeons, which I appreciate as a mostly solo MMO player. Though, it is a lot more fun to delve into a dungeon with a group of other adventurers. Players can form guilds and group up with friends on a given server, but unfortunately, leveling with friends can be a nuisance. When playing with a group, you’re often forced to separate when moved into a story instance, causing the team to have to re-invite and regroup when the infringing narrative content finishes. Having other players roaming the world makes Arkesia feel much more alive and dynamic, especially when I came across and joined a disparate group of players joining forces to take down a goliath missile-loaded walking tank or a brutish boss in the middle of nowhere in the desert. The map is loaded with these types of encounters, and they’re a joy to find every time.
Lost Ark has no shortage of activities to complete and items to collect, much of which I loved to seek out. World bosses, dungeons, raids, PvP, naval exploration, seeking out the 1000+ Mokoko seeds, card collecting, item crafting, material farming, befriending NPCs, and so much more can fill hours and hours. Just about every one of these tasks has a series of rewards which makes doing nearly everything worthwhile. There’s even an entire island stronghold to build out and customize that feels like an entire game in and of itself. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface with my collection of items, which thankfully in many cases carries over progress to the other characters I’ve created on the server. Although any regional achievements that are tracked in the Adventurer’s Tome will have to be completed on each character.
Amazon Game’s second run at the MMO market is very impressive. The years of content already created for Lost Ark provide an enticing package filled to the brim with fun activities and exciting locals to explore. Each class is wonderfully unique, and the customization systems allow for an abundance of freedom to tailor to a variety of playstyles. I’ve had a great time with Lost Ark in these early days, and I’m looking to sink many more hours into it with friends over the coming weeks and months. Those looking to scratch an Action/RPG itch or sink time into an MMO won’t go wrong giving this adventure a fair shot.