‘Lost Ark’ review: a steady grind

Hack, slash, cheer, yawn, repeat

Has there been a better time for MMO fans? With Final Fantasy 14 and World Of Warcraft keeping them busy (and maybe a hint of New World), it’s hard to recall a better era other than maybe the days of EverQuest and Dark Ages Of Camelot. So, where does Lost Ark fit in? I’ve been wondering that as I’ve been grinding through the levels on my MMO-saturated laptop. My best guess is it’s there for the player that’s keen to fight, fight, and fight a bit more rather than do much exploration.

Starting out, you have a choice of five classes. There are the typical Warrior and Mage classes, alongside a Martial Artist, Gunner, and Assassin. Whichever one you choose, you get a fairly flashy introduction before diving into the prologue. Rather nicely, before you commit, you also get to ‘try out’ the character and see what its full controls and abilities are. It saves a little time on playing it ‘properly’ then realising a class isn’t for you. Each character feels reasonably different too. For instance, the warrior is lumbering and hefty in its blows with massive swords, while the Gunner has you feeling like you’ve delved into a weird form of bullet-hell MMO.

Each class requires learning and practice too. The Warrior is a classic easy first choice. Just tap the buttons to inflict some attacks and consider trying to string together a combo by timing things well. Alternatively, the Gunner has a few different stances as well as different weapons. It has dual pistols (you can toss one onto the ground to inflict extra attacks), a rifle, and a shotgun which each offer strengths and weaknesses. Like with so many games, different classes will appeal to different types of players. I preferred the warrior because I liked smacking things with a ridiculously oversized sword.

Combat is a huge part of Lost Ark. Rather than taking on one or maybe two foes at a time like with other MMOs, this game encourages you to gather together masses of enemies to attack at once. With a huge sword that causes some hefty damage, it was consistently satisfying to watch as I took out a dozen enemies at once. Lost Ark isn’t about subtlety.

That’s handy because there aren’t the other usual MMO bits and pieces. While there are some settlements and towns to check out, actually exploring the world is a tad linear. The idea is that you pursue quests and level up, before finally undertaking the endgame content. It’s a curious process. Almost like playing Diablo or some other action-heavy RPG, you simply go from NPC to NPC taking on whatever they need doing and invariably killing some enemies while collecting a few things along the way. Loot is scattered liberally so you can spend that time swapping out pieces of armour for better options.

It’s all satisfying and yet strangely empty. Crucially, it doesn’t feel like an MMO in the usual sense of the genre. Trade skills aren’t unlocked until the mid-20s and even that involves some somewhat dull quests. There are mounts to collect and pets to gather but it’s all a bit functional in its approach. The storyline is reasonably riveting if cliched but you’re definitely following orders rather than making your own way in this world. It’s not like you get to dictate what happens next other than the occasional basic choice amongst the plethora of mini cutscenes.

That’s reflected by the maps you explore. These are limited too. Constant paths to follow to the next checkpoint. There are always plenty of enemies to kill along the way but it’s rarely worth it unless there’s a quest tied to it. That’s because killing an enemy typically gives you two experience points compared to the thousands you can gain from a simple quest completion. Even the choice to grind is taken from your grasp.

The focus instead is on establishing your roster. The idea is that you have a main character and a series of alts, exchanging equipment with them and completing daily quests too. Players can also boost the stats of their alts via a Roster Level. This is achieved through levelling up on your main and gradually unlocking minor stat increases like improved vitality and similar. It all adds up and ties into Lost Ark’s fairly original way of doing things.

The downside here is that levelling up alts is incredibly monotonous. Because, of course, you’ve already done everything before. Doing it more than once takes away any good sentiment you had towards the storyline, and soon feels like work. Sure, all MMOs have a certain amount of grind to them and we’ve all been there -creating new toons is part of the MMO process – but never in such a restricted fashion.

It’s all for an eventually worthy cause given the endgame content is full of dungeons, raids, and some more interesting storylines, but you really have to put the work into it. Working at a game? I know. It’ll suit some players’ mindsets but look at all that MMO competition. Lost Ark‘s greatest strength here is that it’s priced lower than the competition and you won’t incur any subscription fees. That doesn’t take away the sense of constantly grinding but at least you’re not paying so much for the ‘privilege’. At least not unless you’re tempted by the many micro-transactions you can choose to purchase along the way.

Lost Ark definitely has its moments. It’s satisfying playing characters in a different way. I liked whacking things with an axe before switching over to shooting everything in sight as a Gunner. I liked not having to think too hard as I played my way through the samey maps. Similar to mobile games, it scratches that itch of wanting to achieve something every time you play. It’s fun and yet if you want to get anywhere substantial in the game, you’re going to have to devote a lot of time to getting there. That’s where the fun stops and the work kicks in. When there are so many other MMOs already out there, Lost Ark just got harder to recommend.

Lost Ark is out on February 11 for PC.

The Verdict

Lost Ark offers some supremely satisfying combat with some souped-up Diablo-esque sensibilities but it’s also quite the grind to see what the game really offers. Don’t count on it feeling like a regular open-ended MMO as this one feels tightly entrenched in its endgame focus. Fun it may be for a time, it soon turns into effort that makes you less keen to keep on returning.

Pros

  • Combat is satisfying whatever class you choose
  • Very simple to learn
  • Storyline is reasonably interesting

Cons

  • The grind is real and drags on
  • Limited flexibility to truly explore
  • Levelling up alts is dull
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