Starting off our Lost Ark review, it’s worth noting the game is Amazon Games latest publishing project, though the game has been around for longer than that. Originally developed in 2019 by Tripod Studios and released by Korean publisher Smilegate.
So bear in mind this is a three year old game at this point and is only just now being released in the west courtesy of Jeff Bezos. Although this game isn’t developed by Amazon Games themselves, that might be for the best, as we’ve seen in our review of their in-house MMO, New World. How does the MMO fare? Read on to find out in our Lost Ark review!
Developer: Tripod Studio
Publisher: Amazon Games
Platforms: Windows PC
Release Date: February 11, 2022
Price: Free to Play with Microtransactions
From the start, Lost Ark is not a conventional MMO. It has more in common with Diablo or Path of Exile with its isometric camera and action-oriented combat. I’ll concede that my experience with Diablo is surface level so any comparisons between the two games will also only be skin deep.
Lost Ark tries to be an MMO however and features a shared world (with multiple “channels”, similar to WoW’s controversial “shards”). But with a limited amount of NPCs and resources at any given time this is probably for the best.
For a free to play game, the graphics are fairly good for an action RPG. The models are defined and it’s easy to tell what an enemy is and what parts are about to attack you. Not to mention the creatures in this game have creative designs like wolves with crystals sticking out of them, weird blob men, and more.
The zones are created with all the attention to detail they deserve, especially since the game relies highly on collectibles to pad out the content for completionists. Lost Ark is full of hidden secrets and grinding, but not grinding for XP, grinding for your “Adventure Tome”.
The Adventure Tome is a mechanic that tracks how much of a zone you’ve completed. Some of these things are standard, like have you beaten the region’s world boss? Alternatively, have you done every dungeon?
But some of these are frustrating. Have you discovered every unique piece of food? Have you found all the hidden notes and read them in the right order? Also while not in the Adventure Tome, there’s hidden baubles called Mokoko Seeds which also exist for completionists to discover. These things are wholly optional, but they’re also the most frustrating part of the game.
Lost Ark takes these hidden things and makes them nearly impossible to find without using an online guide or map (I recommend Papunika). First off, there’s no glint or glimmer to help you find these things. You have to be close enough to them, and also hope you move your mouse over the right area that you might see the flash of a context menu.
Mokoko Seeds are marginally easier to find than notes and foods. But only marginally. They’re usually buried in ground clutter or worse, completely obscured by props in the game world. The best secrets are hidden behind invisible walls and while they break immersion by having you wander out of bounds or walking on nothing, at least they’re fun.
There is one acceptable excuse for this design choice I can imagine (though I’m not 100% willing to give them the benefit of the doubt) which is perhaps Tripod assumed the locations of these collectibles would be scraped from the game data.
Perhaps they made them incredibly annoying to find in an attempt to make it still challenging even with a guide telling you exactly where to go. Though that might be giving them too much credit.
Now that I’ve finished ranting about collectibles (I’m a 3D platformer fan, I can’t not rant about collectibles) let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the game with our Lost Ark review: the fighting.
Classes in this game are strangely enough genderlocked. All Warriors are men, all Mages are women, and while men and women both can be Gunners or Martial Artists, they’re limited in their “Advanced Class”.
I came into the game hyped to play an Artillerist; but I also wanted to be a cute girl. So Artillerist was off the table. I ultimately settled for Scrapper, a Martial Artist class. Lost Ark keeps the combat fresh by having moves be more than just click a button and do a cool action.
Some actions need held and released at the right time, other actions are combos and you tap the key in rhythm with each blow, meanwhile other ones can be held and directed (of course there’s also your click and do a thing attacks).
Each attack has a stagger level which affects how easy it is to use that move to stagger boss characters. Bosses can’t normally be stunned but they have a stagger bar which dwindles and when depleted buys the player and his friends time to recover.
But with no proper aggro mechanic in the game (outside of the very few taunt abilities) it can be difficult to dodge bosses. You can get comfortable getting back attacks on a boss and then boom! The boss does a 180 and is about to slap the hell out of you.
Killing trash as a group is even more annoying, almost every attack causes the enemies to get knocked back in some direction or other and it’s basically a mad dash to try and get your hits in before some guy with a sword comes charging through and moving all the enemies out of your AoE.
A saving grace is that with the exception of World Bosses, early on you can solo everything. Dungeons are all scaled to the number of players and with a healthy supply of healing potions nothing is beyond your grasp.
The ability to customize your abilities also helps you really make your character “yours”. Abilities can be swapped out as you unlock them and they can be invested with points which allow you to give your abilities talents.
These talents can cause the ability to give a party wide buff, add an extra attack to a combo, or even add an element. There’s ways to tailor your character to any playstyle of support, defensiveness, or straight up damage.
The story of Lost Ark is surprisingly good. You wouldn’t expect a Korean free to play game to really capture western fantasy as well as it does. The game does lack some worldbuilding but ultimately it has all the trappings to suspend disbelief.
You’ve got your quaint villages, your godly temples, and you’ve got threatening monsters. Though there’s no getting around the fact that the main bad guy looks like Ryuk from Death Note and a member of BTS had a baby.
But through most of the story your character follows a young priest in search of a lost ark (get it? It’s the title) which will aid the races of men in a fight against the demons.
It’s a simple story, but a good one. It’s high fantasy with the trappings of a Korean MMO, spiky and svelte armor included.
If everything I’ve said so far makes Lost Ark sound like a pretty okay action RPG, you’re not wrong! It’s a good bit of mindless beat’em up fun and neurotic collectible searching. But even after dozens of hours there’s still systems upon systems of content.
There’s the rapport system, managing your own ship, managing your own stronghold, crafting. There’s tons to do, but these mechanics are also where microtransactions come into play.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve yet to hit a paywall when doing my Lost Ark review. Sure some things make life easier like free teleports with the monthly subscription. But I’m still waiting for that shoe to drop.
There’s a 99 gift limit per day for “Rapport NPCs” which are sort of like NPCs you romance or build friendships with. In what world am I gonna hit this limit? Is there something I don’t understand?
Ultimately Lost Ark is a standout among free to play MMOs with its customizable combat, surprisingly good storytelling, and its myriad of activities and collectibles to pursue. Those without the monthly subscription might feel a bit left out.
But ultimately the microtransactions haven’t been obstructive… yet. I’m still holding some anxiety that I’ve yet to stumble upon the money sink despite dozens of hours put in while doing our Lost Ark review.
Author’s Note: I know about the censorship issue in the localization of Lost Ark and I’m as disappointed as anyone else is. Large changes include altering apparel to be more conservative on female characters, as well as allegedly altering the skin-tone of NPCs. But to avoid spending an overdue amount of time discussing it as well as to avoid defining the entire review over this, this review won’t be factoring this in and will instead try and look at the game in a vacuum. We detailed the censorship in this separate report so it includes the scope of what is changed/removed.
Lost Ark was reviewed on Windows PC using a copy acquired by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Lost Ark is now available for Windows PC (via Steam).