Lost Ark has hooked me pretty deeply. I’m just over 30 levels and five or so days into the game right now, which sometimes can be the point when the honeymoon period of a new MMO begins to wane, but for some reason that’s not happening with me and this game.
Before I try to elaborate on why that is, I feel like I need to preface this piece with something: I don’t necessarily think that Tyler’s pre-launch impressions write-up got it wrong. In fact, most of what he wrote, I agree with. This game doesn’t really try to break new ground or blaze new trails, and while it’s not great, it’s also good. And the reason it’s good – very good, even – is all down to spectacle.
Lost Ark, on a visual level, is impressive to behold. The game is desperately pretty, from its world to its battle effects to its monster design. This is easily one of the nicer-looking MMORPGs to grace my eyeballs, ARPG or otherwise.
I especially have to give kudos to the combat animations and effects; the combat beats of the game are not super remarkable, but the panache that each attack showcases do a huge amount of heavy lifting to make routine combat look and feel immensely satisfying. This might be mostly attributed to my choice of a Sorceress class as my main, but even the tiny group of alts that I’ve played with briefly all felt supremely satisfying to behold in combat.
Spectacle also applies to the game’s dungeons and story instances. A few days ago I ran through what I consider to be one of the game’s first “real” dungeons, and I was impressed by all of the visual presentation as myself and the PUG I was running with swung down ziplines through clouds of bats or watched a main NPC and main villain duke it out. More recently, I was part of a giant castle siege that actually felt larger than life as my character joined battle from a siege tower or slid down a chain to slam into the middle of a small horde of foes.
It’s not just visuals that are keeping me engaged, though. While combat effects and spells ooze stylish presentation, the fact that Lost Ark very frequently throws small waves of enemies at me at once and I can manage them with a couple of well-timed and well-aimed spells makes me feel incredibly powerful. Mage classes often feel like just ranged characters with a couple more special effects, but my Sorceress blowing apart scads of enemies with fire or lightning or water just never gets old. Landing a killing blow on a boss with a lightning bolt spell that crashes down with the fury of a literal god is hard to not be affected by.
The story is also being served by spectacle. It’s not really striking any mind-blowing beats by any stretch – there’s some magical MacGuffins to get while goody-good NPCs and moustache-twirling demon baddies race to them – but the presentation of the story is highly entertaining. A storyline this routine normally wouldn’t register on my mental radar, but I’m at least enjoying watching it unfold, and I’m finding myself liking the characters I’ve met along the way. The main baddie is so deliciously ham. King Thirain is such an unflinchingly good boy.
To be fair, I know it’s not all pretty colors and lights that are holding my interest. Ignoring the bombastic spell effects, the Sorceress does incredible damage, and I’ve found a combination of spells that let me handle most situations, while the skill points I’ve spent so far have brought visual as well as mechanical adjustments to my attacks. There’s also a card system that kind of feels a little too random but provides some meager stat boosts, and then there’s the roster system and achievement tracking in the Adventure Tome that grants more little stat boosts or extra rewards.
These little mechanical hooks had sunk in early on, but there have been extra things that recently layered on top. For example, I’ve unlocked a Stronghold that can apparently confer some benefits (particularly in terms of materials as far as I can tell), and I’ve also opened up Ability Stones and the related Faceting mechanic, which has the potential to make my character even more powerful once I dig into the system further; that one wasn’t explained very well, but mercifully this video from YouTuber Arekkz helped immensely in understanding it all.
Taken on their own, these little progression and enhancement systems could be run-of-the-mill, but all together they make the game feel very crunchy, if a bit easy to lose track of or confusing at times. Honestly, I liken it to any other ARPG with obscenely sized skill trees or advancement systems, just cut up into individual parts. There’s still things to get mentally engaged in and depth to find, even if Lost Ark is extremely flashy.
I suppose, in the end, I love Lost Ark this much because it is trying so very hard to be as impressive as possible. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s following established paths – the video from the game’s director effectively said as much – and it moves forward with such verve, gusto, style, and excitement that I’m finding it impossible to turn away.
Perhaps this is just a longer honeymoon than I’ve had with other MMOs. Maybe this game landed in my lap at just the right time, when I needed some mental popcorn after the rollercoaster of narrative depth that I’ve experienced in another game. It’s also possible that when I hit the much-referenced endgame grinds that my opinion will change (and I plan on reporting in with my thoughts in that regard when I hit that point, too). But right now, I am enjoying the show that Lost Ark is putting on.
I bookend this piece by saying that, once again, I don’t disagree with Tyler’s impressions because I agree that maybe this game isn’t great, but it is very good at being good, and sometimes that’s all I need to have fun. We’ve been conditioned to expect life-changing game experiences that sometimes just having a big, flashy, loud good time is more than enough to hook me.