Back at launch, I played Lost Ark quite heavily for some time, eventually racking up over 100 hours in the game and generally enjoying myself as I did. When I left to do other things, I thought it was likely a temporary break, but months have gone by, and that break is starting to look less temporary.
I still think Lost Ark is by and large a decent game, and I may still return at some point, but a few months of separation have helped its flaws come into clearer view, and I thought now might be a good time to look at what’s keeping me from returning.
Classes and combat didn’t quite click
I’ve never been a big fan of cooldown-limited combat. It never quite “flows” for me. The occasional cooldown ability is fine, but when everything has a cooldown, it gets wearing. It’s actually to Lost Ark‘s immense credit that its cooldown-based classes didn’t bother me a lot more than they did. The dramatic visual and auditory effects can cover for a lot, and at least most builds usually don’t have much downtime.
But even so, eventually the cooldown-focused nature of combat did begin to frustrate me, especially as I moved into endgame and began settling into predictable rotations on all my characters.
This is all made worse by the fact that the classes all feel pretty similar to each other. I wouldn’t say they’re all exactly the same, but the differences tend to be pretty subtle, and it’s largely the same gameplay no matter what you choose. With so many classes, I don’t know why they didn’t offer more mechanical variety, maybe even a class or two that isn’t cooldown-limited. Other MMOs have managed the same; Guild Wars 2, for instance, has the Thief for those of who us who’d rather be resource-limited than cooldown-limited.
I never got to the point of disliking Lost Ark‘s combat by any stretch of the imagination, but I also never quite found my groove with it, either. That can be real problem in an ARPG; it’s a genre that lives and dies by the quality of its combat, even more so than most other video games.
The community is off-putting
“It’s not the band I hate; it’s their fans.”
My biggest experience of the Lost Ark community comes from its subreddit often appearing as a recommendation in my reddit feed, and that’s probably not the best way to get acquainted with any community, but nevertheless, my impression of its overall culture has been decidedly negative.
When I think of the Lost Ark community, the first thing that comes to mind is “try hard.” Every discussion around the game seems so obsessively devoted to bleeding edge progression and optimization that I get exhausted just reading about it.
The consensus seems to be if you’re not doing everything you possibly can to optimize your play on every level, you might as well not even log in – to say nothing of how people act as if it will literally kill them if they have to wait more than a month between class releases. Every MMO has people like this, but in Lost Ark the try hard attitude seems nearly universal.
My in-game experiences don’t exactly contradict this impression, either. Every abyss dungeon I ever joined was among the worst “go go go” rush fests I’ve seen in this genre.
And then there’s the stuff that’s just plain gross, like the backlash over the darker skin tone given to the Shadowhunter demon form in the Western release. In some cases it may be a harmless aesthetic preference, but most of the criticisms get very racist, very fast.
I was actually pretty close to loading up Lost Ark again recently, but I thought better of it when the news came out about Amazon altering the Artist costumes when it releases. The Artist class has a child-like appearance, and Amazon will be tweaking many of her outfits to be less revealing. And a lot Lost Ark players are really, disturbingly mad about that. I’m starting to get an idea of where all the creeps went when TERA shuttered…
The solo endgame is limited
Lost Ark treads a weird line when it comes to how it treats solo players. While leveling, everything can easily be done solo, even instanced dungeons. When you first reach endgame, the first things you’re likely to do are chaos dungeons, which are also quite solo friendly. From there you’ll soon find your way to the Spire, which is solo-only.
But then there are guardian raids. The game lets you solo these, but it isn’t really practical.
Technically you can, but it will be a horrendous slog unless you significantly over-gear the boss, and by then there’s not much point to running the content in the first place.
Then you start getting to the “real” endgame like abyss dungeons and legion raids, and they won’t even let you in the door to those without a full party.
I’m not opposed to doing group stuff sometimes — I did run abyss dungeons and guardian raids with a decent degree of regularity — but considering the community issues mentioned above, I wasn’t eager to have my endgame entirely dependent on multiplayer content.
Chaos dungeons and the generous rewards given by log-in campaigns, holiday events, and other freebies will get you far, but inexorably you do feel the game slowly pulling you towards group content, like the gravity well of some grand stellar body.
I never did reach a point where I couldn’t progress as a solo player. I suspect it would have come eventually, but perhaps not for a long time. But nonetheless I found the endgame increasingly unsatisfying as a soloist. Chaos dungeons are a lot of fun, but they’re also extremely repetitive.
In most games I’m happy to just keep questing, but to be honest, Lost Ark‘s open world quests tend to be pretty weak (the famous castle siege notwithstanding). The story gets a lot of hate, and I won’t say I love it, but what really got me down was how mindlessly easy it is. One-shotting every enemy before it even comes close to threatening you just gets old after a while.
In the end my struggle with trying to progress as a solo player was not a lack of rewards but a lack of interesting choices for content to earn those rewards in.
Of course, even if I did hit a progression roadblock, I would still have had reams of casual content available to me, but that brings me to my next issue…
Considering how dreaded content droughts are in the MMO community, I think it’s easy to feel there’s no such thing as too much content, but Lost Ark is doing its level-best to prove that theory wrong. It has more stuff to do than probably any other game I’ve ever played, which is great until it isn’t.
Even as someone with a laid-back approach to progression, I started to find myself feeling constantly overwhelmed by all there was do to. Quests, Una’s tasks, honing, chaos dungeons, guardian raids, abyss dungeons, island adventures, collecting mokoko seeds, leveling rapport, strongholds, holiday events… it never ends. I was constantly making progress, but it felt like I was going nowhere because every bit of progress I made was such a drop in the bucket compared to this game’s infinite ocean of content.
None of these issues is game-breaking on its own, but combined they started to drain my enthusiasm for the game. That enthusiasm might yet return, but for now I feel like I’d rather continue to explore other games. In the meantime I will continue to respect what Lost Ark does well and admire its success from afar.