MMOs are a perilous and unreliable beast. Many have come and gone in the past, with some vanishing into obscurity as their player bases shrank, while others have only risen in popularity with each passing year and new expansion. Lost Ark appears to fall into the latter group, based on early returns—at least for its entrance on Western shores—as its servers are already brimming with eager adventurers. The fact that it’s free-to-play is obviously a plus, but this gorgeous Korean blend of MMO and action RPG has a lot more to offer, including brilliantly punchy gameplay and a tonne of content to dig into.
It’s not without flaws, both in terms of design and cost, but the early indications are promising.
The plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark follows a tired and tired formula, pitting the mortal world against an invading army of demons. The plot revolves around a continent-wide search for the seven namesake Arks, as having these powerful artefacts is critical to humanity’s chances of winning the struggle against this demonic horde. Lost Ark’s apparent narrative flaw is exacerbated by its one-dimensional cast of characters, who fail to squeeze anything intriguing from this tired storey. In addition to hamfisted writing and bad voice acting, the tale is completely uninteresting, and you’re better off bypassing most of the dialogue entirely.
Fortunately, the story’s flaws do little to detract from Lost Ark’s massive sense of grandeur and love for thrilling set pieces. The majority of the major storey beats culminate in large-scale conflicts involving hundreds of opposing forces at any given time. Much of the early game takes place in West Luterra, where you assist an errant king in reclaiming his kingdom from a wicked usurper. This questline culminates in you recruiting various factions from throughout the region, culminating in a massive castle siege that resembles The Lord of the Rings’ Battle of Helm’s Deep more than anything you’d encounter in an MMO or ARPG.
It’s pure spectacle, from beating on a war drum as your siege tower draws closer to the baying enemy swarm to cleaving your way over the castle’s fortifications while burning rocks and hefty chains pierce the walls and collapse all around you.
Part of the reason for this is that the action in Raiders of the Lost Ark serves as a solid framework for these breathtaking scenes. You can choose from five different classes to build your character: Warrior, Gunner, Mage, Martial Artist, and Assassin. Each one is subsequently subdivided into several sub-classes, each focusing on a certain playstyle and weapon. For example, a Martial Artist can choose to play as a Soulfist, which uses both melee and ranged strikes, or as a Wardancer, which allows you to supplement your fighting talents with devastating elemental attacks.
I played as the Assassin’s Deathblade throughout the game, although Lost Ark’s class-tester allows you to try out as many of the game’s classes as you need before choosing on one. The bulk of classes are gender-locked, which is the only drawback to character creation. There’s no reason why you can’t play as a female Paladin or a male Shadowhunter, and this sexist mindset applies to the representation of female characters in general in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
There’s nothing wrong with wearing high heels and revealing attire, but when those are your only options, the game feels like it’s aimed solely for the male gaze. When it comes to character customization, there are a lot of options, but when it comes to visual modification, this level of personalisation is sorely missing. As a result, Lost Ark feels like a throwback to a time when female representation in video games was a minor consideration.
If you’ve ever played Diablo 2 or 3, the fighting in Lost Ark is more akin to the later. Its action has a fast-paced smoothness to it that is both visually beautiful and tactilely enjoyable. Enemies will swarm you in droves, and the majority of your skills are designed toward slicing and dicing your way through these bloodthirsty hordes with relative ease.
In fact, such a great emphasis is placed on these amazing skills that your basic assault is relegated to finishing off the remaining stragglers. Although the hotbar contains a fixed number of skills, each with their own cooldowns, you are not obligated to use a specific skill type for a specific position in your arsenal. You can mix and match what you’ve acquired, allowing you to be more creative with your character builds.
As a Deathblade, I would frequently use Spincutter to slash through a group of foes and gather them in one location before unleashing Moonlight Sonic’s destructive AOE spread to cause massive damage. You can use ability points to improve the damage output of each attack as you level up, and you can polish these talents with various upgrades once you reach certain thresholds. This can involve increasing the duration of an attack, speeding it up, or even adding an elemental effect such as fire.
Some of these skills require you to repeatedly press a key to extend a combination or hold it down to power them up before unleashing a tremendous strike. Because these are the most explosive movements, adding an added layer of engagement to the fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark adds to the pleasure of the game’s combat.
Despite this, as the game’s difficulty curve flattens, combat begin to stagnate after a few hours. You rarely have to think about what you’re doing, with the exception of a few difficult boss encounters. You have a dash for avoiding danger, and bosses will telegraph their moves, but the majority of opponents can be eliminated by repeatedly using the same set of skills. It starts to seem like you’re just going through the motions, and the only time it feels different is when you’re playing through one of the aforementioned large-scale storey missions, or when you’re fighting through a dungeon with other people on the harshest difficulty setting.
Between these moments, you’ll come across Lost Ark’s cookie-cutter MMO quest design pattern. The usual bevvy of quests to “kill x number of y” or “gather a specific item found in a specified place” are present. Other objectives need you to carry something a few yards, such as a barrel or crate, or transmit discussions between two NPCs who are within eyeshot of one other. You may need to disguise yourself to get past opponents undetected, but that’s about as intriguing as the quest design gets. Normally, this would be a dealbreaker, but Lost Ark manages to get away with it thanks to the speed with which you can breeze through its zones.
The first half of the tale campaign is extremely linear, with you being lead through numerous zones in a predetermined order by the hand. Objectives are concise and well-marked, and you’ll frequently accomplish tasks with a different NPC than the one who assigned it, allowing you to keep moving forward without having to backtrack. You’re always pressing on, collecting new rewards and exploring new areas.
You spend those early hours wandering through traditional high fantasy landscapes, such as a lush forest, a muddy swampland, or a snow-capped mountain pass. These locations may appear familiar, but each one contains a startling amount of detail, which only gets better after you set sail on the broad sea to reach remote regions. It’s here that Raiders of the Lost Ark gets its imaginative stride, shrinking you to the size of Tortoyk’s little fairies for a particularly memorable questline in which you ride on the backs of ladybugs and fight enormous birds.
Meanwhile, a trip to Arthetine takes you even further away from the game’s original mediaeval setting, transporting you to a steampunk-inspired society complete with running trains and pilotable mechs. Alternatively, there’s Changhun, a port city with pagodas and the vivid pink leaves of king cherry trees, which serves as the setting for a martial arts tournament. Although including so many disparate themes and environments doesn’t make for the most seamless world-building, this astounding variety is one of Lost Ark’s finest features, keeping the plot new even when the objectives themselves offer more of the same. However, it has a negative consequence in that it raises the issue of why the first half of the game didn’t embrace the same level of originality.
After all of that, and once you’ve hit the game’s soft ceiling of level 50, you can begin exploring Lost Ark’s extensive endgame content. Whether you wish to sail across the world and visit islands or participate in a variety of daily and weekly events, there are several ways to get involved. In Chaos Dungeons, for example, you must fight waves of adversaries in a certain amount of time. These are simple, but the amount of foes on-screen at any given moment is greatly increased, thus cleaving your way through them provides an intrinsic sense of fulfilment, especially when you collect endgame prizes at the end.
Guardian Raids, on the other hand, are Monster Hunter-style confrontations in which you must hunt down and slay a massive magical beast. These battles will put your combat skills to the test by requiring you to think about your placement and ability deployment. Abyssal Dungeons are more harder versions of the Dungeons you completed during the main adventure.
All of these endgame activities reward you with loot and upgrade materials, which you can then spend to strengthen your equip and unlock more difficult and fascinating tiers of each activity. This is all very normal, but many players may be put off by the way Lost Ark has planned the upgrade procedure. Each time you upgrade your gear, the following level of upgrades has a larger probability of failing, resulting in the destruction of all of your upgrade materials. This causes you to re-farm all of these ingredients in the hopes of preventing the process from failing a second time.
This is especially time-consuming because you can only play the main endgame activities twice a day—or once a week in the case of Abyssal Dungeons. It’s probably structured this way because Lost Ark wants to steer you toward its microtransactions, where you can buy the upgrade materials you need with real money. The entire upgrade loop feels like a deliberate time waste designed to encourage you to spend money rather than go through the tedious farming procedure.
It doesn’t help that the loot is all fairly boring. When you find a shiny new weapon, all you have to look forward to are incremental stat gains. You won’t uncover a weapon imbued with elemental power or a sword that alters your normal attack motion, so nothing you find stands out—it just does slightly more damage. Armor appears to be based on the same basic concept, so there’s nothing to get excited about here either.
Another issue with Raiders of the Lost Ark is its enormous popularity. At least in my experience playing on one of the Central Europe servers, server queues are a daily occurrence. If you can even get into a queue, it can take several hours to get in, and the issue will not change until large swaths of people stop playing the game. Amazon has added extra servers, but because there is no mechanism to transfer characters between them, those that are already overburdened will remain so.
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Its popularity, on the other hand, speaks to its worth as a new MMO. The game has a feeling of size and spectacle that is uncommon in the genre, and the amazing combat is only hampered by some archaic and simplistic quest design during the main storey. It’s a shame that it devolves into a monotonous slog owing to an ugly concentration on microtransactions as you approach the endgame, because it really comes into its own with some exhilarating and hard fights. The combat in Raiders of the Lost Ark is incentive enough to give it a shot. It may not yet be on par with the genre’s titans, but it’s a good start, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops over time.