Lost Ark isn't a new game. Having been released just under two years ago in Korea, the Smilegate developed title has had more than a bit of time to refine and perfect itself. The partnership with Amazon Games now has the New World developer and publisher publishing yet another MMO. Though, looking at the now-cancelled Breakaway, Crucible, and the Lord of the Rings MMORPG, there's no doubt that Amazon is solely focused on multiplayer titles, even if they can't seem to get one out of the door. Publishing one makes sense when you think of it like that.
The reality is that New World has proven to Amazon that they can release a successful title. With the game selling over 1m copies on its first day and consistently seeing around 250k concurrent users on Steam over six weeks after launch (MMO's tend to see their most considerable dropoff within the first month). While this is a significant drop from the initial launch figures, one has to account that these players bought in at a premium price, and as the game gets updated, the lack of a subscription fee will undoubtedly encourage more to jump back in.
What's this got to do with Lost Ark? Very little, other than the fact that it's another MMO published by Amazon - only this was developed by Smilegate and released in Korea a few years ago and is also another without any subscription fees.
Lost Ark feels like the MMO Diablo may eventually become, if not the one that it wants to be. That's to say it's an ARPG at its core, with the isometric view, skill choices and progression, the variety of loot on offer, and even aspects like a non-combat pet that still has some functionality beyond the cosmetic, as well as oodles of swag you'll find around.
Now, not all of this is loot in the conventional sense. You'll still find monsters dropping items as you wade your way through them, killing them in the thousands, but comparing it to a game like Diablo would be unfair. Lost Ark is far more directed, for lack of a better word. You'll find equipment mainly as the game wants you to find it. Even levelling up is very much at the whim of the game, with the amount of experience gained from killing creatures being minuscule. No, the loot you find around is through the myriad of collectibles.
Some of these collectibles feel like they could turn into a Ubisoftesque collection. There are 888 Mokoko seeds in the game to find, it seems. You can then trade these seeds in, though I don't know what for. Other collections also exist, such as scenery, monsters, cooking, specific collectible items, and more. All of these are found within your adventurer's tome. Meet a certain percentage; you'll get a reward. I'm no stranger to this sort of thing, my World of Warcraft achievements list was full of stuff I went out of my way to do, but it almost seems overwhelming to walk into this and there to be actual in-game item rewards for it. Still, something to keep people coming back.
That's the aim, though, as it is with seemingly most games now. Give people something to keep coming back to, either a million challenges, daily or weekly quests, rolling sales within the in-game store, and so many more. Lost Ark seems to have a large quantity of these, though I will say it doesn't seem as egregious as many free to play MMO's. During the test, everybody got a significant amount of one currency. Now, there seem to be two premium currencies, and it seems we got given a lot of the lower-premium currency, but I was able to trade some of that into the higher one.
Essentially, I got to see what was available within Lost Ark's in-game store and how it impacts the game. Most of it is cosmetic. There are a few minor game-changing things, such as the non-combat pets with small paid-for boosts or boosts to character progression rates. None of it is what I would call pay to win, in terms of giving you an advantage over equal-level people in a competition, but it's undoubtedly a pay-to-win-the-game-earlier option. There will likely be far more options when it launches, but I can only go by what I have seen so far.
I can't say if that's a good or a bad thing because I was limited in what I could explore. What I did get to play through was a mixed bag, in all honesty. Looking at the side I wasn't overly enamoured with; we've got the narrative. Part of this could be because of me eventually skipping through text because the beta limited the time I had with the game, and part of it could be that while the main story is presented well in cutscenes, the text for quests is a little much. One thing I do like, strangely, is that the first time you see a core story cutscene, it's unskippable. You're getting this story, like it or not.
If the narrative is something that I'm unsure of, what did I like? That would be the combat. Combat here in Lost Ark is genuinely great, feeling like one of the better ARPG's I've played. The character I decided to try out for the test was the mage, and she had a wide variety of destructive magic at her fingertips. Either through the flashy and attractive visual effects to the hordes of easy to kill monsters flung at you, them disappearing among a blizzard of particle effects.
If anything, that makes it even more irritating that combat gives you about as much experience as swatting flies. It may not be the case when it's out, but the last thing I want in a game is a slog through an encyclopedia of text to get to the fun part. Initial impressions could be slightly skewed due to it being the beta and due to the early-game nature of most MMO's, so this is somewhere I'll reserve judgment.
Honestly, playing what I did of Lost Ark in the relatively small amount of time made available has given me a taste of something that could be truly enjoyable, but also something that could drive me away. The more I play games, the more I enjoy ones that understand the need for brevity. There's nothing wrong with a massive story if it's engaging and leading somewhere; Lost Ark undoubtedly touches the first aspect, thanks to the combat. Will it lead somewhere? I don't know.
What I do know is wherever it's going, it's going to be a long journey. The world map had many areas marked on it, and I don't doubt that when it releases, I'll be exploring a fair few of these and doing a bit of sightseeing while I'm at it. Why sightseeing? Because the last point I want to make is that not only are the combat effects eye-catching, but Lost Ark is a genuinely very eye-catching game, with a fantastic design of everything within.
The game will debut at some point in early 2022 (the Steam placeholder date is March 31st, the end of next year's first quarter).