Games this Week... Lost Ark Closed Beta (Review)


So, thanks to being a part of the Amazon Games Creators program, I received a closed beta access key for the upcoming Lost Ark game, and figured I'd give it a try, because why not. Billed as an MMO Action RPG, it is very much like Diablo with the focus on demons and the battle of light and dark but with very anime-inspired character design and lots of JRPG elements, a la Final Fantasy XIV.

Over the last week, I played roughly 4.5 hours and made it through the first part of the main quest, concluding with a dungeon and a pretty epic scenario of saving the first town you come to from a rampage of demons. So here are some thoughts.


The Good

Character Design

The character design is really stunning, and I love the character customization options available. All the classes seemed to be locked to specific nations/groups within the greater world, and some are even gender-locked as far as gender presentation goes (you can change the gender default of your title options in game, though I didn't dig too deep into that, just something I noticed), though that may merely be a beta limitation since two of the classes do have male and female options.

Within the customization restraints, there are a lot of options for skin color, hair styles, facial features, and even makeup and tattoos. It's one of the better character customization builders out there, to be honest. I'd rank it up there with Elder Scrolls Online in your ability to really fine-tune your character's appearance.

All of this is with the caveat that it is very anime/JRPG inspired, so the female characters tend to show a lot more skin than the male characters. A lot more. It's one of those things that I find really annoying as a player. It's not like a game-breaking thing for me, but it's something I do notice. I'd prefer to have the option to wear more or less clothing, whether through transmogrification or gear selection, rather than most gear options defaulting to as little fabric as possible. 

Beyond player characters, NPCs and monsters are also well-designed and nice to look at (or gross to look at because they're creepy, but still well-designed!).



Another point in the game's favor for the graphic quality of the game. It is a really beautifully designed game, with gorgeous settingsruined temples, cathedrals, cities, wilderness, caverns, you name it. Everything is very atmospheric, with excellent coloration, lighting, and special effects. I have no complaints there. 


Class Design

I will start this section with the caveat that I have only tried two of the five classes so far, but I did see the other classes in action as I was running around in the open world areas. Class identity is a core feature here. In the beta, the class options are Warrior, Mage, Gunner, Assassin, and Monk, and each one leans hard into the stereotypical features of these classes. Warriors are heavily armored dudes wielding big-ass weapons; Mages sling spells; Gunners sling bullets; Assassins are sneaky sneaky stab stab ladies; and Monks punch all the things. Each class has additional subclass options to further specialize the way you play the character. I tried playing the Gunslinger at first, but it was a bit much for me with swapping weapons constantly. I played Mage Bard next, wielding a magical harp and blasting enemies with music notes and sound bursts, and I absolutely loved that. Though, I may be biased because I almost never get to play a Bard in anything and it's my absolute favorite class ever. 

Leveling and Skill-Ups

This is probably the thing I like most about the game. While individual creatures don't give much XP, the quests and scenarios do, and as a result, leveling feels very rewarding. With the individual character progression, each level awards skill points that you then pump into your existing abilities to increase damage and improve the spells' range, area of effect, or casting time (among other things). I have always liked this kind of system, because you are able to boost the abilities you use most, and ignore the things that you don't care about as much. I am very fond of customization.

While each character has their own individual level progression, you can also progress your characters account-wide as you play the game, with an account-based level system. The more you play, even if it's not on the same character, the higher your account level. The higher your account level, the better all of your characters become! It's a really cool system reminiscent of the Champion Points system in Elder Scrolls Online, except you can start leveling your account from the beginning, rather than having to wait until you have a max level character. I like this system because it rewards you for just being a player, not just how well you do on a single character.  


The Bad (or perhaps The Very Mediocre)


The gameplay is very reminiscent of the Diablo franchise, with an isometric camera, limited ability selection, and being just a downright badass mowing down waves and waves of enemies. Unfortunately, that's where the similarity ends. The best way I can think to describe the game is that it basically feels like a mobile game with the trappings of a MMORPG. There are a lot of menus in the game, for just about everything you can think of—mail, character options, skills, titles, inventory, specialized inventory, collectibles, currency, etc. It's a lot. Which is fine, but it felt... unnecessary, like a lot of bloat to make it look like a comprehensive game to disguise how thin it actually is. It's very much a point-and-click, mash-buttons kind of game. It gets boring and repetitive really fast, and I was struggling to commit more than 30 minutes at a time to the game.

The Story

Now, to be fair, I've only played through a small fraction of the story line and things may develop in an interesting way later on, but what I have seen has been very meh. It basically boils down to a big demon baddie is about to escape, and you, the chosen one, must stop him. There are some other characters involvednamely, a stereotypical anime baddie with asymmetric fashion choices and a half-demon priest who is at risk of succumbing to his darker side—however, there is just not enough explanation or personal stakes to really care about what's going on. There is a lot of lore-dumping in the early quests as you search for a piece of a tablet that's supposed to shed light on the mythical Ark, an ancient artifact of the powers of light that the demons are trying to get a hold of. Pretty basic light v. dark narrative so far. And that's fine. But basic.

Unfortunately for Lost Ark, story and gameplay are the two most important things to me, and they really miss the mark here.   


Final Thoughts

While the appearance of the game evokes Diablo (and I think a lot of people were hoping that it would scratch the itch between now and the Diablo IV release), it boils down to a pale imitation, lacking the stellar story and gameplay that Diablo is known for. 

The MMO aspect is very thin and feels unnecessary since all the main content appears to be solo-friendly. Like, you can group up with randos if you want, but you can very easily solo dungeons and elites in this game, so I don't know why you would be compelled to group up. There doesn't seem to be a need for trading or anything in place for crafting, so interaction with other players seemed to be solely to group up for dungeons and raids. Ultimately, despite being an MMO, it doesn't feel like one.

And maybe I just didn't get far enough into the game to discover its better aspects! Maybe I'm doing a complete disservice to the game with this review! I don't know. But the content I've seen so far doesn't really motivate me to keeping playing and find out.

All in all, it's a fine enough game, especially for a free-to-play MMO. It's pretty, has nice character customization and interesting class design, but it is, overall, very underwhelming compared to the enormous selection of other games out there. While it may be unfair to compare a new release to older games with years and years of content updates and fixes, that's the reality of the gaming sphere. You have to be able to compete with what people are already playing.  

Lost Ark just doesn't really bring anything new or different or interesting to the table, and as I was playing this week, I just kept thinking how much I'd rather play something else.