Launched only a week ago, lost ark reached the top of the Steam charts, amassing over one million concurrent players, making it the most played game on Steam (based on number of competitors) of all time. Developed by Smilegate RPG, lost ark is a Korean MMO that debuted there in 2018 before being localized in English and brought to the West via a partnership with Amazon Games. Although it has only been around in the US and Europe for a short time, it currently has over 200,000 viewers on Twitch and has beaten games like Dota 2, CS: GOand PUBG in absolute number of concurrent players on Steam.
So what is a lost ark anyway? I’ve spent a week investigating this new gaming passion, eager to see if it has what it takes to become my new obsession or something I’m content to let others obsess over. lost ark is a free-to-play MMO that plays like Diablo. It’s an isometric action-RPG that has all the cultural hallmarks of a free-to-play MMO, including extremely under-dressed female models and a game chat full of gold-mining spam. lost ark is mindless fun that won’t punish you for not taking it too seriously.
I’m pretty happy with the character designer. A rainbow color wheel lets you be more than a few shades of black, and there are tons of sliders to fiddle with to make your character look exactly the way you want. lost ark also correctly understands that there are more types of ethnic hairstyles than dreadlocks and afros; however, there are no more than a few styles for people with frizzy hair like me. When you start the game you choose your class before you get to character customization, and I find it very strange that some classes of lost ark are gender locked. If I want to play as a warrior I have to play as a male, or if I want to play a mage I’m locked into a female avatar. Each class has a number of specialized subclasses that you must choose immediately after choosing your main class. Since I wanted to play as a female, I chose the witch subclass of the mage profession, but I really didn’t like her abilities. They felt weak and lacked an interesting punch, so I created a new character, choosing a berserker warrior, and haven’t looked back since.
The combat looks pretty decent. At the start, you have a number of abilities that you can chain together to unleash powerful combos, which are needed in dungeons when the enemies are more than 20 to 1. It’s satisfying to hit a bunch of trolls together with a devastating sword slash, taking them all down in one fell swoop. It’s just as fun to spin around in circles, pulverizing enemies dumb enough to approach my whirlwind of death. The most difficult aspect of lost arkCombat is just about making sure your abilities hit your enemies as intended. Using a mouse to move will often face you in the wrong direction, bouncing your attacks harmlessly through space (and luckily, if clicking to move isn’t working for you, lost ark supports controller). If there are any mechanics involved in detecting an enemy’s weakness and then using it to your advantage to win, I haven’t found it. The bosses don’t really present a challenge. From what I’ve seen, they’re just damaged sponges with multiple health bars to chew on. Although graphically flashy and powerful, fight in lost ark doesn’t get complicated beyond point, click, win.
The game gives you an overwhelming number of systems and bars to follow, but most can be comfortably ignored. There is a standard experience bar and a roster bar which oversees all of your characters on a given server by granting small health and strength bonuses each time it levels up. Throughout your travels, you can earn a dizzying number of items. Beyond normal loot like armor, weapons, and potions, there are also story items you can pick up that serve no purpose beyond right-clicking them to add them to your journal.
Sometimes I don’t understand what lost ark tells me. That’s a bit too much information to absorb, and the game doesn’t feel like you’re missing out too much by not reading the tooltips too carefully. Disabling mechanisms abound. There’s an interesting reporting system where you can increase the number of NPCs who like you by giving them gifts or simply giving them emotions. I was initially excited by the prospect of romantically bonding with an NPC, but it seems like the ratio is another meter to max out to earn loot. Pity.
The story seems as simple as the combat. You are an adventurer who has come to a new land to find the titular object of the Lost Ark of Power to fend off an army of demons. There’s more, I’m sure, but I’ll be honest – I don’t care. You probably won’t care either – lost ark doesn’t feel like a game you play for the story. It’s a click fest where the numbers go up and your enemies explode in all sorts of brain-pleasing ways. And that’s it! Sometimes the body just needs something to do, a game to go through the motions. lost ark serves it very well. I really tried to absorb and understand everything the game guided me to, but after the fourth quest of “talk to that person, then click on that thing right next to them, then talk to them again, then click the thing again”, I gave up. I had a much more pleasant experience when I dispensed with trying. Instead, I mindlessly clicked my way through dungeons and quests while the third season of Downton Abbey played on my second monitor.
lost arkThe sudden and precipitous rise of is perhaps explained by the fact that it fulfills Diablo IV-shaped hole in the hearts of those who are still waiting for this game’s release date. I’d be surprised if it can sustain its popularity beyond its first two weeks of “newness”, but again, New world (another game published by Amazon) continues to be quite solid despite its post-launch hiccups.
If you’re looking for a rich world, you can get lost in tough fights that use your gray matter well, maybe jump lost ark. But if you need something to do for an hour or two and nothing else seems interesting enough, give it a try.