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Lost Ark is a free-to-play MMO that took South Korea by storm in 2019 and finally hit Steam in February 2022. For those of you who don’t know, here is why it is so popular, and here is why owning your first ship in Lost Ark is almost the equivalent of getting your horse in Red Dead 2, or getting the BFG in the modern Doom remakes.
The Game is Free and Still Has Depth
Start your download, and you need 73GB of space. Yes, 73GB of space for a free game!! What’s the deal with that? This is not a mobile game that has been ported over to PC.
Take your average free-to-play game on Steam, something like Fallout Shelter, and you are looking at about 500MB. Compare that with the 73GB needed for Lost Ark, and you start to see something a little different. And make no mistake, Fallout Shelter is a great free game, which is saying something considering it was made by Bethesda, the company that has never seen a dollar it didn’t try to squeeze.
Lost Ark has a startling degree of depth. We are talking vivid environments, great levels of detail, character variety, abilities, attack types, enemies, and much more. This is triple-A quality, wrapped up and given out as a free game.
It is NOT Trying to Compete With WOW
One of the biggest mistakes that most MMOs have made is that they have tried to compete with World of Warcraft, and as is always the case, WOW leaves them in the dust. Even at first glance, you can see that Lost Ark is not trying to compete with WOW. It is more similar to Diablo 3, especially when you consider how slick the combat is when compared with games like Grim Dawn and Diablo 2.
The bulk of the game is story missions, going from one story to another, leveling up as you go. It is only after level fifty that the world opens up and you can pick and choose what you do. This is also the only time when it is necessary to team up with other people if you want to complete some of the more difficult missions.
The Story and Characters are Meh
Perhaps something was lost in translation, but some of the stories seem drawn from the Yakuza games playbook. The central theme is good vs Evil where humans are on the side of good. Yet, some of the stories are hammier than a bacon factory, and some of the character voice acting is very cringe-worthy.
In fact, the stories may have been overall improved if the voice actors had been better. It seems like a lot of voice acting was copied and pasted into scenarios. As a result, some characters do not feel like they are part of the scene. Somebody perhaps said, “Act surprised” and the voice actor does a terrified verbal outburst when the character on screen is surprised by a slightly large ladybird that just walked by.
What’s The Catch?
Before continuing on about the game, the obvious question is, what is the catch? There are a few things that are going to ruffle some people’s petticoats, so here they are.
Firstly, you have to be online at all times. Even if you are undertaking the single story missions near the beginning of the game, you have to be online in order for the game to work.
Secondly, once you reach level fifty and you can pick the story missions, that is when the grind begins. The game spends a lot of time in the first half giving you things and sprinkling you with resources, but when you hit level fifty and the world opens up, you find that resources are scarce, and grinding up is difficult. This is when they want you to buy Lost Ark gold.
Thirdly, at around seventy hours, the game has been described as not having any respect for your time. This is not completely true. It is almost like the game just gave you 70 hours and now it is time to pay the piper. The game doesn’t get unplayable, but the jump from fast-action high-progression to run-around-and-grind is quite jarring and takes some time to get used to.
The Battles and The Set Pieces
This is not a freemium game on a mobile device. This is a triple-A game with a slight downgrade to accommodate the workload of having thousands of people playing at once. There are some fight set pieces that are creative and brilliantly scripted, and there are some epic battles and scenery that put many movies to shame. Plus, the camera work helps to capture the scale of what is happening around you. They have clearly learned from the likes of later Dark Souls games and earlier god of war games when it comes to framing a shot for maximum impact.
Why is the Ship So Important?
When you get the ship, your gameplay changes quite dramatically. You go from a very linear story to one that branches, to one where progression is in your hands, and where you have more freedom. If you are pretty nifty at these games, then you can unlock the ship after around ten hours, at which point the game becomes and little more flexible and you feel like you have more control.
Perhaps the best thing about the ship becoming available is that since you have a choice on which direction to take, you may also run into unexpected things. You may also discover areas that are not part of the directed story mission. The game doesn’t become a truly open world, that only happens at level fifty, but the game does take the leash off and allow you to run wild for a little while as you explore with your ship.
Is it Pay to Win?
During the single-player experience, yes, you are paying to grind less, though this only becomes necessary once you reach level 50 and things get a little grindy. During the PvP scenarios, this is not a pay-to-win game. The stats, upgrades, and so forth are leveled out during PvP, which may surprise some of the more powerful players. There is no way to grind or pay your way to become an unstoppable PvP machine.
You have a stronghold, which is your base of operations. If you don’t spend real money, then it doesn’t feel as if the stronghold is even worth your time. The amount of grinding you would have to do in order to reap rewards from your stronghold activities is just too high to be enjoyable.
Conclusion – The Most Unique MMO to Come Out For 20 Years
This is not a WOW clone. It isn’t really a Diablo clone. There is a lot that feels familiar, but it doesn’t really steal from any of the major titles in any significant way. You are going to see a tinge of everything in there, from Zelda Windwaker to Dark Souls 3. This game is the most unique MMO to come out since WOW, and the fact that this game is free is just amazing. It is true that at level fifty you are going to have to grind or pay, but if you don’t mind the shift in gameplay mechanics, then you will probably get years of fun out of this game.