Lost Ark just launched today opening the floodgates to a new world fraught with danger and ready for the return of a fabled power. Now we find out if it will also be able to resurrect Amazon Game Studio’s track record or if this will be the dungeon that the tech giant‘s gaming dreams die in.
If you’re searching for the short answer, Lost Ark is the best game that Amazon Games Studios didn’t make. Developed by Smilegate and brought west by the New World studio, this much-hyped adventure slots into the Amazon games armory quite nicely. While New World is a sandbox MMORPG and other dedicated esports titles have already dropped by the wayside, this ARPG fits a slightly different audience. Taking place in a fantasy realm and facing a world blighted by disaster, a ferocious evil rises. Players entering this brand new title are tasked with retrieving the mythical Lost Ark and pushing back the darkness.
Class and Character Creation
The good news is, that no normal mortal is tasked with this dangerous mission. Players picking up this free to play adventure via Steam or Amazon can pick from a range of classes in their aim to save the world. 5 classes are available to choose from, including the Warrior, Martial Artist, Gunner, Mage, and Assassin. This roster of available options includes close combat combo powerhouses that unleash kung fu upon their enemies to bards, berzerkers, ranged firearms specialists, magic wielders, stealthy Shadohunters, and a total of 15 sub classes to chose from. With so many different choices, there are plenty of different and distinctive playstyles. Ranged Artillerists wield some serious AOE firepower, while other Gunner subclasses like the Deadeye are capable of dealing huge damage in a narrow field. There’s even a tank that uses a Gunlance. This mix between an outsized shotgun and an oversized bayonet is one of the more unique combinations on offer and definitely suggests that Lost Ark developer Smilegate certainly isn’t short of ideas.
Almost immediately, the class selections are a refreshing twist on the traditional trinity that provides a solid range of interesting high skill options, with easy to access point and shoot weapons.
This all makes for a positive start, assuming you are not fussy about character gender. In something of a throwback to the early 2000s, class selection is gender locked. I shouldn’t need to explain how entirely unnecessary this is, but I also don’t expect any swift changes so we’ll just move on for now. Character creation continues an impressive start with gorgeous high fidelity graphics that decorate some very traditional ideas of fantasy armor. Jacked male forms, wide hips, corsets, svelte torsos and amped-up chests all come wrapped in the usual shiny shells. It’s all form and little real function, but the Unreal 5 engine does make it look pretty. Character customization is a fair attempt that feels capable. While there is no way to manipulate body types, facial settings provide eye, chin, eyebrow, tattoo, and hair color options, among other tweaks. Freckles, wrinkles, skin tone, and more help build a distinctive looking character, from the shoulders up at least. The inclusion of a full-color wheel for hair and eye highlights, and the addition of heterochromia was a welcome touch. While Lost Ark continues to delineate some options like between genders, the quality of the tools that are available can’t be faulted.
With a plucky new adventurer ready to set out into the world, Lost Ark makes a stunning first impression on players. Just as up-close representations of the player character are intricately detailed, in-game protagonists look equally impressive from a 2.5D isometric perspective. The lush green gardens and medieval town that form a first timer’s backdrop fit neatly into the fantasy genre, but don’t add any surprises. Thankfully, this changes drastically as this massive title unfolds.
Living up to all the pre release hype, Lost Ark eventually presents a world that is wonderfully rendered and full of nuanced detail. From the diversity of armor sets to the individual aesthetic of each NPC, Lost Ark doesn’t skimp on the small things as you wander around town for the first time. Taverns, towns, medieval outposts, lost ruins, aethereal springs, AND salt marshes, are jsut some of the different environments crammed into the opening gambit of Amazon’s new ARPG. From the flower beds of an idyllic village to the splash of water on a beachfront, the minutia of each new area of Lost Ark is astounding and actively encourages new players to head out and explore. Even combat animations impress, with skills that are flashy yet individual and enemies that explode with the sort of visceral flair that makes me wonder if Smilegate had a department simply for gore physics.
Combat and Control
Pushing a character through Lost Ark feels like it could have used the same attention to detail as the environment. While tutorials do an acceptable job of arming players with plenty of information, a click-to-move control system does not always feel entirely intuitive in this modern age. When combat kicks off, a range of skills come coded to the keyboard and are lined up along the bottom of the screen. This makes WASD redundant and feels like an early 2000 MMO setup. Gamepad control systems are just as complex, and rather than build in thorough combo systems, Lost Ark insists that players memorize a list of shoulder and action buttons that pull the player right out of the action on screen.
Whether it’s the lack of a comprehensive combo system or a base skillset that seems slightly overstacked compared to other experiences like Space Punks or Torchlight Infinite, combat in Lost Ark could use some refinement. While choice is sometimes king, ruling this land definitely requires investment in an MMO-styled mouse for this endeavor if you want to keep combat at least a little fluid. Unlike other modern contemporaries, the movement in Lost Ark can feel also feel somewhat stoic. Whether wielding a swift Assassin or quick-fingered Bard, you will still need to click to move out of the line of fire. This is compounded by skill animations that can’t be broken and a default dodge that dos not appear to add any sort of iframe. This means longer casts, frantic heals, and a combat system that feels competent but sometimes nothing like as responsive as I’d like. If you’re in the middle of a long cast and a boss brings the pain then you’ll hopefully be able to endure it. While that might make for a less engaging experience in some scenarios, Lost Ark does a great job of keeping combat varied, with a cacophony of different experiences.
Breadth and Depth
While character controls can feel a little stuck in the past, it doesn’t detract too highly from the general combat experience. Lost Ark pulls from a seemingly endless variety of combat scenarios, situations, and open-world bosses. Much like the environmental design, the creatures and characters that inhabit this title seem to be teeming with diversity. From simple amphibious enemies to giant mutated cacti and trees, stone warriors, bugs of all sorts, and even the undead, there are countless types of demons, slimes, and mercenaries that are all out for your blood.
Dungeons and Raids are similarly diverse and engaging but can feel linear. At their core, these more advanced encounters don’t try to usurp your expectations. They are largely a forward-facing path filled with small, then big, and finally humongous mobs. SSmilegate does aim to keep you awake with a gloriously intricate environment and plenty of distinct attack patterns. The first time I stepped into an ancient subterranean temple, clearly inspired by Aztec architecture, the detailed engravings, lighting effects, environmental traps, and even the engraved golden doorways impressed me. The resulting boss even weaved in an inventive environmental puzzle that I wouldn’t describe as difficult but did force me to engage with the game. This speaks to an inventiveness that, when it does arrive, makes these encounters a fantastic experience.
The level of variety encountered in Lost Ark’s instanced encounters is just as compelling as out in the open world. Demons, slimes, raiders, and all sorts of imaginative enemies fill the screen, keeping payers engaged in a set of encounters that don’t always seem as challenging as I might like. With Raids somewhat difficult to judge prior to the general release, it’s fair to say that if you want the most punishing content on offer, then you might want to hold out for Babylon’s Fall instead.
As if to re-enforce this, I found that power levels in Lost Ark always tended towards being overly easy on the central protagonist. As I’ve described, Smilegate does a very good job of keeping encounters varied, but the leveling curve is consistently pitched to keep any threat at arm’s length. Whether in normal mode dungeons or open-world areas, Lost Ark never leaves a player feeling like they are anything but epic. This continues as the game unlocks some well-established progression systems. As any experienced RPG player would expect, characters get a wealth of skill points in a game that automatically unlocks a set of flashy abilities, these can be used to customize the way characters play. There are no preliminary quests or long dungeon grinds to get these new skills. It’s a very familiar skill system that, like much of Lost Ark, leans heavily on variety rather than complexity.
Along with a gaggle of abilities that can be enhanced with minor bonuses as they are leveled, there are many more skills to level up than just combat. Crafting is, of course, an unsurprising and mature addition to any MMO scale title. Fishing, mining, foraging, and a bunch of other ideas all make an appearance and aren’t exactly groundbreaking. The inclusion is, however, far more considered than many other ARPGs, with a whole plethora of recipes and items to piece together.
Probably the most unexpected progression system dropped into the game is lost Ark’s rapport system. Players picking their way through Lost Ark can choose to befriend NPCs, share gifts, unlock new dialogue, and level up their familiarity with the locals. It’s a nice idea that acts as a nice distraction, but despite the opportunity to do lots with this, it generally feels like a glorified collection task.
Catch ‘em All
There’s no doubt that collections like this will play a huge part in keeping Lost Ark’s player base coming back to play some more. Completionists are either going to love or hate Lost Ark, with a bewildering array of things to do and see. The game is as wide as it is deep, meaning you could spend a day picking up all the collectibles in one region, filling out a card codex, completing your memories, or a dozen other non-linear reward tracks. If you love getting things ticked off, then Lost Ark is definitely going to be value for money.
Where this can become problematic is when the leveling curve evens off. For the majority of Lost Ark, characters feel mighty. There’s no trouble in wading into battle and taking down dozens of enemies. This is how the game is designed. However, the codex collections and card systems aren’t just about grabbing a little gold. Much of this seems to be tied to stat bonuses, meaning Lost Ark is liable to force players who power through content into a collection grind to stay at the top of their game. It’s not something we’re desperate about, but this huge spread of collection systems isn’t all that surprising for a free-to-play title.
Lost Ark is a game that seems much less ambitious than Amazon’s New World while feeling far more polished. While Smilegate describes this as an ARPG, it’s almost a mobile MMO in all but name. Heck, there’s even a monetized pet system for anybody too lazy to pick up their own loot. The massive worlds, dungeons, grouping, guild, social systems, and narrative all make this more MMO than many mobile titles. It is far from innovative but is very engaging. The linear quests and busy work that players need to power through are supplemented by a strong story and a great set of voice-acted characters. While the combat could be more dynamic, the variety of encounters and enemies make up for this in spades. Although combat never feels threatening in all but the most elite encounters, Lost Ark manages to give players a bountiful RPG with tons to do and see. Lost Ark isn’t the savior of the MMO genre, but for anybody who found them frustrated by New World’s scrappy implementation and lore delivery, this is a much more enjoyable fantasy escape and it’s available now if you pick up a founder’s pack Directly via Amazon or through Steam. Everybody else can head into Lost Ark on 11 February.