Lost Ark, despite just now being experienced by a great many players for the first time, isn’t a new game in the traditional sense. It was first released in South Korea back in 2019 for PC. After finding huge success there, Lost Ark publisher Smilegate has partnered with Amazon to bring the MMOARPG to the US and Europe. Now, even before its official release, it’s already become one of the most popular games in Steam history via a three-day paid early access period. So what is it, exactly? Well, after playing nearly 11 hours of Lost Ark, I have the answer: A great, free-to-play alternative to Diablo. And I can’t stop playing it.
Like Torchlight, Diablo, and Minecraft Dungeons, Lost Ark is an action role-playing game that is played from a top-down perspective, and that’s all about exploring levels filled with huge numbers of enemies and lots of loot. And also like those games, defeating a few enemies here and there is typically not hard at all. No, the danger comes from large swarms of enemies that can quickly overwhelm even the most powerful character.
As you progress through Lost Ark’s serviceable but cliched narrative, you’ll find better and better loot. You also level up your character, unlocking new skills and eventually upgrading those skills using some of the skill points you earn after racking up a ton of XP. The game’s varied regions—including a graveyard filled with zombies, deserts, and pristine forests—are dotted with collectibles, side quests, and dungeons to explore.
If you’ve played Diablo or Torchlight, you’ll quickly understand what’s going on here.
Where Lost Ark differs in how combat feels. Often in games like Diablo the fighting, while satisfying, never truly feels heavy or impactful. You shoot out tons of magical particles or whip huge swords around like nobody’s business, but it can all seem a bit light and distant. That’s not the case in Lost Ark. Every hit and slice and spell has a punchy quality to it that helps elevate every enemy encounter. One big reason combat feels so meaty is that the game employs hitstops. That’s that thing in so many fighting and action games where each hit pauses the action for a few frames. Done right, this can make fights more intense and strikes more powerful, and luckily, Lost Ark uses hitstops very effectively. Bundling up a large group of monsters and watching them all fly back and stutter with each swing of my large sword is extremely satisfying, and even after nearly 12 hours of playing, I still get a kick out of doing it.
The other big difference is how much of a focus Lost Ark has on multiplayer, incorporating many features traditionally found in MMOs, like matchmaking dungeons, guilds, and so on. You can totally play the game solo, and I did for a lot of my time in Lost Ark. But there are times where Lost Ark’s multiplayer really shines. A great example of that is whenever players spot a roaming boss out in the world. Using text chat, players will signal others that the boss has spawned and then call for help. And people will come. Boss enemies are hard, but can also drop very valuable loot. Watching a dozen or more players surround and fight a big boss is almost hard to comprehend, as a dizzying array of attacks and spells all fire off in one concentrated area. It’s ridiculous, but in a good way.
Lost Ark is a free-to-play game, or it will be when it fully releases on February 11. As is the case with any F2P online game, how Lost Ark handles currency, loot boxes and microtransactions is just as important as how combat works. So far, about 12 hours into Lost Ark, I’ve not run into any obvious paywalls. However, Amazon and Smilegate were unable to release Lost Ark in Belgium due to that country’s strict laws against certain types of random paid loot boxes. So, it’s very possible that parts of Lost Ark will have the icky feel of a money-hungry free-to-play title.
Still, there is a lot of game in here and almost all of it is available to play alone, making this a very attractive alternative to folks not wanting to play Diablo after all the Activision Blizzard shit. Based on trailers released by Smilegate, Lost Ark contains boats and sailing and a fully developed endgame, all stuff I’ve not even touched yet in my time with the game. Maybe in a few weeks, I’ll be fed up with Lost Ark’s grind or free-to-play shenanigans.
But for now, I’m happy to keep playing, and honestly, I don’t want to write about Lost Ark anymore. I want to play it. So I’m going to stop writing about it and play it. (Note to editors: This is just a joke…mostly.)