Losing My Way With Lost Ark

I really want to like Lost Ark, sincerely and honestly.

When last I wrote about the game, I noted that there is something there I do like – the flow of it’s ARPG combat is satisfying and fulfilling in a strong way, such that while I was wary of the game’s structure and hesitant to commit too much to it, I wanted to see more.

Since then, I’ve done a handful of hourlong sessions before tapping out.

I haven’t made it to level 30 or to the point where it gets good, allegedly. I don’t have a stronghold or a boat and I’ve tried to maintain a refusal to research – opting to just play and see how I feel, so outside of reading the posts of my fellow bloggers about the game and seeing my guild Discord light up for the game, I’ve stayed with a level-headed, game-influenced opinion.

And, well…I think it isn’t for me. To be clear, that’s totally fine too – not everything is for me nor should it be. In this brief update, I want to summarize why that is (under 2,000 words is brief for me!).

The Game’s Genderlocks

Yes, I know that culturally, Korean games in 2018 still had genderlocks. Hell, Korean free-to-play stuff in 2022 has them. However, ultimately, it’s not something that appeals to me that much. I like playing women characters – my Demon Hunter in WoW was one, my main in FFXIV is one, and most of my alt roster in WoW were also women characters – so it chafes at me that the option isn’t available for me to play a woman warrior, or a male assassin. Withholding any cultural judgment (I do think it’s shitty and weird behavior, for the record), it just feels constrained without good reason.

What I find even less appealing is how the outfit options for female characters and animation sets all go over-the-top in ridiculousness, with absurd hip-swaying, huge heels, and tiny panties or one-legged pants. I don’t mind those things as choices – the more options to represent yourself in-game, the better – but the game does not offer that choice here. You have some variety in outfits (and paid skins, of course) and you can use the game’s transmog system to pick a look you do like, but you can never pick an animation set that isn’t a completely unrealistic, objectified, and very odd way to walk.

The game offers a half-dozen customization options that are seldom even visible in normal play, and yet on these facets, fails horrendously at offering any choice of identity.

The Community Sucks Ass

Literally my first play session after my last post, I logged in and had to report 4 separate people for slurs in chat in my first 30 minutes. Just out in field chat, being disgusting and gross. Dreadful stuff.

I understand that my standards for zone chat are currently tainted by the polite and kind FFXIV standard, but like, come on, just openly tossing around slurs in chat? Not cool. Very rarely have I seen helpful answers in chat on my server – people spamming “babe” and various forms of it in chat, the aforementioned slurs, and a near complete lack of helpfulness or welcoming of new players. The babe thing is…whatever, I think it’s a meme of some sort (I’m getting old I guess) but the unhelpfulness of chat and again, the slurs and harassment, are just too much for me. I filtered my WoW chat down to the bare essentials, but I did that because I was invested in that game – if I had reached that point in my first hundred hours, much less my first 10, I would have likely given up on it – and it is certainly a contributing factor towards me thinking about uninstalling Lost Ark.

The Gameplay Is Counter-Intuitive

I really, really like the core ARPG combat elements of Lost Ark. Diablo IV has a lesson to learn in terms of skill density and the ways in which combat can be done, and I hope it learns those lessons.

However, what gets me about Lost Ark is that the ARPG and MMO elements are disharmonious. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s take a trip to Diablo II first to explain the flow.

In Diablo II, your gameplay is driven by 6 quests per zone. These quests are fairly minimal, long-term objectives you work towards as you mow through enemies in each zone. Diablo’s gameplay is built with the limiter being inventory space, mostly – you go out and beat demons down until your bag is full, and then you hit a Town Portal, go back, empty your bags, and return right where you left off.

So far, I don’t have that option in Lost Ark, and there are numerous gameplay elements like quests and dungeons that push me off the combat trail and tell me to go back to town and do something else. So I’m having fun in short bursts, kicking monster ass left, right, and center, and then I have to mount up and run back, or use fast travel to a Triport, which is a network of reasonably-spaced transport points, but crucially here, I cannot just go back after my stop in town to where I was before – I have to either pick a waypoint Triport to start from or run back. Diablo reduces this friction by using Town Portals almost like a bookmark – back to town, drop off, right back in where you left off. Lost Ark doesn’t, and when you want to just be kicking ass, it feels really, really constrained and limiting.

Making this more apparent is the gathering system. Okay, sure, it’s cool that I can gather and I find that relatively interesting in abstract, but in practice, I just stop fighting to run up on a node, gather it over around 10 seconds of effort, and then get back in the mix. It’s a minimal distraction, but it also interrupts the pacing and flow of gameplay in a very weird and artificial way, in my opinion.

So far, these gameplay issues are, to me, the biggest limiters to my interest in Lost Ark. I love the combat in it – love it to death – but the elements of the game trying to be an MMO tear me away from it, and I resent them for it. Maybe once I get a stronghold or see the way systems interact with gathering, I’ll like it – but right now, it feels like a nuisance, and all the MMO elements – the numerous quests, the travel limitations, and the life skills – just get in the way of what I actually enjoy about the game. Then the whole lifeskills thing is a separate hotbar set that hides your combat abilities and doesn’t seem to have an intuitive auto-switch option, and now I’m getting bumrushed by enemies when I’m trying to do the thing the game wants me to and that’s annoying, because I have to actively switch to my combat ability set. Oh, and there’s the looming mobile-game-like energy bar depleting with each life skill used, and that just fills me with a sense of dread over how that will work once my Crystalline Aura is gone!

There Are Too Many Systems

In Lost Ark, there’s core combat systems like stagger, your special class resource, and different types of skills like charging skills, skillshots, and the like. Good enough. There’s silver to spend with NPCs, and gold for player trade (I think?). There are auction tokens for auctions, bloodstones for guild stuff, multiple tiers of premium currency on top of items with straight dollar values. There’s energy for gathering, the life skills hotbar and mode, strongholds, ships, songs, rapport quests, and pets. There’s daily login rewards, daily guild check-in rewards (just open the guild pane and…profit?), and the roster experience system. There are welcome challenges, the adventurer’s tome, and Crystalline Aura benefits. Rapport has quests and a mix of things you can do for NPCs like emotes, songs, and gifts. There are skill points and skill enhancements, recommended build buttons, multiple builds, and all sorts of layers of customizations with varying levels of explanation. There are main quests, side quests, guide quests, and rapport quests. You can be character friends or roster friends with someone, and you can be in a guild – but the cap for guilds starts at a pathetic 30 players, growing to 100 when leveled – oh, because there’s guild leveling, guild research projects, and guild donations.

In a game where these are rolled out organically over hours of gameplay, I’d be game. Hell, it took me until this last year to finally have firsthand experience with all of FFXIV’s various options, but those rolled out in small pieces over hundreds of hours of gameplay and many were purely optional. In Lost Ark, nearly all of those systems are there in the first 10 hours, so you’re still getting your bearings with combat and the game is just dumping piles of information about systems and currencies on you. It is all a bit too much, and the game itself does, frankly, a poor job explaining much of it. It’s incredibly overwhelming, and difficult to escape if your goal is to reach endgame and play the content there.

And Yet…

Despite all of these very real objections I have to Lost Ark, I am still playing it in small chunks. The core combat is really good, and I want to see what the various endgame stuff I’ve heard about looks like, at least. I want to see the ship and feel how it plays when the game allegedly “opens up.”

At the same time, a game I can only play for an hour before feeling a sense of ennui and aimlessness is perhaps not a model for sustainable gameplay, and I think I’ve made a reasonable case here for why I feel that way. Again, to be clear, it’s perfectly fine by me if the game is not for me – it doesn’t need to be and my objections should not steer you away from trying it, especially since it is free.

But I want to like it more than I do. At least one friend does, and half my guildies are poop-socking it through the endgame grind in 18 hour, all day sessions. I want to understand better what they see in it, because as of right now, I don’t get it, and I’m not sure I ever will, to be honest.

3 thoughts on “Losing My Way With Lost Ark

  1. Excellent summation and very helpful. Thanks! So far I’ve only played for about six hours, which has taken me to something like level 18 I think. Might only be 15. As you can see, I’m insufficiently engaged to know or care. People who like the game do indeed say it sarts slowly and gets much better later so it’s a useful data point to hear that you found that hadn’t yet happened by level 30. I’m not at all convinced I want to spend another six hours getting to that point, only to find I then need another six because it’s still not fun yet.

    My overwhelming reaction to the whole thing so far has been boredom. It’s a really dull game. Everything you say about the way the pieces don’t fit together rings true to me, except that in my case I really can’t stand the combat or any of the other ARPG factors. Whereas you would like it double down on those and lose the mmo aspects, I would like the reverse. I feel like there’s a decent mmorpg in there somewhere and that’s a game I’d far rather be playing. Either way, it seems clear that the mix just doesn’t work.

    I’m going to plug on for a while but like you I do find myself feeling that exact sense of ennui and aimlessness after an hour or so and I can’t honestly see it’s a good way to be spending my time. I’d like to get far enough to get the boat, just to see if that really does turn the game into some kind of open-world, gathering-based mmorpg. From where I am right now, that’s all but impossible to imagine but supposedly it’s true. Even if it is, though, I have another game I’m playing that already does that brilliantly and it doesn’t have the awkward 2D isometric graphics to spoil the experience so I can’t see why I’d want to swap.

    Liked by 1 person

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