My journey with Lost Ark has been a long one. I first saw the game appear back in 2018 with a four-minute CG trailer that looks nothing like Smilegate’s MMOARPG today. The game was then released in Korea at the end of 2019, and like other eager players, I followed the news about the game’s release in the West. Three years later, the game is finally getting Western European, North American, and South American servers. At last, I am free from the terrible ping on the Russian server and squinting at the Cyrillic alphabet trying to figure out which ability is which.

Lost Ark is an MMOARPG. To be more specific, it’s an isometric MMO with ARPG elements. Think of Diablo or Path of Exile, add in a bit of League of Legends, with the addition of trade skills, base-building (sort of, your island is a Clash Of Clans-style mini-game), group Raids, Chaos Dungeons, PvP Arenas, world events, sailing, a mix of classes and abilities with only a small nod at typical MMO roles (Support, Tank, etc.), and much more. Lost Ark is like a table full of food at a family event: there is something for absolutely everyone, even for the people who only eat chips and put ketchup on their Roast Dinner. How dare they.

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Don’t be put off by Lost Ark’s isometric style though. This is a highly polished experience. The combat is punchy, weighty, and oh so satisfying. Heavy-hitting classes like the Artillerist use rockets, barrages, and turrets to destroy waves of mobs with bloody gusto. Slick and highly mobile classes, like the Deathblade, dash and slice their way through Elites and Bosses. Even if you’ve not been a fan of games like Path of Exile before (and Lost Ark is different in many ways to PoE, anyway), Lost Ark is worth a few minutes of your time - the sound design, visuals, and impactful mechanics of each class really are at the top of the charts.

Others might be wary of Lost Ark’s aesthetics. That’s fair enough. It’s a Korean MMO. It has dancing girls, moody dudes with fringes, and some truly massive swords. Some people just don’t gel with this sort of thing, and that’s alright. The endgame content is enough to carry Lost Ark regardless of its aesthetic, and I should note that the actual world design, cinematic set pieces, and the bustle of the game’s large quest hubs are all gorgeous, especially on high graphics settings. Barring any sort of launch day server chaos - which I 100 percent expect, by the way - Lost Ark is one of the smoothest games in terms of performance that I’ve played in a long time.

If you cast your mind back to New World at the end of last year, it was pretty clear that players were keen on a new MMO experience. Both games are published by Amazon, but the similarities end there. When you load up Lost Ark - for free, by the way - you are getting a refined product. The game has gone through several major updates, balance tweaks, and will even launch in NA/EU with DirectX 11 enabled. This isn’t a case of: “We’ve finished the game, but not really, teehee.” Lost Ark is a complete package. Bug-free, smooth, and balanced. The endgame grind pales in comparison to New World's 'innovative' Mutation system for its expeditions. There is a grind in Lost Ark, but the chances are, you'll enjoy it.

However, it’s important that I talk about microtransactions. Lost Ark does have them. You can pay a monthly subscription for something called Crystalline Aura - it’s sort of like a buff, allowing you to fast travel for free, perform extra tasks at your Stronghold (your home island, with research and buildings), and a few extra opportunities to complete daily quests. In Korea, the game has many more boosts and upgrades that you can purchase with real cash.

Thankfully, and I almost can’t believe I’m saying this, Amazon has done a good job balancing the pay-to-win microtransactions. As in, they’re gone. They have adapted the game for a Western audience - several Lost Ark creators, streamers, and other personalities have all commented on their worries about the future of the game with excessive microtransactions. These worries have been addressed. Everything in the game - currently, I can’t see into the future - is optional. You do not need to pay for anything. I know I sound like a shill, but I’m just trying to be upfront about players’ expectations. Don’t spend money if you don’t want to. Lost Ark is not a game you have to rush through, meta-game, or grind ridiculously. Play the game for fun - if you like it, purchase a monthly subscription of the Aura. Pay extra for skins, if you want. That’s it.

On the topic of grinding, there is always a temptation to blast through content as quickly as possible in MMOs. I did this in the closed beta of Lost Ark as well as during our closed preview session with the game. The code arrived in January, and I’ve spent the last month leveling a few different characters as well as playing through the endgame content with the heavily overpowered classes that Amazon let us have a go with. From experience, I can tell you that this whole process is a bit daunting. It takes 10-15 hours for a very speedy run through the game. Quite a lot of the content feels unnecessary after your first run. The game can take 20-30 hours, or more, if you take your time.

I’m here to tell you this: take your time with your first run. There is a massive world to explore. Hundreds of NPCs, quest lines, hidden dungeons, and all sorts of other secrets and places to discover. The endgame content isn’t going anywhere. I’m expecting Lost Ark to be very popular, so there will always be people to complete content with, wherever you are in the game. If you’ve played before then you’ll know all about the fastest ways to level up and which alternate characters you want to master first. All of this should come some way down the line if you’re a brand-new player.

It’s worth making it to the end of the game, currently set at level 50. Lost Ark’s endgame content is fantastic. If the story doesn’t grab you - and it might not - then rest assured that your hours aren’t going to be wasted. The PvE and PvP endgame content is so good, and extremely addictive. Chaos Dungeons, Raids, and PvP Arenas make up the bulk of what you’ll be doing on a daily basis (a lot of this content has daily and weekly resets, which is why people play on alts). Nothing is compulsory, everything you do during your daily time with the game is rewarding and engrossing.

Dungeons are all about clearing content as quickly as possible. This content can be completed by a solo player. Raids are a bit more involved and require the learning of mechanics and balanced party composition. Some Abyss Raids are really, really hard, and you'll need a coordinated team to complete them. PvP is very involved with a high skill ceiling for many of the classes. There’s a ranked ladder and casual play. All gear is equalized in PvP. No pay-to-win. No unnecessary grinding is needed. Think of League of Legends but encased in a fast-paced 3v3 arena. With a decent ping, the game is responsive and sharp. Maxed out frames on my 3070 pretty much constantly, even when the screen is totally full of chaotic ability animations and spell effects.

The Western launch of Lost Ark also comes with a bunch of endgame content, the sort of content that Korean and Russian players had to wait for in the form of content patches. There are still some things missing from Lost Ark’s launch, including a few of the classes from the other versions of the game, but I believe the ultimate goal is to have content parity between every version of Lost Ark, allowing for content updates to launch simultaneously across all three servers.

Overall, Lost Ark feels like a reward after so many hashed-out and rocky launches of new games. You know what you’re getting with Lost Ark, it’s an experience that has already been through the tests and tribulations of its first two years of content. Its story won’t speak to everyone, but the endgame experience is worth a few cutscenes here and there. Lost Ark is one of the most polished titles I’ve played for some time, especially an MMO. The game is free and will be hyped-up thanks to Amazon and Twitch. I can’t think of a reason why you shouldn’t try it. Pick a class and go—if you can get into the servers this week, that is.

Lost Ark - 5/5. A PC code was provided for this review.

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