As far as MMORPGs go, Lost Ark’s campaign is fairly short. You can get through the story content in roughly 20 hours at a leisurely pace, while games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14 typically take 40 to 50 hours to work through each campaign. Despite its length, Lost Ark’s leveling process is a horribly paced, brutal slog that will wear down even the most enthusiastic MMO player. If you’re struggling to push through to the end, you’re certainly not alone.
There are several compounding issues that contribute to Lost Ark’s poor pacing. One of the biggest problems is the structure of its zones. In every other MMO, the world is broken up into lots of smaller regions where players can freely explore to complete quests and farm crafting materials. These zones typically have several quest hubs like camps and villages where players can stack up a bunch of quests at once, then head out into the wild for a long stretch of monster killing. Lost Ark approximates this loop, but changes it in a few hugely impactful ways.
Instead of large, open-world areas, Lost Ark’s maps are made up of narrow corridors and small open combat areas. While it’s fun to see new areas for the first time, you don’t get the experience of exploring zones or getting lost in the world like you do in other MMOs. All you ever really do is walk from point A to point B down a hallway, interact with something, then walk back. In other MMOs, the size of the world and the signs of life in it help obscure the repetition and monotony of questing, but Lost Ark doesn’t offer that level of fantasy, which makes it harder to ignore how tedious questing is.
Speaking of questing, there are no real quest hubs in Lost Ark. There are more than 50 zones you’ll visit on your journey to max level, but you’ll never spend more than a few minutes in any of them. Typically, there’s a quest chain that introduces you to a character then sends you around the zone, back and forth from that character, four or five times until you move onto the next. Where other MMOs will have you completing a series of overlapping quests, Lost Ark only ever gives you one or two side quests to do. What’s more, the quests never take more than a few seconds to complete. You need to go read a tablet, or kill three zombies, or pick up a barrel and put it down a few yards away. You blast through each zone before they even have a chance to imprint on your memory, and you spend more time walking between quest markers than you do actually fighting.
There’s some weird pacing issues with the story itself too. At one point you’ll be part of a huge battle along a castle wall - the biggest set piece in the game - and follow a quest called The Final Battle where you’ll take on a boss and reclaim the throne for the rightful king… but that isn’t actually the end. The campaign is actually five or six different stories that are almost completely unrelated beyond your ultimate quest to find the seven Arks. I don’t know if this was the result of content updates that were added over time originally but delivered all at once in the Western release, but it’s impossible to get a sense of how far along you are in the story, which just makes it feel never-ending.
The most painful section of the campaign actually happens right after retaking the Luterra Castle. Suddenly you’re in a new hub town filled with characters to meet and new systems to learn about (which you have no business using for another ten hours anyway). You won’t get back out into any combat areas for quite awhile, and every time you need to talk to Thirain - which is a lot - you have to walk all the way through town and to the end of his massive castle. It’s the most torturous stretch of the game, especially because it follows such an explosive action sequence.
Then there’s the actual leveling process, which feels poorly tuned and unrewarding. Killing monsters rewards so little XP that you’re wasting time if you fight anything that isn’t part of the main quest. The same goes for side quests, unfortunately. If you want to finish the campaign efficiently, you’re better off just not doing any of the side quests along the way. You have to finish the story even if you hit level 50, and if you do the side quests you’ll just reach max level 50 and feel even worse about how long it’s taking to finish the campaign. You’ll lose out on a bit of Roster XP by skipping the side quests, but doing them is a waste of time.
Lost Ark has a fantastic end game with a great variety of activities to do and tons of complex systems to engage with, but the bland leveling process will stop a lot of people from ever getting there. You could levy the same complaint at every MMO, but Lost Ark is far more tedious and monotonous than WoW of FF14, even if it takes fewer hours to complete.