The world of Lost Ark was quiet in the private test server - often it was just me alone, traversing the game’s vast, isometric landscapes - but that made little difference. The game is polished and sleek. Enemies explode in viscera. Giant walking-cacti cover you in spines. Demons crawl through the fabric of time and space. Even if you’re no fan of the style, Lost Ark is going to be one of 2022’s biggest game releases. If it’s not on your radar, it should be.

Developed by Smilegate RPG and published by Amazon, Lost Ark is a fusion of ARPG and MMO. Take Path of Exile and add in a dash of Black Desert Online. This might seem niche, but it ticks boxes, like a game that has been genetically-engineered to get people hooked. Originally released in South Korea with a follow-up release in Russia and Japan, the game finally arrives for Western markets in the first quarter of 2022, with a tentative release date of March.

RELATED: Lost Ark's Closed Beta Starts Tomorrow

First, I have to talk about microtransactions. I’m sorry. It just has to be like this. “Amazon Games has been working with Smilegate RPG to update the business model to more closely align with Western norms and player expectations,” reads the post on the official Lost Ark website. Here are my two cents on spending real cash in Lost Ark: I didn’t spend a penny (to be fair, I couldn’t in the beta), but it didn’t feel like my gameplay was hindered. That being said, this is still a game laced with microtransactions.

Lost Ark deserves to have a fair microtransaction system in place. The game is dense, complicated, and beautiful. There is one long siege sequence that is unlike any MMO or ARPG experience I’ve had for a long time. New World’s bland dungeons and non-existent storytelling absolutely collapse in comparison to Lost Ark’s dramatic set pieces. I found myself playing around with the game’s ‘selfie mode’ to explore more of the landscapes that you crash your way through.

Which leads neatly onto my next point: the combat. It’s hefty, like smashing pumpkins with a crowbar. I played as a Berserker (featuring a comically-long sword that often clipped through the floor) with a number of fast-paced AoE-focused abilities, a dash, and an ultimate Berserker mode that sent my character into a rage-induced frenzy. There are several other classes to try, and try them you will, because the game focuses heavily on playing with alts.

Alts are a sticking point and something I’m still tentative about. Alternate characters are a means to an end, most of the time. You end up just running through the game several times to bypass content locks, like only being able to complete a dungeon two times a day on a single character. If you have eight, you can raid and loot all day. This sets you up for the expected MMO grind. I don’t love it, but I understand it. Remember: there is no rush unless you want to rush. Lost Ark is a pretty game with some decent narrative moments. You don’t have to min-max like it’s your day job.

Lost Ark has something for everyone. The casual, the hardcore, PvE players, or PvP players. There are raids, dungeons, and loot. So much loot. In the Western version, you get a free auto-looting pet, a white rabbit. I called mine Fred. You also get a mount, a minimap, large inventory space and free, accessible storage. It’s hard not to compare the game to New World seeing that both are Amazon-related and MMOs, but sheesh, Lost Ark has every quality of life function under the sun. It’s just much more enjoyable to play.

At every corner, the game seemed to open up new possibilities. I hit level 30 over the course of a week and made it to where you unlock your Stronghold. This is basically where the game becomes Clash of Clans and I just wasn’t expecting it. You can build farms on your island, send ships out to complete missions for loot and other rewards, and research new structures. Everything takes time to complete and build, and there are boosts of course, but it all blindsided me so completely that I couldn’t help but smile.

I wasn’t able to delve into any of the PvP or any of the major endgame content - which is where the game really opens up, apparently - but the journey through what I was able to experience was compelling. I entered with few expectations, having only briefly looked over the Korean version of the game. Lost Ark took me by surprise and finally had me put down New World and start looking ahead to the next MMO.

Lost Ark’s closed beta starts November 4th. A PC Steam code was provided for this preview.

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