Although Lost Ark launched as far back as February 8th (for those who bought a Founder’s Pack, which I did) I haven’t been able to play nearly as much as I’d hoped yet. For one, I’ve still got a lot of stuff to do in the aftermath of my house moving, but more importantly, this:
As you’ve probably heard the server situation in the EU region is still quite problematic. When I come home from a normal day’s work, which is around 6 PM, and the first thing I do is log in and queue up, I’ve usually got about a three hour wait ahead of me until I can play. I could switch to a server on the newly opened EU West region, where queue times are reportedly non-existent, but Lakisa and I are on the same server as a whole bunch of our friends, with some of them already being at the soft cap, so a switch isn’t really in the cards.
Of course this situation isn’t ideal, but since I can actually make good use of the waiting time to tend to the aforementioned home-stuff it hasn’t bothered me all that much.
That being said, I definitely would like to play more, because I’m having a tremendously good time when I do.
At the time of this writing I have a Striker at level 37, an Artillerist at 27 and a Deadeye at 20.
During the first few levels of playing each class I found the basic gameplay loop, i.e. mostly combat, to be just…well…adequate. However, around level 20 or so the fun factor started to ramp up considerably, one reason being that I’d finally gotten used to some of the more unusual design elements – for example, I wasn’t accustomed to having to hold down skill buttons for longer periods of time or having to press a button multiple times for full effect.
Another reason is the skill tree system. Once I’d grasped that I can use the skill points I get with each level to strenghthen the abilities I like most, or even modify how they work, to mold my whole build specifically around my personal taste, I was totally sold. The fact that respecs are unlimited and free is the icing on the cake.
I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally find a lot of complexity and freedom of choice regarding building my characters in an MMORPG again.
At least that’s how I feel. Of course I know that New World, for example, also lets you create your own build out of two weapons and their corresponding skill trees, and basically every MMO out there has some form of that.
I also know that Lost Ark, too, has cookie cutter builds for every class that are considered to be “the best” for endgame activities, thus rendering said freedom of choice somewhat moot if you care about such things.
Still, the trend among mainstream MMORPG developers during the past 10 to 15 years seemed to be “Our players are too dumb/lazy to fiddle around with complex skill trees, and everyone uses the optimal build anyway, so let’s just dumb down that stuff or get rid of it altogether” – of the games I’ve played SWTOR and The Secret World come to mind – and for me that really severed the bonds that I had (or tried to have) with my characters. I just need the ability to shape and customize those digital people at least somewhat to fit the vision I have for them; that’s one of the things that make MMORPGs so special and dear to me.
Again, you may well disagree with the notion that Lost Ark lets you do that while other current representatives of the genre don’t, but that’s how I feel.
Of course it helps that by now I’ve found the perfect class for me: the Striker.
Look, sound, feel – everything about this guy is just perfect. Beating up whole screens full of baddies is extremely satisfying, and since I’ve invested lots of skill points into my favourite abilities it’s gotten even better. It’s fluid, has heft and force to it, and, well, it makes me feel like Bruce Lee on steroids (from space!). Says it all, really.
The game isn’t just about combat though…
Lifeskills are pretty fun too. Resource nodes are shared – meaning that you have to compete with other players for them – but respawn quickly, gathering times are relatively long at first (not nearly as long as when starting out in BDO though), but better tools can cut down on those and also give you more and rarer yield, and there’s gameplay variety as some forms of gathering have their own associated minigame.
When Lakisa and I are playing together I especially like logging, because it highlights one of Lost Ark’s little design elements that make playing as a group more fun and rewarding. You see, when you cut down a tree on your own your character uses an axe. However, when there’s two of you and you approach the tree from opposite sides the axes are replaced by a big two-man saw, which is much quicker and gives both of you a full yield. This even works when two players aren’t in the same group, encouraging working together with strangers. Genius!
I’ve also unlocked my Stronghold, the game’s version of housing. To be honest, while I can craft and freely place stuff like wells, hedges etc. it feels more akin to WoW’s garrisons than actual housing as of yet, but maybe that’ll change the farther I progress.
Next up, no impression piece about Lost Ark would be complete without mentioning the awesome and epic set pieces and in-engine cutscenes.
I’ve talked about this before (jeez, was that really almost three years ago?), and my own experience with the game hasn’t disappointed in this regard.
As great as the much talked-about siege sequence is, I’m actually the most impressed by the dungeons. To be quite honest, I don’t think I’ve had this much fun running dungeons since I did in Everquest II so very long ago.
Starting with the first “real” dungeon, Morai Ruins, they are sprawling, well designed and full of little (or not so little) touches like the zip line ride above. Or how about this neat homage to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?
That even these main dungeons are, in essence, completely linear doesn’t bother me at all because they don’t feel that way. Not least because at this point in time I’m still searching every nook and cranny, of which there are many, for Mokoko seeds, one of the game’s many collectibles. I’m sure once I have found them all and seen the “rides” a couple of times the effect will wear off, but I’m pretty certain that I’ll still enjoy dungeon romps in this game more than I have in any other MMORPG for quite some time.
The last thing I’d like to mention today is that, for my taste, the game handles the balance between solo and multiplayer activities extremely well, in that you can do almost everything solo no problem (including dungeons!), but having someone along for the ride is pretty much always a boon and thus desired. I firmly believe MMORPGs should be exactly like this in 2022.
The one gripe I have is that you are forced to do Scenarios, mini instances that depict key moments in the main story, solo. Unlike in, say, The Secret World, where many players struggled with that same design because of the game’s much higher overall difficulty, it’s absolutely no problem here to beat them on your own. Still, I think this shouldn’t be a thing in MMOs, the story making sense be damned.
For a first impression piece this is already quite long, so I’ll save some bits and pieces for another time. Suffice it to say that I’m having a blast, and I feel it will continue to get even better for a good while, what with me not even having left the first continent behind and set sail into the great unknown yet. Can’t wait!