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Lost Ark is a Diablo-like MMO that promises late-game thrills, if you can survive the early slow burn

Got room for another time sink?

Lost Ark is a free-to-play action RPG-inspired MMO that came out to great acclaim in Korea back in 2018. Now, Amazon Games are bringing its flashy, Diablo-like combat to the west in the form of a closed beta later today, and we've had an early sneak peek at it. Of course, what with Amazon's own MMO New World now settling into its third month, not to mention Final Fantasy 14's Endwalker expansion looming on the horizon, Lost Ark arrives at a busy time for fervent EXP grinders. The big question, then, is whether Lost Ark’s Diablo-y formula can do enough to compete with the already well-established MMO juggernauts. Judging by my few hours of hands-on time, I’m thinking it might, but only if you’re able to embrace its slow burn.

In my brief five hours with Lost Ark, I got to sample some classes, some quests, some dungeons, and some co-op, and I can only describe it as a Diablo-like MMO crossbreed without all the grimness that comes with it. But rest assured that it has familiar trappings from both genres. From a top-down perspective, you click on the environment to move your character forwards and you’ll cleave through enemies in their dozens. Quests have you fetch stuff in exchange for EXP and you’ll encounter other players running about your world. There's a universe to save, and you happen to be the chosen one. Both bits mesh quite nicely, but whether “quite nicely” is enough to make it stand out against some stiff competition over the long haul remains to be seen.

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Lost Ark makes a good first impression, though. You get to pick from a number of classes, each with their own playstyles and snazzy specialisations. And let me tell you, this game does a fantastic job of letting you know what you’re getting into before you commit to a role. As you browse everything from the burly Warrior to the elegant Mage, you can dive into a preview window that’ll show you what “advanced class” opens up at level 10.

I hover over a female Martial Artist class in Lost Ark.
Something I've not seen before are class gender differences. The female Martial Artist, for instance, can choose from three advanced specialisations. Meanwhile the male equivalent only has access to one. It's a similar situation for the Gunner too. I've got no qualms with it, I just think it's an interesting move.

Thanks to those sweet pop-ups, I opted for the Gunner (Female) in the hopes I could channel my inner Dante from Devil May Cry. My decision, thankfully, was a good one, albeit ambitious. You see, the class was difficult to play for a beginner like me. It required switching between three guns: dual pistols, a rifle, and a shotgun to keep the damage flowing, each with their own hotbars and combos. A League of Legends veteran or Diablo fan will relish the combos on offer here, but for me, it was too finicky.

So instead, I opted for the Paladin, an offshoot of the Warrior class. Much easier to handle, but equally cool. In fact, all of Lost Ark’s classes are just plain cool. Whether you’re slicing with a holy sword, or rattling off bullets, it’s gloriously impactful and stylish. My favourite combo involved this spinny slash, followed by some magic jabs, and then a big ol' laser beam. And I reckon I would’ve swapped back over to my Gunner had I had more time with it. There’s clearly a place for everyone here, even if you lack experience with ARPGs and their frenetic combat.

That said, it was hard to tell in my hands on session just how much customisation will be on offer when it comes to the game's abilities. Earn EXP from quests and you’ll earn new moves as well as skill points that improve and augment them. I imagine it’ll get a lot more exciting further down the line, but most of my points went into stat boosts or rather less exciting things like cooldown reductions. One level up affected my spinny slash so it took longer to wind-up but hit much harder, and another changed from an orbital strike into a ground-pound type affair.

The game clearly moves at a slow pace when it comes to upgrades, then. It does occasionally tease you with variety early on, but much of this good stuff seems locked behind later levels. And goodness, I sure hope the quest variety improves later on as well to make it all worthwhile, as the early quests I got stuck into were all pretty typical MMO fare. You fetch 10 pelts for Barry Bastard Sword, interact with a bucket to put out a fire, that sort of thing. Once you’ve ticked them all off, you move to another area and repeat the process. Again, perhaps this changes later down the line, but it certainly didn't do anything special to really sink its claws into me in those early hours.

A pane from Lost Ark which shows a Paladin's abilities and available upgrades.
Clearly these abilities get more exciting later on as you're able to pour points into them, but also, augment them with Skill Runes. I never encountered these, but presumably, they're another way to add some character to your slashes and bashes.

Still, Lost Ark is a more gleeful time with a friend in tow. Squadding up is as easy as picking through some menus and sending off a party invite. Once you’re partied up, you can see each other’s icons on the map, as well as quest together. You won’t be able to see everyone’s list of to-dos, but that’s fine. What matters is being able to follow each other around and batter baddies together, which works a treat.

One thing that had us a bit miffed, though, was the inability to continue the comradery in story quests. While regular dungeons let you team up easily, or at least match-make to fill the gaps, story-heavy quests temporarily sever ties between you and your allies, so there’s no choice but for everyone to go it alone. Perhaps these types of missions tail off later, but for an MMO, it feels a bit odd not being able to experience everything with your mates. Sure, lore-wise, it might not fit, but that’s nothing a cutscene with your friends cut out of the picture can’t solve.

My friend and I slash through enemies in Lost Ark together.
Getting some friends on board helps keep the combat and questing from getting a bit stale.

Elsewhere, I’m left wondering how Lost Ark stands out from the crowd, and honestly? Those moments of nuance are likely hidden away behind hours and hours of questing. In my brief time with the game, I gradually unlocked things like Rapport, which let me carry out basic quests for love interests, but it wasn't clear what sort of things I’d receive for building a relationship with these folks. I also got a pet rabbit, which picked up items off the ground for me automatically, which was nice, but there are plenty of Diablo-likes out there with very similar magnet loot powers. I know there's crafting, customisable player-owned islands and raids to get stuck into - at some stage - but I foresee a lot of thwacking things to clear a clipboard of quests before I get there.

Still, what I played of Lost Ark was undeniably fun, with strong combat in a wonderfully presented world. Those early hours are packaged in a traditional MMO fashion, though, and it's clear this game is going to be a big old time sink for those who want to persevere with it. It's an MMO that will likely pay dividends for such players, but whether it will hold your interest long enough to get there is another matter entirely. It’s worth a shot for ARPG fans, but I can’t see it converting those already averse to top-down button mashing.

Still, if you'd like to give it a shot, the closed beta kicks off today on Steam (November 4th from 9am PT / 4pm GMT), and closes on November 11th. The full game isn't due to launch until March 31st 2022.

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