Lost Ark's Mokoko island is a great example of the game at its best
A little tangent
This article contains spoilers for Lost Ark's main questline.
Lost Ark is a very silly game, but not in the way it initially seems. For its first 15 hours or so, Smilegate's ARPG is like someone described Lord of the Rings to the developers through a door, an overblown yet generic riff on Western fantasy tropes with overdesigned yet underwritten characters, all of whom talk about the game's plainly ridiculous lore with the gravity of a neutron star. The game's ignorance of its own absurdity is funny, but the story itself is not much fun.
This begins to change once you approach level 50. After completing the continent of East Luterra, Lost Ark suddenly explodes in scale. It gives you a ship, and sets you off on a massive globetrotting adventure, with around a dozen other continents to explore, and dozens more tiny islands, each with their own little questlines. Your first destination across Lost Ark's ocean is an island called Tortoyk (pronounced like "Tortoise", but with a K), and it's here where the game stops pretending to be a serious high-fantasy adventure, revealing itself to be something much more entertaining.
Tortoyk is a tropical island home to a race of gnomelike creatures called Mokokos. You'll be somewhat familiar with the word 'mokoko' by the time you reach Tortoyk, as you'll have spent a fair amount of time picking up 'mokoko seeds' without really knowing what they're for. It turns out that Mokokos grow from these seeds, so what you've actually been doing is kidnapping unborn Mokokos, you monster.
Luckily, the Mokokos don't seem particularly bothered by your abducting their children. They've got bigger problems, namely a bunch of pirates on the island who are kidnapping adult Mokokos and generally doing pirate things. Despite being mistrusting of big people (or 'Kokomos' as mokokos confusingly call them), a Mokoko named Mokamoka (I can only apologise) asks for your help.
At first, Tortoyk seems like a typical Lost Ark zone, albeit sunnier. You walk around the jungle, smash a few pirates, and wade through a river of exclamation marks ticking off the game's typically rudimentary quests. Then Mokamoka gives you a quest to create a potion, and when you drink it, your character shrinks down to Mokoko size.
Suddenly, the game shifts gear from a standard fantasy fare, into a whimsical borrowers-like adventure. The next zone sees you exploring the forest undergrowth, where flowers appear as tall as trees, and a pair of dropped spectacles seems the size of a car. From here, you travel to Mokoko Village, a delightfully designed adventure hub where the mokokos reside in houses made from leaves and use mushrooms as picnic tables. If that doesn't communicate the vibe of the place, just listen to the soundtrack for Mokoko Village, possibly the jauntiest tune ever composed.
While the format of the game never changes – you're still clicking monsters to death and resolving strings of quickfire quests – but the framing of it is so much more playful and imaginative than the by-the-numbers fantasy of previous zones. Early in the questline, for example, the mokokos give you a new mount. It's a ladybird. It functions in precisely the same way as all the other mounts in the game. But on the other hand, it's a ladybird.
The next zone dedicates itself to squeezing every drop of fun out of this miniaturised world, as you explore the outskirts of Mokoko Village, investigating ladybird farms, battling insects and crows, and riding seed-headed dandelions to access new areas of the zone. The dungeons get in on the act too. One highlight sees you sneak into the pirates' hideout, while still tiny, only to be captured by the pirate leader. You break out of your cage, and must escape by crossing the tabletop to do battle with what is probably my favourite boss in the whole game: the pirate leader's pet parrot, complete with little pirate hat.
Your tiny adventures don't last through the whole continent, sadly. But Lost Ark compensates for this with a neat concept reversal. Tortoyk, it transpires, isn't actually an island, but is the sleeping form of an enormous rock creature that the mokokos worship as a god, Xenoblade style. To reach the Ark that you are seeking (there are seven in the game), you need to wake him up. Hence, throughout the continent you have this gradual escalation in scale, from fighting insects in the undergrowth to awakening a god.
And this, frankly, is a much better encapsulation of what Lost Ark is like than its initial levelling areas. Once you leave the starting island (which consists of about four continents), each new continent you explore has a completely different theme, from steampunk civilisations to a fantasy kingdom inspired by ancient China. It's very much a kitchen-sink approach to design, and this doesn't solve the game's core problems, such as shallow questing and uninspired loot. But in the absence of meticulous, Elden Ring-style internal consistency, I'll happily take wild swings in random directions if those swings are as bold and committed as Lost Ark.
Does Tortoyk make it worth pressing through the less interesting opening areas of Lost Ark? Probably not on its own. But Tortoyk isn't the first cool thing to happen in Lost Ark. There are plenty of impressively crafted dungeons and zones before this, as well as a massive battle against an army of clowns (as I said, Lost Ark is a silly game). Tortoyk is simply the point at which the game fully embraces that silliness. It becomes less of a Diablo knockoff and more like an ARPG Mario, with you jumping between weird and colourful worlds that may not have much logical connection, but are so much fun to explore that it simply doesn't matter.