Lost Ark: My Three-Day CBT Review

Smilegate's new MMORPG Lost Ark began its very first Closed Beta Test (CBT) on August 24th. Since its first announcement in 2014, the game has drawn much attention among gamers because it merged traditional quarter view hack n' slash with quality graphics.

I have walked through the three days of the first CBT and would like to talk about what the game is actually like as well as answer many frequently asked questions. Everything written here is my personal opinion about Lost Ark, so individual experiences with this game may differ from my own.

1. How are the graphics? Are they as good as the trailer?

The graphical quality of Lost Ark is mostly the same as what you might expect from the trailer movie. It goes without saying that the history of hack n' slash MMORPG in Korea began with the Diablo series from Blizzard. After Diablo 1, we saw the gaming industry flooded with 8-way movement RPGs, and Diablo 2 opened a new era in which speedy action RPGs were popular. With Diablo 3, we finally got to see 3D action RPGs rule the market. I personally think that graphical quality of Lost Ark is the best among all hack n' slash MMORPGs ever since Diablo 3.

When I say that a game's graphical quality is good, I do not mean that it has fine texture or smooth skin for characters. Such aspects are more related with technology and do not represent the overall look. I think what matters the most when judging a game's graphics is the artist's overall taste. Characters should blend into the background, objects should be placed in right locations with detail, character motion has to be smooth, graphical effect should not be too much, etc.

I have studied these elements, and Lost Ark did a decent job. Character motion was smooth as butter (so smooth that some might not like it), while overall details in map, texture, and objects were knit together well. There was also a variety of different backgrounds which were fun to watch.

What I value the most about this game are the dramatic composition and the Graphical User Interface (GUI). As you go through the campaign, you encounter many different cutscenes which come in a variety of camera angles instead of being fixed on quarter view. I think the development team did a good job with making cutscenes look like cinematics and raising the overall quality of this game. I could see that Smilegate put a lot of effort in making it.

The GUI is simple and intuitive. I am not saying that it represents the spirit of Lost Ark or anything, it’s just simple to understand and there without getting in your way. This is basic when making an RPG game, but it’s not as easy as it seems. GUI that is too simple can receive mixed responses among people, but personally I liked it.

2. My PC is not very good, and I am worried that I won’t be able to run Lost Ark.

My computer at the Inven office has an i5-4690 CPU with a GTX960 graphics card. It has mid-high performance compared to other PCs nowadays, and Lost Ark automatically maxed out graphic options at 60 frames per second (FPS). I would say that the game is optimized pretty well.

However, there are certain points in which FPS drops dramatically. For example, "The Wall of Glory", where soldiers fight at a fortress in the game trailer, the area is flooded with monsters. FPS stayed around 20-40, so it was enough for me to keep playing, but it shattered my fantasy about Lost Ark's 60 FPS optimization. Just a little bit, though.

▲ There's a noticeable frame drop in this area.

3. When I play games, I care a lot about the story. How is Lost Ark? Does it have immersive storyline?

Each character has different prologues, and I liked Fighter's one the best. Her story begins as she fights against the heir of her rival family. Overall, it had the best quality map and drama.

Warrior and Gunner's prologues were not as intriguing. Their backgrounds are not as interesting and they were far less dramatic compared to Fighter's prologue. For example, Warrior fights in a tundra throughout the entire prologue. It was so boring because it is just this huge barren land except at certain viewpoints. In fact, it’s just as boring as Diablo 2's Act I: Blood Moor.

I had limited time to play in the CBT, so I skipped most of the dialogues. I was still able to figure out what was going on because the voice lines of core dialogues kept playing, and important cutscenes could not be skipped at all. The story itself is not new, so I am not convinced everyone will enjoy the storyline.

4. There was mixed response in terms of hit effects. How is that handled in the game?

I think it varies among different characters. Personally, I liked Fighter the most, then Gunner, and Warrior. Bard is more like a support character, so she does not necessary "hit" characters.

Fighter should at least have a decent hit effect because she punches and kicks the enemy, and it seems the developers thought the same. She also has fast attack speed, so her combat action was the best among Lost Ark's four playable characters. Normal attacks that threw punches at the enemy and skill effects added significantly to the combat animation.

Gunner is the character that has the most varied response in online communities, and I did not think he was bad. He has this cool style every time he attacks, even normal attacks. He reminded me of Dante in Devil May Cry (DMC), and how it feels good when he shoots his weapon and you hear the explosive gun sound.

I was quite surprised to see how the Warrior felt during combat. Normally, if a character carries a huge sword like that, he would slash and crush the enemies, but not in Lost Ark. Well, he does slash and crush the enemies and it is animated quite well, but the overall combat animation and effect is too weak to convey his macho feel—not to mention his slow, lagging attack speed. It feels good to slay several monsters at once with Warrior, but that goes the same for other characters too.

▲ Berserker's hit effects leave something to be desired.

Hit effects are comprised of many different elements. We can roughly categorize them into graphical effects, animation, and sound effects. Graphical effects are things like when a skill is initiated, the when the screen starts shaking, and interactions with the background and blood trails. Animation is about how smoothly the character strikes its enemy. And sound effects should put enough spice on the game with skill sounds and sibilance.

I thought Lost Ark's character animation was good enough, but graphical and sound effects can be better. If certain characters had better hit effects, I would give the game a better score. Nonetheless, it’s still the first CBT, and there is a lot of room for the game to improve.

5. People say it’s just like Diablo. Is it really similar to Diablo 3?

I think it’s halfway similar to Diablo 3. Quarter view camera, placement of monsters, and skill system resemble Diablo 3, but there are many differences in other elements of the game.

The most notable difference would be the game's overall combat speed, which is a lot slower than Diablo 3. Characters' movement and attack speed are about half of Diablo 3's speed, while skill cooldowns are increased twofold. In order for players to increase combat speed, they should use “ether” items, which are really rare. Certain items come with an "increased attack speed" attribute, but even a full set of items that increase attack speed, it’s still not enough to catch up with Diablo 3's blazing fast combat speed.

▲ It's a mix of MMO's skill point and Diablo 3's Rune system.

However, we should remember that Diablo 3 has more of an offline PvE allure, and Lost Ark is a fully online MMORPG. Compared to other games in the genre, Lost Ark's combat speed is not too slow. If Lost Ark's combat speed were the same as Diablo 3, players would finish everything too quickly. I think the developers compromised combat speed for playability because of the genre’s characteristics.

Personally, I think it would better for Lost Ark to increase the characters' move speed by about 10%-15%. I can understand that changing characters' combat speed is quite difficult, but Lost Ark's basic move speed is too slow. Most CBT users I met in game were using evasion skills as their moving skills after each cooldown. I also remember myself looking at the bottom GUI wondering when my evasion cooldown would end. Everyone is already tired of the slow move speed.

Of course, if you acquire better items, your move speed can increase, but the game should not torture newbies with its slow movement speed.

▲ I even blew my cooldown. Can't you just die already?

6. Are there a lot of multiplayer elements in Lost Ark?

The game itself is multiplayer because it is MMORPG, but there are not many opportunities to interact with other players as you level up. It felt more like single player even as a CBT without much playable content.

There are instance dungeons which you can step into with other players, but the overall design of instances are more like that of MORPG than MMORPG. It is true that there is low barrier to this, but it seemed too simple. However, since normally dungeons get more complicated as you level up and there are still many updates to come, I do not worry much about this issue.

▲ Equipment and inventory UI are nothing to write home about.

7. We can see what the game's prologue is like, but it is hard to understand how the game works beyond that point.

Those of you who played the game in CBT would already know this, but Lost Ark has linear level design. Players do not jump here and there but keep going forward, fighting their way out. After you finish an hour long playthrough of the prologue, you decide your character's class and start your game at Leonhart.

The game's linear design remains the same even after beginning the main scenario. In Lost Ark, you can get only small amounts of xp through hunting, so you have to rely on quests to level up. Therefore, there aren’t many reasons for you to come back to a place you’ve visited before. It is like playing TERA. Sometimes you get treasure maps and travel back to places to get items, but it is just another process of going to hidden dungeons. You don’t necessarily do anything new in the field.

▲ Main scenarios are linear with some map variety.

Subquests are mainly categorized into two types: either the NPC asks you to pick a few things up or to slay some monsters. I was a bit disappointed to see that it wasn’t so different from other MMORPGs. The good part was that it was rather easy to clear the quests because the quantities of items or monsters required were relatively low.

It’s adds diversity to the gameplay that, after you choose your character class, you evolve differently with distinctive styles. Berserker and Warlord come from the same Warrior character, but their combat style is quite different. The same goes for other classes evolved from the same characters. Diablo 3 showed diversity among characters through different resources, but Lost Ark goes a step further to diversify combat style by adding more variety, such as multiple stances for the same weapon. This can be a barrier against newcomers, but the GUI was so simple that it did not seem difficult to pick up at all.

8. How is Lost Ark in its CBT? Do you think it will be popular?

Korean MMORPGs tend to lack quality in their overall "finish." By “finish”, I mean how comfortable the controls are, minor bugs, character animation, and so on. If you do a good job with this, B+ games can become A games, and A+ games can become S games.

For example, Blizzard is a company which cares a great deal about this. They do not hesitate to sacrifice other aspects of their games to create an overall “finish”.

Lost Ark has a nice finish considering that it’s only the first CBT of a Korean MMORPG. I can give a high score for simple GUI, smooth character animation, and optimization. Whether or not it resembles Diablo, I was happy to see a well-established Korean game make a debut.

▲ I liked the attention to detail in which the arrow showed where the it was hit.

However, I do not want to judge the game too hastily. The CBT has shown us only the basics of the game. If what we’ve seen is more than 50% of what Lost Ark has, it would be hard to say that it will be popular. However, Lost Ark has just begun its sail. The in-game content that was revealed is mostly an appetizer, and Lost Ark's destiny will be determined by its finished product.

Personally, I am expecting to see the sailing and trading system that Smilegate emphasized as the game's selling point. During the second CBT, players will judge its open-world and non-combat content since the current version of the game lacks such features. For now, I am not even sure if I should call Lost Ark an MMORPG.

Will Lost Ark continue as planned? If they show significant improvement in the second CBT, I may be able to recommend this game, but not yet.

▲ I reserve my judgment for second CBT.


Source article by Inven Karp

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