The same can be said for all of the different systems that are active in Lost Ark. At the beginning of the game, you are provided with your character, some abilities, and a few items. You won’t have to wait long before you can play around with things like pets, ability loadouts, crafting, gathering, hunting, guilds, collectibles, player versus player combat, account levels, sailing, mounts, and a variety of Lost Ark other items. But somehow I never felt overwhelmed. As I progressed through the early game, I noticed that I frequently had the desire for a higher level of complexity at the same time that I was being presented with a new twist. As with any other massively multiplayer online game (MMO), the process of leveling up is really just a tutorial for the endgame. However, in this game, the tutorial is mostly subtle and engaging.
When going through this process, the fact that you can play through almost all of it with a friend, starting from the very beginning, is a great source of relief. Even when compared to other massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) or dungeon crawlers, which in some way make the act of playing with your friends a chore, the process of creating characters and joining a party together is relatively straightforward in this game. Both the unpredictability of the starting locations in New World and the instability of the lobbies in Diablo 2 Resurrected come to mind. Even if you don’t care about raiding, guilds, PvP, or any of the other MMO features, Lost Ark provides one of the best experiences for cooperative dungeon crawling in recent memory.
The pure delight I get from working together with other players to decimate waves upon waves of foes is enough to make me forget about the sour pill that is the cash shop’s monetization system and just accept it as a simple fact of life at this point in history. When I die in a dungeon and I’m asked to burn a revive, which I can buy in the cash shop for a modest fee, it’s pretty easy to compare that to just putting a quarter in an arcade machine. When I die in a dungeon and I’m asked to burn a revive, it’s pretty easy to compare that to just putting a quarter in an arcade machine. When you push the button a little further, Lost Ark stops looking like an arcade machine and starts looking more like a slot machine.
The primary problem is with the honing system, which will be familiar to you if you’ve played any free MMOs from Korea or China but may come as a surprise if you haven’t played any before. You will not be able to access Tier 2 content, which is currently the ‘endgame’ in the global release of Lost Ark, until you have upgraded each of your six pieces of equipment a total of 15 times, making the total number of upgrades 90. You will need a variety of resources that can be obtained through time-gated daily and weekly activities in order to finish each upgrade, and there is a possibility that an upgrade will not be successful. The success rate for the first tier of upgrades is 90%, and it gradually decreases to 40% by the time a player reaches the 15th and final upgrade level required to progress to Tier 2 content. Even with a “pity” system that gradually improves your chance of success the more you fail, your chances of completing all of your upgrades without having to repeat any of the previous steps are not very good.
The end result is roulette that makes it necessary for you to grind another day’s or week’s worth of materials. This grind to the next tier is basically the content of Lost Ark Gold Arcturus for the majority of players, and if you want to skip it, you can buy many of the materials you need from the cash shop, or you can buy an item that reduces the amount of times upgrades fail to function properly.
This will be perceived as a minor annoyance by the vast majority of players, particularly in the United States, which is my home country. Many players in my home country will obediently grind their way past the RNG check and insist that they did all of this without resorting to the dishonest cash shop, and I have no doubt that they will have a good time playing the game. The grind can never become boring thanks to the variety of raids, chaos dungeons, treasure maps, and monster hunts available.
They will have the impression that they are being forced to pay, which applies to a different group of players. Those with executive dysfunction, whales who absolutely need to be the first in their server to reach the maximum power level, and those with gambling addictions will be the ones to feel the effects of this the most, which is where the concern lies.
My fear is that playing Lost Ark will turn many of the game’s players into compulsive gamblers. It’s easy to say that people with gambling addictions should steer clear of Lost Ark and freemium games in general; however, my worry is that Lost Ark will do just that. As I was saying earlier, Lost Ark instills in you a sense of cynical optimism. It is the equivalent of going to a fair on the boardwalk and seeing all of the enormous stuffed animals and fancy prizes with extremely high ticket prices. That’s the taste of power you get when you first start playing Lost Ark, and it slowly fades away as your adversaries become more powerful than you do at a rate that’s relatively more rapid than your own. You have to spend more and more money on the carnival games in the hopes of winning a jackpot in order to get the prize. Lost Ark makes the deal more palatable by incorporating pity systems and by allowing you to pay with your time rather than your money; however, does this make the situation any more favorable?