Like every MMO, Lost Ark has an endgame it wants to hook you with so you keep playing forever. You’re not done when you hit level 50. That’s just your character level, my sweet summer child. After that there’s a gear level to push up, and up, a slog of a grind that takes hundreds more hours.
It’s alleviated by a steady drip-feed of additions courtesy of developers Smilegate. The biggest of these add entire new continents with quests that extend the storyline, while between those expansions we get smaller events, often taking place on an island somewhere.
The latest of these is a crossover with The Witcher, which is an odd choice. While Geralt has cameoed in other games like Soulcalibur 6 and Monster Hunter World, The Witcher is dark fantasy in the Elric tradition, while Lost Ark is so light you need shades. In fact I have a pair, a set of deliberately pixelated “8-bit” sunglasses that are part of my extensive collection of ridiculous cosmetics alongside a pumpkin head, a dinosaur costume, and a bright pink helmet shaped like a local triceratops creature. Even when Lost Ark stops being frothy and aims for dramatic, it’s undercut because the camera cuts back to me and I look like a mouse dressed as a naval officer.
The Lost Ark/Witcher crossover plays with the clash of tones, having first Geralt and then several of his pals (Ciri, Yennefer, Triss, and Dandelion) pop out of a portal on the island of White Wolf Haven just as a festival is setting up. Geralt is suspicious of the magic that’s transported them here, and ends up investigating a theft that’s not what it seems because he can’t help suspecting bad things are about to happen. He’s in the wrong genre though, and the resolution of the five quests that come with this update are entirely playful.
Though they only take a few minutes to wrap up and are mostly just dialogue and cutscenes (the voice actors from the Witcher games returning), you can only do one quest per day. It’s an artificial way of slowing your roll that stops you from zooming through the whole thing in a single sitting and noticing just how slight it is. The first quest does let you become Geralt while he uses his witcher senses to investigate a tiny mystery, as if he’s taking on a sidequest in one of his own games, but you don’t get to fight or do anything more than press Q to follow a trail. Pretty soon your own character reappears, still dressed as Petty Officer Mouseketeer in my case.
Compared to what followed, that was substantial. Calling them fetch quests would be an insult to the noble art of carrying things from A to B, which Death Stranding made plenty enjoyable. I walked between characters, clicked through dialogue, watched Dandelion play a song with Lost Ark’s bards, collected my rewards, and it was over.
There’s no satisfying resolution to the mystery of how these characters were abducted from their happy ending in a vineyard (this crossover treats the ending where Ciri becomes a witcher as canon, but is diplomatically vague about whether Triss or Yennefer is Geralt’s partner). All you get is a lame “it’s all about the friends we made along the way” platitude and they’re off home. Even Ciri’s mention that she’s visited Arkesia once before on a previous crossworld jaunt amounts to nothing.
Other Lost Ark events have come with minigames like kart-racing, a water-pistol shootout, and a boss fight with a giant chicken, but there’s none of that at White Wolf Haven’s festival. There’s not even a chance to play Gwent, though there’s a joke about Geralt trying to teach it to the locals. It’s an underwhelming experience where the highlights were seeing Roach pop out of a barrel, and taking selfies with the more stoic cast of a more serious game. I can’t imagine Geralt and Yennefer appreciating my use of the stickers Lost Ark lets you use in its selfie mode.
Several selfie stickers come as rewards for these quests, including one of Geralt barfing after coming through a portal I may never find a use for. I also earned a pile of witcher-themed potions that will expire before I ever get a chance to use them, a new title, some emoticons, and cards of the characters I met, plus I scored a Mokoko skin with scar and witcher medallion for having Twitch open in another tab while Lost Ark streamers played. (Does anyone who collects Twitch drops actually watch the streams, or are we all just inflating viewer numbers for the sake of free loot?)
The skins that make you look like Geralt or Ciri are only available in the real-money store, however, though they’ve stared showing up in the auction house for in-game gold. They’re the real point of this collaboration, I suspect, as the subset of Lost Ark fans who are also hardcore Witcher fans will doubtless pony up for the various weapon skins and Ciri’s hairstyle.
The real endgame of Lost Ark isn’t actually honing items to raise your gear level. It’s fashion, whether you’re buying dyes to personalize your outfit, or forking out for the bikinis and tight trousers that are inevitably the most popular options, or trying to make yourself look like a character from another game, or ruining every cutscene by wearing a mint-green dinosaur costume in it.