Despite several people at TheGamer telling me Lost Ark would be a huge smash hit, its popularity has still surprised me. Obviously I trust my staff to know far more about games than I do (what do I look like, a gamer?), which is why we as a website have the best guides around on the smash hit MMO, have gone big on coverage of it during a hugely busy February, and gave it a five star review. Clearly I know nothing. After checking the game out a little bit though, one thing has impressed me far more than anything else – the hair.
MMOs don't usually look that good. The word 'massive' is right there in the title, and the scale is the whole problem. Devs aren't just designing a single protagonist and a handful of supporting cast members like in Ghost of Tsushima or Horizon Forbidden West. The story is not a controlled, linear journey where the devs restrict where you can roam like in God of War or The Last of Us Part 2. It's literally massive, giving you a whole world to explore, and not just you, but hundreds of thousands of others all online at the same time experiencing the same story in different ways. Final Fantasy 14, the current pinnacle of this genre, looks significantly worse than Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Final Fantasy 15, or the upcoming Final Fantasy 16. It's not even as polished as Lightning Returns, because looking good has to be balanced against way more gameplay aspects in an MMO than it does in every other genre on the planet. That's why the hair in Lost Ark is so surprising.
Lost Ark, like all MMOs, is not at Tsushima/Horizon levels when it comes to how it looks, but the level of attention to detail when it comes to the characters is impressive not just by MMO standards, but across gaming. Hair is notoriously difficult to get right in games. It's a collective mass made up of lots of individual strands, and that means until recently it was impossible to render in a truly realistic way. It's still incredibly difficult, and for Black characters, even harder, as the texture is completely different and is usually Type 3 or Type 4. Lost Ark, however, gets it right.
For a long time, Black characters have either had to put up with a black circle on their head to represent an afro, a black square for a flat top, or black lines for cornrows. Failing that, they'd just have shaved heads. There's not a huge sample size of Black female characters, but most often their hair would be straightened to give them Type 1 or Type 2 hair that they are unlikely to have naturally. Some Black women do straighten their hair or wear straight wigs or weaves, but it's still a little embarrassing as gaming tries to show itself as inclusive that something as basic as a Black woman with natural hair is a relatively new phenomenon.
The braids in Lost Ark are on another level. From the front, the lines in the braids are defined and realistic, twisted up into a neat braided bun and with baby hairs pressed stylishly along the hairline. This, already, is way more attention to hair (particularly Black hair) than is usually afforded in the video game space. From behind, the view is even better.
You would expect braids to just be a blurred mess at the back, falling down the back of the character's head in a succession of lines. It's hair on an MMO character, it's already going above and beyond. But it doesn't stop there, and in fact has some extremely elaborate diamond boxing worked into where the hair has been twisted. There's also multiple styles of locs and braids, plus undercuts, fades, and dip dyes. This might be the most any game anywhere has ever thought about hair.
There are a multitude of reasons to jump into Lost Ark. One million concurrent players can't be wrong, right? But I have to be honest, nothing so far has convinced me more than the hair.
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