What an ARPG likes most is a big fight, except maybe rummaging through the remaining corpses for a more fashionable pair of shoes. So, since Lost Ark has recently entered the fray as a major contender for the ARPG throne, I think throwing it in the pit with the other big hits of the genre over the past decade, Diablo 3 and Path of Exile, might It’s fun and pits them against a series of arbitrary but deadly challenges. Which game has the cutest loot, or the most satisfying skill? Which one best conveys the feeling that a mouse click can turn a god into a sauce?
The plan is to compare how the three games handle different aspects of the core ARPG formula. This is a general comparison of generalized systems, rather than an in-depth analysis of how each game handles, for example, separate class types. That said, for balance, I try to use similar classes when comparing games (Warrior of the Lost Ark, Barbarian from Diablo 3, Reaver from Path of Exile), so the results are not based on three very different games style.
The heart of any ARPG is click, how pressing the left mouse button translates to slamming your enemies on the screen with your basic attack. It’s the foundation upon which any ARPG is built – the basic feedback loop that keeps players hooked for dozens of hours.
At least, that’s the theory. But among our competitors, only Diablo 3 had a lot of click time. Lost Ark’s abilities cool down so quickly that you rarely use basic attacks, instead constantly flowing from one ridiculous ability to another. Path of Exile’s basic attacks are used more in the early game, but your character will quickly get off the left mouse button, either through stronger skills, or through mechanics like totems that let you avoid engaging enemies entirely .
So Diablo 3 wins in this category by default. But it’s worth noting that Blizzard’s games have the best hits anyway. The Lost Ark’s basic attack is overgrown compared to many of your combat skills. Path of Exile’s left-click is more useful, and when it lands, it will deliver a thump and deal decent damage to enemies. But it lacks vitality.
In contrast, Diablo 3 put a lot of design effort into making left-clicking feel incredible. In fact, part of its success is how it treats basic attacks as combat skills, offering multiple variants unlocked throughout the campaign, each more powerful than the last. But they feel good from the start, throwing enemies across the map in piles of physics-driven limbs, or having them burst in a rain of blood.
Winner: Diablo 3
Skills and Competencies
The combat system of an ARPG is often enriched by a wide range of active skills and abilities. These affect enemies in different ways and define your character’s fighting style. Much of the game is about finding the most effective combination of these abilities, and since they form the crux of ARPG action, they need to look spectacular and feel powerful.
All three games are strong in this regard, offering a wide range of colorful, satisfying abilities that are fun to discover and try. But The Lost Ark is slightly better than the other two. Part of this comes down to newer games. Path of Exile and Diablo 3 are both nearly 10 years old, and Lost Ark, which was released in Korea in late 2019, has more graphical prowess.
But that’s also because The Lost Ark has zero restraint. Both Diablo 3 and Path of Exile started out relatively low-key—especially the latter’s very low-key opening hours, which complement its sloppy, eerie style. In Lost Ark, every power is maxed out from the first five minutes, and every skill is integrated into top-notch audio/visual design. You travel through the game’s areas and dungeons like a traveling fireworks display, striking hordes of enemies with apocalyptic spells and powers as violent as God’s nightcap.
Winner: The Lost Ark
One of the main attractions of an ARPG is to have your character gradually evolve from a naked, angry little guy to a walking fission reaction that wipes out anything in their path. On a basic level, that means unlocking more power and getting better equipment. But a good ARPG will also let you modify your class, modifying active and passive abilities to maximize your character’s murder metric.
All three games tackle this problem in different ways. In Diablo 3, every ability you unlock can be modified with runes, and your character also gains passive abilities that can be plugged into a certain number of slots for further changes. Lost Ark, meanwhile, lets you spend ability points to upgrade your personal combat skills through multiple levels, each of which unlocks three potential modifiers that you can switch between at any time.
Both are very good systems, but neither has the raw potential of Path of Exile’s development method. Here, skills aren’t bound by character class, but are based on the gems you plug into your items, letting you mix and match to create any ability loadout you like. Meanwhile, stat upgrades are based on the game’s huge passive ability tree, which is shared across starting classes. This means you can create a completely unique destiny for your characters, away from their intended path, creating raiders that rely on summons or duelists that can avoid direct conflict altogether.
Winner: Path of Exile
No ARPG is complete without loot. While your character may be on a quest to save the world or kick God into the trash, the player goal in most ARPGs is to get the sweetest swag in the realm. The promise of a better sword or a pair of sleeker pants is what gets you through the game, whether it’s for stats or new gear for your hero. Either way, the design of the ARPG loot system will have a major impact on the core experience.
There is more spread between games in this category. At the bottom of the gold pile is the Lost Ark, where loot is scarce and predictable. You’ll rarely pick up items other than quest rewards, and those rewards rarely provide anything other than incremental stat upgrades. The best loot is locked behind the game’s more multiplayer-centric elements, such as raids and area bosses. That’s fine for the most part – it’s an MMO after all. But the game would certainly benefit from sprinkling some more eye-catching gear on its central questline, if only to give you the occasional look at your gear stats.
Diablo 3 has the best loot display. You’re rummaging through bookshelves for dead bodies and opening chests that spit out coins at you like a broken slot machine, and it’s all very satisfying. As for the actual quality of the loot, it’s good enough during the upgrade process, though it’s mostly revolving around incremental stat upgrades. But it will come into play in the final stages, which puts more emphasis on finding kickass gear.
Overall, Path of Exile does the best job of offering a steady stream of interesting loot. This partly depends on the gem system. Since each piece of loot has a different amount and combination of slots for inserting gems, this means that each piece of loot, no matter how basic otherwise, can be interesting in how it helps you build your character. Add in all the more typical ARPG stat boosts from individual items, and you have a loot system that keeps you thinking about how best to equip your character.
Winner: Path of Exile
Overall, all three games offer a premium ARPG experience. But they all emphasize slightly different aspects of the genre. If you want to strike your foes in the biggest and most spectacular way, Lost Ark is the game of choice. But the basic feel of Diablo 3’s combat is still hard to beat, and its loot system is much better than The Lost Ark. Path of Exile isn’t as flashy as Lost Ark or Diablo 3, but it’s unrivaled in character development and also has the most engaging loot system of the three.
Ultimately, the decision comes down to how familiar you are with ARPGs and what kind of experience you want to get out of it. If you’ve never played an ARPG before, Diablo 3 might be the game you’re looking for. It strikes the best balance of spectacle, modular characters, and decent loot. For a more challenging and rewarding journey, choose Path of Exile for its creative potential. If you just want to play with the biggest toy in the world, which is weird and huge, choose The Lost Ark.