Ark: Survival Evolved presents the next evolution in expansive open world gameplay thanks to the talented developers at Studio Wildcard and Instinct Games. Ark provides a Skyrim level of epic scenery demanded by the hardest of hardcore gamers, and is even helpful to those who can’t figure out why people love Minecraft so much. Ark’s intricate gameplay and art style are a fantastic display of modern gaming technology, and it could very well be the biggest game on PC and new-gen consoles… once it’s finished that is.
As of now, the game feels as if it is about 60-70% complete. Beautiful graphics, crisp animation, as well as a huge island to explore go a long way to make the world feel dense and lived in. While the game is still riddled with bugs, and the mountains tend to fade ever so geometrically into the distance, the bestiary of the island is what makes this game feel complete. Hunting and taming animals is an extremely important part of the Ark survival experience. The early parts of the game rely heavily on the tracking and killing of smaller animals, while knowing which of the bigger ones to avoid. The end game, however, is where your previously caveman-like avatar becomes a dinosaur-riding gentlemen whose feet are too precious to walk on the ground.
In an oddly satisfying way, Ark provides an eerily metaphorical adventure into the evolution of humanity. From our primitive days of basic stone tools to the discovery of fashion and automatic weaponry. However, if all of that is lost on you due to the lack of narrative or basic guidance, you should also know that Ark is a game where you get to hunt and kill dinosaurs 10 times your size.
This title combines the better parts of the greatest games released in the past 10 years, and as a result also combines different gameplay mechanics that aren’t usually found together. There is, however, a rhythm to the game that, once discovered, will greatly speed up your progress. You will often find yourself in the bottom of the food chain, or a dinosaur’s foot. When that happens, you’ll lose all of your food, your clothes, and your weapons, but you will keep your knowledge, level, and experience. Basically, even though you just lost everything, you still retain your deep understanding of harvesting wood by hitting trees, so you can get back on track fairly quickly.
The good news is that very early in the game you learn how to make storage boxes and houses, which you can use to store weapons or clothes in case of sudden extinction. Taking care of your character may at times feel like a Tomagatchi that you didn’t ask for. You constantly need to eat, seek shelter and keep warm, and neglecting even the most rudimentary task can result in a painful, and not so immediate death. The abundance of constantly respawning materials ensure that you can always do your best to survive and have a fun do so, but it doesn’t mean staying alive is going to be easy.
Like all humans, I can admit that fart noises are funny, especially when you just killed a dinosaur larger than yourself and hear the ill-fated trumpet, followed by a status update reminding you that you just defecated. I can’t explain why I find it so funny, but it probably has to do with how big of a deal the game makes about poop. What starts out as a funny aspect of the game, quickly becomes vitally important as the player levels up and finds themselves tilling the land and growing crops. While gated gardens and irrigated water systems can encourage a plant’s growth, what they really need is rich dirt, and you can’t have that without a steaming helping of fertilizer. To put it simply, at some point during this game you will find yourself going around collecting poop, dinosaur and otherwise.
Of course one of the biggest things about Ark that has had many people talking is the online multiplayer experience. Most of my experience, however, was played in the local single-player mode, where you play through the game as the only person on the island. Presenting it’s own challenges by not having the luxury of other players to help you, there is one simple thing that makes playing by yourself better than joining an actual server – online players are assholes, pure and simple. In order to have any level of protection over your supplies and settlements, you have to join a tribe. Tribes will help you out by giving you access to things your low level character can’t make or find. The game also allows you to set passcodes on your storage boxes so that only you and your tribesmen can access them. Unfortunately, if you belong to a tribe, you have to share your passcodes with the rest of them, and since we already established they are asshats, they will steal all of your stuff. I don’t blame the developers, I’m just saying that, like in a lot of MMOs, the community can be the biggest obstacle. So if tolerating other people doesn’t appeal to you, the single-player is still amazing.
In addition to these online woes, the Ark servers are still not that entirely reliable, something that ends up making the single-player experience a lot more fun. The developers currently have a good number of dedicated servers, and each one is capped at 70 online players for any one time. This is a realistic goal for each server, and it runs the physical landscape fairly well. However, the biggest issues are frame rates, and connectivity – two things that are greatly important when you’re about to kill that last crocodile. The game also lacks a home server feature like in most online games. Ark doesn’t remember, or even cares, which server you played on yesterday, and your character doesn’t transfer between servers.
Fortunately for the players, the developers at Studio Wildcard and Instinct Games are constantly working to improve Ark: Survival Evolved. During its days in Early Access, every time I logged on, the game would quickly update and become just a little more fun to play. Although rarely is everything fixed over night, gamers can at least be comforted by the fact that the developers do seem to care about making a great title that will definitely see a full release.
Ark: Survival Evolved is a truly unique experience that is fun to play alone or with other players. However, despite all the fun I had, there are still improvements that I would like to see within the game. A more complex passcode system within tribes for the online play could solve a lot of trust issues within the online community. I’d settle for the ability to keep low level players from accessing everyone’s stashes, as I believe that they are the ones to blame. Also, the ability to set a home server for my online profile so that it at least tries to load up my main character when I start up the game would considerably upgrade the experience.
Last, but most certainly not least, is a little bit of an overhaul on the lighting mechanics, specifically moon cycles. Although rural nights in the wilderness are indeed dark and mysterious, they are not so pitch black as to require me to turn up the brightness on my screen as much as I had to during nighttime gameplay, especially when I’m already guided by my trusty torch. If possible, I would love to see realistic moon cycles within the game so that there can be more or less light available at nighttime, depending on the phase of the moon.
Ark: Survival Evolved is still very in Early Access, but it is definitely on the home stretch. The beginning can be very disorienting to players new to the whole survival genre, but once you manage to establish your character as an upright and civilized homo sapiens, the game becomes a high tech wonderland where science and fantasy meet. Imagine a knight wielding a machine gun and riding a brontosaurus into the sunset. That’s how cool Ark can be once you manage to get your bearings. There’s still work to be done, but if the Early Access build for the game is this good, I can’t wait for the full game to be released.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.