ARK: Survival Evolved is essentially Minecraft for adults. It’s about being placed in new surroundings, not being given a tutorial and just being expected to know what to do. Minecraft, however, was beautifully simple. It made sense and its humble aesthetics enticed you in. You lost hours wandering around the world and before you knew it you had a house, a garden and were taking down skeletons with ease. ARK: Survival Evolved is not like that. It’s brutal, unforgivably soul destroying and takes hours of utter persistence to grasp the basics. But does that make it worthwhile?
ARK is a game of learning and survival. Every time you play this game you learn something new. Usually that new lesson is that some creature will kill you or you will somehow kill yourself. It took me a long time, and far more deaths than I care to mention, before I really got to grips with it. After a few deaths I knew I had to punch a tree to get wood, pick up rocks and then bind them together to make an axe or a spear. I could then defend myself against predators and eat their meat, giving me a few extra hours of life. This learning process made more and more sense as the hours went on and after a while I was thriving in my own hut with a burning fire and a full stomach.
In most RPG/Survival style games, the first thing you do is create your character. This can take a long time as you painstakingly create your perfect survivor and change everything about them. Sadly ARK isn’t like this. I even said to myself out loud “why is the character customisation so unbelievably awful?”. You feel like you have changed so much but your character still looks the same. You can choose from making your male/female character look either ridiculous, or ridiculous. The choice is yours.
The game itself, though, is fantastic. I’ve waited for a dinosaur game I can love again since Turok and I think ARK has finally delivered on that. It’s cruel, demeaning and you are in it for the long haul, so strap yourself in for the journey, especially if you are bringing friends! ARK is difficult to play alone so you will want to either play with friends or join a ‘Tribe’ with other online players.
You will find yourself building bases and acquiring, storing and crafting items to help you survive. You can find people who are also in this world and steal their stuff if you don’t want to go through the trouble of making your own. That can be heart-breaking if it happens to you, but so rewarding if you steal someone else’s precious loot! This loot can also be traded with other players – as not everyone in this game is avidly trying to kill you – and trading for that one essential item can really make the difference between life and death.
Combat, if needed with these players or animals, is incredibly satisfying; there is a huge spectrum of weapons that can be crafted and used at your disposal that can either threaten or destroy enemies.
If you aren’t much of a people person you can enlist the help of dozens of creatures that will aid you in gathering materials, or provide you with transportation as you explore. This won’t be easy though as you have to tame these animals if you want them to help you and this is an extremely long and tedious process that will definitely test your patience. Trust me though, it is worth every second. Firstly you will need to find an animal. If it wants to kill you, then you will need to knock it out with tranquilizer darts, whilst the friendlier ones can just be fed food. You will need to keep feeding it, again and again, until the animal’s taming bar is full, as it is only then will you be able to ride it with your crafted saddles… or use it to attack other attackers/dinosaurs. Then you and your noble creatures can rule the land!
In terms of visuals, ARK: Survival Evolved is gorgeous. The beautiful water animations, in this very much water-filled world, are stunning. The thick, dense forests are teeming with lush undergrowth and tall trees, whilst the creatures that inhabit the ARK are varied enough to keep anyone constantly engaged. That being said, there is still a lot of screen tears, stutters, clear FPS drops (literally down to single figures) and even a lot of texture issues that made either my surroundings look like something out of an 8-bit game or an angry animal appear out of nowhere and maul me to death. Hopefully these issues will be resolved after further updates though.
It is common knowledge that ARK players initially had to put up with dodgy server issues and bad optimizations – there was even word of people not even being able to enter a world at all. Thankfully though I have never had this issue once. Every time I have tried to enter a world I’ve been put straight in. There has been no waiting around for minutes at a time, and no kicking out of servers. Hopefully things will continue on this way as it makes the whole experience that much easier.
There are numerous server types in Survival Evolved – PvP modes, PvE modes where fighting other players is disabled and also a single player mode. These modes all have their own ups and downs but, in my opinion, you will always want to play over on the PvP servers as that way you have choices of fighting other players or joining forces to strive! That way you can be surprised at any point with every new enemy and every new friendship – both reasons as to why this game is so damn exciting.
There are however only two different maps; The Island and The Centre. There is a third map – Scorched Earth – but that comes as an additional paid DLC. The two included in the full game are both vastly different maps – The Centre, as well as being a lot bigger, has a lot of metal which means weapons and heavy bases are a lot more abundant. It also seems to be designed for a larger population as it has larger, flatter areas for bases, more dinosaurs and more resources. The Island however has less metal which means if you find some it may get stolen. It is an altogether smaller place and comes with more sheer-drop cliffs. The great thing about them though is that I can honestly say I don’t prefer one over the other as they each allow for completely different playstyles.
Edit: Since the day one update there has been a third map added called Ragnarok, which is HUGE and 2.5x the size of The Island! The new map boasts an array of new creatures including the Griffin, Ice Wyvern and Lava Elementals and also has two new dungeon bosses. Ragnorak invites players to explore its beautiful variety of landscapes too which include Blizzard Peak, Mudslide, huge jungle areas and even an active volcano. With more time to explore this game I’m sure I’ll find all kinds of new and exciting things to do, especially after more patches and updates that will inevitably come along.
And both the maps help ensure that ARK: Survival Evolved comes across as a fantastic game. Its sheer variety of things to do has seen me head back time and time again, whether that was with friends or by myself. No matter how many hours I have found myself hammering into this game I consistently found myself learning new tricks to stay alive, new weapons to craft or new ways to fortify my base.
I felt like I have grown along with the game, however, the constant graphical issues and glitches do pull it down to a point of annoyance that couldn’t be ignored. Hopefully, after a few more months and a few more updates ARK: Survival Evolved will get the totally smooth ride it deserves.