Survival and crafting games have come a long way since the days of Minecraft. Dynamic evolution led to several titles – in fact, so many titles that it inspired countless memes in gaming communities across the globe. “Open-world, Survival, Crafting and Early Access” – they became the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But despite that, survival crafting games has garnered quite some popularity, and some games went on to make a name for themselves by adding features of their own to what Minecraft offered back when we were young. And one of the principle games, without question, would be ARK : Survival Evolved.
ARK : Survival Evolved spent 2 years in Early Access hell before launching officially in August last year. But does an official launch means all previous hiccups are forgotten, let’s find out.
ARK: Survival Evolved is an action-adventure survival video game developed by Studio Wildcard in collaboration with Instinct Games, Efecto Studios, and Virtual Basement. It was released in August 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux.
Ark: Survival Evolved
ARK : Survival Evolved allows both singleplayer as well as multiplayer modes of play, though there is little point in playing alone. The game’s design fundamentally promotes playing in a tribe with other people. In case you feel like experimenting with in-game progression, or any other mechanics of the game, you are free to try them out offline, which might have been the primary mode for the presence of a singleplayer aspect of the game.
The game is centered around the mysterious ARKs, supposed planets where humans beings are left to survive, on their own. Making their job harder are thousands of creatures that were artificially recreated inside the ARKs. But what are those peculiar alien-like obelisks doing in the world? Or the frequent drops through beacons whose design looks quite similar to the obelisks – what are they, and where are they coming from? That’s for you to discover, but the main objective is freeform building, building up character statistics with progression, and unlocking more stuff for building, adding to the experience.
ARK is a sandbox game, offering freedom to build as you please. You unlock engrams, or the “knowledge” to craft something, through points that are gained when you level up. XP earned determines how fast you level up, and XP is earned almost by doing anything in the world, like punching a tree, punching a rock, collecting rocks, or trying to kill the creatures roaming in the environment around you. Resource costs of most items required in the construction of a base are pretty high, which has been a cause for complaint and requires quite some grinding before you build even the most basic shack for surviving the weather.
Freedom allowed in construction is quite good though and makes up for the high resource cost of the stuff you want to craft – you can build a house, a farm, a barn, a plantation, a port, or any other thing that floats your boat (or raft, in ARK terminology). Resources collecting varies from basic ones like stone, wood, thatch, flint to advances ones like metal, crystal, silica pearls, oil, and a lot more! Of course, when you’re building a base, items received later in progression would be much stronger, and withstand more damage from creatures, other tribes, or the environment. for eg. a stone house is naturally sturdier than a wooden house.
The real part of the game, is of course the taming aspect, since the creatures give you a real advantage in increasing the speed at which you farm for resources or carry resources from one point to another, or, if you’re playing online, even play an important part in fighting against other hostile tribes that stake claim to the ARKs. Certain creatures serve certain purposes, like some help in farming particular resources, some can be useful in exploration, while others can be useful in tribe wars that frequently occur (especially if you’re on an official server).
You certainly need to kill some creatures for hide and other resources only they yield when killed, but taming those whom you can spare is rather a good move to keep your tribe going. Note that not all creatures can be tamed, so hitting the wiki and knowing which creatures (like the titanboa) can or cannot be tamed is certainly useful, unless you want to find that out the hard way. Creature taming depends on what food they take in, besides additional item requirements, if any. Herbivores need to be fed berries and carnivores need to be fed meat, after knocking them unconscious (only certain tools like the slingshot and tranq arrows can knock them out).
Story & Narrative
This is exactly where ARK : Survival Evolved stands out from other traditional survival and crafting games – it has an endgame. What also stands out is the surprising amount of background lore that the game feeds you with. There is a dictionary of dossiers (dossiers tell us about the creatures of the ARKs) embedded inside every human’s body. They store huge inventories in their bodies, and craft stuff using the chip embedded in their arm.
There also are certain Explorer Notes to collect, which tell about the experiences of past explorers when they tried to explore the ARKs. There are a slew of conspiracy theories on the existence as well as the creation of the ARKs, ranging from ARK being an alien experiment on humans to the ARKs being habitable environments where humans are sent to a post-apocalyptic era. No theory has been identified as the “correct one” so far, so you’re free to believe what you want till Studio Wildcard, the developers behind ARK confirm one of the theories.
Boss battles? That’s a thing in ARK, and ARK’s bosses are a tough nut to crack. You need hours of preparation to event put a dent on the armor of a boss. Stacking up powerful creatures like the Tyrannosaurus and the Giganotosaurus, getting powerful armor and picking up strong weapons are some of the things that precede a long and tiring boss battle. Bosses drop powerful loot, including a trophy for your collection, beside a rare resource called element, which is used for building Tek-Tier stuff, the best stuff in the game. Tek guns include laser and plasma rifles and railguns, whereas Tek armor protects much more than hide, chitin or even metal armor, and even provide protection from the environment!
When you defeat all bosses, you “ascend” to a spaceship, or space station, which is where the ARKs are controlled from. This “ascension” marks the beginning of endless conspiracy theories.
Performance Optimization and Graphics
The game looks really good, especially if you have the system to notch up settings to high or ultra. ARK harnesses the true power of the Unreal Engine to create a wonderful, breathing world, where players can truly adapt as their own – if not for the bad weather and the numerous creatures co-existing beside them. Dinosaur models are accurate (must have real paleontologists on the team?) and feel like they’re really co-existing with you.
The only complaint here is the poor AI , which worsens the experience, considering that the collision detection for particles in the game is really bad. The standard way for taming or killing a creature is leading it into an obstacle, and then trying to knock it out. Because players know that the AI won’t be able to find a different path for approaching them.
The real problem stands to be the optimization, which was extremely bad to begin with, but slowly with time, became a playable title. Despite that, it still needs a decent system to pull a decent framerate at high settings on a good resolution. The community is divided on this issue, but as someone who has witnessed the game’s evolution since Early Access, I would definitely say that the optimization has improved.
Having said that, Studio Wildcard, the people behind ARK : Survival Evolved do have a tendency of ignoring people’s requests for optimization and focusing on adding more content, which seems to have added quite a lot of negative reviews for the product on Steam.
ARK’s DLC plays really well and synchronizes well with the game, adding more content, a variety of biomes, additional unlockable stuff to build (which are called “engrams”) as well as new creatures. Adding content seems to be some of Studio Wildcard’s real talents, which they prove more than once in the planned DLCs.
The first DLC, Scorched Earth, where you survive on a desert ARK with little water, and new creatures like the Morellatops (which store water for long migrations across the ARK), the Mantis (a dangerous insectoid useful in wars which attacks in a slashing manner with its claws), and the Death Worm (burrowing giant worms who spring from the Earth to attack you). You also unlock stuff like the tent, a movable shelter and a boomerang which can be used to knock out creatures on the go in a much easier way.
The second DLC, Aberration sets you on a desolate malfunctioning ARK where the world has shifted underground due to intense radiations above the ground. Even underground, higher zones have more radiation than lower zones (which are mostly radiation free). Radiations have created new, adapted forms of the standard creatures, which are much more powerful versions of themselves. Broken remains of alien structures are scattered throughout the landscape. In order to traverse in the world, to a lower elevation, you get an unlockable glide suit, while you use climbing picks to ascend to higher elevations. Creatures like the rock drake, with its powers of camouflage and its ability to move on terrain defying the rules of gravity like a bat, or the bulbdog who emits light, something sadly deficient in the cruel underground world, or the big karinos, big crustaceans who live in the shallow waters in the lower depths of the world, preying on any unwary creatures or humans stupid enough to get in their way.
Studio Wildcard had received much criticism for releasing Scorched Earth during the period of Early Access, and despite the insane amount of content, it was still a wrong and greedy move. You don’t delay essential stuff like optimization and release new DLC without improving the experience of the base game.
Literally the worst, or the best part of ARK : Survival Evolved is the community. You can get friends, or enemies, on every server. There are hardcore people, using online taming timers to see how long their giganotosaurus would take to tame, and how long they would have to protect it. There are people raiding caves, the places holding artifacts that are required to summon the bosses, to amass element and become the ultimate masters of the ARK. There are server alphas, the biggest tribe owning the largest amount of occupied land, having a huge knowledge about the intricate functioning of the ecosystems on the ARK, and the server gammas, the beginners, the people who need help from everyone to get started, and who slowly start moving up the social ladder.
Of course, there are competitive people and people who are not nice to beginners or people trying to troll about everywhere. Toxicity is one of the worst issues plaguing the game, with people who can put in more hours into the game being at a huge advantage over people cannot.
While nice people exist, you tend to mark the game based on your bad experiences, not your good ones. If I recount my own experiences, we were driven out of our base on a server by a tribe we were allied with. While Wildcard has patched in nerfs like the flyer nerf (flying creatures can’t have their speed boosted when they level up) or the turret nerf (you can have limited number of turrets in an area), appointing admins for even the official servers is something they should consider.
If you’re a sandbox fan, and have a decent PC, I will say wait for a sale, and grab it as soon as you can. The real problem is the increase in price after Early Access, which was pretty steep for a game which still runs badly on many PCs. But considering the amount of content, the freedom to do anything you wish, and the possibility of building all sorts of random stuff makes it worth your while.