Ark: Survival Evolved
Available on: Steam, Xbox One, Windows 10 (coming soon), PlayStation 4
Release Date: August 29th, 2017
Developer: Studio Wildcard
Publisher: Studio Wildcard
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Ark: Survival Evolved (Ark) is a game that has been in Early Access for quite some time, first on Steam, then making its way to Xbox One and later, the PlayStation 4. This game has seen countless updates, patches, balance changes and the like over its very successful lifetime. With that said however, that’s not what this review is taking a look at. Here, I’m concerned with just what a new player who buys the retail version is getting, so let’s take a look.
I created my character, tweaked some sliders and began my journey in Ark. Nearly naked, washed up on a beach, a large implant stuck in my left wrist. After gathering some thatch, rocks, berries, and wood, I had some basic clothes, a few spears, and a pet Dodo I found wandering. Now, it was time to hunt larger game. Several minutes of wandering the coastline later, I found a Carnosaur, aimed a spear…and was promptly eaten.
So, I reloaded the game, spawning in the middle of a pack of Dilophosaurus, became blinded by poison and was eaten. Respawning again, I was immediately set upon by an angry Raptor. A swarm of Pirahna. An angry, startled Triceratops. More Raptors. Around eleven deaths later, I was finally in a safe spot to rebuild. It was a joyous moment, roasting food over a campfire, fashioning new tools, building a thatch hut. Thus I was welcomed into Ark: Survival Evolved.
Frankly, while there is a story technically present in this game, you’re unlikely to notice it. A handful of scattered notes to be collected and some other secrets give cryptic hints into the true nature of the Ark and its purpose.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much it. Players will no doubt craft a far more compelling, emotional story simply through the arduous task of not only surviving but thriving on this island, which will throw everything their way from blistering heat and wracking cold to dinosaurs and other dangerous beasts that occupy an ecosystem with a truly absurd predator-to-prey ratio. It’s honestly a bit of a shame, as a setting such as this is absolutely ripe with narrative potential.
Gameplay & Mechanics
On a very basic level, Ark: Survival Evolved plays like many other survival games, such as 7 Days to Die and Conan Exiles. You gather resources, then use these resources to craft almost everything in the game. While berries, fiber, rocks and other assorted necessities can be acquired by hand, others might not.
You’ll have to craft specific tools, which is handled through a fairly simple crafting system. I did notice that a double-click to craft an item occasionally wouldn’t register however, it didn’t happen often enough to impact my experience.
All that said, this is a game about dinosaurs and it is in the taming of these wondrous beasts that Ark truly separates itself from other survival titles. Generally speaking (though there are major exceptions), you’ll tame a creature by knocking it out, then feeding it a certain kind of food alongside narcotic berries.
This establishes trust and ensures the beast will be your companion and take your orders from then on. It’s actually a really cool system and it’s easy to become addicted to taming everything you come across, trying to catch them all. They also have basic AI settings you can tweak, though the radial menu for doing so isn’t exactly elegant and can be frustrating to use.
Combat is crude but workable, with Stone Age weapons such as spears and arrows providing the bulk of your offensive options at first. You’ll unlock better crafting engrams as you level up, some of which include far more powerful weapons. On top of this, there’s also the obvious option of using your tamed beasts to wage war. While it’s really awesome to see larger creatures fighting, a lack of combat animations does sour the experience somewhat, though it can be forgiven considering the truly ludicrous list of animals here. Name a dinosaur or other extinct creature, there’s an extremely high chance it was included. If you’ve ever wanted to build your own private dinosaur/Ice Age army, this will be a dream come true.
Graphics & Audio
The graphics here are an interesting mix, to say the least. The landscapes look stunning, with scorching sunlight, lush forests and snowy mountains. The water surrounding the island is similarly beautiful with well-rendered coral reefs and underwater caverns waiting to be explored.
Although, it’s a tad disappointing that the waves never get violent and stormy (the various water-dwelling denizens do though). The dinosaurs, at least for the most part, also look great, with glistening scales and claw marks from injuries.
The human characters are a different story. They don’t really look up to par with the rest of the game, with flat, mediocre textures. They also don’t carry themselves quite realistically, instead of marching robotically, especially if running. The character creator, while featuring a wide range of options, is mostly best left on default, barring a few tweaks. Otherwise, you’re likely to end up with a walking abomination.
Generally speaking, the framerate holds up fairly well. In all the time I played, it rarely dipped or felt anything other than smooth, though it obviously will take a hit if you have a high amount of creatures in one area or are playing split-screen.
You have several options when it comes to the multiplayer. There is a list of official dedicated servers you can join that support a wide range of players, which varies by servers but is generally upwards of forty players. You can also host your own peer-to-peer server and customize the settings, leaving it open to the public or just you and your friends.
The servers, quite frankly, are in a constant state of flux, with connection issues cropping up every now and again. Split-screen is also supported on consoles and will be present in the Windows 10 version when it launches.
On peer-to-peer connections, you’ll also have to deal with a tether. This means you can only wander so far away (admittedly, a fairly decent range) from the host player before you can’t wander any further. If your host suddenly takes off at high speed, you’ll be in for an interesting ride. Thankfully, this tether is currently planned to be removed on the Xbox One X version when it arrives later this year but for now, you will be tied together with your friends.
Regardless of how you connect to other players, you’ll have the option of joining a Tribe. This is where the game truly shines, with players able to work together and take down truly massive creatures, coordinate the defense of bases, assign varying roles…or engage in all-out tribal warfare. Do note, however, that the various sliders determining health, damage and the like are all set to very difficult levels, with experience gain slowed to a crawl. If you play together, you HAVE to work together. One particularly memorable moment for me was when a friend and I teamed up to take down a Spinosaurus. The thrill of crashing through the jungle, chucking spears and frantic tranquilizer arrows while working together was simply incredible.
Due to the nature of this game, your experience with trolls (no, not the ones in the character creator), online griefers and such is going to vary wildly.
There are some anti-cheat measures in place but if you get paired with truly nasty players, your options are going to be limited. Needless to say, I’d advise caution and finding a dedicated tribe of your friends to play with, as it will seriously elevate your enjoyment in the game.
What you’ll get from replaying Ark: Survival Evolved is very dependent on what you were trying to get out of it in the first place. If you’re looking for a single-player experience, then you’ll most likely be bored after your first play through, as the challenge of surviving will have lost its appeal. On the other hand, if you have friends to play and form tribes with, the replay value skyrockets, with nearly countless potential. It really comes down to whether or not you’ll have people to play with regularly.
Please see below for my summary and overall score of Ark: Survival Evolved.