Based on ARK: Survival Evolved – Early Access – February 2016
Seattle Based Studio Wildcard has produced ARK: Survival Evolved, although it suffers from animations and performance issues, its future is a bright and positive one. ARK: Survival Evolved has recently launched on Xbox One’s game preview program and has been on early access since June 2015 on Steam. The main challenge for ARK: Survival Evolved is it being able to compete in the overcrowded open world survival genre, positively it looks like the Jurassic PARK game I’ve always wanted to play, I only wish I had Jeff Goldblum with me to make the journey into this treacherous world easier.
ARK: Survival Evolved – Early Access offers a plethora of multiplayer server options. Choose to enter either one of the official servers (often referred to as the “Vanilla” ARK experience) or one of the many servers that are rented by players. You can either join PVE (Player Vs. Enemy) or PVP (Player Vs. Player) servers. I was fortunate enough to know friends who rented their own server and was given access to that. Alternatively, if you would like to play alone, there is local hosting. If you’re not a fan of being harassed constantly by other players you’ll probably want a PVE server to begin with, starting out in ARK: Survival Evolved – Early Access is very tricky, and made all the harder by other players being able to attack you too.
The best part about renting or local hosting is the ability to set game variables you want to run. You can edit many different options in the game from how quickly hunger depletes to how hard dinosaurs hit you. ARK will be one of those games people will want to personalise. The ability to edit server rates means players who can’t put serious time in can progress faster in a short amount of time if they so choose. The appeal of an MMO style experience, tailored to suit your needs should be something that attracts all kinds of players looking for a personal gaming fix at their convenience.
When playing in a new world for the first time, you’re presented with the character creation screen. It’s pretty much what you’d expect in a basic character creator, but one thing makes it stand out, the slider options are crazy. Every main body area can be edited with sliders to weird extremities. You can make your character truly hideous, and from my experience online, most people you come across look like something out of a horror novel. Unfortunately, this has a negative effect on immersion. Currently in ARK: Survival Evolved – Early Access there is only one face and hair option per gender which limits character aesthetics, considering the sheer amount of options for the body it seems strange to limit the face and hair options, it should have more detailed sliders to adjust face parameters, and some different hairstyles adding some difference between online avatars but I assume this will be the case in the full release.
The game starts quite dramatically, woken up by the sounds of nature, gasping for air and scratching a weird diamond shape interface device implanted in your wrist (this is used to display your main inventory and crafting menus), there is a great sense of confusion as soon as you start, making you ask questions as to how you got there in the first place. Sadly, upon starting the game ARK: Survival Evolved – Early Access has its main noticeable flaw, performance. ARK has had performance after performance update over the last year. Studio Wildcard have promised to have the game at a polished and shiny standard by the time of full release.
Yes, the only way of acquiring wood at the start is punching trees
ARK: Survival Evolved – Early Access is playable on my high end gaming PC, but costing over four times that of a PS4 for example, only the most hard-core of gaming PC’s will be able to run this to an acceptable level. You can be getting anywhere from 15-30 frames per second (usually in the middle ranges) consistently. The game feels noticeably choppy a lot of the time and requires constant graphic re-tweaks in the options menu. The main noticeable issue is draw distance and objects popping in as you traverse the island, it’s noticeably bad. The game still looks good on medium and runs much better, but you will feel cheated, and rightly so. If you’re investing in high end tech, you’d assume that current gen games would be performing within a benchmark of limitations, not far in excess. Still it doesn’t look terrible and it’s still playable, it’s just a shame because ARK is visually beautiful on high settings. It’s full of lush forests and plains to get lost in, with roaring waterfalls and snowy plains. The immersion from your surroundings really is one of ARKs major draws, and currently it isn’t quite at the standard required.
Starting with only a map and your white pants, your main objective is staying off the lunch menu! The world is populated with not only dinosaurs, but other players too, all claiming different areas of the map. The map will slowly reveal itself as you explore the world and you can leave handy little markers on it to remind yourself of areas of interest. Your HUD will display health, stamina, hunger, weight and hydration, all of which need constant monitoring and attention.
There is also a handy poop on command button for added fun!
The first thing you’ll want to do is acquire a few materials. Rocks litter the floor; bushes can be foraged for berries that keep you fed early on. A huge aspect of this game is crafting. Those rocks you picked up and that wood you punched off a tree (yes, the only way of acquiring wood at the start is punching trees) can be combined to create a rock pickaxe. Now you have the ability to mine boulders so you can attain harder to get materials like obsidian or metal, which in turn help you create the next tier of tools. There is a good amount of depth and variation to the materials you can attain in game. I even laughed when I found out my character would deficate at regular intervals (there is also a handy poop on command button for added fun!). Even your poop is put to good use in ARK, being a key ingredient in fertiliser that is vital for growing plants and crops. An excellent source of equipment are supply drops, these are engulfed in a beam of light. If you’re the right level to open them, they can come in very useful.
Building structures in ARK is pretty straight forward, you start with a foundation, and then the walls and other parts snap together like Lego. It is very easy to get started but you will notice how blocky all structures are in the game, hopefully with future updates different shapes might be released to add a bit more variety visually. Early on you’ll start with thatch, moving on to wood and so on. Thatch and wood can easily be destroyed by other players and dinosaurs, early on this can be extremely frustrating. There were two occasions early on I’d log in to find my character dead and my cupboard full of materials I’d been saving plundered, but you should really expect that in any form of multiplayer survival experience. You’ll be looking to level fast to unlock stone stuctures to keep you safe while away from game.
Everything you do on the island will reward you with experience, once you gain enough you level up, netting you attribute and engram points. Attributes range from how much health you have to how much weight you can carry, and can be reallocated with a handy, arbeit material expensive potion called the mindwipe tonic. Wildcard made a good decision with this, as you attain higher levels you will find yourself wanting to invest elsewhere. Those points you invested in health early on may be more useful elsewhere once you’re crafting metal armors that offer much more protection than cloth.
ARK is very rewarding when you have a supply chain set up with all your friends doing their part for the community
Engram points are used to unlock blueprints, they are used to craft the various tools and structures vital for survival. Using this system, you can choose where you want to invest. Once you’ve crafted a slingshot, you can then learn the bow which moves on to a crossbow and then to basic guns ending with advanced weaponry like the mighty rocket launcher. The higher level tech gets fancy with electricity and modern technology. There is however quite a heavy time investment in this game. The first basic pistol is learnable from level 30, and if you’re playing on an official server, the experience rates are slow. You can be looking at days of investment just to get to this point. There is a limited amount of points to spend in both categories so you won’t be able to learn everything. Having friends in ARK certainly helps in character progression. In my tribe we had one guy working on armours and another on weapons, while one focused on farming. ARK is very rewarding when you have a supply chain set up with all your friends doing their part for the community.
Host to an impressive number of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures, ARK’s development team often roll out new dinosaurs for you to play with. The island has its own food chain, often you’ll see raptors picking on some of the weaker herbivores or some of the stronger herbivores grouping together to protect smaller dinosaurs. Sadly in what is one of ARK’s main features is one of it’s weaker areas. Animations don’t look natural a lot of the time. Dinosaurs will generally stick to their spawn area and often glitch about and there’s a lot of dinosaurs who get stuck walking into trees and then cease to move. My first encounter with the mighty tyrannosaurus was teriffying until it walked into a rock and got stuck. Lots of dinosaur combat is two creatures awkwardly circling each other, most of the time you can’t even tell if they’re hitting one another.
For the most part you get used to it, but it lacks the animation and life seen in a AAA game like Far Cry Primal, which holds much of the same content, and will undoubtebly be looking to hit a similar target audience.
ARK: Survival Evolved – Early Access is saved by it’s taming feature. Taming is an aspect that will draw a number of people’s interest, it’s pretty simple. An effective method early on is to club dinosaurs on the head to knock them unconsious. You’re then presented a menu with various stats. You’ll need to feed the dinosaur a compatible food type (meat for the carnivores, berries for the herbivores), and make sure you keep it tranquilised with narcotics. It’ll slowly eat over time and once satisfied will pop up and be your new best friend. Tamed dinosaurs can also be bred to create more powerful dinos, anyone who likes Pokemon style battling and breeding should feel right at home with these features.
Later in ARK: Survival Evolved – Early Access players can develop other forms of tranquilisation such as arrows and eventually, darts. These are necessary for the faster and more dangerous dinosaurs. There are also a few creatures like the bigfoot creature that have to be carefully stalked and fed to tame, adding in a different taming approach to broaden the experience.
You’ll need to be careful when taming, it’s takes a while to get used to the dinosaurs hitboxes. A Raptor can hit you from further away than you’d assume for instance, another issue that needs tweaking but isn’t gamebreaking. Dinosaurs have levels, much like the player, higher level dinosaurs are harder to tranquilise and tame, but level up to be stronger when tamed. It’s a risk reward type of gameplay that often does feel very satisfying. Plenty of dinosaurs can also be ridden if you have the appropriate saddle. Raptors are typically used to scout and traverse the island quickly, leaving you more confident to explore the world around you.
Dinosaurs really help the satisfaction of world exploration, new areas open up once you have the right dinosaur. The sea is no longer just a death trap, you can access the depths and find new materials with an ocean dwelling ally. Mountains full of metal are easy to get to once you find your wings. There are caves hidden away your legs couldn’t get you to. Dinosaurs really are a huge part of ARK, and it’s nice they’ve been implemented in such a way that changes the experience as a whole. Gameplay feels expanded as you level and research tech, there is a good amount of content sure to keep players busy for hundreds of hours.
VERDICT – Early Access
ARK: Survival Evolved – Early Access is very much what you’d expect from an open ended survival exploration game. It has a visually stunning immersive world full of life for players to lose themselves in but is let down by breaking animations and performance issues. ARK really needs to step it’s game up if it’s to survive alongside the AAA masterpieces modern gamers expect. However, the future of ARK is a positive one. I would highly recommend players with a gaming PC that can run this game to play it. It has an excellent community who create some excellent mods and content for the game, as well as a developer who truly does care about the title. There are plenty of updates, performance and content based which improve the game constantly. If you can get past some of the aesthetic and performance issues you’ll find yourself with a game full of exciting multiplayer interactions and hours of content for you to get through.