Ark: Survival Evolved Review
We’ve come a long way from the first survival-styled adventure crafting game, and the concept keeps being given fresh perspectives. How has Ark: Survival Evolved contributed to this trend? Well, prepare yourself, because I have quite a tale to tell.
Ark: Survival Evolved (or also ΛRK) is an action-adventure survival video game, developed by Studio Wildcard, who also worked with Instinct Games, Efecto Studios, and Virtual Basement, that was officially released world-wide as of 29 August 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, OS X, and even Linux! Development started as early as October 2014, with research being done on physical appearances of prehistoric animals. When design and development started on the different species, the team took creative license for gameplay purposes, also adding an in-game reason for differentiations in appearance to our historical books. The team wanted to add features that would appeal to all players, such as the wonders of being able to explore a massive unknown island, and being able to tame the aforementioned animals to aid in your quest to survival. The game was released through Steam’s Early Access in 2015, though naturally, much still needed to be added before the final release. There are many paid DLCs (downloadable content) available for Ark already, but is it worth it?
Everybody Do The Dinosaur!
Like many survival video games, Ark Survival doesn’t have much of a story to pull you in. When you launch the game, you’re greeted with a Character Customisation menu. Things took a turn for the worse from here already. There are a lot of customisation options, but only to change the size of your character’s torso, arms, legs, head, etc. and three other options to change hair colour, eye colour, and skin colour. In no way is it possible to change the face of your character, or hair-style, etc. to be able to differentiate your character from every other person’s out there, with exception to muscle mass and height. I ended up giving my Character a little extra height, and named him “Dwahn Jolsen” when the input box popped up asking for a name, seeing as he reminded me of another particularly muscular celebrity, but would probably be used as his stunt double. After this, you are given the option to choose which section of the island you want to start your adventure on, namely North, East, South, or West. These sections are further divided into 3 sections, giving you South 1, South 2, South 3, etc. The Southern Area was classified as the “Easy” area, so I chose the 2nd section. You then wake up on a beach, with no armor or tools, and see a weird diamond-shaped stone embedded into your arm. This will be your Character Interface, where you will manage your inventory, level up your character, choose engrams, and many more which will be covered later.
So here you are, in the middle of nowhere, with just enough cloth to stay modest, and no tutorial on the controls. I fumbled around figuring out the controls before I managed to gather resources. Seeing as there are no tools to be used yet, you need to pick up Stones lying on the ground, gather Fiber and Berries from bushes, and punch trees to gather Thatch and Wood from them. My first punch on the first tree earned me my first Level up, to which I immediately face-palmed and started laughing at the ridiculousness of this situation. If only we gained skills from punching trees in real life too. I noticed that punching the trees too much resulted in my character’s health reducing too, although at an alarmingly fast rate. Dwahn Jolsen’s fists aren’t as rock-hard as his pecs it seems. Once you gain a level, you can increase one of your Character’s attributes, which then rewards you points that you can spend on Engrams. Engrams are “blueprints” of sorts for crafting the items necessary to gather more materials from your surroundings or to survive attacks from Dinos and other animals.
It wasn’t long before I encountered my first Dino, which then proceeded to blind and kill poor ol’ Dwahn. The Dilophosaur I encountered was Level 11, which didn’t make sense to me, seeing as my avatar was Level 2, traversing an area that was meant to be “Easy”, but I figured I’ll give the game a little more of a benefit of the doubt and proceeded to find my avatar’s body to reclaim the items I lost. Yes, every time you die, you lose all the items you had gathered and need to go reclaim them before your body “decomposes” (which is in a time frame of 15 minutes). Eventually, after two more deaths, at the hands of little irritations named Compys, and much frustration, I was able to reclaim everything and then hightail it in the opposite direction. I hadn’t even built a shelter yet, and I saw little value in continuing playing. I gathered more Fiber, Thatch and Wood, gaining the necessary Engrams, and even crafted some clothes, when I encountered a Sarcosuchus. I managed to run away from it the first time, realising that my Spear did absolutely nothing to discourage it from attacking me, but much later on I wasn’t so lucky, once again, as it had been roaming in such a manner that it found it’s way back to me in a completely different location. Being unable to recover my body, I eventually decided to start from scratch, across the waters, on a smaller island off the coast, where I encountered a nest of Dodos that I farmed Hide and Meat from, and much needed XP. Finally I could set up my first shelter, and a Simple Bed, which serves as a Fast Travel point between other Beds or Sleeping Bags you put down, and also a point of return when you respawn from death. If you haven’t been able to set up any sleeping bags or beds, and you die, you will respawn a few hundred meters away from your previous spawn point, meaning that the more you die, the further you will eventually get from your body and the first spot you spawned in on.
If anything, the mechanics in the game are still in need of fixes. Like I mentioned above, the variety and strength of the creatures you encounter in the first moments of creating a character put you at a major disadvantage. Usually when choosing to “spawn” in an “Easy” location, you expect Starter level creatures. I didn’t think much of the Brontosaurus on the smaller island across from where I first spawned, because I knew they were Herbivores and most likely would ignore me even if I brushed against its leg, but when a Level 13 Sarco comes out of nowhere to bite my head off, you get a bit sceptical as to what is meant by “Easy”. If it shrugs off more than 10 hits by your Spear, whilst your bones are broken and you’re on your last leg of Health, then you know something is wrong. The game is meant to be a learnt through trial and error, I get that, but it feels more like punishment than learning, especially when all your hard work gets undone and you are forced to frantically get back to your body to recover all the things you had gathered before it disappears.
What’s even more flawed is the way the Engrams work. You get awarded points every time you level to spend on the Engrams, but you aren’t able to unlock all of the Engrams made available to you at that level. For example, at a certain level, you unlock the possibility to learn all the Engrams for all items of Cloth Armor, however you are only given enough to force you to choose one or two of them, and other necessary Engrams for Survival, like a Foundation or Wall for your Shelter. You only unlock all of the Cloth, or Hide, or Fur, etc. Engrams after a bunch of Levels earned. It would have been far more advantageous (and made more sense) if you unlocked everything available at that Level. Are you telling me I wouldn’t know how to make the ceiling of my shelter when I had learnt to make the walls?
The control scheme also left something to be desired at first. The conventional control scheme was redesigned and confused me right away. When I eventually figured out what most of the buttons do in which situations, be it exploring and resource gathering or inventory management, I needed to get accustomed to pressing the right button at the right moment. I often accidentally crafted more than I needed because I pressed X instead of RT the necessary amount of times. Fortunately you can cancel the craft queue if you’ve added more than necessary, but you first need to navigate all the way down to the stop button which also takes up a bit of time. Navigation between inventories is clunky too, and probably makes more sense for PC than for console. Instead of there being a “Transfer” option, if you want to take an entire stack and drop it into a Storage Box or a Campfire, or what have you, you need to select the item stack, and maneuver your cursor to the other inventory gradually, which may sound easy enough, but is quite time consuming, and you can’t risk being out in the open for long when a Raptor can appear out of nowhere to practice plastic surgery (which happened to me more times than I care to share). There was even a moment a Carnotaur appeared and gave me a hard time. I was Level 23, it was Level 10, and it had a field day with me for about 5 or so deaths. I eventually managed to get onto a high enough rock for it to be unable to reach me, where I filled its head with enough arrows for it to look like a Porcupine, before it went down. Only later, when I created a new Character, was I able to successfully tame a Carnotaur and wreak a little havoc with him for a while. I started over because about half an hour after killing Level 10, a Level 20 appeared and camped Dwahn’s dead body. So if I was going to start over, I may as well have a new character.
Saddle Them Raptors
Taming Dinos is pretty tricky the higher you go in levels, but also becomes a little easier. When the main menu comes up, you are given an option to read the Survival Guide, which is what I did before launching, but as you have read, it didn’t do a fair lot to help. I got a good grip of the taming from it though. You are able to tame through two methods. One way is knocking the animals unconscious, referred to as Torpor Taming, and another way is Passive Taming, by having the right kind of food equipped in your last Quick Item Slot, to feed to the animal. After a few feeds, you will be able to name the animal and issue it commands and such. I tamed a few Dilophosaurs at first, and then jumped to taming a Carnotaur later on. The Dilophosaurs I tamed by hitting them with my Club to knock them out, and then fed them Raw Meat.
The Carnotaur needed a more subtle approach, and forunately I had the right items for that, and I’d recommend this method too. It was Level 10, so I only needed about 5 or 6 Tranquiliser Arrows. Once it fell unconscious, I used the same method to feed it, and it eventually became my friend, and it was one of the best things I managed to do. No Dino stood in my way with this guy on my side, which is why I named him “Crazy”. You’re also able to level up your Dinos, adding to their already existing attributes to make them an even bigger force to be reckoned with. I just wish you could craft Bandages or Medicine to aid in the healing process of yourself or your companions. Your Dinos even have an inventory section, where you can dump some of your items when you start getting encumbered, which happens a lot when you are gathering wood, or stone, or metal, for your Shelter or Tools, etc. Later I tried to tame an Alpha Raptor, which was a major risk to take, I eventually learnt; because they are untameable. Any Alpha Dino is “untameable”, but I was prepared for this, just in case, as this entire situation transpired on the beach, and I was on a raft on the water. The Raptor was attacking another Dino at the time, so it was distracted when I shot my remaining Tranq Arrows, and then proceeded to use my standard Arrows. I just about emptied my Quiver, but got it down, and received a major boost in XP from the kill, as well as a Helmet decoration and large amount of Prime Meat (which unfortunately all spoiled 2 minutes later for some dumb reason). You can even make saddles to put on the Dinos, making them rideable. Imagine riding a Raptor, and shooting at whatever other Dino thinks it take you on. When you’re actually able to do it, it’s not too bad, and makes trekking from one area to another a fair lot easier. Eventually you can put a saddle on a Pterodon, and take to the skies!
The progression of the Technology in the Engram tree is pretty fun, though the higher up you go in levels, the longer it takes to gain enough XP for another Level and to gain enough materials for craftable things later on. Any excitement one has for learning the Engrams gets dimished when it takes almost an entire day of farming materials just to stock up on ammunition for the ranged weapons you get later on. Things really drag as a result, which is where I can see the advantage of playing with other players online, although the risks also come of players who play as bandits or looters. Playing solo can be more enjoyable in this case, but if you can find a strong enough Tribe that can prevent this, it is also an advantage, where you’ll be able to work together with others to gather materials for the necessary missions you’ll be planning out, such as taking out the Bosses, or improving your base to fend off said bandits, or other scary Dinos. The main bosses are Dragons that need to be defeated at every colour Obelisk. To get to these bosses, you need to find artifacts to offer at the base of the Obelisk as “tribute”, which will take you to the Dragon boss. Once these three bosses have been defeated, you will be taken to the Endgame Boss, which actually reveals most of the backstory behind the ARKs and their purpose.
There are small bits of story given during our travels on the ARK itself, left behind by other in-game survivors as Explorer Notes. These notes are found in Chests inside or just outside of Ruined buildings, revealing bits of narrative by these survivors or will reveal info about the Dinos. Finding these notes grants a boost in XP as well as 10 minutes of double XP gain, which is very helpful, except that these notes are insanely hard to find. I only managed to find three in my adventures across both characters. If you wanted though, you can go to the Official ARK Wiki to see a map of where to find the notes, as well as where to find the Artifacts and Resource heavy areas and tips on whatever you may need. There are many different places to explore, such as the aforementioned beaches, swamps, mountains, jungles, heck, there are even snowy areas, and in each of these places you will find a good number of creatures. I quite enjoyed killing Titanoboas, even though the first time I saw these massive snakes I suddenly became aware of how agile I can make my character be when running away from danger. The bugs are probably the more annoying things to take care of, but also the easiest, and they give nice amounts of XP.
There are many things you can do in ARK, including riding Dinos with guns blazing, but unfortunately, the inconsistencies in many of the other mechanics outweigh what could have been an awesome game. The potential is there, but many of the mechanics are flawed. If that wasn’t enough, there are times when the beautiful sceneries get ruined by tearing and pixelation. Sometimes the brightness overwhelms the horizon and distracts you from your tasks. I can see what the Development team wanted to do, and I love the idea, but I don’t think it was achieved. I quite enjoy adventure survival games, and I don’t think I’ll be returning to this one unless it’s been given some major improvements in the points I mentioned. There were a few things I didn’t cover, such as Dino Breeding and possible mutations in Dino offspring, but these are minor features in comparison to the main ones I have mentioned. Ark: Survival Evolved is a huge game, with huge potential, but hasn’t achieved its goal in my opinion. There have been more positive reviews, but I know of just as many people and reviews that have been a lot harsher in their disappointment. For the people who want to give the game a go, you can get it, at the time of this review, for R755.00 on PS4 and Xbox One. You can get the Explorer’s Edition which includes all the DLC as well for R1,299 on PS4 and Xbox One. It’s available for PC through Steam for R589.00. I’d wait for when the game price reduces if you want to give the game a go, or wait until the discs are available in the Pre-Played section.