ARK: Survival Evolved Early Access Review

Multiplayer survival/crafting games appear in all shapes, sizes and styles. They may appear as voxel games like Minecraft, post-apocalyptic hostile games like Rust or, in this case, sci-fi “Genesis”-style… with dinosaurs!

From Studio Wildcard, Instinct Games, Efecto Studios and Virtual Basement LLC comes ARK: Survival Evolved.  You start off as a naked male or female, alone on a beach, surrounded by prehistoric creatures with nothing but your fists to start your survival. I was given this game as a Christmas present by the friend I play pretty much every game with. He had this game for a while before me and had frequently complained about being killed on it, so I was invited to join him in the festivities of dying at the hands of angry reptiles or the adverse weather. It was Christmas time, so the entire Island on which you spawn was covered in snow and had temperatures were permanently icy.

I like a survival game that keeps with the general weather of the real world’s seasons; it shows dedication to create a truly immersive atmosphere. When presented with the adverse weather conditions of winter, you, of course, must find a way to keep warm – either by creating a rudimentary hut or staying close to a campfire.

To create a campfire, you must go through what’s known as the “Engram System”. Whenever you level up, you’re given “engram points” and you spend these on crafting recipes – i.e. weapons, tools, pieces of buildings, chemicals etc. Everything you can make in the game has to be learned; this is a great way of preventing low-levels suddenly being able to own everything in the game by looking up recipes on the Internet.

ARK Survival Evolved 2-min

I’m a sucker for good music, and ARK didn’t fail to provide me with ear candy. The main menu theme is worthy of the Philharmonic Orchestra and, as an added bonus, for holidays like Halloween and Christmas, they composed whole new tracks for these festivities! Check them out on YouTube, they’re stunningly good.

On the topic of music, most games use music in the background almost constantly. ARK doesn’t do that – instead, it only uses music for two situations: combat/danger or indicating changes in times of day. For example, a short piece of music plays at dawn, midday and dusk – rather useful if you’re away from home so you can find a way back or create a temporary settlement for the night. They’re planning to introduce nocturnal predators so this little feature will be highly advantageous in future.

The game plays like any other first person shooter and the controls are just as smooth and reactive as the best of them. However, the smoothness is heavily affected by the graphical requirements. The graphics on this game are incredible on high/epic, but if you don’t have a decent graphics card, you will struggle to run the game, even on medium. I had an old nVidia GeForce GT620 from 2012 and the game really had a hard time with everything on the lowest setting. I upgraded to an AMD Radeon R7 250 and I can now play decently on medium but with the occasional framerate drop. If you have a laptop with an integrated graphics chip, you won’t be able to run ARK at all. This game is in serious need of optimisation, which is a terrible shame because it’s absolutely stunning when it’s working.

One part of the game that appears to be the most desirable feature is taming. You can tame pretty much any creature you come across and when you do, they’re yours forever until they die. The best part of taming, in my opinion, is how complex it is – the developers have given it a lot of thought. Most herbivores require berries and most carnivores require meat as their “taming fuel” as it were, but then you can get creatures that wake up faster than others or some that only respond to elusive and uncommon foods – like dinosaur eggs.

ARK Survival Evolved 3-min

The taming system, however, has its flaws. The biggest problem is the taming time; it can take 20 minutes to tame something small and low-level, like a Dodo, or it can take 12 hours (that’s 12 hours real time, not in-game) to tame something big and powerful. The longest I spent taming something was two and a half hours; just sitting there and occasionally feeding it narcotics to keep it asleep. You can’t leave it in case it wakes up, or for fear of something (or someone) killing it. I understand that powerful creatures require more dedication and effort to claim as your own, but still, 12 hours for a high level Giganotosaurus is absurd.

For playing ARK: Survival Evolved with others, you have two choices: official servers and unofficial servers. Official servers are public and are completely vanilla – no settings have been changed and no mods have been installed. These servers are often split into tribes of different players, each with their own bases – allying yourself with one tribe may mean you’re now enemies with another tribe. As can be expected with servers that allow PvP, you may get randomly picked off when you’re level 1 and only carrying a stone pickaxe by some guy who’s level 80 with a T-Rex. Cruel, but it happens. Caveat Emptor!

You can also create your own server – a fairly lengthy, but worthwhile process. This allows you to have your own rules and settings and you can mod it until it explodes. These servers would class as “Unofficial Servers”. Though the game is still in Beta (due for release June 2016), there’s still a vast amount of mods available on the Steam Workshop.

I will say this about ARK: Survival Evolved: it’s addictive. Highly addictive. It’s immersive, detailed, complex and beautiful in every way possible. New content is constantly being added – new dinosaurs, items, structures, features etc. – so there’s forever something new to explore in the game. Let’s hope the optimisation issues are fixed before the game’s full release in June!

Ark: Survival Evolved is available in Early Access on Steam and in the Xbox One preview program.