Ark: Survival Evolved challenges you to survive in a harsh world of hungry dinosaurs and intractable human survivors, as you scrounge for food and resources to keep yourself fed, warm and safe from the many dangers lurking outside. It’s a wonderfully compelling experience, where survival is multifaceted, difficult and interesting, all thanks to a complex but intuitive environment and a community that’s engaged with the survival aspect of the title. It’s not without its issues but with a further five months until its official launch there’s plenty of time for the wrinkles to be ironed out.
Once you’ve built your character, morphing them into whatever humanoid shape you desire on the character creation screen, and woken dazed and confused in the world, it’s time to gather food, find or build somewhere warm, and survive the harsh wilderness and it’s fauna. You start off alone in this prehistoric environment – unless you’ve created your own multiplayer game – running alive with dinosaurs. Over 60 species of ancient beasts are wondering around, some of which are happy to ignore you unless you attack first, but many would like nothing more than to feast on your highly customisable form.
Figuring out how to survive and what to do next is fairly intuitive, largely because it’s logical. Flint, stone, wood and fibre allows you to start building the most basic survival tools, including a fire to keep yourself warm and illuminate the world at night, and can be gathered by picking up objects on the ground, harvesting from nearby flora, or punching a tree Minecraft style. Beyond the basic, however, you’ll need to unlock engrams which act as blueprints for new craftable objects, including structures and weapons. These engrams can be unlocked when you level up, with experience earnt through practically any action you take. It doesn’t take long before you’re building multi-floored structures as well as deadly weapons and defences, and are pushing out further and further from the safety of your camp to discover what else this prehistoric land has to offer.
The most obvious thing to discover are the many dinosaurs. Hunting them is a difficult and adrenaline fuelled test of might that’s naturally highly compelling, but knocking them out, nursing them back to health and taming them so they can be ridden or form a defensive pack to defend your camp is the true challenge. This is the crux of the Ark experience and it’s absolutely incredible to ride around on a large beast, or better yet fly. However, surviving long enough to craft the equipment needed to claim dominion over these prehistoric beasts is very difficult, fortunately it’s made easier playing with others.
Either by joining one of the servers filled with players, or by joining or hosting your own private game, you’ll be joined by other players looking to survive. Remarkably we found the community to be largely welcoming and engaged with the idea of surviving together and working towards the goal of building large, well-protected settlements, making the PvP (player verses player) aspect a nice addition to let off steam rather than the sole focus. This also made surviving against the powerful dinosaurs and the unforgiving environment more entertaining and less frustrating, accelerating the time it takes to build complex structures, which on your own are extremely slow and arduous and providing that all important backup when trying to capture the larger creatures roaming nearby.
However, that’s not to say Ark isn’t fun when you’re surviving alone, it may be harder but it’s hugely satisfying to make it alone in this hostile world. However, the multiplayer aspect is a very important part of the experience. The intractability of humans makes approaching another player an intense and scary experience, as you decide who you can trust, and if when two groups of players decide to wage war against each other, raiding settlements and causing havoc, the experience can shift to either fast paced team warfare or tactical hit and run. Indeed other players make the experience wonderfully varied and unpredictable, not to mention fun and engaging.
However, we did encounter some limitations and bugs that caused some frustrations. Objects in the environment such as trees and rocks would occasionally spawn in the middle of structures and cause problems building things, whilst other times trees and rocks would regenerate but not be harvestable. Meanwhile, bodies of those you’ve slain or logged out team mates would also get in the way of building structures. Additionally combat is loose and inaccurate, Ark is very much focused on the survival aspect of the experience and not the combat and this focus will need to be balanced some more before the two meld properly. Furthermore, with a hosted session you’re restricted to moving within a certain radius of the host and this causes a significant restriction with what you can do within the game-world. Servers are also quite limited right now, making it difficult if not impossible to join and game with friends. Finally the UI retains its PC style and is unwieldy to use with a controller.
Ark: Survival Evolved is a compelling survival game that’s ideal for multiplayer hijinks, challenging but highly satisfying for solo survival, and interesting and fun regardless. Survival is the primary experience on offer, with the added fun of dinosaurs, but there’s a sci-fi story to discover as well, one that helps drive the experience forward when building and taming dinosaurs becomes a chore. However, in our experience the survival aspect never approached boring and easily entertained us with building, gathering and hunting. Roll on summer when this sees a full release and achievements are finally added.