ARK puts you in the shoes of a half-naked guy (or gal), stranded on the eponymous ARK, the island the game takes place on. You do get the option to customize your character, although like in many other games, anything but the smack center for most sliders ends up looking ridiculous (hugely muscled, giraffe-necked dwarf or super tall, onyx-skinned Valkyrie?), but it is still nice to have the option to go down that path. It should be noted at this point that your characters will be server-specific, meaning you can have one on every server. Your character will start the game with nothing to his or her name, true to the survival-game code. You will quickly learn the ways of a hunter-gatherer, as your first task will usually be picking berries and collecting stones. You can also punch trees to get wood, but doing so will damage you (a dig at Minecraft? I’d like to think so.).
Even at this early point, the world of ARK does not try to hide its inhabitants from you. Huge, prehistoric beasts roam free over most of the map and there is rarely ever a moment during which you cannot see at least one dinosaur from your location. Not all of these creatures are trying to kill you, however, some just try to live their life in peace. They may even fight each other, as the predators hunt for prey and the latter defends itself. Players should quickly realize that most of the island’s monsters are beyond their combat-capabilities and that they should steer clear of the particularly agressive ones dwelling on land, in the sea and even the air. To help the players deal with these threats and offer some sense of progression at the same time, ARK features a leveling-system. You gain XP at a steady rate over time, with a bonus for doing pretty much anything from gathering and killing to crafting and building. Leveling up will allow you to increase one of your attributes, as well as spend points learning a new crafting-blueprint. While you are barely able to craft torches and stone tools at the beginning of your adventure, later down the line you may pick up the recipes for weapons, buildings and more tools to help you survive. All blueprints cannot be unlocked until a very high level, so specializing in a select few while working together with other players online can be a huge benefit.
The unwritten goal in ARK, for most players, is to build a somewhat self-sufficient base for yourself and your tribe. Bases are built using a very simple and easy to understand system of square foundations with snapping walls on their four sides and flat roofs on top. Indeed, whoever has played Rust will immediately feel at home, as the whole game plays very much like it. This includes player’s characters falling asleep and remaining in the world whenever their puppeteer disconnects, adding additional treat to potential raiders, who will be able to take all of your character’s belongings even when you are not on the server. Of course, building a secure base will help combat this threat. What sets ARK apart from Rust is its setting (frigging dinosaurs), its general art style (sci-fi looking HUD and inventory/character screen), its graphics (looking seriously impressive) and the fact that you can tame your very own dinos! Instead of killing the giant murder-machines (or players), you can choose to knock them unconscious instead, beginning a rather lengthy taming-process during which you must keep the creature subdued while also feeding it its favoured food. Eventually, it will become your (and your tribe’s) companion, able to aid you in combat, bear your burdens and even be ridden as a personal mount (works with flying dinos, too!). What more needs to be said, really?
Yes of course, the game has had a rather shaky launch into Early Access. According to the devs, they did not expect such a large resonance initially, which caused most official servers to crack under the pressure and lag. Also, the stunning graphics of ARK come at a price: Your hardware will suffer. At this point in time, you need a fairly beefy machine to be able to play ARK at a reasonable frame rate. The devs are aware of this and are currently working on optimising the game to maximise FPS and minimise lag. All of this was to be expected, really and is in no way reason to give ARK a negative review. In fact, the devs claim one of the reasons for the current performance-issues to be their initial focus on content, wanting to give players enough things to do ingame for Early Access, which I think speaks volumes about the good intentions behind this project. Indeed, even for Early Access ARK offers a great deal of content and longevity through its progression-system and dinotaming-mechanics, with so much more planned for the future. The performance-issues are being tackled at the time of me writing this review and some first patches have already been rolled out, resulting in some great improvements for a lot of the players. I am very much looking forward to see more stuff added to ARK: Survival Evolved and I believe the very pleasant developers have the right ideas on how to steer it to success.
This review was done by Deathstar over on Steam!