For a game that includes dinosaurs interacting with people, ARK: Survival Evolved does a bang up job in the realism department. To set the stage for my experience, my character is unclothed and unarmed in a strange environment. I am cold and looking for a source of heat, so I wander around trying to find means of making a fire or shelter but instead I find a dinosaur with a bad attitude and twenty levels on me. In a matter of seconds I am waiting for the respawn mechanic to go into effect.
And thus we have what I would consider to be a fairly accurate account of what would happen to most people if we find ourselves stranded on an island filled with dinosaurs and stumble into a dilophosaurus nest. ARK: Survival Evolved drops the player in an island populated by various tribes of other survivors and prehistoric beasts. There are no tutorials, no real direction given, the survivor is naked save for his or her skivvies, and all those annoying needs that come with the standard issue human body need to be addressed. The survivor needs to find food, the survivor is cold and needs a source of heat, and wandering too far from water is ill advised as well since people need to drink.
Foraging for materials to craft tools and shelter is an important component of ARK, and a good way to start achieving this objective is to do what any sensible person would do, which is punch some trees into splinters. It is best to show some restraint with the tree punching since this does damage to the player’s health as per the attempts of creating a somewhat realistic survival experience. Possessing the upper body strength and punching techniques to turn a full grown tree into kindling does not translate well into punching out dinosaurs, which I choose to find out the hard way and replicated the results in repeat experiments. Once some other resources are acquired, one can construct a pickaxe and ax which assists in resource gathering.
During this quest to find needed resources to maintain my status of not being dead while avoiding dinosaurs, something uncommon for a video game happened, and that is my survivor chose to shamelessly poop out in the open. Once my very immature inner child stopped laughing at the fact my character just randomly dropped a deuce, further investigation of the poopy pile revealed that it can be used to as crop fertilizer. I suppose the area that ARK takes place in does not have a local Menard’s where one can go buy a bag of fertilizer, so I guess this is a practical way to acquire a renewable resource. Granted the amount of vegetation on this island indicates there is no shortage of dinosaur supplied fertilizer, but there are other uses for making one’s character poop. Despite recreating a world from 6000 years ago when people walked with dinosaurs, ARK is committed to realism and poop is a very real part of everyone’s life.
Gathering building materials is a crucial part of survival in ARK, but getting blueprints to construct items is just as important. Early on, and likely before your survivor encounters the luxury pants, a means to stay warm and defend oneself is important. Learning how to build a campfire and arming yourself with a few spears is an important step in making it in this dinosaur infested world. Another lesson learned the hard way is some other players can get very possessive over their campfires, and if they catch you warming yourself from their heat the reaction can be very hostile, and if they have spears and you don’t you’re going to have a bad time. But not all people in this Land of the Lost themed island are hostile, in fact getting involved with another tribe is highly recommended. Being able to find a settlement with other players helps build a sense of community within this MMO. Players can assist each other with shelter and trade items, which can be mutually beneficial to everyone. Safety in numbers holds true as some PvP minded players may decide to attack a tribe, either for gaining items or just for malicious fun.
ARK: Survival Evolved does have an advanced system of survival needs that need to be balanced along with a well developed social aspect, which are probably contributing factors to why there are people who have been playing the Early Access version on PC now for hundreds and in some cases thousands of hours. ARK is an in depth survival based MMO but the main attraction, at least for my inner six year old, is the ability to tame and ride dinosaurs. There are many practical reasons why someone would want a dinosaur. They can provide a faster rate of travel, especially with the flying pteranodon (though technically not a dinosaur). Some of them can be used to assist in farming and harvest a larger yield of crops, while others will provide a significant advantage on the battlefield. These are all good reasons to want a dinosaur, but really, once it is established that one can ride dinosaurs, is any additional reason even necessary? Dinosaurs can be acquired through a number of means. People in a tribe may be willing to trade a dinosaur for other items, and sometimes you can get really lucky and find a dinosaur that has been tamed but currently not owned by anyone. The most difficult and time consuming way is to tame the creatures in the wild yourself, but for those that want to fully utilize ARK as the time sink it is intended to be this is probably the most satisfying way, and perhaps could lead to someone becoming a dinosaur breeder.
ARK: Survival Evolved is available on the PlayStation Network as a stand alone game but ARK: Survivor’s Pack is also available. This package includes the base game with the Scorched Earth expansion along with the PlayStation 4 exclusive items that Bionic Giganotosaurus skin and an entire set of Manticore armor. Players are able to choose the gender of their character and customize their appearance. There does not seem to be much effect on game play based on the cosmetic choices someone makes for their character, save for the fact that making a character on the smaller side has some shelter advantages over a hulking behemoth with a glandular problem. Customizing individual body part sizes (get your mind out of the gutter!) does have some comedic value when you see some other survivors running around with disproportionately sized heads and arms running around the island.
ARK: Survival Evolved is a survival-themed MMO that can be a rewarding and engrossing gaming experience provided someone has the patience to fumble through the first few hours figuring everything out and getting the hang of things. This is not a game meant for casual players, as everything discussed in each paragraph could easily be its own article the length of this preview, where I am only touching on the most basic information. The main problem right now are performance issues; lag is persistent, especially throughout the character customization or using the inventory or character data screens. It was so bad I was beginning to question if I was even pressing the right buttons because they weren’t registering. Technical issues like this I can be forgiving of, especially since this is still a work in progress with the final version scheduled for release sometime next spring, but they’re still annoying when they happen. Getting past the tech issues, for those willing to invest the time and master the game either through trial and error or Googling guides, ARK has the potential to be a good way to whittle away the hours of your free time. It’s as if somebody decided to make an MMO by combining Minecraft, Far Cry and Jurassic Park.