Ever since Studio Wildcard’s ARK: Survival Evolved was released on PC last summer, jealous console owners have waited for their chance to tromp through the mysterious dinosaur crammed island. Then, Xbox One owners got a special treat last month when Xbox One’s Preview program gave gamers the opportunity to pay $35 in exchange for access to ARK’s beta and a free upgrade to the full console release in June 2016.
If your interest wasn’t piqued by the early access, then the news that came a few weeks later made ARK: Survival Evolved even more alluring. It seems that a mere week after release for the Preview program, more than a million copies of the game were sold, and, according to Jesse Rapczak, one of the minds over at Studio Wildcard, “Survivors had lasted a combined 200,000 real-life days against the dinosaurs and perils of the island, including other players”. In seven short days, ARK’s popularity on Xbox One was producing a higher daily player count than on PC. It’s pretty popular.
Yet, $35 is still a decent chunk of change in video game dollars. You could run down the street right now and find something solid for that amount at the local game shop. Price aside, is it really worth it to spend any kind of money on an unfinished product that bares the ominous warning that the game may not even release (it definitely will)?
In short: is ARK: Survival Evolved worth your hard-earned money? Read on, and let us help you make an informed decision.
What Is ARK: Survival Evolved About?
First off, let’s begin with the following. At this point in ARK, there is no plot (ergo, no spoilers). One day there will apparently be some context provided to explain why you’re re-enacting the evolution of human technology surrounded by dinos on an island covered with giant metal towers, but right now, there’s none of that.
As a player, you use the rudimentary character creator to craft either a woman or a man, all of whom look pretty much the same, just swollen to different dimensions:
That’s one of the tame ones. The system is pretty ripe for creative decisions:
Anyway, once you create your gentleman or lady — which takes all of six seconds for even the most scrutinizing customizer — you find a server (easier said than done … more on that later), and dive in.
At that point, you wake up naked on a beach, slowly dying of starvation and exposure (definitely don’t forget about the exposure). From there, it’s up to you to figure out how to find food, shelter, tools, and all the rest. To make things more complicated, the game is also played on servers that allow up to 69 other confused, naked (potentially hostile) cave people to run around with you while they die slowly of starvation and exposure, too. You can talk to other players, form tribes, wage war, etc.
When you’re not trying to keep yourself alive, the island is filled with more than 50 types of dinosaurs on all levels of the food chain. The food chain, by the way, is a real, active thing on the island. Players can use these guys for food, or they can take the time to try their hand at some dino taming. Tamed dinosaurs can be used to harvest more resources, as a form of transportation (you can fly a pteradon!), or as a means to kill lots of people really quickly.
At it’s core, ARK is kind of like early Minecraft before villages or settlements or magic or any of that crap. Plus it’s got dinosaurs! If that sounds like an engrossing game experience, it absolutely can be … when it’s not injured or even crippled by the fact that the game is not complete.
For example …
So About That Server Thing I Alluded To Earlier
If you’re content to play by yourself, then you can just jump right in and play the entire game solo, just building buildings and taming dinosaurs at your discretion. If, however, you’d like to play the game with other people on an official dedicated server, things get a little bit tougher.
Right now, there’s basically not enough public servers to accommodate that aforementioned incredible demand. And, even when you can find an empty spot on a dedicated server, it’s a total crapshoot as to who you’ll end up playing alongside. After all, every gamer in the world knows that every other gamer in the world is a total dick. Players have horror stories of signing on to find their hard won homes and treasures completely ransacked by greedy a-holes.
Another option — the one that worked for me — is to hop on your favorite social media outlet, like reddit, and find a private server with some like-minded players looking to fill in holes. In other words, with the implied menu hunting, long wait sessions, other people, and general legwork, it can be tough to find a place to call home. Once you do, there are still gameplay aspects working against you.
We’re Still Talking About A Beta
When you’re shopping for ARK on Xbox Live, you’re going to see a parenthetical added to the end of the title that reads: “Game Preview”. It’s extremely important to keep in mind that ARK is an unfinished product.
There are bugs, there are server issues, and — again, this can’t be repeated enough — there’s really nothing to do beyond beat up rocks, beat up trees, and then beat up dinosaurs. And build.
While it may sound simplistic, the combination of its crafting, taming, and exploration systems can make for some pretty engrossing gameplay, provided you don’t need a story to propel you forward, and provided you don’t mind some repetition, because …
It’s a Process … Everything Is a Process
If you’re the kind of gamer who likes to drop in for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, get a little something accomplished, and then move on to whatever you’ve got going on outside your console, then ARK probably isn’t the game for you.
From the moment that you wake up on the island, everything you do is going to take some time. Gathering resources, learning engrams (those are the game’s word for blueprints), taming creatures, it all takes a lot of time. The loftier your goals, the more time it’ll take. For example, when taming a massive monster like a brontosaurus, your time commitment may be as long as four hours.
In addition, pretty much everything you can do in the game requires the use of resources, resources that are constantly in danger of spoiling. For example, when you pick berries at the beginning of the game, you typically have about 5 minutes to make use of those bad boys or they’ll spoil and be deleted from your inventory. These kinds of timers necessitate the near constant harvesting of plants, animals, and the like (at least at the beginning) to ensure you always have a fresh crop of whatever you need.
Beyond the built-in spoil timer, pretty much everything that can be crafted in-game is expensive. Building even a simple house takes a lot of resources. Taming a dinosaur takes a lot of resources. Keeping yourself warm and fed takes a lot of resources. So, especially at the beginning of the game, you’re going to find yourself engaging in some repetitive tree and rock murder for probably hours on end.
Assuming, of course, you can actually stay alive for hours on end.
It’s Merciless and Unforgiving … At First
This probably feeds more into the beta aspect of the game than anything else, but this can’t be overstated: in the beginning, ARK will kill you. Then it will kill you again. Then it will laugh at your pain and disorientation while it kills you a third time.
As developers are still hard at work behind the scenes to make sure that ARK is actually recognizable as a video game when it launches in June, they’re leaving narrative touches until the end of development. Earlier, it was pointed out that there’s no story. Well, there’s also no tutorial. None. You have to figure out the control scheme (which is complicated), the various uses of items in the world (which are myriad), even the proper way to progress in the game.
Oh, and on top of all that, your character needs to be fed and watered very regularly, you need to make sure they’re not exposed to the elements for too long, and there’s a boatload of creatures that higher up in the food chain that would simply love to snack on your entrails.
From the very beginning, you’re at the game’s mercy (of which it has very little), forced to take random stabs in the dark until you find your footing. If you’re the kind of patient player who doesn’t mind doing the same thing over and over (and being forced to start again at zero until you figure things out), then this may not be a problem.
Places like reddit can be a good source of information, and if you’re a reader, the ARK wiki is filled with generally useful information about the game, but when it comes down to it, your success in ARK depends on the number of hard lessons you’re willing to learn.
We’ll keep this short and to the point:
If you prefer a more directed approach to gaming, or if you prefer your games on the easier side, then ARK might be one you need to wait on.
However, if you’re patient, if you have some gaming time on your hands, and if you’re a fan of survival games with a focus on crafting, then definitely buy ARK right now.