Ark: Survival Evolved First Impression

ark-survival-evolved

If you’re ever having a shitty day, take solace in the fact it’s probably not as bad as the day Bob the caveman is having. Bob (the default character in Ark) is trapped in a perpetual cycle of  waking up naked and afraid on a beach, and then dying shortly after from killer dinosaurs, killer fish and even killer ants. In the unlikely situation that those things don’t kill him, he usually starves or freezes to death a short time later. One time Bob woke up and was over the moon to discover another caveman, like himself, on the beach. Filled with excitement, Bob ran over to said caveman, only to have the guy turn around and stove Bob’s face in with a pickaxe. Life for Bob is hard.

Yup, life – or should I say staying alive – is hard in Ark:Survival Evolved. I mean; it would be hard even if you knew what you were doing, but starting out you’re given no guidance at all, so the early deaths are inevitable. I died trying to work out which button picks up stones. I died trying to get to grips with the inventory. I died going for a swim. I died trying to work a camp fire.  In short; I died a lot. Although there does seem to be a glaring need for a tutorial, I can’t help but think that this is all a deliberate design choice. This is, after all, a survival game. Figuring this stuff out is part of the “fun” and, if you can handle the frustration, it’s actually very rewarding just working out the basics.

Getting to grips with the mechanics and conquering basic survival seems like the first major milestones; I think it will be the bar for many where they either continue playing or walk away completely. Just staving off hunger seems a ridiculous battle at first; your character appears to have some kind of eating disorder where they require constant nourishment and berries, the first food source you’re likely to find, will barely hit the sides.

As you gruel through the first few hours, you will  (or at least should) start to turn the tables a bit though. Everything you do, including simply staying alive, seems to earns you XP. XP earns you level ups; level ups make you stronger. You also come realise that death isn’t a major setback as you keep your acquired levels, stats, crafting unlocks and, if you find your dead body, you may even get all your stuff back. Eventually you’ll build your first shack; a place where you can cook a decent meal, horde some materials and create a spawn point. Not only will this be a glorious moment, it will also set the foundation from where you can start etching out the feeling of actual progress.

If you’re playing on a Player vs Player (PvP) server, this is where the environment will stop being the biggest danger, and other players will be your biggest potential foe. It’s also the point where the game really opens up to you. You can set out in search of friendly players to create a tribe, or venture deeper inland in search of new area’s and resources; expanding your base and really leaving your mark on the world. Playing on a PvP server is certainly going to be the biggest challenge, but also makes for the most interesting gameplay. Each time you stumble across another player you’re never really sure how it’s going to go. Some people want to make friends, some will simply ignore you and many more will probably try to kill you.

An important lesson I’ve learnt early on is to never light a camp fire at night. Huddled in my little shack, lighting a fire seemed like the logical thing to do – little did I know that it would act as beacon for marauding tribes of killers. Twice now, in the dead of night, I’ve been drawn to the sound of banging on my door. As I watch the doors damage meter slowly deplete, I start to panic and ready myself for the coming attack. Both times I’ve been haplessly overpowered and brutally murdered in my home; my pitiful horde of resources stolen and my corpse ransacked. It’s annoying, yet strangely thrilling and exciting  – the uniquely unscripted gameplay that can only be found in this type of game. I don’t light fires at night anymore. When you’re a little fish in a big pond, it’s often best to go unnoticed.

On a more fundamental level, the game certainly has some issues and quirks. You have a persistent character on each server you join, but there’s no “continue previous session” option or anything remotely useful like that. You have to actually remember which server you were on if you want to continue where you left off. I literally lost my first character because I couldn’t remember which server I was on. Even if you know which server your main character is on, at busy times the servers start to fill up. I’ve had instances where I wasn’t able to get onto “my” server straight away, as it was full.

The other issue of persistent characters is that you’re technically always online, even when you’re not playing. When you log off, your body is still in game and can be killed by other players and enemies. This in itself wouldn’t really be a problem, but it seems that a dino wall-clipping issue means that it’s possible to be killed, even in your secured house. Some well placed spike barriers has hopefully fixed the issue for me.

Some other weird issues include inconsistent building problems, where it can be very temperamental about where you can and can’t build. A common issue in almost every game that lets you build stuff, but Ark seems particularly insane. At one point it wouldn’t let me build on a flat open plain, yet jutting awkwardly out the side of a cliff face was fine! I think this may be down to respawning mine-able resource locations, like trees and boulders. There’s also the issue of occasional lag spikes. These can be especially annoying when hunting, or fighting off another player – but luckily they’re few and far between.

Despite the games issues, and maybe even because of them, Ark: Survival Evolved is one of the best games I’ve played in recent years. There’s certainly elements here that can be found in other games – Minecraft and Skyrim for example – but the game has a very unique feel to it, and on console in particular, I can’t point to another game like it. The prehistoric island, despite some graphical shortfalls, is both a beautiful and mysterious place; with some almost Halo-like structures scattered around that create intrigue and a sense of a bigger picture to figure out.

There’s also – you know – DINOSAURS! Whilst being chased by one of those spitty lizard things that killed Nedry in jurassic park, I ran straight into my first Brontosaurus (Or maybe it was a Diplodocus – I’m not great with dinosaur names). Looking up at the scale of the thing was quite jaw-droppingly awesome, even if they’re not perfect. I wouldn’t profess to be an expert on dinosaur behaviour, but they do have a tendency to just walk around a bit aimlessly. Some of the animations, pterodactyl’s landing for example, are also a little bit ropey. That said, the dino-factor is inescapably cool and more than a little unnerving when you don’t know you herbivores from your carnivores. If you see a raptor, RUN!

The punishing difficulty, frustration and massive investment of time needed to progress will probably put many off, but for me, Ark: Survival evolved has been a refreshing gameplay experience in a sea of (although higher quality and finer produced) generic titles. I personally highly recommend it, but at the same time appreciate it’s not going to be for everyone – even the hour long trial won’t do it justice.

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