TL;DR– Bringing the survival gameplay into a world of dinosaurs is a fantastic idea, but for me,the balance is not quite there.
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
If you have read my reviews in the past, you would know that one of the easiest sells for me is to add dinosaurs to something. Movies, TV, Books, you name it and if it has dino’s in it I am there for it. However, when it comes to video games with dinosaurs I am much more hesitant after getting burnt in the past with games like The Stomping Land,and more generally in this genre with Day-Z.So when Ark first came out I was not prepared to invest in another Early-Access survival game, but now it has been out in full release for a year I thought it would be a good time to take the dive into the world of Dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, lots of Dodos,and oh the mechanic that lets you know when you pooped.
So to set the scene, you wake up washed up on the shore of a beach with nothing but a loincloth and some sort of alien tech embedded in your arm. As you walk around you realise that this is not a normal island because there are Dodos on the beach, a Brontosaurus is walking in the distance, and oh you just got killed by a Terror Bird. Ark falls into the survival genre of video games first popularised by Minecraft all those years ago … oh dear that sentence just made me feel old. This means that you have to harvest resources, so you can build armour,weapons, and shelter to defend against the rising threats, insert T-Rex roar here.
Where Ark differs from a lot of its contemporaries is that instead of having your maps procedurally generated, each map that is released has been pre-made. This means that rather than random chance, you have some certainty of if you see something on the map that it will be there in the same spot if you reset. For this review I was playing on the Ragnarok map,starting up around the Viking Bay area. Also, unlike Minecraft, which yes sorry everything in this genre is inevitably going to be compared to, there are hard limits to what you can build from the start. Ark uses a sort of RPG system that as you level up, not only can you boost the stats for your character, but you also get engrams that you can use to unlock new things to build, which also unlock at each level. Now you will never get enough engrams to unlock everything, which is the games subtle way of saying that it is best played with a group.
Right out the gate, I would say that Ark does a lot of things really well, like creating a relatively safe beach area to help you acclimatise to the game’s systems before you stumble too deep into the jungle and oh wait a raptor, and I’m dead. Also, the sheer level of variety is also something that should be applauded. There is a large range of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, from T-Rexes, to Pterosaurs, to Ichthyosaurs, to Diplodocuses, to Ankylosaurus,to Iguanodons and more (I had to stop myself from just writing 1000 words on Dinosaurs here). Though this does also mean we get the Ichtyornis and the Pegomastax and well ladies and gentlemen, they can go jump off a cliff. This also translates to the terrain types in the game with a good mix of grasslands, jungles and other cool features like volcanoes and castles. Also once you learn all the mechanics, everything does start to feel intuitive even if rationally it does not make sense. Like using an axe will get you something different on a stone than a pickaxe, or knocking out and force feeding an animal narcotics will make it tame.
However, while there is a lot I liked about the game, there are issues that do hold it back and show that even a year out from the full launch it is still not completely polished. The first issue is just the general optimisation of the game. Now my PC is an okay rig, it does not have all the bells and whistles, but it can usually play anything fine. However, the moment Ark runs you can hear every fan in my rig go into overdrive as it chugs, it has gotten to the point where I dare not run it for long during the day, and this does not happen on any other game. As well as this, more than a few times friends have found themselves stuck on the terrain unable to escape, and the graphics on the lower end of the scale don’t help this at all. Nor does the sometimes fiddly building mechanics.
The big issue I have with the game comes to the balance, where everything is that little be more difficult than it needs to be. Take farming, for example,you need to wait for multiple levels to get access to be able to build the farm plots. You then need to make sure they are watered using an irrigation system, all of that is fine. But then you have to fertilise the plants, and while you can just use the poop lying around, you really need to make fertilizer which means making bins that combine poop and fibre after a very long time. This is all necessary because without it, your plants don’t just grow slowly, they revert to nothing. This is one example, but everything in the game just feels that little bit more complicated than it needed to be,and I understand that might be just personal taste but I just see it everywhere. Which of course makes it all the more frustrating when you get jumped by a dino, instantly killed, and lose just about everything and have to start again.
In the end, do we recommend Ark: Survival Evolved? Yes, but with reservations. You need to go into the game knowing that it really has to be a multiplayer game, so if a bunch of friends are playing than this could be the game for you.However, if you are someone who likes building these survival games alone, well I don’t think this is the game for you.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations,or the Solar System.
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Credits– All images were created by the staff of Ark: Survival Evolved
Game Direction – Jesse Rapczak & Jeremy Stieglitz
Game Design – Kayd Hendricks
Developer – Studio Wildcard
Publisher – Studio Wildcard