Ark – Survival Evolved

So I recently finished the PC release of Final Fantasy X (nerdgasm) and since I would rather shove a dirty toilet brush down my throat than start on Final Fantasy X-2 I went hunting on Steam for my next fix.

Enter Ark – Survival Evolved. I have been circling this game like a hungry but highly picky vulture for quite some time. As it is it can be quite hard to get a proper impression of what the game is like from reading the description and – to the games benefit – I think this is simply because it doesn’t really fit in any other category. It is a survival game for sure (a popular and relatively new genre ranging from Minecraft to Fallout to the thousand of zombie games) but as I see it it falls in somewhere between Minecraft and Eve – a spectacular mix to be sure.

The premise: you are stuck on an island with dinosaurs. There’s a strange implant in your forearm (thinking there might be a story here. Don’t get your hopes up, all you get is titilating hints and mystery – yay mystery!). Now go survive.

The game can be said to have a set of stages that really are quite different and I think that separating them would be a good way to describe the game in general:

 

1: Frantic Fight For Survival (FFFS!)

You start with nothing (except your underwear, too kind). As you scramble around on the coast of the coast you most likely spawned on you learn to pick up rocks, and hit trees. You see your first dinosaur (play Jurassic Park theme) it might be a dodobird or a distant pteranodon or it might be a huge, hungry sarco or – even worse – the thing that killed Dennis. While you are gathering, learning and probably running you see your supply of food go steadily down and the night encroaches. If you did well you’ll end up with a couple of primitive tools and some meat and berries to sustain you. Sat next to your campfire trying to stave off the cold (cold makes you consume food faster, heat dehydrates you) knowing that you really should be gathering berries or doing SOMETHING. But it’s dark and there’s dinosaurs. Fire is good – hopefully you have enough wood to last the night

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Great, now what?

You will die numerous times. Each time you respawn in the general vicinity but don’t expect to get your stuff back. Life (and death) is harsh and unforgiving but you live (and die), you learn. My first death was to starvation. My second to a swarm of pirahnas. The third… hunted by a pack of raptors at night. The stuff of nightmares.

 

2: Basic needs and then what?

So lets say you make it past your first week or so in the game. By then you probably have a basic shelter, some tools and weapons, clothes and a stockpile of resources. You might even have built yourself a spawn point. Not that you can ever feel entirely secure. Food spoils, the sun is harsh, the nights are cold and… you’ve learned to listen for the footfalls of raptors (*shudder*).

At this point the “sandbox” part of the game hits you like freight train. You can do whatever you want to – shit.

A couple of the games unique features starts coming into play here. how about building a raft, put your shelter on it and use it as a base? Or you might start experimenting with taming dinosaurs (I will commend the creativity here. Each creature has a use. Keep dodos for eggs, use a trike to level bushes and mass gather berries, hunt using a fearsome predator, keep a cuddly companion and give your other dinosaurs an XP boost). At this part of the game you start seeing possibilities and as you learn to craft new and better stuff you also realize that the game is far from done with you.

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Seriously, what IS that thing in your arm?

Eventually you build a forge. You replace your bow with a crossbow. You fence off an area (phew) and add some aggressive guards just in case. You tame your first flying dinosaur (using the best materials possible to give it a level boost) and start exploring this strange world in earnest. Wide eyed with wonder.

Then you become t-rex food because you optimistically ventured too far away from your pteranodon.

 

2.5: An industrial revolution

At a certain point the game makes the leap from chitin, wood and stone to polymers, metal and electronics. It’s an awkward jump somehow but one that the game really does its best to bridge. It’s an ungrafeful task because it somehow needs to span basically the majority of human development. Ark does – however – stay true to it’s concept. You still need your dinosaurs, you might live in a fully automated fortress and carry a sniper rifle but you must still harvest oil for your generator, metal for your bullets (and food for the gullet) and – no – you cannot put on flak armor and wrestle down an angry carnivore.

The sandbox is expanded fully. You can go anywhere, do anything. There’s caves and underwater wonders to explore, new exciting dinosaurs to tame. You might live in a house on the back of a bronto – walking between your resource collection spots. You might reside on the top of a mountain where only you and your avian friends can go. The game pushes you to keep finding ways to get to the resources you need and learning more engrams (crafting patterns). There’s always something new you want.

"You're breeding raptors?"

“You’re breeding raptors?”

You start to recognize the artwork that lured you into Ark at first. The strange mix of technology and dinosaurs. It’s like you’re in Dino Riders and quite frankly it feels epic.

 

3: Endgame

You can play Ark single player. Which is a good way to learn how to survive. But at a certain point you also realize why this is – as it is – a multiplayer game. A lot of things are geared towards forming a tribe and doing things in concert.

You will never be able to single handedly put down an alpha t-rex or tame a titanosaurus (I actually typed this out not knowing that a creature of that name wll be introduced at some point). Putting up huge structures requires more hands both gathering and building. Next patch will see the introduction of a flying mount meant for two.

The endgame can be played in several ways.  There’s a variety of server wide game modes that support these styles.

People like Skism (that I totally only follow for the sexy accent and arms – zomg) do raiding and warfare in an almost Counter-Strike -like manner (with added pillaging). On the other end of the spectrum there’s dedicated PvE servers where harming or stealing from other players just isn’t possible (though the devs do admit that PvE was never fully intended and there’s still a lot of developing to do here as passive aggressive trolling is very much a reality).

It is also quite possible to simply host your own server, just for you and your friends (or youtube buddies, like Keralis seems to have done).

Most recently I had a go at the breeding mechanic which – taking a page out of the Pokemon book – allows you to create an offspring with the best traits of both parents. This is both time consuming and resource demanding and clearly a job for a larger tribe (and also quite daunting since it seems to me that you can easily lose a good dinosaur that you spent days raising) but look at how cute this is…

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As it is I am constantly finding more content that I enjoy and this is keeping in mind that this game is still early access. Ark seems to be a game that will evolve (hah) into something quite unique. What really appeals to me is the prospect of being able to play the way you want to…

Which for me involves a wooden porch.

(and a big dinoproof wall)

(and a big dinoproof wall)

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