I have been playing Ark: Survival Evolved for over a year now as when it launched on Xbox One Early Access I immediately jumped at the opportunity to give it a go. Sure, it ran at 720p and was the buggiest game on the planet, but it was Early Access and it was expected. Over a year later and now I moved to the PS4 Pro and it is a night and day difference over the earlier builds of the game. Sure, it is not perfect, but Ark finally feels like a complete game. The retail edition includes the Scorched Earth expansion as well as the Ragnarok, and The Center content which in turn makes it a four-packaged experience.
For those who don't know, Ark is a hardcore survival game where you wake up on an island inhabited by Dinosaurs and other primitive animals. You now need to survive and build yourself and your tribe, be it solo or with a hundred people, up the evolution charts by evolving through tech and research. From starting out building thatches and small campfires, I soon ended with stone houses, cooking pots, and even a Smithy to make metal weapons.
The thing about Ark is that it is as easy and hard as you want it to be. Logging into a public server is the way the game is meant to be played where you would meet other players, join a tribe and grow together. The settings are set for this and you will develop, level up, and even defecate at a smooth rate. Now, as much as I was ready for this experience, it has its drawbacks. It is a public server, and at launch, Wildcard could not keep up with the demand and barely had enough servers up. It also means that to carry on playing on that same server where your hairy caveman was saved, was a tedious task.
Sure, the public servers are a more social experience, but I was not prepared to sit and wait to resume my hut building every time I wanted to play the game. So I ended up opting in for the single player experience and alternating between that and the setting to host a non-dedicated server where my friends and I could jump into the game together. This also had a downside as the progress on my game did not carry over to anyone else's server. If anything, Ark lacks a decent way to experience the game as a local Tribe where each person can still play the game without the fear of grinding for no real outcome, and your buildings and saves disappearing from a public server after a while.
Putting that issue aside, Ark's survival aspect is one of the best I have ever experienced. I grew up in the Jurassic Park era so my love for dinosaurs is still with me today and to have the opportunity to live and die around them in a fully-imagined game is a dream come true. Ark is hard to master, but luckily the single player mode lets you tweak the dozens of settings to create the perfect experience to your liking. Everything from health, stamina decay, to even your XP modifier and the amount of wood you get from punching a tree can be changed and this is where I finally enjoyed the game.
As a newcomer, my friend also tested the public servers and then a single player mode with different settings and he was hooked from day one. It takes that pressure off you to know that you do not have to worry about food as much as you would when playing the normal game on a public server. It also eliminates the grind that Ark has, and boy, it is a real grind. Building houses, creating steel weapons, and even the saddles that let you mount any tameable creature, is not an easy feat.
The materials needed and the farming to get these is Ark's main time-consuming feature, but the end results are always worth it. I had to go smash down a forest to build a new hut at the top of a mountain I discovered, but when it was set up with standing torches and everything I needed to live I basked in my glory.
It also helps that the dinosaurs can be your friend, no matter how terrifying they are. Knocking them out with a club and feeding them berries can turn them into good creatures, and then they can be equipped with a saddle and rode like a horse or something that rides these days. This makes carrying a large amount of resources around much easier as the default weight restrictions are an issue if you don't have one. But the threat of the harsh environments is a constant worry in Ark as every new location has deadly creatures trying to kill you, and the weather and the way your character adapts to it is all dependant on your stats and equipment.
As you progress and level up you unlock engrams which are blueprints to craft new weapons, building materials, objects, and of course gear for your character. Ark's levelling system is perfect as it sees you going from a primitive caveman to a laser gun-wielding space man with a jetpack. Sure civilization around you does not change, but everything you can create and your buildings start to get more sophisticated.
Ark is addictive as I could not wait to unlock the next set of engrams to see what I could create and how it would mould my journey. I would then need to farm items to create it, make sure I eat, drink water, and of course defecate every now and then. After doing that I would have another set of engrams to unlock and repeat the same process over again.
Where Ark shines is in its world and how it all feels alive and real at the same time. Moving from the beach into the forests, and then swamps, as you try to survive the world around you and build your small civilization, is a truly wonderful experience. Every new ecosystem was teeming with life and I could not help but gaze in awe at the towering trees in the distance knowing that I could explore that one day.
Ark's PvE is great, and its PvP too, if you are in the mood for a server full of trolls, and there is always a place for any form of gamer who is looking for a specific type of playthrough. I highly recommend giving the single player mode a try and adjusting the game's settings for the best experience. If you are brave and know how games in this genre work then you can head into the public space. The best part about Ark is that it has finally been tailor made for every gamer out there thanks to the advanced settings.
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC | Played
This review was based on the Early Access code that turned into a retail edition upon release. We were also given a hard copy of the game by Apex Interactive to experience co-op