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ARK: Survival Ascended launched at the end of October 2023 and has received mixed reviews since then. If you’re on board, I commend you for trying it out. I’m a huge fan of the ARK series, and I still recommend Survival Ascended to survival game fans. If your system can run it, then you can enjoy the game as intended.
But ARK: SA is not an old-school adventure game that you pick up and follow the on-screen tutorial, completing the game in a dozen hours. It’s a game that even seasoned veterans have trouble staying alive in. That said, knowing the basics of playing ARK: Survival Ascended goes a long way in ensuring you get the most out of your experience.
What to Know as a Beginner in ARK – TL;DR
ARK: Survival Ascended is not a beginner-friendly game. It’s difficult, you die a lot, and you must get used to losing your progress. There is no tutorial either, so you are dropped in the middle of nowhere to fend for yourself without clothes, tools, or directions.
So, what are the basics of playing ARK: Survival Ascended as a beginner?
- Choose the right server – single-player can teach you the game, but it’s more fun on either a PvP or PvE server with others.
- Get to Crafting – craft basic tools, cloth armor, and beginner base items early on.
- Settings – start with low settings to lower the chance of crashing.
- Surviving early on – drop in a green area near water, find allies (tribe), and find a fire or shelter for nighttime.
- Attribute basics – on official severs put points into weight, stamina, and health for your best chances.
Choosing a Server
There are multiple ways to play ARK: Survival Ascended. The first step is choosing the right server. In MMOs, there are limited servers to join, which tend to be based solely on availability. But in survival games like ARK, you get to choose a server based on other aspects.
The first server choice is whether you want to play single-player or with others. On single-player, you control the settings but won’t be able to join a tribe. All you have to worry about are dinos and surviving the elements.
PvP or PvE
If you choose to play with others, you need to join a server. The biggest choice here is whether to play PvP or PvE. On PvP servers, everyone is an enemy unless you join their tribe. I recommend PvE for beginners, but if you prefer PvP in other survival games, go for it.
Official or Unofficial
Finally, you have to choose whether to play on an official or unofficial server. Official servers have stricter rules but are easier to understand and have more security. For example, you don’t risk losing everything when the server shuts down unless it’s an official wipe that players were warned about.
Settings (Optimize for Performance)
On ARK: Survival Evolved, settings matter. But on Survival Ascended, they’re even more important. Most people can’t play the game without adjusting their settings. Before you click Play, when you’re in the menu, go to settings (ESC).
It’s good practice to start at the Low settings for ASA. This doesn’t mean turning everything all the way to Low but doing the Low default set. If you can play without issues this way, then feel free to amp it up to Medium. If you can’t, then check out Charlie Intel’s guide; it shows you the absolute best settings for graphics and the best settings for performance. I also highly recommend starting in Windowed Fullscreen mode first with the default size. Then, play around with the resolution afterward.
Region (Think Green)
After you create a character, there will be a short cutscene and a map that asks you where you want to drop. Always start in one of the southern regions on the Island. You can locate the safest areas by looking for green spawns.
Orange spawns are medium difficulty, and red ones are danger zones. If you spawn here, expect to die in seconds, primarily due to weather but occasionally by large carnivores.
Recommended reading: Ark Greenhouse Guide
Tribe (Ape Strong Together)
If you’re on a PvP server, your chances of survival increase significantly if you join a tribe. On PvE servers, tribes are more about sharing resources and going on adventures together.
Finding a Tribe
Finding a tribe in ARK: Survival Ascended is not first nature for most. For some, it happens naturally when you run into someone, neither of you attacks, you say something silly in proximity chat, and then one of you invites the other to a tribe. Discord is one of the best ways to find a tribe for official and unofficial servers.
Staying alive isn’t just about avoiding danger in ARK: Survival Ascended. It’s about sustaining your physical body. That’s what survival games are all about – the annoying things you do to keep yourself alive in real life.
For a long while, you just need to stay near the beach to have enough water. That’s where you should spend most of your early days anyway. Once you leave the area, it’s good practice to take a look at your destination to mark the water bodies along the way. Craft a waterskin or jar to ensure you make it to each water stop. On ARK, you don’t survive long without water.
Food is a problem early on in ARK: Survival Ascended. Berries are everywhere, but they don’t go far. It’s a good idea to start a fire on day one and start cooking meat. Dodos are usually the easiest finds. In ARK: Survival Evolved, Dodos didn’t attack. But now they do if they have babies with them.
They’re still easy to kill and provide the quickest meat early game. So grab a spear and kill some Dodos to cook as soon as possible. This will be your best source of food for some time. To cook meat in ARK: SA, place a campfire, put wood and meat in it, light the fire, then wait. The meat cannot burn, but it can spoil.
The elements are easy to deal with early on during the day. But to survive them outside the beach or at night, you need two resources – clothing and fire. A shelter is ideal, but that may not happen for a couple of days. So make sure you have a fire on you at all times unless you’re staying near one. At night, you will likely need a fire or at least a torch to keep you warm, even on the beach. The next step is to make cloth armor, which offers even more cold resistance.
Attributes (What to Max)
- Movement Speed (not on official) – this was always my go-to early game because it saves lives, but they removed it from official servers.
- Health – if you like to get up close and personal, then put points into health.
- Stamina – this is my new number one stat, but I don’t go ham on it until I ensure I put a few points into the next two stats.
- Weight – I always do weight first, but only a few. After I get to 150-200, I’ll be good for a while, but without a little weight, it’ll be difficult to gather resources.
- Fortitude (when you get to other areas) – you shouldn’t need fortitude early on, but it’s not a bad idea to add some every once in a while.
- Food – don’t do it.
- Oxygen – no.
- Water – unnecessary.
- Melee – this is subjective, but I never add melee points until late in the game.
Crafting (Half of the Game)
There are three things you should make in the first 10 minutes of the game. Without these items, you can’t do much. Chances are, you’ll have to remake these items multiple times during your first couple of days. I know I tend to explore early on when there’s nothing to lose but these items and start playing safer after I start building up my collection of resources.
Building a Base
It’s a good idea to make a mini-base or spawn point with a bed or sleeping bag and a box. In PvP, keep this place hidden from view and in a place that’s easy to get back to. For example, I don’t recommend building high on a cliff. In ARK: SA, you can choose to spawn on a claimed bed (don’t forget to claim one after you place it!) instead of in a random location. So, if you die, you can choose to spawn at your “base.”
Once you’re ready for a more permanent base – or, let’s face it, semi-permanent – there are a few great beginner options.
A raft is one of the best Island bases in ARK: Survival Ascended, especially on PvE. If you find a good spot without Sarcos and other water carnivores, you can have a small base on a raft that is nearly untouchable. It is not only safe, but it offers you a great way to explore the map.
Caves are one of the best PvE bases in ARK because you can block them off from dinos. They are not the best in PvP because they’re hotspots. But in PvE, it’s an amazing option against NPCs. Though they’re not usually rich in resources, they do offer protection. Just make sure that the server allows it, as there may be strict rules against creating bases in certain popular areas.
A nook or crevice works well on PvP servers. You can hide behind waterfalls, in holes, or on top of a rock that looks inconspicuous. These bases can’t really be called bases, though. They tend to consist of a box and a bed. For anything bigger, you’ll need a dino army or a tribe.
Tames (The Best Part of ARK)
Now, for the best part – taming dinos. ARK games are known for their taming methods, breeding process, and the connection one makes with their animals. My greatest memories of ARK involve dinos I raised and bred.
The Beginner Checklist
- Land Traveler
- Land Fighter
My Top Beginner Dino Choices
- Moschops – I only add this because it’s the easiest mount to tame if you’re lucky.
- Trike – slow, but a good fighter and gatherer early on.
- Pteranadon – best early-game flyer that’s easy to tame if you get a good bola in.
- Raptor – best early game fighter and traveler; it’s quite fast.
- Iguanadon (unpopular pick) – I love the Iguanadon, and I believe it is underrated.
What to Tame Next?
- Argentavis – great weight and a good flying fighter.
- Castroides – best for wood.
- Doedicurus – best for stone.
- Ankylosaurus – best for metal.
- Therizinosaurus – good gatherer and fighter.
- Megatherium – great fighter, gatherer, and the best Broodmother mount.
- Rex? – I can’t get by without adding Rex to the list because everyone expects it.
How to Tame a Dino
Taming dinos is a bit different in ARK: Survival Ascended. The basics though is that you knock them out, feed them, and then give them a name. There are a few exceptions to this method. For these dinos, you have to handfeed them, which you can see by approaching the dino. If it says what food the dino wants, then it is not a knockout tame.
You won’t need to cage your target early on most of the time. But it does help to trap any dino. There are many methods for this, but the basics is that you need something you can lure a dino into and block their way out. Do this with a ramp, gate, or a quick wall.
Knock ‘Em Out
To knock a dino out in ARK: Survival Ascended, you must increase their torpor. There are certain dinos that can do this, but early game, you’ll rely on a few different options.
- Club (best early game)
- Tranq arrows (best early game ranged, but difficult to make early)
- Even punching works for Dodos and Compies.
Keep hitting or shooting the dino, kiting them if need be, until they pass out. Then stop! If you don’t stop, you’ll decrease their taming effectiveness, giving you a less-than-perfect dino. Some weapons may even kill them before you tame the dino.
Feed ‘Em Food
Once you knock out a dino, you can feed them their preferred foods. Carnivores will eat most meat, while herbivores will eat berries. Later on, mutton and vegetables are great, but earl game, just feed them berries and basic raw meat. Put a stack in the body and wait, keeping an eye on them. You don’t need to force feed them because, somehow, dinos sleep eat. If you try to force feed, it will actually halt the tame because the dinos will never get hungry.
Feed ‘ Em Narcs
If their level is low enough, this step isn’t necessary. But if you find that the dino starts waking up (aka their torpor is nearly back at 0), then force feed them narcoberies or narcotics. This will keep them asleep, but I don’t recommend doing it unless you need to.
A new method of taming in ARK: SA is to find babies. To tame these babies, all you have to do is get rid of the parents by killing them or taming them. Then, chase the baby down and click imprint on it. Immediately after, feed it, or it will die.
Engrams are a point system that you gain from leveling up. You use your Engram Points to unlock crafting recipes. Because of the limited supply, it’s important to prioritize wisely early on.
- Hatchet – for wood/thatch
- Spear – for fighting
- Pickaxe – for stone/metal
- Bola – for capturing dinos
- Slingshot – for knocking out dinos
- Thatch housing – for building your first base
- Cloth armor – the first armor set to keep you warm
- Bow and arrows – for long-range
- Arrows Mortar and pestle – to make sparkpowder and narcotics (unlock those too)
- Bed – for a spawn point
- Forge – for smelting metal
- Preserving bin – for making your food last longer
- Smithy – for crafting
- Upgraded weapons/tools/armor – you can skip some levels, but it’s best to hit them all in a natural progression.
- Climbing Pick – makes exploring easier
General Tips for Beginners
Getting started in ARK: Survival Ascended is not easy, and a full guide may be overwhelming. But there are three tips I’d like to leave you with, and if you get nothing else out of this, then these will get you through the game.
This is something that is 100% going to happen eventually, and it’s going to hurt. The spawn timers for your possessions are super short, and even if you do make it back, in PvP, someone will have gone through it. If you have your dinos with you, you can consider them gone too because if you die, chances are, your dinos will die too.
Not to mention the upgraded tools, your best armor, and the rare find you traveled across the map for. The game is extremely punishing, but you’ll eventually find that it’s just part of the game.
The PvP in ARK: Survival Ascended is extremely brutal. People have no mercy most of the time, which is why it’s so important to join a tribe. Without a tribe, you won’t be able to set up a good camp, unlock all of the engrams, or survive for long. As difficult as it is facing other tribes, if you have a home to go back to, it makes it all worth it.
No matter what happens, you should enjoy the game. It is a game, after all, not a punishment. If you find that you’re not enjoying yourself, either take a break, talk to a friend, or play something else. If PvP gets to you, go on a PvE server, and you will see that it feels like a different game. ARK: Survival Ascended is not for everyone, but I’m convinced anyone can enjoy it if they know what to do to create the game they are looking for.