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Welcome, to the island of Jurassic… No, wait, the Island of Ark: Survival Evolved! You must forgive me for the mistake. ARK is a survival game that traps you on an island that has become the natural habitat for several prehistoric and mythical beasts that could once only terrorize your nightmares. How well does it manage that?
Are the dinosaurs just set dressing, or can I actually skin it and make some dressings out of its flesh? Can I stan Chris Pratt and own a pack of potentially mutinous raptors? Yes! But how well does it do this?
Bottom Line Up Front
I am a player that enjoys challenging games. Soulsborne games are where I go for troll-AI. Not dinosaurs. Ark, however, liked to be a troll. A brutal enemy is one thing, but a flying one who will only swoop down to attack you and steal your weapon at spawn? One that is 32 levels higher than you, a level 1-5 at this point? At beginner spawn? This being one of many steps in tedium means this is either not my kind of game, or the AI has gone sapient and officially dislikes me.
I wanted to like Ark, but these choices were too infuriating as they were a dime a dozen. A game needs to actually be approachable, not practice in tedium. Well, at least, not until after the first 5 minutes into the game. Otherwise, troll behavior does what troll behavior does best. It makes you want to leave, and if the game’s AI itself is doing that realistically or not, it is not exactly the type of game I will enjoy.
If these moments had been better balanced, I would be more forgiving. However, mixing it with the tedium of starting at the shore without a weapon or armor and having a spawn camping creep bother you when you aren’t even on PVP? Rude, to be perfectly honest.
I would only suggest this game for players who like a difficulty curve that can best be described as erratic.
- Dinosaurs!! Oh, that ain’t enough? Dinosaurs, you can DRIVE.
- The tech tree is laid out in such a way to keep the difficulty curve balanced and, minus a piranha keeps it from becoming frustrating.
- There are many themed DLC that add various dinosaur types and unique lands for you to further explore and capture.
- Water combat haunts me.
- The game is obnoxious in its difficulty curve. You will be spawn camped by a weapon stealing flying dinosaur at the starting area. Where you spawn naked, mind you, and where you will respawn. This made me stop playing on that map and move to a different one.
- While the game’s resource gathering can feel rewarding, the high number of resources needed for every single item can make something as simple as building a house tedious. Couple this with how easy the primary material for a wall will leave you over-encumbered. You will find yourself questioning if this particular gameplay loop is worth it.
About ARK – Survival Evolved
ARK is a survival game that takes things to a new extreme. A once extinct extreme. Rather than throw you into a world full of BORING problems like tigers or gun-toting enemies, Ark throws your newly made character naked onto a beach. With nothing but your fists and your wits, you have to do what we do best in these situations.
Punch a few trees and somehow go from that to riding dinosaurs through a technological wonderland of your own creation while firing your latest invention onto a giant Brontosaurus who was just minding its own business. Craft, farm, build and evolve as you hunt for the deadliest beast the land has to offer and uncover the secrets of why this game is named ARK.
There is more than just the environment and predatory dinosaurs to face. Hidden in the depths of each island are potent creatures with capabilities that have granted them the designation ‘godly.’ These creatures will act as end goals.
It is a challenge to test the top of the tech tree once discovering animals, both extinct and mythological, and training them as you survive the harsh environment.
Should you feel a need to amp up the challenge or make things a bit easier, Ark includes the ability to open up servers allowing upwards of 100 players to join in. Whether you know them or not. The inclusion of players can add a PVP aspect to the game, with the ability to form tribes that will potentially escalate into wild tribe battles complete with mounted dinosaurs and griffins.
Should you be feeling dangerous, maybe you can capture every creature the island has to offer. Then, using the base building mechanics, perhaps create a sanctuary for these creatures. A manner of Jurassic park, if you will.
Check out some of our Dinosaur ARK guides:
Ark is gorgeous. You may want to tone down the bloom settings, as the need for developers to blind a player’s character continues to confuse me. Still, otherwise, the game makes it a delight to explore the island. Everything ran like a dream, and the aesthetic makes the most challenging part of this game is to find just where you want to build your headquarters. I am terrible when the options are plentiful.
The island itself is made dynamically, with even more splendor and mystic influence being considered when they made the later maps added to the series. Such as The Center, which includes a sizeable mountain-like island piercing through a massive waterfall that completely surrounds it. The lands beyond this waterfall are to be explored, not merely a pretty boundary. There is plenty to discover lurking above and below the surface. Still, you will have trouble pulling your attention away from just how majestic your sandbox is.
The detail put into the landscape and wildlife makes finding the next creature for your zoo less of a task and more of an obsessive need. You will see something strange and blue reflecting off in the distance. Rather than an odd graphical glitch, closer inspection reveals a parasaur made entirely of tech.
I spent an hour chasing the thing, trying to knock it out because its reflection would have gone swimmingly with my bamboo-rustic home. One day, tech-dino. One day.
Combat in Ark makes you feel like you are stuck on an island, naked, with only a wooden stick to deal with dinosaurs. It can be challenging, thanks to how much bite the enemies have. That isn’t to say things are impossible. That is the bite of this style of gaming.
The problem is the level distribution of enemies. One moment, in the spawn area, I am fighting a level 7 flying dino. The next moment, after having killed this one, I am being spawn-camped by a level 33 flying dinosaur I can’t escape. This, understandably, didn’t make me want to play more. However, I am spiteful and killed the thing eventually. Still, this is rather unforgivable.
I understand deeper in the island, but directly at the shore I spawned at? The first spawn area, no less? That is just the game being a bully. I do not appreciate that until at least I can build a BED. This happened on multiple maps. It was the PVE equivalent of a level 50 camping you in the lvl one area of WoW. I only had the difficulty level on 3, so this seems either like a glitch or the AI gaining sapience to troll me. Either is possible.
Beyond these hiccups, which admittedly made me rage quit temporarily thanks to that obnoxious piranha costing me my current loadout of stuff. As well as those as mentioned earlier spawn-camping flying beasts. Combat is tight on the land. Every action is tight, from wielding a weapon on dino-back to eventually crafting a turret to defend your territory.
The various weapons you can craft offer you several styles. Bash a dinosaur upside the head with a club to knock them out to train and saddle them. Should you be more on the hungry side, there are firearms to unlock and even more violent methods of dinosaur management.
The sheer number of creatures dominating Ark’s lands will give you plenty of cinematic combat experiences. My favorite was taking down a tiny swarm of itty bitty dinosaurs only to turn around, pleased with myself, to have a Dilophosaurus scream in my face and spit poison in my eyes for my crimes. A childhood dream ever since Jurassic Park.
One of Ark’s most delightful features is the ability to tame and mount dinosaurs as your primary source of transport. That isn’t to say the bare-footed traversal is a slough. On the contrary, even your walking speed is pleasantly quick compared to other games. So long as you aren’t encumbered, of course.
As almost any creature you come across can be mounted, you have plenty of opportunities to give yourself that personal flair. Especially as many of the dinosaurs come with variants, and other creatures such as Wyverns and Griffins can be mounted to give your stable a bit of an Azeroth touch.
Knocking them out can be an issue, but thankfully, the trusty club will help you in these dire times. We can’t make training such vicious creatures easy, after all. The need to balance killing resources versus holding back enough to only knock out the creatures you want to train gives the practice necessary difficulty to keep it rewarding.
While the crafting itself is engaging, the resource gathering can be tedious. Collection can be simple enough. With the admittedly unique mechanic of rocks and trees alone being capable of harvest through ax or pick, with only what resource you are primarily gathering being the change. A pick on a rock will yield you more flint, while an ax will harvest more stone. I found this to be a highly engaging mechanic.
The problem lies in the sheer number of select resources needed to make something reasonably small. For example, 50 stones for a mortar and pestle seems rather insane given it is about the size of a small rock with a smaller rock inside of it.
The process of unlocking these blueprints is quite refreshing and straightforward. The tech tree/Engram list is laid out understandably. You won’t have to wait until your next level to unlock the roof of your new building material if you have just opened the foundation. You will still need to buy them individually with points gained with each level, but I never found myself ever be hurting for an item in the catalog for too long. Especially as everything you do down to punching trees will build up your experience.
DLC has been added ever since ARK was first released if your adventures on the island are not sufficient.
Each DLC adds its own map with remarkable creatures, environmental dangers, and in some cases, unique missions such as a Labyrinth. Some are available for free while others range in price, shown as ‘Custom Arks’ in the new game menu, while the Story Arks generally have more involved missions for you to take on, as well adding entire flavors of dinosaurs such as ‘tech’ or ‘peculiar’ styles of the beasts already roaming the land as well some new ones.
The Genesis maps include missions that include racing through dangerous biomes on a particular mount or finding resources that require you to battle environmental dangers.
Some of the best inclusions that these new maps include are bosses that, much like the maps, are unique to the flavor of the land.
To give examples: Scorched Earth shoves you into an unforgiving desert that can kill you if you, say, build a metal home and forget how ovens work. While Aberration gives you a rich underground landscape that will remind you of Minecraft. Only with far worse dangers in store for you.
I would always recommend downloading the free map expansions. These will give you some new locations should you find the base Island story too challenging in your first romp.
For this review, I refrained from my instinct to pimp my game out as much as humanly possible. It would be rather rude if I didn’t mention that Ark’s modding community is diverse and plentiful. It is also easy to do, as the developers have included mod support since the early stages of development. Just peruse the steam workshop, subscribe, enable
Where to Buy ARK – Survival Evolved
ARK – Survival Evolved was developed by Studio Wildcard and Instinct Games. The base game and its DLC can be purchased digitally for consoles on the following platforms.
- Sony Playstation Network
- Nintendo Switch Market
- Microsoft Xbox Marketplace
- It is available for PC and Xbox on Microsoft’s Gamepass subscription service.
- It is also available for PC on the Steam Marketplace, Google Play, or Epic Games.
- It can be purchased physically at your nearest retailer or Amazon.
Like ARK, I would like to mention that both of these listed games come with official VR capabilities. This feature is one of the primary reasons I chose them over the other contenders in this coveted genre.
Survival Horror at its best.
The Forest has one of the most profound stories of its competitors. The game gives your survival meaning, as the opening cutscene explains the events that led you to be stuck on the island in the first place. While there are many mysteries you discover while you survive off the lands in the Forest, what leads you to be stuck on this island isn’t one of them.
After scavenging the materials left in the commercial airliner you crashed in on, the Forest introduced a whole new type of stress into the genre’s well-tested recipe: horror. That delicious type of horror that leaves you watching the door as you finally go to bed after sleepless nights building your defenses up against the cannibals and experiments that lurk on the island.
No Man’s Sky
Point to a star and mine it for everything it is worth.
No Man’s Sky holds many similarities to ARK. From the ability to find and tame monsters, having been added in one of its many updates since its launch, to the sci-fi aesthetic that peppers its landscape.
Only in No Man’s Sky can you find a world that is your very own, with that planet type that you obsessed over in your childhood rising over the horizon like the sun. Personally, mine are ring planets. You haven’t lived until you sat down next to a base you built yourself to watch your favorite planet, so far, rise over your new favorite biome type. While your stable of unique creatures from across the universe, which would make The Collector blush, decorate the landscape.
I would like to note that No Man’s Sky might have come to your attention thanks to its disastrous launch. I can personally attest to the fact that, since that time, they have delivered countless expansion-sized updates for free that have made the modern laughing stock of development into a must-play title in the genre.
Question: What is considered the best ARK paid DLC?
Answer: I am sorry to say, the DLC is now all included in the season pass. Being picky and choosy is no longer an option. Though, the season pass is often included in a number of special editions. The Center is one of the most visually pleasing maps though this one is available for free. I would argue Aberattion is the best as the map is completely different in its tone thanks to the bulk of its creatures, resources, and progress being set in a vast network of underground caves.
Question: What are the first Engrams I should unlock in Ark?
Answer: Besides the obvious pickaxe and spear for resource gathering, you should focus on collecting fiber for clothing. The elements can be fierce, and you don’t want to freeze your bits off.
Question: Why isn’t my campfire working in Ark?
Answer: The campfire requires that you place a flammable resource in its inventory. Place a stack of wood into the same inventory you are putting the food you wish to cook. You will then be able to activate the fire by pressing the action button. ‘E’ in the case of PC users.
Ark is a game that infuriated me. I kept getting hunted by creatures out of my league who would find where I respawned. I wasn’t even on an online server! However, what is strange is I found myself being called back, much like a painful boss in Dark Souls. So, this Ark: Survival Evolved review is mixed. On the one hand, the difficulty is precisely what I would expect from an island I woke up on naked and now have to deal with a T-rex.
On the other hand, I currently have a beef with piranhas as a species and now wish they were served as Nagiri at my local restaurant along with prehistoric pelican.
The nature of the survival genre is to find and overcome a difficulty that seems impossible yet inherently natural to the environment. Ark manages this beautifully, even if it possibly gave me an aneurysm. Overcoming obstacles in Ark and games where it feels like the code itself is punishing you can be rewarding. It can inspire you to take that energy into the real world and face whatever threat might follow you.
So long as it isn’t a spawn-camping flying hooligan who has 6 of my spears somewhere on her person and is WAY too cocky about it. I need to take care of that. Have a marvelous one.
Here are some interesting ARK guides you’ll find useful throughout your journey in the Island of Ark: Survival Evolved: