‘Ark: Survival Evolved’ Review: The Real Enemy Is Human

Most of us probably grew up loving dinosaurs. They’re majestic beasts with just a hint of mystery, considering we’ve never — and (probably) will never — see one living and roaming a non-digitalized habitat.

Well, you know what we mean, little guy.

And it may be because of this that games like Ark: Survival Evolved strike a chord deep within us. It’s not the survival aspect, because we all know that’s been done close to death. Games like Turok elicit the same response because we all have this childhood nostalgia for dinosaurs.

Aw, man, not the nostalgia train!

So nostalgia steamrolls us into yet another survival title, but the question remains — is it any good? After weeks of learning the ins-and-outs of Ark: Survival Evolved, I thought I’d be able to form a sound opinion on it, but find myself still stuck in a limbo of ambivalence.

On one hand, Studio Wildcard has developed a sound survival game, probably one of the more complex out there. There is a heavy learning curve, but once you master it, the world is your oyster!

Look at all them oysters!

Then there’s the multiplayer component, which was a bit of a detestable experience only thanks to the cruelty and deviance of other players. You know what’s fun about dying five times within a half-hour all for the weird enjoyment of higher level players?

Thank you, Walt.

Thankfully, even after you die, you can retrieve anything that hasn’t been stolen from your corpse. And you do restart at your current level, which softens the blow a little.

So neatly packaged for you.

Exacerbating the issue with multiplayer a little more is the fact that, even when you’re signed off, your character still exists within the world of Ark. If you haven’t guessed, that means players can murder you in your sleep. So always having a suitable shelter around you is key to survival even when you’re not playing.

Just when I was about to write Ark off as a lost cause, I happened upon the single-player component. And while it may not be as much fun as a successful multiplayer experience if you can get multiplayer to work for you, the solo experience will let you toy around with the mechanics and really get to know the game without worrying about being shanked while harvesting wood.

Oh boy, hope no one kills me while I work!

It all starts with a character creation that can yield hilarious results while also introducing you to just how deep the game is going to get. Ark isn’t just about survival; it’s about getting to know your character and building them into the person you want them to be. Want a cavemanesque brute that causes high melee damage and can carry an Apatosaurus? Yeah, you can probably do that.

Or…maybe not.

Leveling up lets you put experience points into stats like health, hunger, thirst, and weight capacity. But hitting each level doesn’t come easy and each point is a gradual change, so it’s all about knowing what works best for your play style. Are you more aggressive? Then you’ll want to pump points into melee attacks. It’s standard RPG mechanics, but that each point does so little means you’ll have to spend them very wisely.

A healthy dodo is a prosperous dodo.

When you level up, you also unlock points to spend on engrams, which allow you to craft certain items. Again, you can’t just spend points willy-nilly. Survival requires you to know how you plan on playing the game, especially considering there aren’t enough engram points to unlock every craftable item.

Once you’ve gotten used to the stats, your character’s inventory menu, and the very crowded menu interface, you can embark on your journey in this prehistoric world. You’ll chop down trees and mine stone for resources needed to craft everything from clothing to cooking pots. You’ve done this all before, but Ark tweaks it just enough to keep it interesting and refreshing.

Just building some emotional barriers.

The most appealing feature of Ark is, of course, the world’s inhabitants. Studio Wildcard has created a rogues gallery of prehistoric beasts that encompass dinosaurs, avian threats, and terrifying creatures of the deep.

That’s not horrifying at all…
Why did it have to be sharks?

Making it from one day to the next requires knowing which beasts you can handle and which you’ll want to avoid. So long as you can tell the difference between a carnivore and a herbivore, you shouldn’t have many problems with accidental deaths. Though some of the more temperamental herbivores like the Therizinosaurus don’t hesitate to attack if you get too close.

To help you survive in this unforgiving land, you can enlist the help of even the most ferocious prehistoric beasts by “taming” them. It’s a quirky mechanic that requires you to knock your intended target out—either by bashing them with a club, stones, or by later using tranquilizer darts you can craft—then feeding it while it’s dozing. Should you find the perfect ratio of food — and yes, it needs to be perfect — the beast will wake up as your pet.

Is this how you make friends in real life?

It’s the most fascinating aspect of the entire game, and stomping around even on the back of the docile Parasaur feels like a massive accomplishment. It also helps that some dinosaurs can help collect supplies en masse, which makes progressing to grander structures and better weapons infinitely faster as you start to get into crafting items that drain your resources.

Giddy-up!

If you play your cards right, you can have an entire army of Spinosaurus ready to do your mischievous bidding. Sadly, as cool as having a collection of dinosaurs is, none of it means jack outside the multiplayer component, which loops me back to the biggest problem I found with Ark.

Ark is the type of game you want to love because there is so much that it does right. But even partway through writing this review I thought to give the multiplayer component another try only to be met with the same incredibly frustrating results. Sadly, it’s not really something Studio Wildcard can do much about, save for ferry people over to the PvE servers where it’s impossible to kill one another. But then it just feels like you’re playing a watered-down version of the intended vision.

Ah, is there a happy medium?

Ark encourages imprisoning other players.

If Ark suffers from anything, it’s the cruel gamers that prowl its servers and the hefty learning curve. But when you can explore the vibrant world and can consistently build up your character, it proves itself as one of the best survival games out there.

Mark LoProto is a horror-loving gaming enthusiast who also has a soft spot for Ghostbusters, bubble wrap, and kittens. Look for his work here, here, and here.

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