Should I care about Ark: Survival Evolved? Yes. If you’re into dinosaurs and survival games, you really can’t go wrong here. Word of warning, though: it’s definitely not finished yet.
What’s it about? Surviving and hunting/taming dinosaurs. Think DayZ or Rust, except with better graphics, more immediately intuitive progression, and — oh, right — prehistoric ultra-lizards (and turtles) who will laugh as your puny spear snaps against their obsidian-solid dino abs. It’s currently in Early Access, but the developers hope to add a fuckton of ambitious features before it’s all said and done. As ever, though, Early Access is not a guarantee of completion. Proceed with caution.
Watch me play a couple hours of it here:
Why is (or isn’t it) cool? It’s got all the usual survival trappings (gather stuff, eat, drink, craft, build), but with fun interplay between both players and dinosaurs and dinosaurs and dinosaurs. I once saw a T-Rex pick fights with multiple herbivorous dinos he would have had no problem chomping to bits solo, only to have them gang up and bludgeon him into primordial soup. You can also tame a dinosaur of your own by feeding and caring for it, which is one of those things that retroactively becomes a childhood fantasy even if you didn’t care about dinosaurs as a child or, indeed, didn’t have a childhood (you could be tube-grown clone; I don’t know).
The progression-system, which sees you pick new crafting patterns each time you level up, makes quick, intuitive sense and sets you on a path toward mastering essential skills instead of overwhelming you early. You also keep your level/stats/crafting abilities when you die, making Ark a bit less punishing than other survival games. The progression system is, however, straightforward and could hurt the game’s overall depth. Also, it limits player freedom. I’m digging it right now, but that could change in the long run.
Ark is a strong game for player-driven mini-stories, thanks once again to the dinosaurs. I spent, like, 20 minutes getting chased by a vengeful giant turtle who could not, for the life of him, catch up with me, but god damn it he was gonna bite me in half come hell or a giant flaming asteroid or volcanoes fucking up the atmosphere or something. Also at one point I managed to fend off an attack from three dilophosauruses who were way higher level than me, only to realise I was completely dehydrated and out of water. As I panicked about my impending doom, I noticed a body of water below me. Far below me. Jump off a cliff below me. So I ran off the cliff and… didn’t make it. Seconds after my craterous impact, a dilophosaurus ran up and started eating me. Masters of the long con, those fuckers.
And then there are player-centric stories like this one, from a Steam user:
OK, but what’s all this about it being early? Right. Currently Ark doesn’t have all its creature types or systems in place yet. I’ve been having a pretty solid time with it over the past couple days, but it does feel a bit thin on things to do once you’ve tamed some creatures and made some friends and built a base. There are glowing sci-fi obelisks to investigate, but I haven’t made it to a high enough level to do anything meaningful with those yet.
Other issues: the game is terribly optimised, and even my beast of a PC could only run it on medium. Also, it’s hard to tell what level a dinosaur is until you’re right up in its face, which can be troublesome when you’re something wants to eat you and you’ve got to decide whether to fight or flee. Combat, meanwhile, is janky at best. And finally, there aren’t enough official servers (they’re full pretty much constantly), so you’ll probably have to chance it on an unofficial one.
Ark‘s developers plan to keep it in Early Access for one year, which is telling.
Should I buy it (even though there are a million-billion other Steam games I could spend my money on)? Right now, it’s a toss-up. It’s already pretty fun, but it’s hampered by a lack of content (at least, relative to what it will have in the future) and technical issues. I’m enjoying it, but you might want to hold off until some of the issues are resolved. Your call.