Ark: Survival Evolved has finally hit full release after spending two years in Game Preview, and arrives at the retail price you would expect to pay for a AAA experience. Yes, Studio Wildcard expect you to pony up $60 (or region equivalent) to enjoy a game that should arguably still be in Game Preview. Whilst Ark: Survival Evolved is a playable game in its current state, it still comes with a heap of bugs and a lack of polish. This ultimately begs the question, did the devs spend too much time releasing new content rather than concentrating on bug squishing the core experience? I’m not going to pretend that I’m tech-savvy when it comes to game development, but I do believe this to be the case, and as a result, you’re being asked to pay the AAA price for an experience that lacks a AAA touch.
Ark: Survival Evolved is a survival game that sees you stranded almost butt naked on a strange mysterious island. You’re first able to create your own character of either gender, as well as customise their appearance however you see fit. You can alter the body size, expression, and facial features to a great extent, before of course being thrown into a random section of the Ark. You can select from online play or single player, and further choose whether you want to play PvP or PvE, me, I went with PvE due to some bad experiences with PvP. That bad experience is no fault of Studio Wildcard, but damn was I not able to locate a server where someone didn’t instantly want me dead for simply daring to walk by their nifty huts. That ladies and gentlemen is the nature of PvP, and something we should all expect to tolerate.
As soon as you spawn (on any server) you’ll be greeted with some truly breathtaking sights, especially if you’re a first timer. The game does indeed throw you in at the deep end, but that’s the beauty of Ark: Survival Evolved, it wants you to feel as small and insignificant as possible, leaving it up to you to work your way from naked survivor, to an island owning Chuck Norris wannabe. It’s getting there that will either make or break you, because this is by no means a game that you can effectively make a difference in short bursts of play. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, with curiosity often being rewarded with general knowledge and understanding that will eventually see you through.
Crafting is something you’re forced to be instantly familiar with. Punching trees for example will gift you with wood and thatch, group this with small stones that you can find anywhere on the beach, and you have yourself your very first pick-axe. It’s equally as important to ensure that your character is well fed and hydrated, prompting you to become familiar with what you can eat, what you can cook, what you shouldn’t eat, and what you shouldn’t cook. The same can be said for your source of hydration. Suffice to say, you’re going to spend a lot of time even just learning the basics of play. That’s not to mentioned the countless predators that patrol the environment, most of which either tower in size in comparison to your character, or can chase you down faster than you can run.
I found it most helpful to locate an area that isn’t entirely occupied by creatures that want you in their mouths. Once I did that, I was able to craft a thatch hut to use as my base of operations (if you like), somewhere I could store my possessions and take shelter to save my lingering stats from dropping further. You’re free to craft whatever you like when it comes to making a base, from rooftops to staircases, you can fashion your home using a wide range of different layouts. It’s round about here that I started to feel more competent in my chances for survival, though I must point out, hunger, thirst, and predators were not the only problems that I had to contend with. Bugs, and lots of them. No, not your typical garden variety bugs, I’m talking bugs that are present in the game because the developers unleashed Ark: Survival Evolved sooner than they should have. Several times did I get stuck in the environment, witness frame-rate drops, and my personal favourite, crashing. When you think about how much you have to contend with and juggle as it is, technical issues frustrate you more than they usually would, and Ark: Survival Evolved is no exception.
Nevertheless, I continued onward in an attempt to make it further into the experience. I found that levelling up my character rewarded me with a skill point that I could put towards increasing my stats, being health, oxygen, and weight. Mercifully, these stats do feel as though they make a difference, and although this system sounds quite simplistic, it becomes more in-depth when you factor in Engrams. Engrams are blueprints that allow you to build more complex items, and the more you rank up, the more Engram points you will be awarded. This is where Ark: Survival Evolved shines at its brightest, levelling up so much and unlocking new and exciting builds to keep you on your toes and keep the predators at bay. Smoke grenades, guns, rockets, and much more await those that persevere, which is exactly when the game becomes much more fun.
Taming the creatures found in Ark is as straight forward as you could hope, which gets a big thumbs up from me in the face of the already complicated core experience. To do this, you simply need to knock a creature unconscious and feed it whatever food it likes until the tame meter reached max capacity. You can indeed be more daring and feed them whilst they’re conscious, but this never seems to end well as most creatures just want to eat or hurt you. You can knock a creature unconscious (or kill it if you need the resource) via melee or projectile weaponry.
This is when the frame-rate issues become more of a dominant problem. Ark: Survival Evolved just doesn’t render too well when there’s a lot going off on the screen at any given time, which tends to happen when you want to tame or kill a creature. This results in some agonising moments of play as you constantly slam the attack button in the hopes that you can connect an attack amidst the spikes in frame-rate. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does happen, it’s irritating for lack of better words. When you eventually do happen to tame a creature and ride it, the movement feels clunky and uneasy, with movement being tied to both analogs. I cant say this for each and every creature, but the few that I managed to tame, felt somewhat awkward to manoeuvre. You can also level up your captured creature too, improving their stats and capabilities in the process.
Despite the issues that still plague the game, Ark: Survival Evolved does manage to get a lot of right. Map size for example is massive, and well realised for that matter too. Dinos will quite literally be everywhere you go, ranging in size, shape, and deadliness. When you’re not facing off against dinos, chances are you’ll be checking out a piranha, a dodo, or several of the other inhabitants that populate the Ark. There’s a lot to see and heaps to get up to throughout the vast land. Just don’t expect to be taming or riding a T-Rex within the first day, or even the first week of playing, because you’re going to need to persevere, forgive the issues, and work hard to earn that privilege. When the (at times) textures don’t render late, Ark: Survival Evolved is a good looking game when you sit back and marvel at everything on offer, it’s just a shame it’s bogged down by so many faults that should have been addressed in preview.
If my opinion of Ark: Survival Evolved wasn’t clear enough already, I’ll come out and say it, the devs have taken the game out of preview too early. It’s a great experience that looks fantastic, and one that’s definitely better when playing with friends, but the amount of issues do not excuse the steep price point. When you’re going to release a game at the cost of a AAA title, it should be of AAA quality, which Ark: Survival Evolved is not. The systems within are well structured and the map size is impressive, as is the diverse amount of creatures that inhabit it, but the whole package is sadly let down by poor optimisation and persistent bugs. With that being said, there’s a lot of longevity here for those that have the patience to forgive the aforementioned issues, and the appeal of the game is alluring enough to ensure that the player-base remains strong for a number of years to come, I just hope that Studio Wildcard focus on the concerns rather than split their resources between bug fixing and creating new content. Ark: Survival Evolved was somewhat safe from these criticisms during preview, but now that it’s out as a full launch title, that armour has gone. In summary, this is a solid game with interesting functionalities and mechanics that’s ultimately hindered by several faults.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.