Ark: Survival Evolved
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2015-12-19 PC MMO M (Mature) Studio Wildcard

I've been playing ARK on Steam Early Access since the Summer now, and even though I was off to a very rough start, I ended up really enjoying it.

ARK: Survival Evolved doesn't seem to have a story. In fact, I'd really like to know what's going on there. Why am I in this island? How did I get here in the first place? Who put me there? Who or what sends the supply drops?

Once you create your character, you can play the game solo or join one of the available servers, either PVP or PVE. I tried both, and honestly, PVP is not for me, and in ARK it's just so much more frustrating that there is hardly any point doing it. That was my first experience with the game, as I joined another server with two friends who were already playing it.

The first few times were actually just attempts at connecting, since the game was so unstable that it would either not run, lock or crash before actually loading into the server. I remember one particular day where it took me 40 minutes to finally load in and try to get to them.

You literally start with nothing when you first load in. Just you, practically naked, with a few engrams (recipes) that allow you to create basic tools. Except you need materials first. So, first order of business, attempt to survive without a clue on what to do. In my first moments in game, all I did was attempt to reach my friends without dying. Easier said than done. Soon enough I was cold, I was hot, I was starving, I was thirsty, and had no idea what I was doing. Little carnivores were all over and I kept attempting to dodge them. I was afraid of just about anything that moved, including dodos. I couldn't see a damn thing at night and had no idea how to get the items to make a torch. Eventually I figured out that if I punched trees I could get wood and thatch while hurting myself, I could pick rocks from the ground, and pick bushes for berries and fiber.

And all of a sudden I pooped and leveled up from it, and the entire ordeal became less scary and incredibly hilarious.

Once you learn to make the basic tools, you can begin harvesting materials and somewhat defend yourself. Shelter is very important too, since carnivores will attack you and you are constantly exposed to the elements, which greatly affect you.

The PVP experiences (yes, plural, since we actually tried in two servers) weren't very productive. Every day, we'd log on to destroyed fences, walls, dead animals, ransacked bases. At one point, we gave up on it, since there was even some serious hacking going on where someone had a army of t-rexes just demolishing everything in their path. In PVP you can just attack anyone, kill whoever you find unconscious on the floor and take their stuff, as well as destroy any structure that isn't yours. Obviously, PVP is made for cooperation, where tribes attack tribes in full blown wars. And that is definitely not for me, since I kept seeing it as wasted progression.

We switched to PVP. We had some fun times in someone's private server, where most of the time it was just us three playing. We found a suitable place by a waterfall, built a base, started taming animals, had some crops. We had fun. But then that server went down and we never saw it again. The guys were pretty annoyed about starting again, but I'm apparently more persistent than I thought, and moved on to one of the official PVE servers. I started again, from scratch, but at least with the knowledge to progress a bit quicker this time. I found a nice quiet spot on the south eastern coast of the island, gathered materials to build myself a small 2x3 thatch home, tamed seven dodos which were kept indoors for safety until I made fences, eventually tamed a phiomia to use as transport since they can carry quite a bit. I moved down the shore some more and built a wood home near a spot where three supply drops came down often. That was indeed precious and it really helped me out, since I got useful things out of them all the time. Considering I was starting again, everything helped.

Supply drops come in different colors and each color represents a level requirement to loot them, so at first you can only access the white ones. It's a bit like opening a present, you never know what's in them, but you expect it's something you can use. Items in the supply drops range from food to materials, from blueprints to structures, armor or weapons.

The turning point in ARK when playing alone for me was managing to have enough narcotics, a bow and tranquilizer arrows to tame a trike. Yes, tranq arrows, because punching things to knock them out just seemed wrong and inefficient anyway, punching a trike in the face was not the best way to tame it because of its charge attack.

Once you knock something out, you can tame it by feeding it and keeping it unconscious.

Creatures have preferred foods too, and once the devs added kibble (which is made from ingredients including eggs), the taming times were considerably reduced in comparison to using regular food (berries or meat). Basically, taming is a game of patience. You sit there, feed the creature narcotics to keep it unconscious, place food in its inventory and wait for it to eat. Starving it first makes the process quicker, and you can do it by feeding it stimberries or stimulants, but then you have to counter that with more narcotics.

The trike then became a harvesting machine for thatch and berries, which made it easier to build up my home. A second floor was added, and by then I was building a forge and a smithy which allowed me to create other items. I fenced off my base, built some crop plots, found a lost dilo in the woods which I claimed (abandoned animals can be claimed by others) and started going hunting with it since the poison they spit, which used to blind and kill me was now on my side.

The other turning point was additional tribemates who knew what they were doing. Since with my friends I was mostly a gatherer and did little exploring or hunting, finding two others who had carnivore pets and their own set of engrams definitely complemented my play style. Soon enough, the base was grown to a third floor, we had a bunch of new dinos, a small water pen with a water creatures, and flying mounts. We took over the island across from the beach. We made flak armor and guns. We made metal tools which gather more resources than the regular stone ones. We have electricity, which lets us have a fridge to preserve things in. We shot each other with tranquilizer arrows for fun. We tamed a t-rex. A mammoth. A spino. An army of trikes. An army of dilos. Scorpions! Eagles! It's a zoo in our base, really. But to be fair, I've seen worse. On any given day, I can spend half an hour every day just picking up poop and placing it in the compost bins to make fertilizer.

Once you are settled, things seem to become trivial. However, exploring is unpredictable. I've had times where I fell off my mount while lagging and typing, died, and never got back to my corpse in time. I've had taming sessions go wrong, very wrong, where we die, lose all of our stuff and come back empty handed. I've had one particular time where the sabertooth we tamed was instantly eaten by a raptor just after we named it, and my second attempt at taming one alone resulted in me stranded with a dead pteranodon on the north island packed with carnivores and a long swim in shark infested waters.

ARK had made considerable changes in the past few months. From adding new engrams (structures, armor, furniture, weapons) to adding new creatures and resources, the ability to breed dinos and hatch eggs, alpha dinos (like mini-bosses), saddles and rafts we can build mobile bases on, introducing different environments in the form of swamp and snow biomes (which actually angered a lot of players whose bases were destroyed if they were in the areas converted), organizing survival events where the entire thing plays like the Hunger Games, and now giving us the option to declare war on tribes even on PVE.

But there is one major issue that needs addressed, and one that has been annoying us for a long time. People place foundations all over to prevent you from building. Some will just cover the land in these for the hell of it, unaware of the consequences. The problem is that foundations also block spawns, so now most will just place pillars which still allow resources and animals to spawn.

Structures do have a timer counting down to demolishing, which is reset if someone from the tribe it belongs to logs on and passes by it. The problem with that is that some do it on purpose. We have had bases in certain spots for a while, but since they belong to casual players, they are not entirely finished. Someone has placed pillars all around, which now prevents us from building upon what they already had. So if I have a fence or gate frame at this spot, someone else comes to put a pillar as close as they can from it, why am I not allowed to finish my gate or build my fence higher now, when I was there first anyway? I had this problem in my initial home when someone built on the cliff above me. I had a fence already but wanted to make it higher, and couldn't because an enemy structure is too close. Building upon what's already there shouldn't be an issue because someone decided to be a douchebag about your piece of land, and hopefully something can be done regarding this. Maybe we should declare war on them...

For the most part, the game fuctions fairly well, but there are a few bugs and mystery disappearances on occasion. There have been at least three occasions where I've died and my corpse or remains (a backpack containing my inventory) were nowhere to be found, and once where it was under the world. No explanation, just poof - gone! The same has happened with a few of our tamed dinos, one of them which is pretty difficult to lose, the massive plesio which was even inside our island water pen. Gina will be missed. She's in ARK limbo now.

There is a tribe activity log that will state if something was killed, but there was no message whatsoever. Truth be told, the activity log needs improvement, and we should also have a way to see who is online.

I have about 500 hours invested in ARK: Survival Evolved. I think it's safe to say I enjoy it. But like every MMO, even if the servers are very limited in population, it's the people that will make your experience hell. The game in itself is solid and entertaining, even if still a bit erratic at times.

ARK has constantly been patched and updated for the past few months and it's quite satisfying to see how far it has come. The game is now also available on Xbox Game Preview, with added exclusive content on Xbox One. I don't know if I want to start all over again on another platform, but I admit I am curious to see how this will translate to a console experience and what kind of exclusive content will be added.

Until then, I will still be playing on Steam, braving the elements and whatever else comes growling my way, while taking care of my dinos, doing my daily feeding and harvesting sessions, and making sure everything is running smoothly.

For more videos of ARK and Didi's (mis)adventures browse the playlist below: