ARK: Survival Evolved, as suggested in the second word of the title, is a Survival game. A style of game which has been coming along more and more in the recent years starting with Minecraft (although Minecraft can be so much more) and many more examples such as DayZ, Rust, The Forest etc. Games in which a player starts with nothing and must build their way up in order to survive in the world the developer has created.
What makes ARK: Survival Evolved unique? In one word, setting; the world of ARK is set in an unknown time and on what can be assumed is an alien world. The very first thing that you see when entering the world for the first time, and each time you login or spawn, is an implant in your arm as your character inspects their hands. Setting you in a Sci-Fi world as this implant serves as a holographic projector for your in-game inventory and crafting menus. Which is supplemented by the fact that the game hosts Homo-sapiens co-existing with dinosaurs.
These dinosaurs play many roles in this game as they are a source of food, transportation and sometimes fear. All wildlife (at least as I’ve found in my time surviving in the world of ARK) is tameable, they aren’t all rideable, but you can tame everything. In order to ride any of the wildlife found in ARK: Survival Evolved you must craft saddles and depending on the dinosaur you’ve tamed they can be useful in many ways. Most dinosaurs make good guard animals, however not all dinos are made alike. Trikes have limited stamina but if ridden can be used to stomp through bushes and gather berries in mass, raptors and other carnivores will tend to have high attack. And all wildlife can be leveled and have status bars, just like your character.
Like many survival games ARK: Survival Evolved has RPG elements and have you constantly monitoring your hunger, thirst, endurance and health in status bars. As you survive in the world of ARK you gain experience and level at which time you receive skill points which can be spent to add to your health, oxygen, weight, melee damage, movement speed, stamina, food, water, fortitude and crafting speed. You will also gain Engram points when you level which can be spent at any time on engrams which will allow you to craft the craftable items in the game, which range in tools, weapons, armor, saddles and structures.
As the game is in early access on Steam the developer is working to make the gameplay experience better with each update and is constantly updating at the time this post has been written. I joined the world of ARK in version 171.11 on June 10, 2015 and have seen several updates addressing several complaints my tribe has come across and are now on version 176. Some issues that have been addressed are dinosaur movement, the ability to open gates or doors while mounted as well as metal tool durability. In terms of an Early Access game ARK: Survival Evolved is incredibly close to a finished product which is much further along than many Early Access games I have seen in the past.
The gameplay experience of ARK is intriguing as you level to gain engrams and learn to build new items, your tribe become more and more important. You can’t learn all engrams and build all items by yourself and just like in life you can be a jack of all trades, but a master of none. However in this world coming together with a few other players to form a tribe and have a few members specialize definitely makes survival easier. Currently in the Potato Tribe I am specializing in Saddles, Armor and Farming, while we have another tribe member specializing in weapons and tools and another member specializing in structures and workbench style items (forges, work benches, etc.).
Players in a tribe can access all tribe doors, storage, work benches, irrigation ducts, plants and tamed animals. At the same time players not in the tribe are unable to access these things freely. If you befriend other tribes you can set pins to doors and storage boxes to give out to non-tribe friends. Also like many survival games all built structures have durability and can be broken down. Interactions with other players really add to an already grand world and gameplay experience.
In the first few days of the game our small tribe of three were alone in our zone of the island, not so quietly surviving, taming dinosaurs, dying the cave and learning about our surroundings. The world of ARK was already incredibly engaging, felt rewarding and was keeping us busy as we built our tribal home. The experience changed and became much more interesting as others began appearing in our small corner of the world. With a raid devastating a neighboring tribe and leaving us dino less and robbed. We joined forces and our tribe of six doubled, meanwhile the tribe to the south was untouched because they had better defenses, but luckily are really friendly.
Although my experience in ARK is very much still in the early game, the end game goals of the game appear to revolve around whatever group I assume may have sent us here, or we could be part of a space colony that experience issues during their travels and are being dropped down after centuries of stasis with random drop ships sending supplies down as they fall out of orbit. As we progress further into the game it seems that we are getting closer and closer to the Sci-fi elements as talk of the 3 obelisks and promises of summonable boss battles from these obelisks continues through chat.
ARK: Survival Evolved is a fantastic, addicting and incredibly immersive experience which has had me playing into the later hours of night/early hours of the morning, worried about my character as he sleeps in his wooden shack and grow attached to the wild-life I had tamed. As well as incredibly disappointed and heartbroken when my pet scorpion Leonardo Di Scorpio died trying to chase a bat I had smacked into lava.
TLDR: ARK: Survival Evolved is a Sci-Fi survival game with RPG elements set in a world with dinosaurs and mysterious technology that focuses on tribal survival. I highly recommend this game if you enjoyed a games such as Rust and DayZ but didn’t care for the setting, the high survivor paranoia and want a more polished game experience. I give ARK:Survival Evolved 9 out of 10.