I’m sure by now you have heard of ARK: Survival Evolved, the dinosaur riding romp of an MMO which is taking PvP online gaming to new spectacular heights. However, ARK is not your usual MMO. The concept is survival. You are transported by futuristic technology to a prehistoric island to fight it out against the dinosaurs roaming the island and with your fellow survivors. There’s no battle royale theme (unless you want there to be) and there’s no ‘winner’. You are given no hints or clues on what you are supposed to do, instead you are left to figure it out on your own. But don’t worry, you can bring friends. ARK is now available on Steam, Xbox and Playstation, with a free to play arena version available exclusive to Steam.
Indie games, such as ARK, are changing how we perceive genres. There used to be a time when MMOs that followed the general format of zoned areas and bulletin-board style quests were new and exciting, such as the sense of community and the massive scale of WOW and the awesome universe and storyline in Guild Wars. But that just doesn’t cut it any more, as we have learned from Elder Scrolls Online.
The things I have come to expect from an MMO are repetitive quests, endless grinding and the zero benefit of being in a world with that many others players. ARK has none of that, and for that reason it is infinitely more enjoyable. ARK is an MMO in it’s basest description. It’s massive, there are lots of players and it’s online, but that is where the correlation ends.
There is an influx of MMO games like ARK, DayZ and Rust which focus on survival as the core feature of gameplay. While ARK is described as a ‘shooter’ there is so much more to this game than not getting shot. You have to juggle hunger, thirst, body temperature, torpidity, weight and stamina just to stay alive. Even if you do keep on top on these elements you can’t relax. There is no where in the game where you can be entirely safe.
ARK has adopted the increasingly popular feature of having your character always exist in the world even when you are logged off. Your character falls unconscious wherever you are in the game environment and other player can access your inventory and even kill your character. This adds another level to the PvP aspect of the game which you don’t see that often in other games. You can craft a pair of handcuffs to place on an unconscious player and then drag them to a cell so when they wake up they can’t get out. I haven’t experienced this myself, however all structures in the game have an integrity rating so you can probably punch your way out eventually, although hitting things with your bare hands does hurt you, and it’s not likely that your captors will give you food and water…
For the first character you create, there is very little grinding. The balance of xp and new crafting engrams is such that you rarely find yourself doing things in game purely for the xp bonus. The only major time I have done this is when I switched to a dedicated server and wanted to progress quickly to the level I had reached previously. There is an in game mechanic to allow you to upload a character from one server to another however at the time of setting up the new server, I was not good enough to get to the area where you can upload your character without dying repeatedly. I cringe to remember that now that I have come so far and learned so much.
You can progress much faster if you are a member of a tribe. Even just a few tribemates crafting or fighting together gives a big boost because of tribe xp share. You get 50% of the xp that your tribemates get for performing an action if you are nearby. It is well worth keeping together for this bonus and for staying safe.
The game is self-described as PvP but by no means do you have to play it that way. PvE survival is challenging enough without other players trying to do you over. I often don’t feel like I’m playing a game. The AI mechanics for the dinosaurs is so good that I am led to consider causes for certain behaviours in terms of what drives the animal, what will it do next, and it is different for every species. You have to employ different tactics for each species as well. Tactics that will work on a T-Rex such as kiting it across a body of water will not work for a Spinosaurus which I found out is one of the fastest swimmers in the game *shudder*.
A huge part of the appeal for ARK is the ability to tame dinosaurs. Isn’t that what we have always dreamed of since first seeing a picture of what we think these incredible creatures look like, since the first time we saw Jurassic Park, to ride a 70ft dinosaur?! The mechanics for this feature of gameplay is probably the least plausible part of the game (I know! I want my dinosaur island to be believable, dammit!). In order to tame a dinosaur, you have to knock it out. You can do this just by punching it in the face for the smaller dinos but the bigguns need to be tranquilized. Then you force feed the poor thing its favourite food while keeping it unconscious until it falls in love with you and decides the best way to live its life is to follow you around and do whatever you want with it. You can even keep punching it in the face if you like, it won’t mind. The cruelest idea they came up with was making you name your tamed buddies. In such a hostile environment you are going to lose friends along the way.
RIP Tiberius and Tarquin the PteranodonsThe developers of ARK have created a world that I enjoy spending time in. Even though my graphics card isn’t quite good enough to run the game on anything but low. Even though sometimes it scares the pants off me. Even though the game is still in alpha and there is the odd bug that interrupts gameplay.
I have tried to resist looking up hints from the wiki as much as possible. The satisfaction I get from discovering something on my own in this game is immense. However, some of the mechanics are very complicated and difficult to discover just by having a go. I do recommend trying to go without the guide if you want to feel like a true survivor.
Having spoken to many other ARK players and reading forum discussions I get a rather negative impression of players late-game experiences, but maybe that’s just my dislike of over-powered massive scale battles. I would say I am still in mid-game territory at the moment because I do not have hordes of T-Rexes at my beck and call. Neither have I experienced tribes with loads of members and enormous bases fighting battles across the map. But I don’t mind. That’s not why I’m playing ARK. I’m playing as the survivor, the adventurer, the… I will not mod my server or skip ahead for all the late game perks. I’ll continue to struggle, taking 3+ hours to tame a big dinosaur only to have it brutally murdered the next day by a wild one. I will continue to take a bit longer to get the resource I need because I’m being careful or I don’t know the best strategy yet. But I WILL continue, because at 118 hours of gameplay, I’m not done.
No one can tell you how you should play a game. I’m not interested in getting to max level immediately and taming this wild island, I want to discover it with my friends.
For now I’ll just paddle about on my raft.