PREVIEW: ARK: SURVIVAL EVOLVED

2016-01-24

ARK: Survival Evolved, is currently in early-access on Steam, from Studio Wildcard, Instinct Games, Efecto Studios, and Virtual Basement LLC. As with nearly all early-access games, the title has strengths and weak points. As it opens up on the XBOX One, it’s time to take a look at where the game stands now, what’s going well, and what needs work.

WTF IS ARK?

ARK: Survival Evolved is a survival game first and foremost. Unlike most other survival games though, ARK has a leveling system with “engrams” (think talent points). Engrams are optional, and you technically can play the game without spending a single one, but for new players that is nearly impossible, not to mention useless. The kicker? You do not get enough engram points to learn everything. This makes organized teamplay even more valuable. There is no specific goal in the game, there is no end bosses to raid for loot, it’s up to the players of the server to decide what the game is going to be like. It could be a pokemon/minecraft server where people build nice looking castles and tame dinosaurs while dancing around trees singing songs together, or it could be a ruthless server with constant fighting and killing of undefended bases.

The game features sea, land, and air combat in the form of dinosaurs that people tame. While the game previews mostly show spear combat, non-primitive servers (primitive being servers that are capped at a certain tech point) have guns, rockets, explosives, etc.

THE GOOD

The game design and play is really fun; it has an EVE-like sandbox feel to it. Nothing is off-limits, there are no safe zones or NPCs to protect people. You will likely need to use diplomacy, foliage, and creativity to survive other players. Teamwork is greatly beneficial but not required, you can be a solo player. There is a level system with points that you pick-and-choose where to spend them, there are not enough points to just choose everything though, so you need to plan a bit.

When your character dies, you have 15 minutes to retrieve your loot, should you choose. That is assuming someone else wasn’t watching you die from the trees and stole your stuff.  The game also has a persistent state where logging off does not make you safe. Your body will fall to the ground unconscious and other players may interact with it. The first few levels are probably the toughest.

For servers, there are a few hundred Official servers, which are run by the company. There are also unofficial servers that people can run themselves. The unofficial servers may have unique rules on them about killing/raiding/etc. But they also can have adjusted experience gain/loot gain/taming times.

THE BAD

While the game is still in early-alpha, there has only been one server wipe/reset since it began. It is very difficult for people who are just picking up the game to be able to compete with tribes that have been on the server since it started. They also recently introduced a dinosaur that only extremely powerful tribes are able to tame, and it has the ability to eat stone structures (stone being the second highest tier of building materials behind metal). This dinosaur in the hands of a tribe that prefers server domination makes it nearly impossible for any newer tribes to spring up and build.

This issue is compounded with other “gated” things. For example, the saddle required to ride one of these Giga dinosaurs requires level 85 to craft. On official servers don’t expect to reach that level in less than a month of hardcore playing. Rocket turret, Minigun turret, and industrial forge are also 85+ to craft and are required to fight the larger tribes.

While “turret” may indicate a stationary building, there is a way around that. A flying bird, known as the Quetzal, is able to have structures built on it’s back. This is very cool in my eyes, but these birds are extremely tough to kill unless you have the turrets of your own.

Building material costs have also been adjusted, if a tribe had placed these buildings before the patch, they got to keep them there without paying the increased cost.

What it boils down to: if the “alpha” tribe on the server doesn’t want you there, you have no chance of surviving. Unless you metagame the tribe so hard they give the game a negative review on steam.

THE UGLY

Hacking and cheating are always a concern in games, but in a game where your survival is likely based on being hidden, the hacking becomes even worse. ARK suffers from a lack of admins and a lack of time, while already having sold over one million copies in less than a month, they appear to have forgotten to hire more staff.  ARK is also now available for the XBOX One! But… it still uses the same staff from the PC version, essentially doubling their workload.

There are two major hacks with the game right now: aimbot, and ESP (wallhacks on crack). Until these two issues are addressed, and more staff brought on, I do not see this game having a long life. Myself and other goons are actually at a point of taking a break as we see nothing being done while servers get ruined.

THE TAKEAWAY

ARK is a game with great potential. The overall gameplay systems, especially the PVP, are fun and rewarding. While long-term group balance and gated equipment and resources need work, it’s important to remember that Ark is still in early-release, and game development is where most of the resources are right now. That means that we should be able to expect issues like these to be addressed in time. Unfortunately, it’s severely hurt by the hackers and how they run amok due to overtaxed admins being spread too thin. In a sandbox game, where the promise of the game lies in everyone have the same basic tools, that’s a crippling flaw. Hopefully, it’s one that the folks at Studio Wildcard are taking a serious look at fixing, and soon. Until that’s fixed, you’re better off saving your money. I wish that wasn’t the case. I love this game, it has great potential, but I cannot recommend it until things are fixed.

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by kcolor.

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