ARK: Survival Evolved Review

It’s been over two years and 3000 hours since I first started to play ARK. I’ve seen the good, and the bad, and the what the hell. I’ve seen the angry folks who can’t forgive any misstep, the people who bend over backwards to defend the developer, and everyone in between that just wants to play the damned game. It’s hard to talk about the game without talking about the development cycle so here’s the preamble: This was an Early Access game. It had a checkered past of being filled chock full of bugs (falling through the map when logged out, for example), running at least a year longer in development time than intended, and putting out a paid DLC expansion while still in development. These are all things that have happened.

Now, with that out of the way, yes, I recommend ARK. With caveats.

Quite a few, actually.

You see, what first got me here, and might be getting you here, is the notion of taming dinosaurs. And let me tell you, I still love riding a rex and eating things. I love having a grouping of dinos that are just . . . mine. I grew up loving dinosaurs. I still love them. What kept me here is that plus building. I love building. It’s fun to make things, giant things, pretty things, fantastic things. But, what enables these things in a way that makes them enjoyable are (A) mods. Lots of mods. (B) an unofficial server (C) reasonable people to play with, regardless of PvE or PvP.

Let’s hit up the main game experience first. You load into your chosen world, and are prompted to create your version of a dude or a lady, then, when finished, you spawn in, naked but for some undies laying somewhere on a beach or the jungle. And then, almost immediately after, you are eaten. You may or may not even see your attacker. You spawn again. This time, you get a good look around (and almost assuredly turn down your graphical settings; the game has been optimized but it’s still overly demanding) and you get to see the raptor running at you before being attacked by the rest of the raptors following that one, and boom, dead again. You spawn in a third time and, assuming you aren’t on a PvP server where griefers reign, you will live. You see a few wandering creatures, and you start picking berries from bushes so you don’t starve. Hitting trees for thatch. Picking up stones from the ground. Now you have a stone pick, a building plan you start with, and you can start to harvest rocks. And then a dilophosaurus spits on you, blinding you while it eats you. You spawn in again, and once again are naked and tool-less. You can now choose: run to your corpse to retrieve your belongings, or start anew. Here’s what you’ll keep if you die: your experience, and your “engrams” building plans that you have personally memorized. Anything and everything else can be lost. Dinosaurs, buildings, items, anything. If you’re on PvP, the you ARE setting yourself up for potentially losing hours to days to even months of work in the possible blink of an eye. On PvE, you only lose the items on you when you die, your dinosaurs to other dinosaurs, or structures to rampaging beasts that detect you or a tamed dino, which they apparently find super interesting and immediately tasty, and they will chew through your house to get to the meaty treat inside. That means a sufficient wall will keep those out. There are ways to safeguard, but the potential for loss is always there.

Now, on to the points. There are free official map “mods”, and the best of those, visually, is one called Ragnarok. The original Island is fine for starting out on, but Ragnarok has a bit of everything, including a smattering of most of the things from Scorched Earth, the DLC expansion they released during development. There are also building and decoration mods, Structures + being the most well known, so well known that Wildcard themselves have decided to implement features of that mod into the base game; it includes a variety of quality of life features that allow for easier building as well as automation of some of the more tedious farming and upkeep requirements. There are decorative mods, the most robust being eco’s series of mods. There is a rather in depth building mod for medieval style building called Castles, Keeps, and Forts, which allows for a different style and look over the original materials. There’s even mods to speed along the taming times by causing hunger while simultaneously delivering torpor. If all this seems like a lot to cover, it is, at first. You may or may not be better off trying ARK in single player to test it out vanilla first, but sooner or later, you’ll want a server, because this game isn’t built nor balanced for single player.

When you pick servers, if you happen to be a masochist, I’d suggest choosing an official server, which will have default tame times and harvesting ratios and the whole thing will take you a while. If you hate yourself, choose an offical PvP server. Otherwise, I heartily suggest finding a friend, an acquaintance, or just picking at random and signing in to an unofficial server. See, those servers can change taming times to be more reasonable. There are dinosaurs that, without the super master taming food, can take upwards of 8 hours, depending on the level. This is reasonable only if you have a tight knit group willing to take shifts to tend to the creature. Even in PvE, a wandering meat eater of some kind can happen upon the unconscious dinosaur and ruin the tame. It can be even harder/worse with “passive” tames, where you toss it food and then wait as it wanders, possibly coming in contact with all manner of dangerous creatures. A server with altered stats for taming, harvesting, breeding, and more is in my opinion a must for full enjoyment of the game past the mark of a week.

Which I feel leads me to the last point, if you join a server where there are griefers, PvE or PvP, you’re gonna have a bad time. PvP griefing is obvious, but even worse is the PvE griefer which builds items to block spawns, and then continues to check in so their built roadblocks don’t decay. You will need to find reasonable folks, regardless of your preferred playstyle (unless that playstyle is griefer, in which case, I dunno man).

With those three things taken care of, the game will be a wonderful experience. 2000 of those 3000 hours I’ve played have been on modded, changed stat maps in PvE, and it’s why I’ve played as long as I have. If you are still interested in playing, check out this video. ARK: Survival Evolved Free – this Ryzatv guy gets all games for free.

Also, as a note, though this game has offically been launched, it is still under development. They are revamping some of their earlier creatures, putting out new DLC, and they patch it constantly. The game as-is is over 100 gigs of information on a hard drive. You’ll need several gigs more if you want mods. It doesn’t run well on low end machines, I doubt it’s ever going to be optimized for them. Also, find an active server, otherwise you’re waiting on the admin to update the server for way too long.

Happy hunting, and tame a rex for me, survivors.