Early impressions: 'ARK: Survival Evolved' (PS4)

Early impressions: 'ARK: Survival Evolved' (PS4) STUDIO WILDCARD

ARK: Survival Evolved is a caveman survival game with a touch of science fiction. You start off stranded on an island populated with dinosaurs and other strange creatures, and eventually work your way up the food chain until you’ve developed a modern society. There are two basic modes - player vs. player (PvP) and player vs. environment (PvE) - both with survival gameplay staples like gathering resources, crafting, hunting, and so on.

The game has been in alpha since June 2015, but with a release date slated for Spring 2017, I sat down with ARK to give my impressions before it enters the final stages of development.

Pros

The game looks good. Glitches aside, I love the realistic visual presentation. The creatures are inventive, and I love the dichotomy of primal survival juxtaposed with super-advanced technology. The environment itself tells a story all on its own while keeping plenty of mystery for the player. (I keep going back and forth of whether or not I actually want to know the origins of ARK’s environments. It would be cool if there were tiny hints on how its techno-caveman future came to be, but I also feel like it would spoil the mystery.)

People are awesome. You’ll share your environment with about 70 different players, which means that you’ll be exposed to some pretty crazy ideas. When I was starting out, I remember seeing castle fortresses, houseboats, dinosaurs with buildings on them, and a number of gigantic weapons. Witnessing the creativity of others is great motivation to keep pushing forward, especially when you’re only able to build thatch huts and campfires.

Cons

People are awful. As fun as it is to see the neat things that players build within the world of ARK, it’s a lot less fun when you actually encounter someone. In my experience, running into a higher level player meant that I was going to die… at best. At worst, you’ll get obnoxious comments that are unfortunately common in online games, then get killed. What’s worse is that high level players tend to build their fortresses in “easy” sections of the map, meaning that you’re almost guaranteed to run into some jerkwad within minutes of entering the game. It’s not impossible to play ARK by yourself, but you’ll probably end up dying every ten minutes unless you bring along a few friends.

Nighttime is annoying for early players. If you’re a low level character and you encounter nighttime without any torches or campfires, you might as well just start over on a different map. It’s impossible to see without a light source, so expect to die from a raiding party or a wondering dinosaur. This was by far the most infuriating part of the game.

Other nitpicks. When you’re injured, hungry, cold, etc., your character never shuts up. An occasional alert is fine, but a bombardment of grunts and groans is annoying. Also, I love the ability to communicate through whistles and gestures, but I feel like these features are seldom used because of the game’s chat box. In a perfect world, the developers would ditch the box entirely, though I’ll settle for leaving it turned off as a default setting. And finally, character customization offers deceptively few options. You can adjust the size of nearly every part of your character’s body, but you can’t do much in terms of changing facial features or hairstyles.

Overall, fans of survival games should be pretty stoked once the complete version of ARK: Survival Evolved is ready because it's clear that the game isn't quite ready for prime time as of yet. I personally found its PvE mode to be more enjoyable than PvP as you don’t have to worry about being attacked by other players. However, a few tweaks to help out early players in PvP could elevate this game to a whole new level.

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