I love survival games. I really do. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve played. The problem is that I tend to get bored with them pretty quickly. I’m not sure why, I just do. That’s why ARK: Survival Evolved has been such a pleasant surprise. This is a game that wasn’t even on my radar until just a couple of days before it released, and yet I can’t seem to get enough of it. It has captivated me in a way that no other survival game really has. Maybe it’s the beauty of the island. Maybe it’s the creatures that roam the island. Maybe it’s the fact that you can tame those creatures. Yeah, that’s right…you can tame the creatures that you encounter. It’s most likely a combination of all those things and more.
Notice that I said” creatures” instead of “dinosaurs”. This is because while dinosaurs do make up the majority of wildlife within the game, they are not the only things around. Throughout your travels you can also encounter such things as Woolly Mammoths, Saber-tooth Cats, Dodos and even giant insects.
ARK: Survival Evolved is currently available on Steam Early Access for $30. It’s being both developed and published by Studio Wildcard, and runs on Unreal Engine 4. With it being a game that’s still in development, you’ll occasionally run across some minor glitches. The worst I’ve personally seen so far is that sometimes you’ll have grass or trees floating in the air. The game itself is beautiful and the creatures are truly impressive. The first time I walked up near a Brontosaurus I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of awe. The best part is that the list of creatures just keeps on growing. Constant updates are pushing out new creatures to encounter. Some of the most recent additions include the Gigantopithecus, Ichthyosaurus, Castoroides and Quetzalcoatlus. In all, there’s expected to be over 70 unique types of creatures at full release.
When you start up the game, the first thing you’ll have to do is decide where you want to play. The server list in ARK is quite extensive. You have PVE and PVP servers, standard and hardcore servers, and combinations of the two. There are also private servers that can have their own rulesets. The official servers currently have a player cap of 70 per server. While this helps ensure that a server doesn’t become overcrowded, it’s kind of rough if you’re trying to log in to your favorite server and it’s at max capacity. One of the nice touches is the dropdown menu for server sorting. You can sort by official servers, unofficial servers, servers that you’ve marked as favorites, and servers that you have characters on. This is especially useful so that you don’t have to scroll through the long list every time you want to play. If none of this online play strikes your fancy though, you can always start a local offline game so that you can go it alone.
Once you get into a server and create your character, you’ll wake up on the beach of a strange island, mostly naked and with an implant in your arm. As with a number of survival games, your immediate needs will be food and tools. You can wander the beach if you like, or start to work your way inland. The beach is littered with rocks (a necessary crafting component). You’re also likely to run into some Dodos, or maybe even a Parasaur (don’t worry, they’re harmless). Eventually though, you’ll HAVE to start moving inland. As you move further into the island, you’ll start encountering bushes of varying types. These can be harvested for berries and fiber. You’ll also come across trees that you can punch to gain thatch and wood. Lastly, you’ll begin encountering more dinosaurs. Some will be passive, some will not. Among the dinos you’re likely to encounter early on are the Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Dilophosaurus. Yep, the spitters from Jurassic Park make an early appearance. They are hostile, and will likely attack you on sight. You can beat them with punches if necessary, but be sure to stay mobile in order to avoid their spit attack. It will blind you temporarily. If you do fight one and survive, you can harvest the corpse for meat and hide. Just be sure to check and see if it has an inventory before you do so. Yes, sometimes wild dinosaurs will have inventories, and they can carry some pretty interesting things. I’ve found everything from berries to clothing to stone arrows to a slingshot.
At this point you should have leveled at least once. One of the nice things about ARK is that everything you do gives you experience. You can gain experience even if you’re just logged in and wandering around, albeit at a much slower rate. Leveling up allows you to both raise a stat, and gives you the opportunity to learn new Engrams. At level 1 the only two Engrams (recipes) that you know are for a stone pick and a torch. Each time you level up you’ll gain points that you can use to learn new Engrams, and at certain levels you’ll gain access to new Engrams themselves. For example, at level 2 you’ll gain 9 Engram points, as well as open access to the campfire, stone axe, spear, cloth shirt and pants, and a couple of other Engrams. Which of those you decide to spend your points on learning is up to you. You won’t have enough to learn them all right away, but fear not…you don’t unlock your next round of new Engrams until level 5, which means the points you get at levels 3 and 4 can be used to unlock more of what you just gained access to. Or if you prefer, you can save the points to spend later. Just a note, some of the later level Engrams require earlier version to be learned first. For example, before you can learn to make wooden walls, you first have to learn to make thatch walls. In the unfortunate event that you should die, your inventory will be dropped (you can recover it if you can get back to that location quickly enough once you respawn), but all Engrams that you learned previously will still be available once you respawn. The exception to this is on hardcore servers. If you die there, you’ll have to start completely over.
The last big thing to talk about is taming. Eventually you’ll want to try taming a creature. The first thing you need to do is knock out the creature you want to tame. This can be done with punches, shooting the creature repeatedly with a slingshot, or by using tranquilizer arrows. As most creatures will try to defend themselves, the tranquilizer arrows are your best option. An exception to this is the Parasaur. Once attacked it will try to escape and you’ll have to chase it. If possible, try to herd it towards nearby rocks where you can trap it. Once the creature is unconscious, you’ll need to load its inventory with both food and narcotics (either in the form of narco berries or actual narcotics if you can make them). Different dinosaurs need different types of food for taming. Herbivores need berries, and carnivores need meat. Over time, the unconscious creature will eat some of the food you’ve put into its inventory, which will in turn raise its taming bar. From time to time you’ll need to actively use the narcotics to keep the creature unconscious. Once the taming bar is full, you have a new pet! Tamed creatures can be used for harvesting, hauling items, fighting and even riding. And should you be lucky enough to tame a flying creature, you can just sit back and enjoy flying over the expansive island.
From this point on the game is pretty straightforward. Work on leveling up so you can make better gear. Try to craft yourself some sort of housing and a bed so that you have a permanent respawn point. If you’re feeling lonely, look for a tribe to join. Tribes allow you to work with others to reach objectives more quickly, and you’ll be able to focus on one type of Engram instead of having to try to learn everything. Want to be a hunter for your tribe? You can focus on creating weapons. Want to be a builder? Focus on the various types of structures you can make. The best part of being in a tribe is that everything is shared. You’ll be able to access any buildings or storage boxes that have been created by your tribe, and can use any resources your tribe has collected. If you should die you can spawn at any tribal point that has a bed. If you’re unsure what your tribe needs, just ask! You’ll find that most of the players are friendly and willing to give advice on the best way to pitch in. Being in a tribe will also make it easier to reach the endgame. Yes, there is actually an endgame. Unlike most survival games, ARK has added an endgame to give players a final goal to strive for. There are also various bosses that you can discover and fight, which helps promote exploration within the game. This keeps it from being just another survival game, and will help it appeal to a much larger audience.
As I said before, ARK: Survival Evolved is currently available for PC, Mac and Linux on Steam Early Access. Full release is scheduled for June 2016 and will be for Windows, Mac, Linux, Xbox One and PS4. If you’re a fan of survival and/or exploration games I highly recommend picking this one up. If you wish to learn more about ARK, you can check out the official Wiki here.