Ark: Survival Evolved, after soft launches on both PC and Xbox, finally makes it’s way onto PS4 alongside it’s first major DLC expansion, Scorched Earth – was it worth the wait?
For those who haven’t heard of this dino themed survival game, let me pretty much sum it up for you – it’s Minecraft meets Jurassic Park, and if that concept has you intrigued, you are in for a treat, once you get to grips with the controls and the basic premise. Having launched already on PC, Ark: Survival Evolved has been pretty much ported warts and all directly to the PS4, and it shows in everything from searching for a server to the pretty cumbersome controls, which feel like they have been mapped to the Dualshock controller in a way that isn’t the easiest to navigate, but you would be doing yourself an injustice to let that put you off. Infact, for every obstacle that comes with the obvious difficulties in porting a game from PC to console brings, there are at least a dozen benefits that easily outweigh them, not most of all the level of depth and attention to detail that has gone into Ark already – and to think, this is a game that still doesn’t officially release until Spring 2017 (the game currently released being an “Early Access” version on all platforms).
Ark has you jump through the standard multiplayer-hoops before you get into the good stuff, such as character creation and choosing an appropriate server should you wish to play online with others or friends. Navigating these menus is pretty cumbersome at present on the PS4 version, as they have clearly been designed with a mouse and cursor in mind, and as such they can be a bit fiddly at times. Overlooking this point, and finding a server with enough space to accommodate your character, you get a pretty superficial character creation screen, which has no real impact upon gameplay other than helping to differentiate you slightly from the other inhabitants of that server should you be playing online. Jumping into the game itself, you start by awakening in a random place on the map ofyour choice, with some strange device embedded in your arm. The tropical island setting (or harsh desert in the case of the Scorched Earth expansion) is littered with beacons of light of varying colours shooting up into the sky at various points around you, and three large towers looming far off in the distance (more on these later). The game throws you straight in at the deep-end, and the confusion that your character clearly feels as they stagger awake and glance at the strange device in their arm is shared as you have no clue as to what is going on or even what to do, other than to start gathering some resources in which to better prepare yourself for the environment you find yourself in.
It was around about this point that I first encountered my first hostile, and it wasn’t a dinosaur but another player as they ran around bashing all the level 1 characters as they spawned for some easy EXP, to which I was taken back to the map screen to choose another spawning location. After a few attempts ( and a little experimentation with the controls to find out what each button did) I soon had a pickaxe and a hatchet – both could be used as simple weapons, or as tools to collect different resources to use in crafting, of which both gave slightly different results. For example, hack a tree down with a hatchet and you are likely to earn a pile of wood and a little thatch, but attack a tree with a pickaxe and you will end up with a pile of thatch and a couple of pieces of wood. This is just one simple example of the carefully crafted world that Ark has at your disposal, but it was in the details like this that really had me hooked, and the level of exploration and experimentation that this simple but effective strategy employed me to use. I went on to die a few more times, but each time I respawned slightly more knowledgeable about the game world I was spawning into, both in terms of how to play and what my first acts should always be, and this knowledge wasn’t given but hard earned, and it felt good.
Each time I did something in Ark I earned experience, which could then translate into Engrams, which are in turn used to purchase new crafting recipes. Simple ones are available from the onset, such as the pickaxe, and in the first few hours of the game experience is quickly earned and just as easily spent on new items and things to craft, and crafting in Ark is incredibly layered and complex, but never feels overwhelming. Each time you level up you aregiven a set amount of Engrams to spend, or the choice to bank them and save them up to buy a trickier or more complex item to craft, which allows you to plot out and see the items available to make. Early on the best option is in crafting tools and weapons with which to defend yourself from the environment and other players, but later on the game opens up further and becomes more about exploration and survival, not just against the games most obvious enemy, but in the many systems that are constantly ticking away as you explore – hunger, stamina, health, oxygen (if swimming) all need to be kept in check, and all require certain crafted items in which to do so safely and successfully – clothes to stave of the cold by keeping you warm against the elements, food to keep you well fed, even pipes and taps to water your crops or just to keep you from dying of thirst. Planning ahead and spending your hard-earned Engrams wisely becomes crucial after a couple of hours in game, particularly after you have collected a wealth of items and resources as you have explored. Early on I wasn’t too fussed about dying, but once I had crafted a few hard earned items, it became essential that I stay alive or risk losing it all should I die and have someone loot my dead body, or even run the risk of not being able to find my body and retrieve my items myself.
One thing the game doesn’t make too clear is the fact that your created character is only available onthe server that they started out on, and as there are hundred of servers it is incredibly hard to remember what server you were playing on the previous day with no system in game as yet to help track it other than writing it down and recording it yourself. This meant that I spent a good few hours levelling up a few characters only to lose one to the fact I had no idea that they would be tied to a server and paid no attention to which one I joined the first time I played, and another character to the fact that when I had time to sit down and play that server was full and I was unable to join it, which meant in both instances those characters (and their inventory and experience) were as good as lost. When you pair this with the frustration of dying and losing all my hard earned loot it meant that I could never really progress too far into the game, never really managing to craft a wall sturdier than thatch, which meant my bases were easily overrun by opposing players in PvP maps, or destroyed outright by dinosaurs in PvE. After a few tries I discovered the option to play single player, and this option really allowed me to dive headlong into the games higher level content.
The map of both Ark and Scorched Earth is incredibly large, covering areas such as deep seas to high mountain peaks in the case of Ark, to dry deserts and tropical oasis in the case of Scorched Earth, with a variety of flora and fauna inhabiting each. If you plan on exploring every inch of this map then you are going to need some food for the journey and this comes in one of two main ways – berries and fruits harvested from plants, or meat gathered by killing the various prehistoric animals that roam the land. Everything from dodos to Tyrannosaurs, Pterodactyls to killer bees, all can be killed and harvested for their meat or hide to make armour, or even tamed to be used as mounts to navigate the land quickly, or just to follow you round like oversized guard dogs.
It is not only animals that cover the landscape. Dotting these maps are various beacons of different colours, which symbolise loot drops available at different levels, and three large towers that dominate the horizon. These three towers serve as Ark’s endgame content, for want of a better term, but don’t plan to get their anytime soon. They take a while not only to get there, avoiding either the rival players or hostile dinosaurs along the way, but even once you do arrive there they demand various items that only the highest level players will be able to gather, such as bones from some of the most dangerous dinosaurs found roaming the landscape. Manage to get these items sourced and then placed in the inventory slot of each tower without dying yourself, and you will summon one of three endgame level bosses which will challenge even the most hardened player or tribe.
It is this sheer amount of variety and depth that Ark offers that keeps you coming back for more. Ark borrows a little bit from first person shootes, a little bit from survival horror, a little bit of crafting and breeding, and blends them together in a way that just works. Graphically Ark is a good looking game, but I did experience a few issues of screen tearing and lag when accessing my inventory on a few servers, but these are quite easily overlooked, particularly as the game is not yet complete and so could be patched in the future. Updates have came in quick and fast since the game released a few weeks ago, with that set to continue in the coming months. It is with that in mind that I know Ark will become one of those games that I will continually revisit in the coming weeks and months and quite possibly years to come – and if I carry on enjoying it the way I do now, I doubt I will regret it.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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