I picked up ARK this week during its Game Preview window. Right from the start it’s noticeable that this game is still incomplete. But I’ll get to that in a second.
I first jumped into the single player mode, not quite ready to tackle the PvP or PvE modes, regardless of the fact that these didn’t have any available slots.
Toiling with the rudimentary survivor creator, I quickly designed a guy that looks somewhat like me, generic, white; the options were minimal. I then proceeded to enter the game, landing on the beach of this alien world. I got the game not really knowing what it was, or what to expect. I was led to believe that it was a Minecraft clone, with dinosaurs. This is somewhat true.
The gameplay is a lot like Minecraft. You must forage for resources like stones or wood as these allow you to craft anything from tools to clothing to shelter. This portion started off pretty straightforward in my opinion. Punch a tree until it falls down to get the wood and thatch. Scavenge the nearby bushed for berries and fibre. Pick up some stones. Now make a pick axe or hatchet. The pick axe and hatched will yield different resources from trees, each of which are required to craft walls for a shelter.
On the combat side, you can build spears, and later on more advanced weapons. This is where the game started getting frustrating.
With ARK, there is a leveling component. Everything you do garners experience, even just surviving. And surviving is no easy feat, what with food and water being a strict constant requirement, and around every new stretch of beach another new type of dinosaur making sure it gets fed too. And your survivor is mighty tasty, I learned this early, and often.
The water requirement is easy enough, just jump into the water and watch out for piranhas and megladons, but food is another matter. Berries do not suffice, so hunting is mandatory. There’s more than enough pickings of the veggie eaters, but more often than naught, the big ones will turn around and fight back, and then there’s the meat-eaters always on the prowl.
Experience unlocks new crafting items to learn, and the game really opens up around level 10 when you can start crafting advanced weapons, and saddles for the dinos, and plots for planting crops. The survival aspect, found in the title, is apparent around every turn: fire requires fuel, any consumables expire in your inventory, and everything wants to eat you.
I almost felt comfortable after making a tiny shelter, setting up a fire pit and a few torches and watching the sun go down over the water, sitting on my little beach. I’d be content just living out the game not advancing beyond my safe little island. But then I look up and see this huge monstrous alien anomaly, curious as to what it is and why it’s there, watching. This is the story of the game, and what drives the player to explore beyond his comfort zone.
Graphically, the game is pretty enough; it is Unreal 4 after all. It takes a little while for the textures to pop upon initial loading, but the lighting is pretty. It still is a little buggy, and the object, foliage, and dinosaur draw distance is laughable. When playing in a private server, there is a minimum distance you must keep with the host, lest you be dragged against your will, but this might be a Game Preview restriction only. We found that when another player joins the game, if you spend more than a few seconds in the survivor creator, the game will boot you out and no new invites will yield results. The menu is clunky as well, and not nearly as refined as Minecraft.
Like I said, still a work in progress, but next year’s official release may prove to have many new features or advancements, and like Minecraft, will continue to have new features. That’s what I look forward to the most.