Sandbox games are hard to judge objectively. While they are certainly a great deal of fun, every player’s experience is a little different. By jettisoning the traditional narrative structure entirely, some of these games allow for emergent stories that can captivate some gamers. One game that best typifies this story approach is Ark: Survival Evolved. This Ark: Survival Evolved review will provide a brief glance at all this game has to offer.
|Type of game:||Survival/Sandbox|
|Total Play Time:||150 Hours|
|System Requirements:||CPU: Intel® Core i3 / AMD A6 2.4Ghz
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 / AMD Radeon HD 5750. OpenGL 3.3
OS: 64-bit Windows Vista or newer
HDD Space: 20GB
The World of Ark: Survival Evolved
Because Ark is such a player-driven game, it is difficult to take a quick glance at the game to determine if it is worth playing. Players and critics are highly divided on the strength of the game, with some finding it an instant hit and others decrying it as a major missed opportunity. We will try our best to determine where the truth lies by investigating the game’s atmosphere, characters, storyline, and downloadable content.
Atmosphere & Location
If there is one universally agreed-upon positive part of Ark, it is the atmosphere. The main release takes place on a lush island in an unknown area. There are various biomes, but most players will get familiar with the area around the beach. Everything seems a bit overgrown, and that’s for good reason – this is a world that’s home to dinosaurs, and you’ll certainly see plenty of them. The size of some of the creatures is truly titanic and you’ll get the feeling like you are seeing something special almost every time that you play.
There are a number of obvious inspirations for the game. In terms of mechanics, it pulls from most of the other games in the survival genre, going at least back to Minecraft. In terms of atmosphere, though, there’s no doubt that the game pulls heavily from Jurassic Park. This is a world of dinosaurs as they are imagined by children, if not necessarily by science. You’ll see many themes from that work combined with B-level science fiction, all with a healthy dose of classics like Lost or Riverworld thrown in for good measure. Finding all the tiny shoutouts is actually one of the great parts of the game.
Due to the sandbox nature of the game, there is no main character of Ark. Every player crafts his or own character at the start of the game, most of whom will grow in wildly different directions as the game goes on. There are a few major NPCs that are generally encountered through their writings, but the bulk of the characters in the game are simply other players who are attempting to get through the same sorts of survival situations as the player. These characters are the ones that you’ll find yourself the most invested in during the game proper.
The main characters of the game tend to fall into a few basic categories. When you start out, most players will be simple survivalists. The world around them is frightening and their primary goal will be to make it to the next day. You’ll interact with characters from time to time, but most will be busy trying to get their own lives going. There will be a precious few that think that the easy way to advance will be through violence, but most players will spend the early stages simply trying to avoid one another.
As you progress, you’ll run into various archetypes. There will be friendly players who are always looking out for one another. There will be bandits who will rob you blind and leave your character to respawn back on the beach. There will even be tribes run by charismatic warlords, harvesting resources and generally running the show. Who you encounter will be different every time you play, so there’s no way to determine what your experience will be.
Ark doesn’t have a storyline in the traditional sense. There is, of course, at least the bones of a plot hidden away in the various Explorer’s Notes that can be found in the game, but they really don’t matter. The central mystery of exactly where the Ark comes from and why the characters have been drawn there is fun to speculate about, but there’s a good chance that there will never be a satisfying answer. Instead, it’s better to look at the game as a sandbox that provides players with a chance to craft their own narratives.
If there is a primary storyline, it’s one of survival and progression. Your character wakes up naked on a beach with no real idea of what’s going on. The character has a strange device implanted on his or her body, but with no real way to know where it came from. The goal during this early part of the game is simple survival. Your first battles will be against the elements and against your own body – finding food and shelter will take up a surprisingly large part of the early game. From there, it will be a matter of surviving against progressively tougher predators in order to create something more robust than a simple shack in which to spend your future.
Once you’ve mastered basic survival, the game’s potential story opens up. Some choose to stay by themselves, exploring the map and finding new secrets. Others make their way out and tame different dinosaurs, becoming stronger and building up their own bases. The most successful, though, work together to build massive projects, to tame the most terrifying beasts, and to rule over the land in which they have been abandoned. Your imagination really is the limit to what the story can become once you master the essentials of surviving.
DLC & Expansion Packs
Ark has a rather unique approach to downloadable content at the moment. Instead of slowly dripping out new content over the course of the year, it adheres mostly to the old model of expansion packs. That means that each DLC purchase is quite robust, but that it definitely presents a hit to the wallet.
Ark’s two main pieces of DLC are Scorched Earth and the upcoming Aberration. Both content packs include new creatures, new bosses, and new islands. Neither is absolutely necessary for the game, but both do bring some enhancements for long-time players. If you are interested enough in Ark to play it past the first few days, the expansion packs are definitely worth a look.
There have also been two free maps released for Ark over the course of the game’s lifetime. Each gives a slightly different spin on the survival process, but neither really change the game in a meaningful way. These maps are a must-download because they’re free and they allow you to start a game in a new place. You won’t miss them if you don’t have them, but there’s no reason to avoid the download.
Ark is such a player-driven game that’s it’s hard to have an objective view on whether it’s good or bad. You can certainly point towards the sub-par mechanics, the poorly optimized programming or even the lack of real substance as reasons why the game shouldn’t work, but at the same time there’s something so innately delightful about surviving amongst dinosaurs that players are able overlook those flaws. The fairest thing to say, then, is that Ark is not a game for perfectionists – but it might be a game for those who just want to have a good time.
How do you feel about Ark? Have you enjoyed your survival efforts, or have you already moved on? Let us know what you think!