Ark Survival Evolved is a survival sandbox game developed by studio Wild Card. It is available on PlayStation 4, Steam, Windows, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, including Xbox game pass. This review was conducted on a standard Xbox One system by Joseph Pugh.
Note: Normally the screenshots included in my review are my own, these ones, however, are not. Due to the sheer scale of the game, I could not at will, take screens of everything I would like to showcase on my own in a timely manner.
This will be the weirdest review I’ve ever done. If you know about me, you know that survival games are some of my favorites. I have around a thousand or more hours in Ark. It is one of the buggiest, poorly optimized and unbalanced messes I’ve ever played. It is frustrating, time-consuming and rage inducing and many of its design decisions still baffle me today. Yet, it has also provided me with an amount of enjoyment and fun that no other game has ever matched.
I have every expansion, and there are some rumors floating around that a second season pass could be coming. I’m waiting eagerly like a kid on Christmas eve hoping it’s true. I’m ready to gobble up more Ark Survival Evolved content in a flash.
Ark Survival Evolved is a game that you can play in PvP or PvE. It can be played solo or online on official servers or private ones. You play a survivor who wakes up practically naked on an island full of prehistoric beasts. You may also play on two other larger non-canon free maps called the Center and Ragnarok. If you pick up the DLC you can play on a scorching desert with fantasy creatures such as wyverns. A hostile underground map with Xenomorph type beasts and mutated monsters on aberration. Or a post-apocalyptic earth with tech drones and corrupted creatures in Extinction.
Each map brings new game-play features, dangers, and creatures. Along with new bosses and new toys. The sheer amount of creatures in Ark is truly astounding, there are over one hundred species on the standard island map alone. From dinosaurs to prehistoric mammals, to sea creatures and giant insects. One of Arks greatest features is the ability to tame, ride and command these beasts. This makes Ark Survival Evolved stand out from the competition.
I’ve played a bit of the windows version of Ark and it runs much more stable and is quite pretty to look at than console versions. However, I spent most of my time on the Xbox One version. The graphics are pretty blurry with a lot of pop in, and the frame rate eats dirt quite frequently. It is somewhat of a testament to the game’s utter magnetism that I still play it and have so much fun despite its technical failings, of which there are many.
Playing on the Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro and of course PC would negate many of these issues. However, games are supposed to run well on the standard consoles, so this it is not really excusable. The customer pays the same price for the game after all.
There is no direct story. However, there is a ton of lore scattered throughout notes on all the maps. Collecting them will enlighten you to what the Arks are and what is going on. The game has a canonical order of your survivor progressing through the Island, to Scorched earth, Aberration, and finally Extinction. Culminating in a climax where you break the cycle and save the earth.
Once you begin you need to eat and drink to survive. As well as be mindful of the temperature, cold and heat can be deadly. You will craft gear, construct bases and tame a variety of beasts, each one having different uses and functions. The heavily armored Ankylosaurus is great at harvesting metal and the resource actually weighs less when it carries it. A Pteranodon is a fast but weak flier you can use to scout or move about quickly. The monstrous T-Rex is powerful and deadly but also harvests a ton of meat from corpses. Brontos are huge and slow but can gather tons of berries with a single tail swipe and you can construct buildings on its back.
To tame most creatures you need to knock it out with tranquilizing arrows or darts and then fill its inventory with its preferred foods while keeping it unconscious and safe. Carnivores eat meat and Herbivores eat berries or vegetables.
However different types of food will, in fact, tame it faster and cause it to gain extra levels when it finishes. Prime meat can be taken from large beasts for carnivores for example. However, kibble is generally the best. There are six types of kibble and each one is crafted from different size dinosaur eggs, so it’s worth getting some extra dinos and start an egg farm.
Some creatures are tamed other ways, a few are passive and require you to follow it around and feed it by hand. Others are more unique. To tame a horse you jump on its back and try to stay on it, feeding it carrots while it attempts to buck you off. Wyvern eggs must be stolen from nests and then raised. While Reapers must be weakened to a point that they grab and impregnate you with a baby alien (seriously).
You can also breed your creatures and raise babies. Raised creatures will have better stats than their parents and sometimes are born with a mutation in their coloring. Raising baby creatures as with all other things is also very time-consuming, but a lot of fun.
As you play you will level up, you are able to raise a number of your stats from the amount of weight you can carry, your stamina, health, and more. Your dinosaurs follow these same rules and all creatures in the wild have varying levels. You also gain engram points which unlock recipes that you can craft. You start out with stone tools and thatch buildings, but eventually, you will make primitive firearms and stone buildings and finally progressing to metal construction and modern firearms, then all the way to high-tech Iron Man suits and lasers.
On extinction, you even go full pacific rim with a giant mech as you take on Kaiju-inspired titans. Ark Survival Evolved has a spectacular if outlandish progression tree.
You will need to navigate the map to find rare resources and find the best ways to gather and transport them to where you need to go. You will even plant a garden of vegetables that take real-time to grow. Time is an important aspect of Ark, everything in it takes time. You can mitigate this somewhat when playing solo or owning a private server (which I recommend, more on that later). The reality is, grindcore to the game, and altering it too much will suck the fun from it.
Where it gets ridiculous, however, is on the official servers. The game’s lack of structure, garbage balancing, and numerous bugs combine with one of the worst communities I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing and culminates into an ugly, stinking mess. On a PvE server, you cannot harm another player or anything they own. This could work pretty well if people weren’t awful. Existing tribes will go around the entire map and place pillars. You cant build within a certain distance of another player’s building.
This essentially locks out the entire map so people joining the server can’t build anything until either the pillars decay or a tribe graciously allows you to build somewhere. This an issue that Wild Card has always spent time trying to address, but has never managed to do so in any satisfying way.
Then you have PvP. Oh boy. Do not play official PvP. Remember Ark, takes a lot of time on standard settings. Certain dinosaurs and beasts can take several real-time hours to tame. During this time, you must keep the creature you’re taming safe, among other things. Another player with a bigger stronger dino or simply better gear because they have been playing longer can take that away from you in seconds by killing it.
Furthermore, you can be raided offline. You can spend all day building a base, taming pets, and gathering loot. If you go to bed, work or school there is a good chance the next time you log on, it will be all gone. It’s an absurd anti-fun mechanic. PvP is actually a lot of fun in Ark. But it never happens, why risk your own gear and tames fighting someone when you can take it all while they aren’t online? The design of Ark Survival Evolved encourages you to play the opposite way it was intended. Actively avoiding PvP.
In the game’s defense. It wants you to be in a tribe of ten or more players who can take shifts and work together. What happens, in reality, is one tribe ends up with around 15 to 30 players with no life outside of the game, and they don’t let anyone else play until the server dies. Combine this with numerous bugs and exploits that the player base will happily use, it is not worth trying to fight it all unless all you literally intend to do is play Ark nearly 24/7
In the past, I have run my own PvP servers with offline raid protection and rules. It was so much fun, but it takes a ton of effort advertising your server and being judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to the trolls and rule breakers that inevitability show up. When it works, the PvP is beautiful and unique, but it takes a lot of effort to ever see it.
These days I still run my own server and just play with my partner. You can also play with a friend on split-screen or they join you online with a tether. Any of these choices grants you a large number of ways you can customize the experience, taming speed, gather rates, and more. Renting a server gives you the most choice and is also the most stable. We are currently playing canonically through the maps, and I invented a point system where we can earn points and buy things from other maps.
We come up with new ideas, such as only building wooden bases, and instead of taking on bosses in their respective areas, we fight them at our bases. Sometimes we do PvP events against each other and more.
While this works for us, the fact that we need to make up special rules to fully enjoy Ark Survival Evolved is not a point in its favor.
In my opinion, this is the best way to play Ark, get a few close trusted friends, and make it work for you, your own way. I don’t recommend tweaking the settings too high. Ark is time, take away the time investment, the need to gather and figure out efficient ways to obtain resources and tame creatures and the entertainment fades fast. Besides, when you get all prepped to bring down and tame a Rex, you really love that thing after you do it. It wouldn’t have the same impact if it was just handed to you.
Despite its failing, Ark conveys a majesty unmatched by anything else. The first time you see a Bronto walking through the forest, you really have the feeling of being Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park looking at them in disbelief. Then you realize at some point, you can tame that thing, ride it around, and even build structures on its back. Flying around on a Pteranodon, while your partner rides on a T-Rex below you, with the freedom to go anywhere on the map and do pretty much whatever you want is somewhat surreal.
While other open-world survival games exist such as Rust or 7 Days to Die, I don’t think any of them truly match the scale and awe of Ark with its massive and dangerous wildlife that you can tame. The fact that you can go from naked primitive to Tony Stark and everything that’s in-between. That you can build anywhere and with effort, design really cool buildings, that were constructed with the materials you first gathered by hand, but then obtained dinosaurs to help you.
The adventures you go on, from being scared of everything that moves to spelunking in dangerous caves in search of artifacts and loot so you can summon the bosses. To deep-sea diving to gather pearls and oil while combating giant sharks and other ocean dangers.
The progression system is satisfying where you feel the weight of each accomplishment, each creature tamed, every base built and every new piece of gear crafted. Supply drops fall from the sky and appear in caves. When you nab a blueprint from one and it’s a rifle or tool with great stats, it’s exciting. The game has such a sheer amount of content and mechanics that I could probably write another 2000 words detailing it all. Ark Survival Evolved is a massive game.
When you see an alpha Rex near your base, it is frightening, and traveling the more dangerous zones will truly make you sweat as danger could come at any time. It can be frustrating, the game isn’t always fair and a lot of its mechanics are downright maddening. Yet, after all the time I’ve put in and the bugs, and the horse crap I’ve suffered through.
I still want to play it, because it is that much fun. I under no circumstances recommend you so just blindly buy the game, but I think you should try it. Catch it on sale or play the base game through Xbox game pass, if you like it, the rabbit hole is a deep one. I have over a thousand hours in and I’m still going strong.
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- Massive amount of content even in the base game.
- The theme and scale can inspire feelings of awe, like being in Jurassic Park.
- Fantastic beasts and you can tame and ride most of them.
- Fun progression.
- Lots to explore and do, Caves, Ocean, Bosses, Breeding
- The lore is fascinating even if you have to dig for it.
- Playable offline, online and you can rent your own server.
- Build pretty much anywhere, the world is your oyster, you just might have to fight a T Rex for it first.
- Several biome types, even in a single map.
- Technical performance on a standard Xbox can get pretty bad.
- Balance issues and exploits are apparent, especially in online official servers.
- Bugs can be frustrating at times and interface can be annoying.
- The community is hateful and awful.
- Game is time-consuming, it is not for everyone.
- Offline raiding is a thing, it shouldn’t be a thing.
- Animal AI and pathfinding is poor.