ARK: Survival Evolved Review – Dino Doo Doo Fest

Ah, the PVP survival-sandbox building genre. At times rewarding, at times rage inducing. Ark: Survival Evolved sets itself apart as you find yourself in a mysterious land filled with wonder and things like a giant level 130 snake eating your head right when starting the game. Find out why below.

ARK: Survival Evolved
Publisher: Studio Wildcard
Developer: Studio Wildcard
Platform: PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Players: MMORPG
Price: $59.99 

Ark in general, is a very colorful game on the outset. But after having about 10 hours with the game on the Playstation 4, I started to notice some heavy pixelation in the background. There is also a host of clipping issues with the beasts of the land and even the players. This can be a blessing or a curse when it comes gameplay, but I’ll cover the consequences for this unintentional graphical error when we talk about gameplay.

Character customization exists in the game but its really, notably ugly. The bad design is such that I can’t even tell if it was an intentional or not. Every character is built like a brick house combined with janky pixels, almost regardless of how you push the sliders around. The clothing and armor items, on the other hand, are visibly cleaner and more well defined. It is a weird contrast, but it shows they can make something that looks a hell of a lot better than what they did.

The dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures look average. They’re not good or not bad, just there in the environment. This is a shame because there was a real opportunity here to do something more interesting and memorable. Instead they just turn out to be images you file and categorize in your head: from “Not a pain in the ass” (Dodo bird) to “My ass is about to land on a bed of red hot needles” (too many to list).

When getting into gameplay, it has to be noted that guidance is almost non existent. There are a couple of pages in a manual that give you some basic ideas, though in all reality it’s completely useless. Normally these types of games are fairly vague when it comes to narration and direction, which is not an excuse for lazy design, but I am making a note for the “fans” that might read this. Ark is egregiously bad with this aspect for multiple reasons.

First things first: this is a game that requires players to gain levels to advance, receiving one skill point to be used on a handful of stats the player has on that server per level. These levels are not granted quickly ether. After having put 35 hours into the game on one server, I was only at level 32 out of 100. These levels don’t go with you from server to server, making it a necessity to do this again if you ever switch to another server. I like the idea in theory, but in practice it’s extremely annoying.

Major things like taming dinosaurs is also needlessly complex in many ways and none of it is explained. There is also no solid resource to look up this information. When I did attempt to ask for help from the community, I was always pointed to YouTube for answers first: which to be frank is pretty shitty.

The dinosaurs and monsters also all have a level attached to them, but it seems almost arbitrary at points as sometimes you can take on one type of dino that is level 50, but if you fight a completely different dino of the same level they will murder you in a heartbeat. The game also loves to give these dinos abilities that will paralyze or incapacitate your character.

This easily leaves you to watch and not be able to do anything about it, until whatever it is that is attacking finally delivers the killing blow. All of this can happen in the starting area they dub as “easy.” There is no rhyme or reason to it and it just comes down to poor design choices.

Another major issue is the survival systems in the game are terribly timed. This could be left to having your character stuffing his or her face with 10 or more steaks a day, which come from dinos you’ve slain in the game. This means you will have to deal directly with the out of balance dinos in the starting area,  just to be able to get anything done.

The need for water diminishes just as fast: requiring you to lock yourself to a coastline in order to be efficient at anything, until you get access to making something that can hold water. Even then, you will still not want to move to far away from water at any given point, as it continues to drain particularly fast.

The building system is interesting, as it is tied to levels and you will only ever get a certain amount of points to use to unlock blueprints. This dynamic forces the player to pick how they want to play and encourages them to really think about their end game goals.

On a minor note of aggravation with the PlayStation 4 version, the controller mapping needs some serious work. For instance: triangle is used to interact with objects outside of menus, then X when inside menus, when really they should be mapped to the same interaction button for expediency and muscle memory. This game comes off as being all about quick reaction time or death, so it seems like it would have been a no brainer.

Another similar issue comes up when you are transferring items, which should be a universal one button push per one item. Instead we get a move item to x spot tool, while holding x deposits the whole stack. It’s a personal gripe about this system that many players might not find to be a pain, but from a design standpoint it’s just bad.

The sound and music in this game counts as one aspect they did get right. Most the time you’ll be in silence, except for the sounds of the world. This is rather well done and effectively builds it’s own atmosphere. When an encounter starts, the music shifts to a more traditional arrangement for whatever type of encounter it is: be it something about to kill you or the sun setting in the distance.

The general selection of sound effects register well for the most part. They’re both visceral and effective, even if that alert is to convey “oh hey here comes death and you can do nothing about.”

When it comes to story, Ark: Survival Evolved does theirs in passing. The game says that sometimes you can find notes and items, though in my 40 or so hours I never came across one of those. Outside of that, your caveman-esque character wakes up on a strange island: often with a huge monster lunging at you and immediately killing you because there is a lack of balance in the starting zones.

ARK: Survival Evolved is an interesting game that shits all over itself when it comes to design for reasons I wholeheartedly don’t understand. The concept is amazing and I find myself wanting to play it and succeed against all odds, but there are some massive and objectively bad design choices here that should have been play tested and reasonably adjusted. I want to love this game so bad, but I just can’t. And if you are wondering why I said shit so much in this review, it’s because literally everything in the game shits, and they shit a lot. It’s almost Freudian in nature.

ARK: Survival Evolved was reviewed on Playstation 4 and PC using a review copy received from Studio Wildcard. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 5.5

The Good:

  • Interesting world.
  • Has potential.

The Bad:

  • No rhyme or reason when it comes to arena balance
  • Survival stats deplete rapidly, artificially locking players to one area.
  • Massive model clipping issues
  • Some areas become pixelated when looking in to the distance
  • Extremely ugly character customization.
  • Nothing is explained very well, forcing players to do lengthy research online to try to find any information on the game.
  • Max

    “Nothing is explained very well, forcing players to do lengthy research online to try to find any information on the game.”

    I hate that this is becoming a trend in games. At least have a fucking in-game encyclopedia or something, you cocksuckers.

  • Mr0303

    I like the setting, but these survival home building games are simply not for me. On a related note we need a new Turok game

  • braneman

    I heard that you could clip a dinosaur’s head through walls and destroy things on the other side. Wonder if they even bothered to try and fix that.

  • UntamedLoli

    Walls only protect stuff on the other side if they are forming a sealed room around it. Otherwise its fair game for anything like a head peeking through.

  • Zombie_Barioth

    True. Its kinda funny though, people have long since complained about games being too hand-holding, then they go in the complete opposite direction and offer barely any help.

    I’m curious though what Michael thinks of the grindy-ness of the game. Ark is well known for things taking a very long time to do at default settings, which the review doesn’t mention at all. That’s pretty vital for those interested in offline/solo play.

  • Joe

    If only this had been a real Dino-Rider game. A properly bug tested, single player campaign without the lame survival mechanics. I thought Serena’s voice was kind of hot in that old cartoon.

  • I was able to set a box up around my base to have dinos try to attack me throw the wall, so i could kill them with a spear when their head clipped through… And I had to do that to survive some times sadly.

  • Uncle Ocelot

    I watched some gameplay a while back and it looked like a janky mess, doesn’t seem like much changed, only now people can’t defend it with “b-b-but it’s early access!”

  • Random Dude

    Going from one extremity to another is hardly an ideal solution imo.

  • Zombie_Barioth

    Nope, me neither.

    Its certainly a case of be careful what you wish for if I ever saw one.

  • Donwel

    There’s “barely offer any help” and then there’s Ark. The game dumps you on an island and tells you absolutely nothing, on a few of my play throughs of it I did find some of the notes Michael talked about in his review (maybe 4 or 5 in total) but I only found those through blind luck and because most of those times I was fleeing from something that was eager to use my lower intestines for wall decorations.
    My two biggest problems with Ark though was/is the server resets, making you lose all of your progress (which hopefully doesn’t happen anymore now that it’s out of early access) and other players, specifically higher level ones who hang around starting areas to pick off lower level players (there are other things as well but this is probably the most irritating). If you want to make good progress in the game it’s advisable to start off in the areas of higher difficulties

  • Zombie_Barioth

    Yeah, I know, I was referring to games other than Ark. A lot of older games were maybe a small step up, like pre-expansion Morrowind for example. Heaven forbid you forgot where you were told to go.

    The server resets they claimed there weren’t going to do after launch, it was more server overload and perhaps maps becoming decimated and practically unlivable. I suppose we soon shall see if their upgrades where enough.

    The troubles with high level players I’m well aware of, being able to easily hop between servers was a big part of that. Losing levels doesn’t really matter when you’re packing OP gear to compensate.

  • Maiq TheLiar

    Well it’s been out for 2 or 3 years so…. :T

  • Maiq TheLiar

    PROPS for the Imakuni card art avatar 8D

  • As early access…

  • RHELSAGE

    Here’s what I don’t understand about the survival resource gathering/building games. Human nutritional requirements for active/athlete/soldier levels for different climates and conditions are, and have been studied and cataloged over hundreds of years, if not longer. Nutritional science isn’t new, mysterious, or even niche voodoo bullshit. Armies have known how much to optimally feed troops on the march in shit conditions, and so do sports trainers for athletes. So why the fuck do game designers feel the need to make you eat an entire cow and drink an Olympic pool every few minutes? Its not just immersion breaking, its bullshit. Humans, no matter how shit the conditions, can walk, run, and climb without having to drink and ocean and eat herds of animals every few steps.