As both a millennial and a lover of video games released after the year 2000, I am prone to bouts of rage-quitting, and cursing a game when it refuses to be easy for me. As game aficionados of the eighties and nineties love to repeatedly point out, we younger players need our hands holding, and require extensive tutorials to ensure our full enjoyment.
Ark: Survival Evolved does and has neither of these things. From the very beginning, I was thrust into a world filled with carnivorous dinosaurs with nothing but my pants, and told to survive.
THE FIRST FIVE HOURS
With no tutorial – at all – to guide me, my first few hours on the Ark were frustrating and troubled. I stumbled onto shore, finding myself surrounded by prehistoric beasts, and was promptly devoured by a raptor which paid no mind to my beginner status.
I respawned a few feet away, and was again eaten by the same raptor, which I can only assume was overjoyed with my immortal hopelessness.
Changing tact, I respawned elsewhere, and managed to explore some of the beautifully crafted environment around me, before I was once again eaten, this time by something called a Terror Bird, a creature which would likely give even Bill Oddie the shits.
By this point, I was becoming frustrated, and began to wonder how exactly I was supposed to play a game when I couldn’t even get started before I was dinner for some scaly monster. Once again, I found myself respawning elsewhere, this time surrounded by hapless dodos.
Now I was the alpha, the omega, the apex predator! I approached a nearby dodo and punched it to death. I was the king of this prehistoric world!
I began to wander, taking in the sights of my new home, and soon after I encountered another player, xxSwordBladexx, busy working on his thatch home on the seafront.
Approaching him, I assumed we could band together, two fleshy bags against this awful world of fangs, claws and scales. I stood at his door and realised I actually had no idea how to emote or communicate with him. We stared at each other for a moment, and then he began to punch me, as I had mercilessly beaten the dodo I had encountered earlier.
Mute, with no way to ask him to stop, I fled into the forest where xxSwordBladexx could not follow me. I was frightened, alone, and almost entirely naked. I had created my character, Bob, to be a fearsome, muscled warrior, but he was no more use than I would have been in that situation.
I came across a column of light piercing the still waters of a nearby lake, and I became curious, this world may have been prehistoric but there was something alien about it. These columns of light were everywhere, alongside tall towers that did not seem of human construction.
Entering the water, I began to swim downwards, into the inky blackness, broken only by the light which poured from some kind of flat structure on the lakebed. I approached, carefully watching my oxygen levels, which depleted much faster than I had anticipated.
In the end, however, it was not my oxygen levels which I should have been concerned about, but the nearby megapiranha which had up to this point gone unnoticed. It rushed towards me and began to tear at my flesh as I desperately struck out with my fists whilst swimming away.
It was all in vain, however, and that lakebed became my grave as the megapiranha celebrated its victory.
At this point I was angry, the game was being challenging. What nonsense was this? How was I to play it if it was going to be difficult?
I wandered the beach, punching everything I saw wildly, collecting wood and thatch, which without fibre was entirely useless. I couldn’t even craft clothes for myself, as beyond punching, I could not see any way to interact with the environment around me.
A few minutes later, I came across another player, resting fitfully in his thatch shack. How was he surviving? How did he have clothes, a house and tamed dinosaurs?
In a rage, I broke into his house and beat him to death with my bloodied fists, striking him and collecting his very flesh for my own consumption. His pet raptors squawked and screeched as I murdered their master, then fled into the night.
I ran for a long while, as though I could outrun the horror of what I had just done, was it truly in the name of survival, or was I merely a monster?
No. I was not a monster. The real monster was the crocodile which suddenly lunged out of the ocean and dragged me, once again, to my watery doom. A fitting punishment for a man driven feral by the terrible hardships of survival.
It was at this point I realised I was possibly overthinking the game.
Ark: Survival Evolved is a game which sticks you in a world filled with prehistoric creatures with nothing but your underwear, and tasks you with surviving for as long as you can. You have to use the resources in the environment to craft and build everything you need to protect yourself against both the dinosaurs and the other players.
Ark is a game still in early access, released by Wild Card for PC in June 2015, XBOX One in December 2015 and, eventually, PS4 this month (Dec), a full year later.
The trailers show a game in which you ride dinosaurs headlong into battle against other players, taming everything from dodos to the biggest, most fearsome dinos. However, the reality is quite different.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t feature those things, because it definitely does, it just doesn’t make them easily available; they are rewards for players with patience, who use their wits instead of their brawn to survive.
At its core, Ark is Minecraft for those who want a sense of danger, a constant underlying threat that at any moment you could be devoured or beaten to death by another player.
Personally, I seek out engaging stories in games, and once I entered the world I realised I was never going to find anything of the sort. There is no explanation of the strange world you find yourself in – beyond a few notes dotted around the landscape – it just is. You can either question it, or get on with surviving.
Patience and Rewards
After my first foray into the world of the Ark, I decided to take a step back and reconsider my options. I took to the internet and found a tutorial for the game, which revealed to me that beyond punching everything like some kind of starving Hulk, I could use the triangle button to interact with the world, to collect berries and fibre (one of the most vital resources) from the thousands of plants in the environment.
Returning to the game, I started a new journey in the single player campaign, determined to explore the world. My new character was Marybeth, an Amazonian woman who had eyes for nothing but survival.
I entered my new world, a different map to the previous one I’d been exploring, and set to work foraging. The first thing I built was a fire, and as I sat there watching the fruits of my labour burn, I congratulated myself. I was now officially as competent as a caveman.
From there, the game began to open up to me. I crafted clothes for my naked form, protecting me against the elements, and then a spear with which to hunt.
As I did everything methodically, focusing on the vital methods of survival, I began to see the true beauty of the game. The maps themselves are stunning, at least on the newly released PS4 version which I played, and there’s a sense of true vastness. I spent four hours foraging in my small starting area before I even contemplated leaving the safety of my campfire and small thatch shack, but at all times I knew there was a huge world beyond the treeline just waiting to be explored.
The game was rewarding my patience, I realised, and once I had established myself a base and place to store my worldly possessions I was able to hunt my first dinosaur. As it was felled, I felt a sense of true achievement.
Subtle and Rewarding
Ark: Survival Evolved is a curious thing. A game which both leaves the player entirely to their own devices – sometimes for the worse – but subtly rewards them when they stick with it. It has the same appeal as a game like Minecraft, from which it clearly draws a lot of inspiration, so fans of the resource gathering and construction aspects of that game are sure to find something they enjoy here
The game is still in early access, despite already featuring the paid-for DLC ‘Scorched Earth’, so there are ongoing improvements and optimisations. I found the lobby system frustrating and was regularly kicked from both the US and EU PS4 servers, but honestly found much more enjoyment in the lonely single player game rather than the restrictively ‘social’ multiplayer.
Having only played five or so hours, I’m still very much a rookie, but I feel like I have seen glimpses of what Ark has to offer, and I very much look forward to discovering more and maybe, one day, taking to the skies on the back of a pterodactyl.