You wake up on a beach with nothing but an odd chip embedded into your forearm. Looking around you quickly find out that you’re on an island that is also inhabited by dinosaurs and need to do something survive. You start picking up rocks off the ground, hit a tree to get some wood, and make yourself a pickax so you can get more materials to build a makeshift shelter. By this time you’re probably pretty hungry or thirsty so you better have picked up some berries or run into the water to get something to drink as you continue to build your shelter while trying to avoid the dangerous dinosaurs that are sharing the island with you.
ARK: Survival Evolved is a survival game which means you have to do everything you can to survive in the wild with all kinds of dinosaurs and other people out there. As part of the Xbox Preview Program you can play it for free for an hour but you really don’t get much of a taste for the game in that short amount of time. The early game is basically getting materials to build a small shack and hopefully not come across anything or anyone that wants you dead.
The tricky part about ARK, that most Xbox One players never have to deal with, is trying to join a server. You have to pick a server to play on and your progress is all saved to that server. If you want to play with friends they have to join that server as well. You can host your own server but you will need a second Xbox One, a second copy of the game, and a second gamertag just to do it. The public servers are tricky to get into and require you to try and try again until you finally can snag one of the open spots.
The servers themselves come in two varieties, PvP and PvE. You can pick whether you want to go into a world where people are the biggest threat or the dinosaurs. In PvP you can lose everything you built to a rival tribe while you are offline since they can still be roaming the server while you’re not there. If they find your shelter and for some reason want to destroy it they have every right to. Also, when logging off your body just lies there unconscious so they can kill you and take all your items as well without you even being able to put up a fight. Though this is a possibility usually with the bigger tribes in the game, basically a group of people working together as a clan, set up some ground rules for people to go by. The game can become pretty political with alliances forming between tribes, a common set of rules being formed on a server, or people attacking/not attacking you based on who helps you. Sometimes it will be a common rule to only allow raiding or attacking of other players homes to happen on weekends. That way everyone is on the same page and knows that they need to spend the week getting their defenses ready for the battles that will happen. It definitely brings an interesting dynamic to the game when played in PvP. PvE on the other hand you just kind of go and do what you want. The issue I had when playing PvE was that people would just put random foundations all over the place preventing you from being able to build in certain areas. You can’t build close to another player’s structures so they would just scatter them about and effectively block you out of building in an entire area.
Once you get in a server and wake up on the beach, that is when the real fun starts. As I mentioned before you start with nothing and begin by punching a tree and picking up rocks. There is a large variety of tools that you can learn as you start leveling up. Each time you level up you will get a point to put into a stat such as health, stamina, melee damage, etc. and, in addition to that, get engram points that you can spend on engrams which let you craft new items. You start with the basic survival items such as a campfire, pickax, hatchet, spear, and club. As you get to a higher level you can start making yourself clothing and more parts of a structure. Once at higher levels those are even better, hide or flak armor, upgrade your thatch home to wood or metal, and instead of a spear get a bow or rifle. As the items get better the more time and effort will be required to make them. A spear is simple 2 flint, 8 wood, and 12 fiber where a bow jumps to 15 wood and 50 fiber while the rifle requires 95 metal ingots, 20 wood, and 25 hide. Aside from weapons there are many upgrades for your home itself. You can get an industrial grill to cook all the dinosaur meat that you find in bulk, as well as a refrigerator to keep it from spoiling. Eventually you’ll be able to upgrade from torches to an electrical generator, which you power with gasoline, and will be able to run lights through your home that you can wire to light switches to toggle on and off. Some other crazy things you can end up building are a vault to store your goods in, C4, or even SCUBA gear to explore the water surrounding the island if you dare going into some of the underwater caves.
With the game being a survival game you will need to keep a close eye on your status. You have a hunger meter as well as a thirst meter that will deplete as you run about trying to collect all the materials you need to craft everything. The weather will directly impact those as well. When it is cold you will get hungry faster, when it is hot you will get dehydrated quicker. Make sure you keep berries, cooked food, and water on you or at least be close enough to somewhere that you can quickly run to before you starve to death. Speaking of death, there are a lot of ways to die. Overheating will slowly kill you. Freezing will slowly kill you. Starving and dehydrating. Falling off a ledge will kill you or severely injure you. You can drown in the water if you’re not careful or if you run out of stamina while swimming or running from dinosaurs. Dinosaurs will kill you. There are a lot out there that are not going to attack you right away but if you attack them they will go right after you. I made the mistake of trying to kill a triceratops pretty early on because I was hungry and it was the only dinosaur around me. Clubs and spears don’t work very well against them FYI.
Speaking of dinosaurs they aren’t just there for you to kill for food or to try to kill you. You can tame them and put them to work for you. If you want to farm a lot of berries it would be best to try to tame a stegosaurus because you can go into a field with a lot of bushes and swing the tail to harvest a bunch at once. Want to get around quicker? Tame one of the flying dinosaurs, an argentavis or pteranodon to jump on it and fly around, once you make a saddle for them that is. Need hide? Tame a sabertooth and go on a dinosaur killing spree. Same thing if you need meat but you’ll want a raptor or t-rex for that. Taming dinosaurs isn’t a walk in the park either. Depending on the level of the dinosaur you will need a large supply of food and narcotics for them. Take a level 20 sabertooth for example, because that one was probably my favorite dinosaur that we had, you will need 28 narcotics (which first you need a mortar and pestle for, you will need to combine 6 narcoberries and 1 spoiled meat to get 1 narcotic), 48 pieces of raw meat (make sure they’re not spoiled either so you better have a preservation bin or a refrigerator set up to keep it fresh nearby), and an hour and 30 minutes of time as you watch over an unconscious sabertooth preventing other dinosaurs from coming over and eating it while you have it sedated. You probably won’t find many level 20 sabertooths right away so it should take less supplies than that to tame one early on. It took me over 2 hours to tame a stegosaurus which you just have to feed berries and narcotics to. You’ll want to make sure you build a pen for the dinosaurs as well so that way wild ones can’t get to them and kill them while you’re offline. Nothing is worse than logging on to see that one of your dinosaurs was killed while you were away and that multiple hours were wasted on them. They get hungry just like you do so if you get too many it becomes a chore of trying to keep them all fed. They also get hungry while you’re offline so be prepared to log on daily or every other day just to take care of your pets so they don’t perish. They also level up like you do and you can apply points to their health, stamina, melee damage, speed, etc. like you can to your own character.
As far as the gameplay goes you really do whatever you want and just have fun building up your home and upgrading it as you survive and get more pets to help you out. You can tame more dinosaurs, you can plant different things and become a farmer, you can start breeding the dinosaurs that you have, you can specialize in one thing and gather an excess amount of it to trade with other players. My character’s name was Pablo and my tribe was The Cartel and we specialized in narcotics. We’d gather as many narcoberries as possible and make narcotics and would try to use that to trade for other items since everyone needs narcotics to tame dinosaurs it is always in demand and can be tedious trying to get hundreds of berries and spoiled meat to make it.
Overall ARK has been very entertaining playing with some friends and running around the island. I hope that they can make the server issue a bit better or at least add a queue to it so you can just choose to join and wait for a spot to open up. The game does become very time consuming very quickly though. You need to get a large group of people in your tribe so that way everyone can take care of things and you’re not having to log on every day with just one or two people just to make sure dinosaurs don’t die from starving while you’re away. It feels like a hardcore version of Minecraft and I’m looking forward to playing it more as they add more engrams to craft and more dinosaurs to tame down the road.