ARK: SE is YASG — Yet Another Survival Game. We can thank Minecraft for starting this genre, and recent entries like H1Z1, Subnautica, and Eden Star (among many, many others) have taken the ball and run with it by ramping up the graphical fidelity, crafting, and progression paths.
I’ve tried many of these other games, and some fare better than others in my hands. I like the heat of the moment gameplay involved in finding resources to survive because accomplishing the smallest bit of crafting feels epic. I’m not so keen on the bullying and griefing that many of these newer games seem to be built to foster, so I usually play solo or on private servers. But when you boil them all down, what you end up with is a cycle that looks a little something like this:
In writing this post, I was trying to think about why, then, ARK: SE appeals to me, and I decided that it’s because it has dinosaurs. I’m cool on dinos overall. I’m sure I loved them as a kid, but eventually that gave way to more sci-fi-themed interests…I preferred to look ahead rather than into the past. But in this case, I mean dinos as a mechanic.
In most survival games, you gain the benefit of resources (collecting and building) and the detriment of NPCs and other players (if you play that way). In ARK: SE, there’s another dynamic, and that’s the dinos themselves. Many will be hostile, some will be docile, but that you can tame dinos and then ride them like a motherfucker into battle sounds like an awesomely lame-ass SyFy movie, but in terms of a survival genre game it means that you’ve got a resource that doesn’t play like resources in other games. For example, I read about how you can take passengers on the backs of some of the much larger dinos in this game, but those passengers have to find a way to get up to the saddle area. If this were a game where the only point was to ride dinos into battle, you’d probably see players bunny-hopping off walls to accomplish this, but in ARK: SE, you can build a whole dino transit station with stairs and platforms to which dinos can sidle up alongside in order to allow passengers to embark. How awesome is that? And if you said “not very”, then get out, because it’s pretty damn awesome in a genre where the only purpose of building is for defense.
There’s a bunch of other benefits that the dinos can impart, like acting as your typical MMO pet (aggressive, passive, on guard, etc) or helping you harvest (brontos can clear cut areas for building for example). You can transfer them between clan members, even, giving players a reason to work together to create a Dinotopia of sorts. But there’s also player progression which allows you to build your character, in addition to the standard build upon builds crafting system.
The caveat is that yes, this is an Early Access release, having previously been released to interested parties as an “alpha” build. Many, many things will probably be unavailable at this point, or broken or un-optimized. From the sound of things on the Steam forums, though, the game is in pretty good (i.e. “playable”) shape for EA. And although I would pay retail price for a game with these kinds of features, “word on the street” is that it’s EA intro price will be $25 USD. Can’t beat that with the sharpened stick. And fear not, Consoleers! ARK: SE is slated to come to PS4 and XB1 at some point. Just think about it: survival game with dinosaurs — and a VR headset like Oculus or Morpheus? I can’t think of a game better suited to such a setup, to be honest.