The ARK is open for business.
ARK: Survival Evolved launched yesterday, a few hours behind schedule. It was originally slated to become available around 1pm ET, but the devs needed to shore up their servers beforehand, and pushed the deployment out to about 5-6PM. I think the actual release was closer to 7PM, with the first patch adding single player mode coming in an hour after that.
Let’s not dwell on the difficulties, because although I’ve not played a whole lot of these survival genre games, I can’t say that I’ve played one that measures up to ARK: SE.
You start off by creating your character. It’s slider-based, and you can craft your male or female avatar within limits. Everyone still kind of looks like a Neanderthal. You get to choose a name and a cardinal starting location (N, S, E, or W), and away you go.
I started out on a beach, reminiscent of Savage Lands. As a quick aside, there are “milestones” in my gaming history where I realize that I need up upgrade my hardware: this is one of them. While my i7/16GB and GTX 760 labored heroically to pump out the visuals on high setting, there was still some lag. But gawddamn this game is breathtaking. The foliage is thick and luscious, the water is sweeping and reflective, and the lighting is spectacular (!).
The first order of business was to figure out what some of the buttons do. You actually start off with a “care package” of sorts: some food, some clothing, some tools, and some weapons (oddly enough, including C4…?). You also have a strange crystal embedded in your forearm, which keys you into the fact that you really shouldn’t be on this island: you’re apparently part of some kind of experiment in survival, but without a clue as to who’s running the show.
Naturally, my first instinct was to find a dinosaur (well actually, I got dressed first). I didn’t have to look far: my first dino was a Carbonemys, a large turtle with a spiked shell. He was just lumbering along, minding his business. I had heard that you can tame dinos by first knocking them unconscious, so I equipped my provided slingshot, and tried to wallop this guy in the head enough times to put him to sleep. No dice. He ended up killing me.
When you die, you lose anything “new”, meaning anything you didn’t start with, anything you crafted, or anything you found (might keep harvested materials, I admit I didn’t enumerate before and after I died). This made me sad because I lost my early access saddle and hat visual texture items. They don’t fall to the ground; you just lose them. I expect that by building a crate you can store stuff to avoid this “feature”.
Next up was exploration. I headed off down the beach and when I entered a shallow cove, I had to pause: a Brontosaurus was hanging out on the beach. I admit that it wasn’t as big as I had anticipated, but man, it was plenty big enough. Thankfully, as they’re herbivores, I knew I was safe to approach, but I didn’t want to A) get stepped on, or B) get tail-whipped, so I still had to tread carefully. There were a lot of other dinos around as well, like more Carbys, some Dodos, and some Coelacanth, prehistoric fish.
I was getting messages that I was “too hot”, which is not as complimentary as it sounds. I was advised to seek shelter, but I had no shelter, so I ran to the treeline which didn’t work too well. The heat didn’t seem to have much of a noticable effect, although I suspect it made me more thirsty than usual. But I switched to my pickaxe and took out some trees and some rocks for thatch, wood, flint, and stone.
During my exploration, I leveled up a few times. I opted to add points to Fortitude, which I heard helped against all many of Bad Things, since my other stats seemed relatively stable over time. You also earn points to spend on engrams, which are basically how you learn recipes. I picked up all of the blueprints for thatch housing: foundation, walls, doorframe, door, and roof. The only problem is that I need “fiber”, which I don’t know where to find.
One immediate goal was to figure out what the heck was up with these floating techno-towers and geysers of light that I could see in the distance. Making my way through the forest, I found some Pterodactyls who spent more time crawling around on the ground than they did flying, and a Triceratops…whom I kept at a distance. I also had the displeasure of meeting a Dilophosaurus (I think that’s the name). These look like tiny upright lizards from a distance, but once they see you they deploy neck frills…and spit acid at you. I did eventually make it to Techo-Tower only to find it hovering above a platform that was patrolled by a dino. Figuring “what the hell”, I circled and approached, hoping that the guardian was docile. Turns out, he wasn’t, and bit my head off, leaving me no wiser about the purpose of the techno-tower.
The light geysers, however, turned out to be more…illuminating (pun very much intended). They range in color, and I lucked out by picking a white column to approach. When you get close enough, you can open it’s inventory, and out pops a bunch of useful items. From this particular cache (what they call a “loot crate”, but don’t confuse it with the similarly named items from H1Z1), I received some thatched hut parts (complete foundation, wall, and roof). Once I opened the cache, however, the column vanished. Later, I approached another crate spire, but was told by the system that I needed to be level 15 in order to access it.
When night fell it had started to rain, and I was told that I was getting cold. Seemed legit. I had unlocked the campfire engram, so I collected the materials and built a fire on the beach. When you build certain things, you can hold down the “E” key to open their inventory. In the case of the fire, doing so allowed me to add wood and receive charcoal over time, but also to add the dodo meat I had…found…in order to make it edible (for me). Raw meat is good for dinos, cooked meat is good for me, and all food spoils over time making it probably good for no one. So eat early, eat often, as even the starter kit food goes bad.
I got brave and attempted to sucker punch a Carbonemys into torpor (semi-accurate term they use for putting the dinos to sleep with extreme prejudice) in order to tame one. Once the dino is down, you open it’s inventory and give it food to “nurse it back to health” like some kind of Fatal Attraction meets Misery plot-line. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any raw meat, so I gave it cooked meat. Then I wondered if this guy wouldn’t have preferred foliage instead. The Carby was unconscious for quite a while (maybe about 10 minutes, real time), and when he awoke he wasn’t bound to me in any way, so my taming efforts failed.
That’s when I had to throw in the towel for the night.
* * *
Despite the difficulties (and the rampant entitlement and general childish bullshit from the community on the game’s Steam Forums) and delays, the server overcrowding and lag between release and the soloist patch, and even though the game is technologically punishing for all the beauty it provides, I had a great time! Seeing the Brontosaurus come into view was astonishing, and being ambushed by something that looked like the unholy union of a hippo and an alligator scared the living piss out of me, so I consider the game to be a rousing success.
Do not forget, though: this is an Early Access game. There are bugs. There are issues. There are unfinished bits. There’s tweaking and optimizations to do. It’s launch day plus one, so the devs have had very little time to address everyone’s laundry list of priorities. But as far as Early Access games go, I think this one is in pretty damn good shape, at least from my perspective.