The age of survival games is definitely here, and Ark Survival Evolved is arguably the king of the genre right now. When I talk about the survival genre, I'm mostly reffering to online multiplayer survival games, most of which are early access games. Why are most of them early access? Well, since the genre is very popular right now, smaller studios tend to rush out games, make their money from the early access sales, while they never really intend to fully release the game. Think about it. If you hit your goal as far as units sold on an unfinished product, what's the point of finishing it? If your goal is to make money, then you don't need to continue working on a game that you think has already reached its potential profit cap.
This type of mentality is why the survival genre is plagued with so many half-assed games. There are very few developers of early access survival games that actually consistently listen to the community, and steadily push out content and optimization updates. Studio Wildcard is one of these developers, and that is part of the reason why Ark: Survival Evolved has been so successful. My intent of this article is to break down Ark: Survival Evolved, and explain why, or why not it's worth it, in its current state, and in the future.
What Is Ark?
First of all, Ark: Survival Evolved is an online open world action-adventure survival game. How is it different from other games in the genre? Well, the most obvious reason is dinosaurs. Ark: Survival Evolved puts players in a massive world where dinosaurs, some friendly, and some extremely aggressive, roam the island. Players have to survive by gathering materials, building themselves a safe home, and taming dinosaurs to help them gather, protect themselves and lay siege to other players. Ark: Survival Evolved has a huge PVP community, but there is also a sizeable PVE player base that prefers to peacefully build their home and explore the island with other friendly players. The game offers a wide range of experiences depending on how player's want to play, and that's part of what makes it so popular. Many other multiplayer survival games have very toxic communities, where new players are griefed, and discouraged from actually getting into the game due to the hardcore PVP environment. While Ark: Survival Evolved definitely has some toxic servers, there are many options for players to join friendly PVE and fair PVP environments.
Along with mods, Ark: Survival Evolved has a huge amount of replayability, and that's part of the reason why I have sunk thousands of hours into the game, just like much of the player base. Ark also has one of the largest worlds out of any online survival game on the market, if not the largest one. Not only is it large, but it encourages adventure. Other online survival games are rather dull, with the main objective being building a base, and either avoiding or killing other players. Since Ark is populated with dozens and dozens of unique and interesting creatures, players can spend countless hours exploring the island and the ocean, finding new dinosaurs, taming them, and building all sorts of interesting architecture. With almost weekly updates, Ark: Survival Evolved never gets dull thanks to the consistent addition of new content. Overall, Ark: Survival Evolved has set itself apart from all other games in the genre, and because of how many cookie-cutter, stale games are saturating the market, Arks player base continues to attract players who are tired of the same old survival experience.
Studio Wildcard are the developers of Ark: Survival Evolved. What are they doing that's putting themselves so far ahead of the competition? Well, first of all, they actually do their job. Very well I might add. Many early access developers tend to abandon their game after receiving enough money, or they simply don't update the game or add content as regularly as they should. The worst example of this is DayZ. DayZ was an extremely ambitious survival game at the time that never left early access, and probably never will. The developers have basically abandoned the game after taking everybody's money. It longer receives regular updates, and the community has completely given up on what could have been a fantastic game. Though DayZ is a specific example, many early access games follow the same pattern. What does this have to do with Studio Wildcard? Well, Ark: Survival Evolved released on Steam early access in July 2015 and still remains in early access to this day. While this might be alarming if it were another developer, Studio Wildcard is the exception.
Yes, Ark: Survival Evolved is still in early access. But, Studio Wildcard has always and continues to listen and engage with the community. Ark receives very consistent content and balance/bug fix updates which keep the community engaged and gives them a reason to look forward to the future. Not only does Studio Wildcard communicate with the community on a regular basis, but they also continuously come out with fresh content. Because of Ark's incredible success on PC, the game was quickly ported to Xbox One and PS4 which was a huge deal at the time, considering how ambitious and unique of a game it was plus the fact that it was in early access; something that was previously unknown territory for many console players. A big part of Ark: Survival Evolved's success is because of the stellar work done by Studio Wildcard on a consistent basis. While Studio Wildcard has been keeping the community happy with continued content updates, it's not all sunshine, flowers, and rainbows. They have made some rather controversial decisions that have angered the community and gave them a reason to doubt their motives.
In September 2016, Studio Wildcard released a DLC expansion pack for Ark: Survival Evolved called Scorched Earth, which didn't sit well with the community. You might be saying, "Whats wrong with DLC? New content is always good". Well, for an early access game, releasing a paid DLC expansion pack before actually officially launching the game, is a pretty shady business venture. Paid DLC is all fine and dandy, as long as the game is actually fully optimized and released before hand. Many players were up in arms about this decision from Studio Wildcard, saying that they should be focusing on optimization rather than paid DLC. As a whole, the community is more concerned with optimization that content and Ark definitely needs optimization more than anything. At its current state, the game doesn't feel like it should be fully released since it's still plagued with many bugs and glitches, including frame rate issues. While Studio Wildcard definitely made a pretty questionable decision with the release of Scorched Earth, I still believe that they fully intend to follow through with the official release of the game.
Pros and Cons
As somebody that's sunk over 1,400 hours into Ark: Survival Evolved, I've pretty thoroughly explored the game. I've seen all of the amazing things that the game has to offer, and I've also experienced all of the frustrating, bad things that the game is struggling with. Like all early access games, Ark: Survival Evolved definitely has its fair share of optimization issues. Overall, you need a pretty mid-high tier computer build. Ark definitely suffers from frame rate issues with lower end PC builds, but the console versions tend to hold up a lot better. If you are looking to play on PC, ignore the game's recommended PC requirements, and take to the forums instead. As far as issues go, frame rate's tend to get pretty choppy when it comes to large establishments. Part of what makes Ark: Survival Evolved so amazing is that there is basically no limit to what you can build, as long as you have enough space. While this is an amazing feature to the game, it also makes for some pretty laggy parts of the map where players have built mega-fortresses. This is probably the biggest issue of the game, other than certain bugs and glitches including crashing.
Optimization is what Ark: Survival Evolved is lacking the most, and hopefully, Studio Wildcard addresses this issue sooner than later. If you want the cleanest gameplay experience, console is probably your best bet for now, although the PC version comes with many perks like mods and faster content releases to name a couple. Truthfully, optimization is really the only thing bad I have to say about the game. Ark: Survival Evolved is truly an amazing game, with rich content. Like most survival games, you start naked in a random location on the island. From there, you need to gather resources to make clothes, build a home and eventually, tame dinosaurs, all the while staying vigilant for carnivorous dinosaurs that will turn you into their lunch in a heartbeat. Starting alone in Ark can be pretty overwhelming at first, but you quickly get an understanding of the main purpose and mechanics of the game.
The more you play, the higher level you get and the more high-tech gadgets you gain access to. The game has an incredible sense of purpose and progression. You start with thatch/hay structures and work your way up to wood, stone, and finally metal. Once you're high level enough, you're capable of building a metal fortress, fitted with teleporters, automated turrets, and of course, your very own choice of dinosaur defense. It really is an addicting progression system. I personally started off playing PVE, where I could take my time, build a beautiful base, and explore the island at my leisure. Once I got bored, I moved onto PVP where I dominated a server with my tribe, to the point that no-one dared storm our base which was ginormous in size and honestly damn near invulnerable. Whether you choose to live on the island with other friendly tribes or destroy everyone that stands in your way, Ark provides an extremely satisfying experience and a huge amount of replayability. While I haven't touched Ark in quite some time, it still remains one of my favorite games to this day.
Is it Worth it?
While the survival genre is saturated with half-finished, cookie-cutter games at the moment, Ark: Survival Evolved is giving everybody a run for their money. It's arguably the only game in the genre that's actually showing innovation and pushing the limits. Many developers tend to take the safe route and make what they think will sell well, based on what's popular. Ark: Survival Evolved took a risk, and it paid off, which is something more developers need to do, even outside of the indie market. Great games are made based off of creativity, ingenuity, innovation and ultimately passion. Studio Wildcard has been setting an example for how early access games should be developed. While they have made some mistakes, not every company is perfect, and Studio Wildcard is far from that but possibly the closest we have in the early access survival genre right now.
Due to its success, Studio Wildcard released a stand-alone multiplayer online arena survival (MOSA) spinoff version of Ark: Survival Evolved called Survival of the Fittest. This is a free game that pits players against each other in an arena where they fight to the last man standing. It's basically a battle royale version of Ark, and its a great example of the survival/PVP aspect of the game in its most simple form. Other than Survival of the Fittest, Studio Wildcard is also working on a virtual reality version of the game. The possibilities are endless with Ark: Survival Evolved, and it's probably one of the only early access game that I actually think are worth it right now. If you have a PS4, Xbox One or a fairly high-end PC, I highly recommend getting Ark. If you're still skeptical after reading my break-down, then there's no harm in waiting until the game fully releases. Either way, Studio Wildcard is doing a great job with Ark: Survival Evolved, and it definitely has my early access approval.