ARK: Survival Evolved has finally left Early Access after more than two years. As someone who’s been with the game from the start, I’m swelling with pride because I know how far ARK has come, and I’ve seen first-hand the struggles that we, both the players and the developers, have gone through together.
For those who have yet to experience it, ARK is essentially a sandbox survival game in a world that’s reminiscent of Jurassic Park. You wake up naked on an island with nothing but a mysterious artifact embedded in your left forearm. From here you can depart into the world to learn new engrams (essentially blueprints for tools, weapons, dinosaur saddles, building parts, etc.), tame dinosaurs, create sprawling bases, and explore the various ruins and caves scattered across the world. The “end goal,” should you desire one, is to take down the three bosses inside the giant floating green, blue, and red obelisks, take on the final boss inside the volcano, and achieve what the developers call “ascension” (which is something I have yet to achieve).
ARK is a wild game that possesses the incredible ability to make you love and hate it at the same time, and my experience with it over the last two years was filled with seasons like this. There were weeks when I couldn’t get enough of ARK’s prehistoric world, so much so that I’d spend every waking moment of my free time playing this game, and there were other times when I swore I’d never play it again. If you’ve ever played ARK before, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t then I’m sorry to tell you that you don’t know the true meaning of defeat, of loyalty, or of stubborn perseverance.
ARK is beautiful, intricate, huge, and immersive, but above all it’s brutal. For example, when me and my boyfriend first started playing, we spent more than 300 hours combined building a sprawling little community in an official server that was destroyed in a matter of minutes. We built a base that was several stories high, tamed dinos, built up our tribe to about 5-6 players strong, and even helped two other tribes build bases next to ours, but then we started getting raided. This was happening because when you log out of ARK your character simply goes to sleep, it does not disappear, your base is not protected, and anyone can come along, blow up your perimeter walls, kill your animals, and take your stuff, which is exactly what happened to us. This, mixed with the fact that we continued to lose dinos left and right to the many carnivores roaming the island, eventually made everyone in our tribe, including all of our neighbors, stop playing the game altogether. I was one of the only people who kept playing, thinking surely this wasn’t something that happened often, until I realized that this lesson is one that everyone who plays ARK will learn at one point or another. And then they’ll learn it again.
I still play the game, of course, but I’ve elected to hosting and maintaining a server of my own. I find it the most preferable way to play, because I have the ability to tweak default settings like harvest rates, taming times, and the amount of dinos that spawn all across the island. It’s created an environment where I have control, and although devastation is still present, it’s nowhere near as painful as it was when we played on an official server.
From the very start, the developers haven’t seemed to care about making the game easy or accessible, but have remained staunchly dedicated to their vision of fully realizing the world they’ve created, and what it would be like to try and survive in that kind of environment. Survival, after all, is the game’s main focus, and it will do its best to remind you whenever it can.
That ARK isn’t easy, accessible, fair, or even that fun sometimes might sound like I wouldn’t recommend it, but the truth of the matter is that I absolutely 100% do. None of my friends have stuck with the game like I have, partly because of devastating losses and partly because of ARK’s many growing pains, but I regard it as one of the greatest and most unique gaming experiences of my life. ARK remains on my list of favorites two years after I started my initial, storied foray into its lush, exotic, and diversely populated world. Two years!
I can’t even begin to explain all of the ways the game has changed over the years, but if you like the idea behind Minecraft, adore the online communities behind games like Call of Duty, but you want the kind of challenge that comes with games like Dark Souls, you simply must play ARK.