ARK Mobile: Closed Beta Impressions

Update 6/15/18: ARK: Survival Evolved has exited it’s closed beta and is now available on iOS and Android!

The mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved has been in closed beta for a little over a month now, and thanks to a recent wave of invitations I just became one of the lucky few invited to participate. This is a huge deal for me because I was a heavy player of the game when it was in Early Access on Steam (I clocked about 500 hours). I consider ARK one of my all-time favorite games, but I’ve fallen off of the bandwagon since the release of the Nintendo Switch. Thankfully, Wild Card seems to understand my dilemma, and they’ve recognized an opportunity for more accessible ways to play ARK. The mobile version is their first step toward bridging the gap between casual and hard-core gamers (not to mention the upcoming Nintendo Switch version) and I can’t be more excited.

ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

I’ve only been able to play the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved for a few days now, but this has proved more than enough time for me to get a feel for it, as well as try out the new improvements and features that set it apart from its PC, PS4, and Xbox One counterparts.

Before we dive in, however, a disclaimer: the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved is still in beta, which means that the version of the game we’ll be discussing could change from now until release, and could even do so before this article is even published. For this reason, I will refrain from any kind of public criticism of the game until it has exited its beta testing phase and the final version of the game has been released (after all, the developers should hear my criticisms first, since this is the entire point of including me in their closed beta in the first place).

Now then, with that out of the way, let’s begin.

Impressions and Graphics

ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

ARK: Survival Evolved’s mobile app is currently 1.6GB (which is only a portion of the 3.2GB of available space it requires), and you’ll be pleased to hear that every part of it feels as close to the original game as possible. The core experience remains in tact through its translation into a mobile phone, and everything from the opening animation to my brutal first death still looked, sounded, and felt like the ARK I’ve come to adore (before, of course, I lose everything and decide I hate it, only to stubbornly start over to go back to loving it again). With that being said, however, the mobile version couldn’t exist without some sacrifices, many of which have to do with its graphics.

ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

One of the first things I thought about the the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved when I dove in for the very first time was that it looked, well, ugly. It was broad daylight on the island, and everything looked washed out. The trees in the background were shadowless, jutting out of the distant hills like toothpicks. Some of the textures, like the ones used for the playable characters’ skin, looked much much rougher and dirtier than I remembered, but as this initial shock subsided, I had to ask myself what I expected.

To have a mobile version of ARK means that a fair amount of compromises are in order to render such a massive, intricate game world on devices we carry in our pockets. As such, the visuals have been severely downgraded, but a conservative amount of trees and foliage have been removed, but the sacrifice feels worth it because the result is a game that runs surprisingly smooth. (It’s important to mention, however, that we’re playing the game on an iPhone 8 and an iPad Pro 9.7, each of which are equipped with Apple newer A11 and A9X chips respectively, so we can’t vouch for how well it will perform on older devices.)

ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

I still can’t believe they’ve managed to fit a game like ARK into a phone, especially one that doesn’t feel too cramped. The experience, after the initial adjustment to its new look, feels largely the same, and the menus, inventory, and UI all come together quite nicely. I’m continuously surprised by how well the game runs, but more than anything I’m surprised by how comfortably it is to control it in the absence of a controller or keyboard.


ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

For the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved, the team handling the port over at War Drum Studios have created a really intriguing touch control scheme designed for the mobile experience. It works similarly to the mobile versions of Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but with a few notable tweaks. It takes a little getting used to, but when you do I think you’ll find it actually feels more natural than a controller or a mouse and keyboard.

ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

To give you an idea of how the touch system works, it’s easiest to think of the screen as being separated into two areas, with the left side essentially operating as a left control stick, and the right side essentially operating as a right control stick. Jumping is triggered by swiping up on the left side of the screen (running by double tapping then holding), and interacting with the world (like opening doors, picking up items, and attacking) is triggered by tapping on the right side of the screen.

ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

An icon at the top left of the screen allows the player to access the inventory, with various dynamic buttons that appear beside it to do things like demolish buildings, unlock engrams, etc. But the most interesting of all the functions created for this touch system is the ability to swipe in from the right side of the screen to open the hot bar wheel that holds designated items like blueprints, tools, and a map (though, this can be changed n the settings to instead display the traditional hotkey bar at the bottom of the screen). Similarly, swiping in from the left side of the screen opens the function bar wheel for changing from first person to third, viewing your character, and triggering emotes.

New Features and Improvements

One of the most surprising things about the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved is not only the fact that it delivers on the promise of a mobile ARK experience extremely well, but that it still finds ways to implement new features and improve on existing functionalities. For example, the mobile version actually has a quest system called “pursuits” that gives you various tasks to complete around the island like finding explorer notes, or acquiring one of the artifacts hidden is the island’s many caves. It’s a simple addition, but one I’m actually surprised doesn’t yet exist in the PC and console version of the game, if only because it makes the game much more accessible.

ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

Another new feature added in the mobile version of ARK is a means for resurrecting fallen creatures. All of the creatures found around the island have creature implants embedded in their body that are similar to the one embedded in each players’ forearm. When a creature dies, that implant can be collected and then sued to resurrect it by offering it an item called ancient amber (an extremely rare resource that’s purchasable with real-world currency, and can also be used to purchase various buffs, perks, and in-game items).

I’m sure many players won’t like this feature as much as I do, if not only because its purpose is to pry money from our hands, but I think that being able to resurrect your fallen tames makes one of the most time-consuming and punishing aspects of ARK much easier to stomach.ARK traditionally doesn’t care about your time, isn’t bothered if the dino you just spent 7 hours taming dies on your way back to your base, and it’s this very thing that chases many players away. But having the ability to resurrect your tames, despite its literal price, feels much more respectful if not downright game-changing.

ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

In additon to these welcome new features, the mobile version of ARK also took the time to improve upon many existing mechanics like building, structures, and notifications. Building, for starters, has an undo button that allows players to pick up any given structure within thirty-seconds of placing it, allowing misplaced walls and platforms to be picked back up without any consequences. This is something that players have suggested time and time again since the game launched back in 2015, but I wonder why the mobile version of the game gets this seemingly essential mechanic while the PC and console versions still only allow players to demolish the structures for half of the resources used to make it, regardless of how much time has passed since they placed it. Structures have been improved through automation, one of example of which being that doors now automatically close a couple of minutes after opening, ensuring that no survivor ever forgets and leaves their base vulnerable. In-game notifications have also been tweaked to warn players when they’re entered a dangerous area, presumably because of their proximity to an aggressive dinosaur.

ARK: Survival Evolved - the mobile experience

Last but certainly not least, the map has been changed in the mobile version of ARK toshow not only the player’s location but also what direction they’re facing, as well as various points of interest like caves and obelisks. It’s a small change, one I’m sure will split players down the middle about whether it’s good or bad, but it’s definitely a welcome improvement over the rudimentary map still being used in the PC and console versions of the game.

More to Come

We’ve only just scratched the surface of the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved, and the game isn’t even in its final state. There could be many changes in store as we make our way through the closed beta, but from what I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing so far there’s plenty of reasons to get excited about its impending public release. I don’t expect much to change from now until then (especially since the game is already in such phenomenal shape) but we’ll do our best to cover the changes as they’re implemented. If you’re chomping at the bit to get your hands on this game, keep an eye on the public news section of the ARK community forums here, where ARK mobile’s release date will surely be revealed first.

What do you think about the changes Wild Card and War Drum Studios have made for the mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved? What are some things that make you excited about the mobile release? What are some things that turn you off about it?

Let us know in the comments below, or connect with us on Twitter and Instagram!

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