Ark: Survival Evolved Review – Untamed World

Studio Wildcard unleashes their persistent world builder Ark: Survival Evolved on the PS4 and we drop more then a 100 hours to see how this prehistoric adventure holds up on consoles.
Read our review to find out.

When it comes to the world builder genre it can sometimes feel like there isn’t much available for gamers looking for a mature experience that isn’t trying to mimic Minecraft. More often than not the brick mechanic is far too elegant of an option to not use as it solves the issue for users to be able to put their world together with ease. But, what if the world you created wasn’t simply about moving blocks around, it was about conquering an unforgiving world and making it your own? That is where Studio Wildcard’s Ark: Survival Evolved comes into play.
Set on an island filled with prehistoric animals of all types, the player wakes up stripped of everything but a gem in his or her left arm. This is where Ark’s strengths and weaknesses start to show. With so much relying on being able to live off the land, Ark falls short on both teaching players the most fundemental of spects, and having a user friendly interface. Working very much like an outdated PC game, players are forced to navigate a menu that scatters information around, while still making them click on an item, then click again where to drop said item off. It also uses a wheel selection tool that is significantly more suited for a mouse, as you can easily select the wrong command while trying to hit one of the 12 segments on the circle it is fragmented into. Theoretically the concept is simple and should work, but when you take into account the amount of lag, the fact that your cursor will jump around, and that it wasn’t designed with consoles in mind, you are going to be fighting the UI during your first hour and your hundredth. While this isn’t a deal breaker normally, if you take into account that this game is about you being hunted in the wild by things looking to rip your face off, or players looking to steal everything you have worked for, you may get annoyed by having to fight the UI just to handle the game’s extremely deep inventory system.
At first the idea of trying to not only learn how to survive, but to actually build and thrive in such a world is an incredibly primal experience, and one that is absolutely the strongest aspects of the game. Simply being able to overcome the environment by not only living, but by being able to prove yourself capable of conquering even the mightiest of creatures is a unique experience that is rarely had in gaming today. Moving from simple stone tools to metal, and eventually evolving into modern technology with assault rifles and circuit boards, players are going to work there way through the evolution of man. A concept that should make Ark one of the best games of the year, but sadly due to a number of decisions by Studio Wildcard, Ark: Survival Evolved ranges from fantastic and extremely rewarding, to something that plays out like a haven for internet trolls live out their griefing fantasies.
Depending on which type of game mode you choose (PvP or PvE) players are going to have a very different type of experience. In Player versus Environment, players are going to simply have to worry about surviving against the elements and the monstrous creatures that walk the land. While this mode has the potential to avoid many of the issues brought on by PvP, it has an overly sterile feel to it as just about every one of the servers has already allowed its player base to conquer the land and establish giant homesteads in prime locations. This then leads to an issue found in both modes, as finding a place to call your own becomes more and more difficult, the longer users have had a chance to build. This leads to abandoned structures, including anything from crates to small starter shacks, in denying new players to build near that location. This forces every player to either join a group, making them miss the experience in building their own world, or in running around a dinosaur infested world hoping they can find a feasible location to build. 
In Player versus Player, users are going to experience the exact same issue in finding a usable location, but on-top of dealing with hazardous creatures, they are going to have to worry about other players, and they are a much bigger problem. In any competitive mode there is always a degree of potential for griefing, but Studio Wildcard takes things to a completely new level as it can absolutely destroy the experience. Normally, when I do a review I can generally get it done in a short period, but Ark: Survival Evolved is a game that not only requires a significant time investment, but it also has some of the biggest shifts in quality of experience I have ever seen. Building your base and trying to make peace with neighboring tribes is an absolute blast and something that truly makes the title worth picking up. But, given that Ark is a persistent world, you are highly susceptible to having your world crumble underneath your feet, but that’s PvP.
Given that just about everything that is worth doing in Ark requires a significant time investment, the ease for you to be trolled is simply irresponsible and some of the worst design I have ever had the misfortune of experiencing. To start off, one of the biggest draws to Ark is the ability to tame just about everything you see, but even that fairly basic dinosaur is going to take you between an hour or three to tame. Which entails you having to manually feed it a sedative while keeping it fed and safe as it sleeps. If by chance you are able to keep off any hungry dinosaurs, or players looking for an easy kill and free gear, you have yourself a pet. But, after hours of playing, even the most adamant of players need to sleep, and this is where your world becomes fair game, especially early on. Waking up and learning that several hours of work had been lost when I went to bed every night for a week, due to a game abuse where players can simply jump your walls, kill your pets, destroy your only spawn point (forcing you to randomly spawn when you log back in) and steal everything you grinded for, is a bit demoralizing. But, hey…it’s PvP.
Eventually you start to realize the concept of it being PvP becomes a joke until the late game, as you will be basically dealing with people who can have drastic ramifications on your work, with little consequence to themselves if they have nothing to lose. The best example of this is the now in-famous Swamp Fever, a flu like symptom that forces you to consistently cough and reduces all of your stats…well, except one. The one stat that is bewilderingly increased is your movement speed stat, which allows those with the illness to infect you (as you catch it by simply being near them) at blinding speeds. Not only this, but curing the disease is near impossible at low levels, as the only way to cure it is to obtain a bunch of rare items with a short shelf-life or by leveling up. Sadly, even after curing yourself, all it takes is another infected person to infect you again. Even at level 60 finding the curative is a pain, so after spending an hour and a half to level-up, I cured myself of Swamp Fever to only have someone troll me by jumping into my base and infecting me ten seconds later. But, hey….it’s PvP right?
After having obtained a heavily fortified base with turrets strategically placed and a number of high leveled end-game dinosaurs, I have moved passed most of the trolling from other players. But, that doesn’t mean the experience changes enough to really work itself out, as the trolling or ‘PvPing’ starts to become higher level. Having players with machine gun turrets mounted on boats that can’t be seen until its too late due to poor draw distances, just sitting on the water insta-killing players while they went to bed is just an evolution of the process I experienced during my early days with the game. Finding an actual player to versus is still a myth that seems lost, as guerrilla tactics or simple nonpunishable actions become the standard to live and die by. For a game that offers so much, its seems the player elements are the least addressed aspect of the game, and that is simply sad, as there is so much potential behind Ark.
After some serious thought about Ark: Survival Evolved I cannot help but be disappointed in Studio Wildcard. They have one of the most invigorating and rewarding experiences I have had in gaming in years, but built its foundation on toothpicks and bubblegum. Conceptually Ark: Survival Evolved is refreshing and simply a wonder to experience, but in reality, it’s a decaying world that punishes you for not being the first to play it or being unable to invest every bit of your waking life in it. Those lucky enough to have a fresh run are going to have a unique experience that should be envied, as the rest of us are going to be left fighting for scraps and taking abuse till we are big enough to perpetuate the cycle of pain. Those simply looking to troll or be a nuisance are going to find plenty of content here, and those looking for a balanced and rewarding experience are going to have to fight for far too long to find it.