Xbox One Preview: ARK: Survival Evolved

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ARK:  Survival Evolved is a multiplayer survival sandbox game in which the player is dumped on a huge island filled to the brim with various creatures from throughout history and mythology. In ARK you are able to partake in an extensive crafting system, resource management, and combat with dinosaurs. What more can you want from a game?

ARK is part of the new Game Preview program that has come to the Xbox One. Similar to Steam’s Early Access program, games in the Game Preview program are not yet complete, but they are playable, and one can purchase them before their final release to play the current build, as well as any future builds that are released.

ARK may not have reached the point of a final build, but like any other title in the Game Preview program, you can get it right now. The questions we must ask are:  what exactly are you getting and is it worth the buy?

 

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WHAT’S GOOD?

ARK plays much like a prettier, more involved Minecraft. You can build an incredibly diverse range of structures, weapons, clothing, and tools. There are the typical things that you would expect here, like pickaxes and wooden huts, as well as more sophisticated things like sci-fi style energy guns and full-fledged electricity powered mansions. The developers have made it possible to make just about anything you could reasonably want to create on the island, so long as you’re willing to put in the effort.

The combat in ARK is difficult at first, but it makes it that much more satisfying when you manage to kill a brontosaurus or a dragon. As you get more weapons the combat gets easier and you’re able to take on larger targets, and you’re going to need to hit those larger targets if you want the resources they drop. This dynamic stops things from getting boring, but it also stops them from getting too difficult. Yes, you’ll die if you try to punch a T-Rex in the face when you first spawn, but if you were all powerful from the first minute then the game would have no long term appeal.

While you can kill any beast you come across, you can also befriend them. Even boss monsters can be turned to your side with the right tactics. Quite humorously, you usually need to violently knock a creature unconscious and feed it a steady diet of narcotics (yes, you can craft and use narcotics) to keep it asleep before you can begin to tame it. Taming itself is done mostly through feeding animals their favorite kinds of food while they’re out cold, and if you feed them enough of it then they’ll be your best friend when they finally get back up. You can even put a saddle on many animals and ride them around, or you can just have your beasts follow you and attack anything that gets in your way. It is not uncommon to find high leveled players with an entire brigade of T-Rexes guarding their sprawling complexes.

 

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The environments, meanwhile, are excellent. The island you’re on features swamps, forests, beaches, and mountain ranges, all of which sport their own unique enemies and resources. Until you’ve set up camp somewhere and made your own respawn points you typically spawn on the outer edge of the island, which means that you’re in for a fight to get to the center and the higher ground where the really good stuff is.

The controls are also pretty interesting. While the game keeps its hotkey style interface across the bottom of the screen, the developers have managed to implement it in a way that is painless:  The D-Pad serves as the hotkeys to access the first few items you have equipped and holding down the Left Bumper shifts what part of the hotkey bar you’re accessing. This allows for the best of both worlds and stops the player from having to endlessly access their inventory screen.

 

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WHAT NEEDS WORK?

While the taming system isn’t terribly difficult, it is tedious. Having to stuff narcotics and steaks down a raptor’s throat for ten minutes does not fit many people’s traditional definition of fun. Something could be done to streamline the process, but it’s understandable that they don’t want it to be too easy, lest you dominate the island after a few hours of work. There needs to be a middle ground and they haven’t quite gotten there yet.

There were several glitches that cropped up from time to time. Notably, things had the habit of clipping into each other and getting stuck. Bigger dinosaurs were especially vulnerable to this, as they would try to walk between some rocks and get stuck there for a long time. Compounding this is the seemingly weak AI attached to some dinosaurs. At minimum the pathfinding will need to be improved in the future.

 

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Spawning in for new players can be massively confusing. It is possible to instantly die if you choose the wrong spawn area and – even if you live for more than five minutes – there is no real instruction given. You aren’t told what you should be doing or how things are done, nor are any of the basic concepts of the game given to you right away. You need to experiment heavily or consult a guide before you make any real progress. There is also not much in the way of plot.

The crafting is good, but we couldn’t help but want a creative mode similar to that of Minecraft. An offline, single player gametype where endless resources were available and dinosaurs were more easily tamed would go a long way towards satisfying the people who just like to make really complex structures in games like this.

All in all, it would be nice to see beefed up AI, refined mechanics, and a tutorial. A series of quests or goals (other than defeating bosses and accessing the floating beacons around the island) would be a nice addition as well, as would some NPCs if implemented properly, all of which would add much more to the sparse plot.

 

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GRAB IT OR WAIT FOR THE FINAL RELEASE?

ARK might need some polish, but it is not lacking in content. One can lose hours of time gathering supplies, taming beasts, building their homes, and fighting with the tribes of players that populate the multiplayer servers. But for those of you who care about plot, questlines, or structure, ARK might seem kind of lacking.

If you’re big into Minecraft then this will be right up your ally and you shouldn’t hesitate to give the demo a shot, but if you aren’t a fan of survival craft-em-ups then you might want to look elsewhere. Though, skeptics be warned:  this is a game where you can put a saddle on a pterodactyl and you can shoot dragons with laser guns, so it might still have merit to you.

All in all, ARK is promising, and we look forward to reviewing the final release when it comes out later this year.

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