A painful romp through the jungle.
ARK: Survival Evolved on PS4 Pro
ARK: Survival Evolved is a game that demands you give it all of your time and attention. It’s a sandbox survival title that’s similar to other games in the genre like Minecraft and Rust, except this time, we have dinosaurs, robots, and other cool tech and weapons that players can get their hands on. There are online and offline servers, and players can choose to engage in a hostile PVP environment, or just plow through a decently dense campaign solo. All of that sounds cool, but you’ll never see any of the good stuff if you’re not willing to grant ARK: Survival Evolved an almost infinite well of time and patience.
The early hours of ARK: Survival Evolved are the most brutal. After choosing your spawn location, you are immediately dropped onto a beach with barely enough clothes to keep your modesty, and nothing but your bare fists to mine materials with. By the way, mining with your fists hurts you.
Before too long, you’ll craft your very first pickaxe, and even build a small thatch hut to keep you somewhat safe from the elements. Then we have the dinosaurs. ARK: Survival Evolved refuses to explain a single thing to new players, which is pretty fitting for its “survival of the fittest” mantra, and so you’ll most likely die repeatedly to dinosaurs that are about 20 levels too high for you, as you try to figure out which ones you can tame, and which ones you should run away from.
The first five to ten hours of ARK: Survival Evolved are excruciating for new players, as the game throws you into the deep end almost immediately with no clearly defined objective or goal for you to work towards. Your only priority is to survive, and even that proves to be quite the challenge because you won’t even have the slightest idea of how to do just that. But if you can make it through the rough beginning, ARK: Survival Evolved will eventually reward you with more things to do, and activities to pursue.
During my time with the offline campaign, I dived into caves, searching for artifacts that would offer up some of the game’s surprisingly deep lore, while taming dinos as I went along. My housing situation improved considerably, as I moved up from a small thatch hut to a modest stone house that offered more protection. Even my weaponry improved, though mining for materials and ammunition proved to be a time-consuming chore later on. That’s the real problem with ARK. Every single activity in the game is a painful grind that could easily eat away all of your time.
Building a decent house and gathering materials for it could take hours, and taming beasts, as enticing as that might sound, is an equally tiring and repetitive grind. I never got into animal breeding and raising, but I hear that entire process requires careful observation and care over the span of several days. Even as I focused on the offline campaign, and worked towards defeating ARK’s tough bosses, that process in itself was a thankless grind as well, where you had to gather the necessary artifacts and complete caves in order to trigger them. The worst part of it all is that the rewards feel minimal, while the consequences are severe. Dying to a boss means potentially losing hours of progress, and you’ll have to redo that whole arduous process of getting to the boss again.
The solo campaign gets a little stale after a while, but the PVP servers are far more exciting.
Though the painful grind is still present, the PVP servers felt far more aggressive simply because it wasn’t just the dinos you had to watch out for this time; there were dangerous players to contend with as well. Building a shelter after hours of painstaking hard work and then logging off the game was always a risk. You simply never know when other players might stumble upon your humble abode and ransack the whole place, stripping you of everything you had.
Things do get better if you’re able to form a community with other players, where you’ll always have people watching your back and making sure that your stuff doesn’t get stolen. ARK: Survival Evolved may fail a little on the PVE side of things, but the game truly gets interesting when you’re working with other players, and trying to take out rival communities to steal their stuff. It’s about outsmarting other players and seeing who can get away with the most materials to build a better base. ARK’s unofficial PVP servers are exciting to play in, and the sense of competition definitely helps to heighten your sense of immersion and danger in the game’s unforgiving world.
For players who might not be as inclined towards PVP action, the PVE servers are far more friendly where players are a lot more willing to team up to work towards certain goals. The grind and toil is certainly lessened here, and this was where I personally started to really enjoy the game properly and see what it had to offer. That is to say, if you really want to get the most out of ARK’s populated servers, you’ll need to find a group or community you can play with, or be willing to invest an enormous amount of time to make your mark on the game world while fending off players that might be eyeing your resources.
Despite spending two years in early access and development, ARK: Survival Evolved still suffers from technical issues like frame rate drops on the PS4 Pro, and weird AI hiccups where large dinos would get stuck on the terrain, making it laughably easy for you to cheese them to death. The fact that the game’s crafting systems feel so shallow certainly don’t help matters much either.
When you finally get over the initially steep learning curve and find fellow like-minded players that you can group up with, ARK: Survival Evolved becomes a truly enjoyable sandbox game where anything goes. But not even the impressive dinosaurs and cool tech can cover up just how repetitive the game really is, and how you’re forced to sink in hours and hours of grinding before you can finally start to get to the ‘good’ stuff.
Score: 3.5/5 – Fair
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