Ark: Survival Evolved
Reviewed by Josh Brant
Developed By: War Drum Studios
Published By: Studio Wildcard
Category: Action & Survival
Release Date: November 30, 2018
I’ve always been incredibly intrigued by Ark: Survival Evolved ever since in launched back in 2017 for PC. Combining survival elements with a jurassic setting featuring dinosaurs always seemed like a great premise that could keep you occupied for years to come. Now, there is no excuse to not see what the hype is about considering I can play on the Nintendo Switch and take the experience with me wherever I go. This is the type of game that doesn’t really feel like it belongs on the Switch, and if I had one way to describe my experience with Ark, it would be ‘terrible fun’.
First off, any time you have to load an area, prepare to wait possibly 2-3 minutes before even spawning in the world. Once in, it becomes quite clear, this is not on the better end of gaming ports to come out for the Switch. There have already been some excellent ports that came to the hardware with Diablo III and Warframe coming to mind, and to best describe the graphical fidelity of Ark would be as a soupy/murky painting with textures sometimes never coming in during a play through. You can see in the distance, but even the trees look like green clouds floating without tree trunks until you get close. Shadows load in and out as you’re running and hopefully you don’t spawn anywhere when it’s nighttime, due to the heavy ridiculous shades of black not allowing you to see practically anything unless you turn the brightness up to full and even then it’s not pretty.
Ark: Survival Evolved has been out of the Beta stage for some time now, but on Switch it doesn’t feel like it’s even out of Alpha. I am not the greatest at games in the survival genre, but I’ve had enough experience with Conan Exiles and Metal Gear Survive to know what works and what doesn’t in a survival title. As more of a casual survival genre fan, Ark is probably the most half-baked one I’ve played. There were numerous servers to choose from for getting into a game session and that sometimes was even a crapshoot.
Once you find a server, the server is basically your home unless you want a fresh start. There are two modes you can play in, one for having modern technology and one focusing more on just primitive equipment. You choose an area to spawn in and all have different difficulties with your freshly created character and then you get to surviving. The character creator is extensive, but half the time your character looks like some deformed long-armed abnormality.
Knowing how to survive is one thing in the genre, but knowing how Ark works is another. There are no proper tutorials to teach you the basic mechanics and what you are even able to do. The UI was a mess and occupied too much of the screen, already making a confusing game that much worse. YouTube became my friend in regards to learning how to perform anything effectively in Ark and it really soured the experience of having to look up multiple tutorials online just to become adequate at the game.
However, dinosaurs were the main draw of Ark: Survival Evolved and the environments are loaded with the prehistoric beasts, but they’re not as cool to look at as I thought they would be. They’re essentially hindrances that attempt to kill you while collecting sticks, rocks, and berries. Oftentimes, after I had been killed I would spawn somewhere else only to be right next to a group of level 50 Dilophosaurus’ that would spit there venom and kill me in one hit.
There was a steady evolution and upgrade of equipment and you’ll level up as you craft and collect goods. You can dump skill points into stats, ranging from health, to stamina and to increasing your hunger meter, but you could also learn to craft new items like fires to cook raw meat or weapons such as spears. As you level up, items can be further upgraded to be more advanced versions of past ones and you can also contain better dinosaurs. This is performed by beating a dinosaur unconscious and throwing a saddle on them.
Being that Ark is a survival title, you’ll have to manage your health, hydration, hunger, and body temperature. This can be done by collecting berries, building a shelter, hunting animals with weapons you craft, or going for a swim. Thankfully, thirst can be managed easily by just diving into the water and nearly drowning yourself until it’s full. This doesn’t make sense as most survival titles have you boil water first to not get sick, but I guess your character has an iron stomach.
If trying to survive is not the only thing you want to do, there is PvP and PvE servers with other people running around and they can build huts and fires too. These created items can’t be destroyed as you’re able to block them, but you can squad up and join tribes. I preferred to be a lone wolf, running around creating my own dumb fun and trying to build my own utopia. It should be noted, that the UI supports touch controls if in handheld, making inventory management much easier than navigating the clunky menus without it. Also, the controls can’t be remapped with only a hotbar at the bottom of the screen providing an adequate way to quickly get to certain items and weapons.
Any time you die you’ll still retain your blueprints and levels, and you’re able to rush to your dead body for your gear if you can remember where you died at. Other players can pick up your gear as well, which was annoying considering I had worked hard to craft and create my own stuff. I see the foundation for something great here, but with the overall poor optimization on the Switch if you absolutely have to own it, make sure it’s the PC build or another console for now.
Overall, I did enjoy creating my own survival goals and setting out to accomplish them in Ark: Survival Evolved, but it’s still a half-baked title that feels as though it’s still in the late Alpha or early Beta stages. I can’t argue that there are some intriguing concepts here, but I also can’t argue that there are better and more polished survival games already available. I guess if you’re desperate enough for a survival adventure on the Switch, Ark will fulfill that need; just be prepared for an immensely unpolished and sometimes frustrating experience.