Dino bite.

My first experience with ARK: Survival Evolved was not a particularly pleasant one. Going in completely blind, not knowing what I was doing, I started punching trees and rocks until my fists bled dry. Then a velociraptor came over to inspect the commotion. It, and its partner, mauled me to death. Probably tearing me limb from limb as dinosaurs are (probably) wont to do. So what did I do next? Well, feeling bitter, I embraced my inner filthy casual and Googled a beginner’s guide. Once I knew that the general progression is similar to other open world survival games, I was able to approach ARK with a better degree of competency, and had a ton of fun as a result.

Walk With The Animals

I started again with my newfound knowledge. I punched some trees and picked up a few stones until I had enough materials to craft a stone pickaxe. Now I could chop down trees and break into rocks with greater ease, and it wasn’t long until I earned my first level up. Leveling up allows you to marginally increase one of your stats. These range from conventional upgrades such as your health, stamina and hunger metres, to easily overlooked stats like torpidity and running speed.

ark survival evolved review

Forget Photo Mode, ARK features revolutionary immersive photobombing.

What I look forward to with each new level are Engrams. When you level up you’ll earn a number of Engram points that can unlock more options for crafting. Early on, for example, you may want to unlock the ability to craft a campfire, as they keep you warm at night, allow you to cook meat and grant you quite a lot of EXP. You can also work towards crafting the basic clothing set so you’re not running around in your jimmies, or a club that lets you knock out the local fauna that makes them easier to tame.

Poopaganda

It wasn’t long after getting used to the basic mechanics of ARK that something remarkable happened. Something that caught me so off guard that I think I’ll genuinely remember it for the rest of my life. My character pooped. No warning, no grunts or groans to suggest the struggle of passage, just a confirming fart as a dump the size of a football landed between my legs. I experienced a mixture of emotions; childish joy, confusion, but also fear.

What had my character been eating to pass a stool that was bigger than their head? It was then that I hypothesised that ARK’s developers just might have a thing for excretion, as I turned around to watch a triceratops pass Go, unloading his goods all over the rock-strewn beach. I wasn’t quite as surprised this time, of course, but I think I loudly exclaimed “my word, that dinosaur is shitting everywhere!”

After being fascinated by poo for the first time in my life since I was a toddler (and after learning it can be used as a handy crop fertiliser. See? It’s not just for the sake of scat humour!) I decided to move on, convinced the game had more to show for itself than painstakingly rendered toilet fuel.

Triassic World

And lo, convinced was I. Beckoned by a distant light that shot up into the sky, it drew me to its base; the pot of gold I needed to truly begin my adventure. Inside were all the components needed to build a simple shack. As I lacked the Engrams required at that point to craft one myself, this find was nothing short of a miracle. Next, I had to set up camp, so I built my hut on a hillside with a picturesque view of the beach, populated by happy dodos and curious triceratops.

At that moment, everything clicked for me. I’ve never been one for the survival genre, but seeing how far I’d come in such a short space of time, a hut, campfire, gathering supplies, some clothes and no shortage of poop, I felt a brief wave of satisfaction, followed by uncontrollable excitement. I just had to explore more. I had to keep growing as a character to brave the violent wilds of the ARK. I had to tame my very own dinosaur.

ark survival evolved review

The man who chases three dinosaurs catches a face full of poo.

As I should’ve expected, I got gobbled up like a box of After Eights every time I tried to tame a dino. Just like in real life, hitting a dinosaur with a club is a risky proposition, but if you want to effectively tame them, you’ll need a non-lethal weapon to knock them out. You can then feed them specific berries to be converted to your way of thinking. If you ever wanted a game where you could indoctrinate a T-Rex, then you’ve found it.

Needless to say, taking down a dinosaur is no easy task, and to tame the bigger threats you’ll need to buddy up with fellow survivors. That is assuming they won’t mercilessly slaughter you when your back is turned. For this, I recommend ARK’s dedicated PvE mode. While the game does come in three flavours (PvP, PvE or a mix of the two) I found I was more reliably able to get things done when other survivors aren’t able to strip me of my own skin. Funny how that works out, right?

Character ARK

At the time of writing, the Xbox One version of ARK only supports the game’s official map: The ARK, funnily enough. It’s an enormous island comprised of beaches, jungles, large beds of water, mysterious floating towers and no shortage of prehistoric wildlife; some docile, some very much out to get you. Helping ARK’s sci-fi meets prehistory vibe are some excellently detailed visuals. Up close, that is. Textures and objects in the distance can look blurry and fuzzy, and god help you if you have motion blur switched on.

Patches are coming, but there are frequent frame dips and even crashes, especially when playing on a full server, but I’ve had this happen while playing solo as well. My advice would be to wait for future patches when ARK will undoubtedly become a more competent experience. What we have now is a solid survival game marred by some annoyingly frequent issues, but given how much I’ve enjoyed ARK so far, I can only see it getting much better (and more stable) down the line.

A review code of ARK: Survival Evolved was provided courtesy of Xbox. The game was reviewed on Xbox One.

Jurassic Park