ARK: Survival Evolved — One Year Later

In the midst of the huge trash heap that is Steam’s store of early access shovelware titles, there is, surprisingly, one game that stands out among them all  something that is unique, something that has actually been worked on and not half-baked, something where community feedback is taken very seriously. A game that will last a long time and is a lot of fun. A game that you will both love and hate. A game with great graphics and solid gameplay mechanics. A game that is…

Okay, okay, I think you got the picture. It’s none other than ARK: Survival Evolved.

The day I saw the first trailer a few weeks prior to the early access release on June 2, 2015, I was stoked. Everything in the trailer  the first-person perspective, the dinosaurs, the pre-historic setting, the guns, the caves, the sheer exploration  had my eyes balling. I could tell right from the get-go that this was aspect of gaming that was never before seen, something that caught my eye and I could not wait to get my hands on. It’s no brainer why the game still ranks among Steam’s top ten most-played games. As of the time of this writing, if you took Valve’s own games out of the picture, it would actually rank number one. Waiting was, to put it lightly, hard.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of ARK being released on Steam Early Access, Studio Wildcard released a new patch:

Exciting news Survivors! The Dragon makes its debut in ARK: Survival Evolved on it’s Birthday Week as players can now face off the mighty beast and it’s fearsome flyer minions in their epic treacherous volcanic lair! Patch 242 also introduces additional tribe member settings, a training dummy, diseases and cures, interactive baby raising, two new creatures, the Dilplodocus, the Leech and so much more!

This game keeps getting bigger, more expansive by the weeks. That doesn’t go to say it doesn’t have its flaws, of course. Performance was straight-out horrendous when I first played it  I mean, I was hoping to at least get the game to run on High graphics settings, but that expectation was crushed when it was barely playable on Low settings. And then I was like, “What the heck am I supposed to do here? Where should I go? What should I collect? What can I craft?” For a while, the performance remained pretty awful, and even so Valve (or whoever did it) still had the audacity to advertise the game as “Optimized for Steam Machines” not too long after the Linux client was released, when in reality it was kind of optimized for, you know, trash.

I have to say though, while the performance still isn’t quite optimized as most folks would expect, it’s gradually getting better and better as the release window arrives later this year during the holidays (a delay from the previous June 2016 release  certainly delays is something we’re not surprised to see at this point). And being the clueless idiot I was back in the day, I didn’t understand the survival aspect of the game: that’s the core at play here, so you’re not going to get some kind of instruction manual as to figure out what you should be doing. Exploration is encouraged  that’s how you eventually discover your purpose in the world of ARK. Over 200 hours later and I’m still kicking; there’s still more and more things that need to get explored, collected, crafted, tamed, killed, cooked, soiled, swam…evolved.

Not to mention the following updates that were teased at the PC Gaming Show last week:

To be honest I’m envious of what these guys are capable of doing (the team consists of at least forty different members): how popular they’ve become, how organized they are, how far they’ve come, how much time, energy, and devotion they put into the game, how unique the game is compared to many other titles. It’s no wonder why it’s called Survival Evolved. Updates are released almost every day. There’s no end to the amount of content and variety added since the early access release: new creatures  too many to list here  new bio-domes, new weapons, new items, gameplay balancing. Did I mention not only can you tame and ride dinosaurs, but also breed them with their mates to produce offspring? And apparently the game is still going to get stuff after the official release. Some time ago the company was sued by Trendy Entertainment  probably more so due to jealousy than any of the reasons listed  which slowed progress down for some time and could have potentially pulled ARK out of the Steam store, but they’ve picked up since.

Not too long ago a free expansion map was released  The Center. Basically, if you’ve been tired of exploring the regular island (which I’d be kinda surprised if you were) this gives you a whole new world that apparently spans twice the width and breadth. Not too shabby for a modder. Speaking of mods, if you’re a tinkerer you can use the Unreal Engine 4 editor on Windows to make your own stuff. Since I feel the game is still incredibly unbalanced and difficult, at one point I transformed the machined shotgun into one on steroids: never had I to reload, ammo was never consumed, it was indestructible, and I could fire as fast as I wanted to. Made the predators, like the T-Rex, carno, and raptor much less of a nuisance. And if that sounds like it was easy to do, it’s because it was: just remove some of the weapon’s properties and there you go.

No story mode still, although there’s tidbits that you can glean through what’s called “Explorer Notes.” It’s still very much in a sandbox-y type of genre, where you craft houses, weapons, and clothing, and eat berries that were snatched out of bushes or fresh meat that you stripped out of your killed prey and cooked on your campfire to survive, while exploring the various caves (some of which are underwater  I recommend taming a shark, or “Megalodon,” to explore these parts) and discovering hidden artifacts so that eventually you’ll be able to summon the ultimate creature  the Broodmother, which basically looks like a huge, ugly-ass tarantula that’s capable of spawning babies like “BOOM!” that will try to attack you. After you kill the beast (which, if you’re not using cheats, is going to take a lot of manpower/tamed dinosaurs to get rid of), you will automatically claim a spider flag, which you can use for boasting rights. After that there’s not a whole lot more left to do in the game, but it’s gonna take a while before that actually happens.

Something that kind of pisses me off is that there’s no option to keep your goods after respawning. I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: you spent hours crafting your own stuff. That bow that took you about ten-to-fifteen hours to unlock didn’t just shit itself out of your ass and have it available for immediate use  you had to reach level fifteen just to unlock it as a craftable, then you had to chop up some trees and extract some of the fiber you get from picking bushes, then use those resources to craft it. (Random shitting is actually a concept that’s introduced in this game. It will happen out of nowhere, unexpectedly, no matter where you are. You’ll crap even in your own house. Thing is, it’s a little brown solidified ball that falls right to the ground. It doesn’t spread itself in your pants  apparently the shit penetrates right through the cloth that is your pants [underwear, even?] and falls to the floor by the back of your feet. Even the thickest of armor cannot prevent the holy ball from transferring itself to the other side. It may sound strange, but you can pick up your own feces, or feces that other animals dropped, mix it with some thatch in a compost bin, and get some quality fertilizer out of the mixture  which you can then use for your plants.) Then let’s say you wanted it more powerful, more durable. You would need get the blueprint for it out of a supply drop, gather even more resources, so much as your weight can sustain, and then you decide you like it so much you wanted to give it some life with colored dye that you can make with a cooking pot. You got yourself a nice bow now, and hopefully you got some arrows to go along with it.

All that time you put into that piece of art will ultimately be a waste of your time if your character dies and you don’t retrieve your bag of goods. Now you have to spend all that time over again.

And that’s just for one weapon. Don’t forget your spears, your picks, your hatchets, your shields, your swords, your armor. Everything. Gone.

Oh, and that tamed turtle of yours. You know, where you spent, literally, five-plus hours to tame it, making sure it has enough narcoberries or some other sleep-inducing substance to keep it in an unconscious state, even taking the time to build a fence around it to protect it from predators, and making sure you’re fed yourself, and making a saddle for it so you can ride it. If that thing dies…

Believe me, this game has driven me so insane I could have sworn at one point I almost lost consciousness from pints of blood surging from my body and into my head. You know what the good thing is, though? Cheats. Or, if you’re one of those hardcore players who don’t believe in that stuff, you can always force-shutdown your PC by flipping the power switch on the power supply right after dying. That way, you’ll resume where you last saved the game, with all your goods intact. Good strategy if I say so myself.

The Linux version is something that isn’t much of a concern to the developers right now, but it may get Vulkan support later on. Since there’s no benchmark feature available in the game, I can’t give you the exact numbers of the performance difference between now and, say, six-to-eight months ago, but despite my being very agnostic half a year ago with the performance on Linux, based on my observations it’s getting better, more smooth, by bits and pieces. It’s to the point going from okay performance on Low settings to being able to play it at a moderate pace on High settings, with Motion Blur disabled, as it gets kinda choppy with it on. Of course, I know there’s gonna be folks out there who disagree, and for all I know I could be wrong  it may very well have to do with graphics driver updates  so I’m just saying, this report is based on my observations. You might not be getting quite the performance boost that I’m getting, but it would be nice to know if I’m not going a bit tipsy here.

So I’m using a GTX 750 Ti, an i5 processor, and 8 gigabytes of RAM. At 1080p for the most part the game can run fairly well on High graphics settings (~30 FPS). Sometimes depending where I’m at I might need to lower it to Medium. I would say, at this point in time during the game’s development, this is the minimum kind of hardware you would want. You can probably go lower, but the Low graphics setting is very basic, bland. You don’t want Low graphics, low-life. Spend that couple of extra bucks for something a little more nice. Another option that you have, is to wait until ARK officially exits the early access phase. I have no proof that this will actually take place, but based on some user comments I’ve read in the past (Reddit, Steam, etc) this will be the time where the developers will go all-in in regards to the performance aspect and try to squeeze in as many frames as they can get. Makes sense they would wait to do this. And this way, you might not even need to upgrade your hardware.

I’ve got some quick footage here to explain what I’m talking about (couldn’t get any screenshots, sorry). If you want to see my virtual girlfriend wreck some noob dinos, and shit in the middle of her hunting for giant beetles, here ya are. You’ll notice there’s this weird lighting issue, starting with the rainbow-colored rain, the blinding lights from gunfire, a river that looks like it was jacked up with electricty, and a lake that’s so glaring I just might have to give a epileptic seizure warning. This is something that has been around since the time of the Linux release. All the while, though, the game remains at a good thirty frames-per-second. (Playing on The Center map. GFX settings set to “High” with Motion Blur disabled. I like the new SFX they put in for the guns.)

Now let’s say you know for a fact you can run it and yet are making a decision of whether you want to wait for a sale to buy it or not. I’m cheap like a lot of folks out there but even if this game sold at $100 per copy it’s still worth it. But if you can hold off for the next few days until Steam’s summer sale, I’ve got a good feeling the game will get the largest price-cut since its arrival: half-off. Get it then.

That’s all, folks.

No, wait, is it?

‘Course not. Not without this. Kind of old but still gives me the chuckles (warning: strong language. 4:00 onwards is the good part):

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