Bennett North

This is, in fact, a review of ARK: Survival Evolved


Last August I bought ARK: Survival Evolved, the fun new early access dinosaur survival game, and just barely made it to the character creation screen before having to ask Steam for a refund, since it demanded way too much of my old, laggy laptop. This week, with my new iMac and 24 GB of RAM, I bought the game for a second time and tried again.

ARK: Survival Evolved is set on a 48 square kilometer prehistoric island (apparently called “ARK”) full of dinosaurs. Well, I say prehistoric; there are hints that things are not exactly as ancient as you might think. First, when you wake up on the beach, naked and shivering, you find a glowing crystal implanted in your wrist. This is where you access your inventory and crafting menu. Second, there are massive glowing towers in the distance, and every so often beams of light will descend from the heavens, carrying supplies.

You can create your own character, male or female, and the creation screen allows for a lot more extreme body modifications than most games. If you join a public server, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone with normal body proportions. It’s fun, though, and allows for a lot of variety of body size.

Maddy Longlegs lives again

As a brand new resident of the island, you’re wearing nothing but a set of prehistoric undies and a “specimen implant.” You can punch trees for wood and thatch, though punching trees damages your health. You can collect stones from the ground and various berries and fiber from bushes. With those ingredients, you can build yourself a pickaxe and a stone hatchet. When you level up, you can increase your basic stats like health, stamina, movement speed, etc, as well as spend your “engram points” to buy engrams, which are recipes for objects to craft. (The actual term ‘engram’ is a method by which experience creates memories; in other words, either you literally learn how to make these objects through experience, or else the recipes are etched into your brain via more futuristic means.)


Dinos range from the teensy…


…to the gigantic.

As your level increases, a larger array of recipes are available to you. Earliest level objects are wooden clubs, waterskins, and clothing; later levels include anything from chairs to metal irrigation pipes to (in the very late game) rocket launchers. You can’t learn the engrams for every object in the game, so you must choose wisely, or better yet, join a tribe and specialize.

Everyone is automatically a member of their own tribe. You can invite others to join yours, or they can invite you to join theirs. Tribes share experience points, helping you level faster. They can also share items like beds or storage chests or even dinosaur mounts.

My tribe mate and server host, Gloria Hole.

As you might expect, not all of the creatures on the island are friendly. You spawn on newbie beach, which is populated by benign, easily slaughtered creatures like dodos and trilobites. If you venture into the forest or water, however, you’ll very quickly stumble across more vicious creatures like swarming megapiranhas and acid-spitting dilophosaurs. The further inland you go, the worse they get. However, here is where the game gets really interesting: you can tame most of these creatures and use them as mounts or guard dogs. All it takes is a lot of raw meat, narcotics and patience.

This screen pops up whenever you kill a creature for the first time, which is annoying when you’re being attacked by a swarm.

If you fight a creature to unconsciousness, you get access to its inventory. By feeding it its preferred meal of choice, and by keeping it unconscious with the use of easily gathered narcoberries or a more powerful crafted narcotic, you can domesticate it. Once domesticated, it can used to guard you camp or gather berries and fibers, or ridden into war.

Don’t eat the narcoberries yourself.

The game is styled for battle, whether against dinosaurs or other tribes. Tribes can declare war on other tribes, and even set a time limit for how long the war will last.  Weapons range from wooden spears to assault rifles. Even if you’re not fighting against other people, there are boss battles to fight: the giant tower in the middle of the island is a place where you can summon the broodmother, a giant end-game boss that will take everything you have to kill.  There are other bosses, though right now they’re only available in special events, such as the Survival of the Fittest challenge, which is only on dedicated servers.

The last thing I saw.

So that’s the general idea of the game. Now for some comments:

I love that this table lists feces size.

Trees: the silent predator

No seriously though, both these guys are stuck.


So if you’re there…then who am I?

Sir? Excuse me, sir? I’d really rather if you left.


This used to be my bedroom.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable game with a potential for hundreds of hours of gameplay. The graphics are gorgeous. I just love looking at my own hands in the game. The play of light over skin is masterful. Then again, I have a brand new computer; anything older is going to have a harder time with it. The bugs that I’ve found are pretty forgivable for a game still in early access. The price is slightly less forgivable: it’s $30, which I find a bit steep for a game in beta. It will be officially released this June, and will ultimately be available on Windows, Linux, Mac OSX, Xbox One, and Playstation 4. (The early access is available for all but PS4 right now). The price will rise with the full release, though there is no specific price set yet. Either buy it now before the price increase, or wait for a Steam sale.