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Ark: The Goods and the Bads

Ark is a great game with a few flaws.  It’s optimization at launch was horrid though through constant work from the team the game is mostly stable after update 180.  The game has yet to bore me. What it has done though is keep me engaged for over 70 hours.  It’s one of those games where when you’re not playing it, you are thinking of what to do the next time you get on.  When you finally do get on, you’re trying to knock a few things off the checklist, and as you check those off ten more goals take their place.  Studio Wildcard has taken what seemed like a gimmick, a survival game with dinosaurs, and made what may end up being a masterpiece.

Ark

The Good

What makes it so is the way the mechanics are designed.  Most of them are simple and allow you to just jump in the game without a tutorial.  For example one of the key features of the game is the ability to tame dinosaurs and make them yours.  Taming a dino is as simple as, if it’s a carnivore give it meat, if it’s a herbivore give it berries.  But they offer depth if you want to study what type of berries each herbivore prefers, how to best keep it asleep as you tame it, or the multiple uses of materials your gather.

More importantly there is an RPG like level system where you unlock new craftables and can upgrade your stats such as health, stamina, or something odd like swimming speed and oxygen.  But it’s the engrams (craftables) that matter.  As odd as it sounds removing the ability for everyone to create anything right from the start as long as they had the supplies makes Ark better.  There is a lot you can craft in the game and you’ll almost never be able to make it all on your on so you’ll depend on others to some degree if you want to create even more.  One player might want to focus on building while another focuses on weapons and armor.  The fighter will need the builder to allow him to take shelter and craft the more advanced weaponry, while the builder will need the fighter to go hunt down supplies and tame animals.  Either way neither wants to kill each other and they both have a good time.

That’s just the beginning of the social structure in Ark.  It goes deeper.  Ark, though not an MMO, does support 70 people on its official servers and that’s a lot compared to many other survival games. So social features are key.  The main thread that ties people together outside of simple survival is the Tribe system, which functions like Clans in other games.  A Tribe can share resources, dinosaurs, and experience (though the details of each is decided by the Tribe leader).  So everyone is out to help one another.  If someone in your tribe is taming a Triceratops you’ll want to help them because that Trike can gather berries for you to eat and tame your own herbivores.  There’s a list of reasons of why to help people both in and out of the tribe, which is key to making Ark a friendly environment.

The Bad

However where Ark falls short is in its key feature, dino taming.  Some dinosaurs can take up to six hours to tame and a ton of your supplies.  The average dino takes about three hours and that’s a lot for a game to expect from you.  Especially since some games are only five or six hours long and that’s just what Ark expects you to spend taming one or two dinos.  Which is fine if you were able to keep them for the rest of the game but you don’t and that’s the problem.  Some players just want to watch the world burn.  Regardless of how little supplies you get out of raiding others tribes some people still find that to be the funnest part of the game and those few people can ruin the game for countless others.

Know that you could spend over three hours taming one dino, and then imagine what it is like to tame over twenty of them.  That’s what my tribe and I did.  Only to find recently that while most of us were offline another tribe came in and killed them all and destroyed everything.  Everything except our spawn point so that when we came online we’d see everything destroyed.  Now think what it’s like to be the tribe leader as I was and have to inform the twelve others playing with you, the last 60+ hours of work has all been taken away from them.  The feeling is abysmal.  This continued to happen every morning I woke up for three days.

Now I wasn’t the only one to experience this either.  I have found myself logging on to a raging server every day since because that clan had done the same to everyone on the island.  Tribes right now have the ability to do what is essentially a server wipe on everyone but themselves and that’s not okay for a game, especially one that is this time consuming.  Now Wildcard can’t remove bad people from the game, it just isn’t possible.  But they can make the pain less excruciating by making dinos linked to the player.  What if that level forty Trike you’ve been raising for the last week died, but you just needed to wait for him to respawn?  If there was a timed delay between when your dino is killed and when it can be brought back the game could remain balanced and allow combat without you losing dozens of hours of work.

Building off that another common issue is that you may die on the other side of this large island and not be able to find your dino ever again.  It makes you not want to explore the beautiful world the team has made out of fear of losing your mount, or guardian, or pack mule.  whatever your dinosaur is to you it’s helpful and you don’t want to lose it.  So if you could take the artifact that every player starts with fused into their arm and link it to one dino, at least you wouldn’t lose everything.  Once that feature has been added all Wildcard needs to do is keep adding content and I, among others, will gladly throw more money and support their way.  They have what it takes to make an amazing game, but for now it is just a promising Early Access game in a sea of early access titles.

Dakota B.

Dakota Barrett is an indie game developer and journalist. His goals are to create high quality experiences and supports those that do as well.

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