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Columns: Adventures in Dino-Land

By Gareth Harmer on January 19, 2016

Adventures in Dino-Land

In the world of ARK: Survival Evolved, there is no tutorial. Sure, there might be an occasional tip, suggesting that you’re hungry, cold, or should find shelter. But, after waking on the mysterious island for the first time, I quickly discovered how ARK dispenses its lessons: the brutal, grizzly medium of death.

Before arriving on the island, ARK asks where you’d like to spawn. Feeling lucky, I chose a random location, thinking I’d be fairly safe wherever I ended up. But I couldn’t be more wrong. I scrambled to my feet in the dark and the cold, before taking my first steps away from the beachfront. Barely a moment passed before I heard a wolf-like howl, quickly followed by snapping jaws. As my corpse was hastily devoured and the respawn screen came up, it became clear to me that some starting locations were safer than others.

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ARK is a survival sandbox, set in a land where dinosaurs roam, yet where the seeds of technology are waiting to be grasped, and I wasn’t about to let something as trivial as death stop me from unlocking its secrets. So, after picking a location further south, I buckled down to prepare for the long haul. Over the coming weeks I’ll be documenting my adventures in Dino-Land, as ARK progresses from Early Access into a full-fledged release.

Postcards from History

In daylight, ARK is beautiful. Water glimmers with flecks of sun, trees sway in the breeze, and the golden shore gives way to a lush, green forest. Yes, it needs a meaty rig to really show off that Unreal Engine 4-powered world, but there are some sights that are jaw droppingly gorgeous, even if the framerate can chug a little at times. It’s almost like a glamorous holiday resort until you realise that there are dinosaurs everywhere. And they’re mostly harmless, either soaring in the sky, or chomping away at the bushes. Or so I thought.

In the hierarchy of needs, my first priority was food and water. I was surrounded by the wet stuff, but needed to find something to eat, and quickly. It turns out that the bushes can be foraged for berries, which made for a meagre meal. I was starving, and I didn’t want to become some dino-rabbit doomed to live on nothing but fruit. Just at that moment, a curious Compsognathus ran up to me, and I considered trying to strangle the thing. Then it let out a shrill call, and it was quickly joined by three of its Compy-friends, who then decided that I was actually their lunch.

So, berries it was – at least for a while. While I learned to run away from anything hostile, I also started to dig into ARK’s crafting system. A rock, some wood and some fibre from the bushes, and I had a basic pickaxe. A little more work, and I had a hatchet. As I developed, I gained experience points, which turned into levels. Every level came with a batch of Engram points, unlocking new things I could craft. I started off with the basics – a campfire to keep warm, and a spear so I could hunt. Now, it was time to turn the tables.

Landmarks and Beacons

The world of ARK is peculiar, but it’s not just because of the vast range of dinosaurs that roam the island. Looking around, the sky was filled with columns of light and vast stone obelisks, providing a futuristic, almost Hunger Games-style feel to the island. As a bonus, those obelisks could be seen from miles away, making them ideal landmarks for me to navigate by. As long as I knew which way the coast was and which direction the green obelisk was in, I could find my way around.

Those columns of light seemed to burst in for ten minutes or so, glowing enticingly, before fading away. Often in the same location, but not always the same colour. When a white pillar of light struck the ground not far from my beach hut, my curiosity finally got the better of me. Grabbing a torch, I ventured out into the dark, and discover what it actually was.

As it turns out, those beacons are actually loot chests that anyone can grab. When I finally reached the pillar of light, I found a huge black diamond rotating at its base. Cracking it open, I found a set of cloth armour, which I quickly pulled on. Anything to keep away the cold, and possibly provide a little extra protection from whatever lurked in the dark.

It also made me think. Beyond the mysterious holo-implant embedded in my arm, what is actually going on in ARK? Is it some kind of experimental proto-Earth created by some futuristic beings, or a gigantic battle arena created for their entertainment? Perhaps some kind of test of endurance and ingenuity? Either way, the familiar-yet-alien landscape was starting to throw up an awful lot of questions.

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