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The RPG Files: ARK: Survival Evolved - Where RPG and Survival Collide

By Christopher Coke on September 26, 2015 | Columns | Comments

ARK: Survival Evolved - Where RPG and Survival Collide

In the last month, I’ve found myself repeatedly drawn to ARK, a game whose sole purpose is to make you die horribly, most likely by an emasculatingly tiny dinosaur. It was only a matter of time before I broke. As a rule, I shy away from survival sims, but when I saw the trailer, I knew it was only a matter of time until I’d give in. Come to find out, ARK is far more than just another survival game and it scratched the RPG itch quite nicely. So why did it become my first ever Steam Refund? Read on to find out, plus all of the week’s news in the Quick Hits!

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Here’s the thing. ARK is an early access game. I get that; know what you buy and all that. But then again, I’m of the opinion that a game for sale should at least run at a playable frame rate at even a modicum of what it’s being sold as. ARK does not do that. In fact, if you want the game to run and look even remotely like their trailers, they’re recommending a GeForce Titan. A thousand dollar video card. As it is, my cards are a few years old (two GTX 580s in SLI), but still manage to run anything I throw at them with pizazz, largely due to a powerful video card.  For ARK, I was on the lowest possible settings, running a game that was ugly as sin, and still only getting sub 30 frame rates.

I loved what I played, and know optimization is coming, but until it happens I couldn’t justify parting ways with my money. I don’t recommend you do either. I do, however, highly suggest you keep ARK as a game to watch.

From the trailers and a little bit of digging, I quickly found out that ARK was more than just a dino-skinned troll-a-thon. Unlike other survival games, ARK is much more about character building. From the outset, you get an array of customization options for your character with more surely to come. Once you’re in the world, everything you do builds your character and provides experience.

What I appreciated here is that it felt more than just tacked on. The theme in gaming today is to take a game, throw in experience and skill unlocks, and call it progression. In ARK, you have those things, but also a wide array of stats you invest in as you level up. Each helps you make the character you want to play, from boosting your health, to letting you hold your breath or sprint farther, to letting you survive the elements better than the next guy. You also have to use level-up points to unlock crafting recipes and skills like animal taming. In my short time with the game, it seemed totally possible to make a hunter that was unique amongst his friends.

Maybe it’s that I don’t usually play survival games, but I expected to be given a character, not developing one. I expected something closer to DayZ when what I got was some blend of Minecraft and your favorite MMORPG -- an impression that had a whole with just how alive these servers were.

What ARK didn’t have, at least in my time with it, was a decent story or any narrative choice. That’s going to put some people off. But then, this is a hybrid and the point, I am repeatedly told, is to make your own story.  For example...

In my second day with the game, I had gathered enough of a grasp to make a good go of it. I had clothes and a fire and pockets stuffed with raw meat. It was time to find out what life was like off the starting beach. I’d been told to be careful of the mainland, so I walked the shoreline until I found a cave. Lots of campfires were outside, so I figured that some kind of resource must be inside. I went in. And down. Down, down, down past beautiful glittering jewels, until the whole cave system opened before me in blossoms of red lava rivers. It was gorgeous (and about 11 frames a second).

Behind me I heard a screech, so I pulled out my axe. Three massive bats started dive bombing me. I ran deeper into the cave, knowing I would probably die, and hoping to find the legendary goth dino that doesn’t really exist. Instead, three gigantic spiders raced up the path to meet me. My friends, these spiders gave no craps about my axe. They spit and reared and in a glorious blaze of self-destiny, I leaped from the side of the path into the lava to meet my end. A fire icon appeared on my screen. I was hot. Thanks, ARK.

What I played showed an incredible amount of promise. In time, those impressive trailers seem like they could be quite honest. In fact, I don’t think they do the character building nearly enough justice. That I could come, as someone who has never seriously played a survival game, and make my way because I’ve played RPGs and MMOs is impressive. It’s worth your time.

But wait for the optimization. It needs it.

Quick Hits

Fallout 4 is back with another SPECIAL video, this time on endurance! These are cute and fun but can I be contrarian? We know about stats. We’re RPG players. Drop the SPECIALs and show me more gameplay! Please, Bethesda? Bethesda did deliver with an excellent interview with the game’s composer, however.

That’s it, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a wrap! At least on the single player side of things. Bioware has announced that a Game of the Year edition will be released on October 6th featuring all of the DLC packs, patches, and additional content that has been released along the way. As the team transitions to Mass Effect: Andromeda, they will be continuing support of PVP events. Read our interview with Mike Laidlaw following the announcement!

Shroud of the Avatar is killing it with their releases. Release 22 is out this month and adds a music system to the game. Watch out, LotRO!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.