I have a pretty good handle on the knowing ahead of time whether a game is or is not for me. Typically it comes down to setting, type of game, and whether or not there is a hook that really grabs me. This is why I never played World of Warcraft when it first came out, instead opting to spend my time in The Lord of the Rings Online. That Middle-earth setting and the chance to quest alongside my favorite book characters was a huge draw.
Since then I've tried countless MMOs, from traditional MMOs like Ultima and EverQuest to the sub genres that have sprouted throughout the years, like survival MMOs such as Conan Exiles. Some I've been drawn too immensely, like The Elder Scrolls Online or even New World in the beginning. However, others it took me a bit to really get a handle on them, such as the slow burn of Final Fantasy XIV, from a game I really didn't think I enjoyed to one of my go-to MMOs now.
However, no game surprised me quite like ARK: Survival Evolved. This survival MMO was one of the first to adopt the formula that would dominate so many games in the years to come. The premise was simple: you're stranded on a continent with this weird prism in your wrist, somehow there are dinosaurs around you and you need to survive.
Sounds simple enough, and realistically the loop was too. ARK combined the best of what made Minecraft such a success: life skills equaling your survival, building and more, with the fantasy of taming and working alongside dinosaurs.
However, after watching videos when it launched, I was immensely disappointed. PC performance was absolutely abysmal, with a port that could barely handle running at a playable framerate, let alone a stable one. Graphically, ARK looked amazing for its time, but it didn't matter if the port wasn't good enough to keep me in the experience for too long.
As I wanted footage and read players' reviews on Steam and other forums, I didn't think I'd ever really spend a lot of time in this world. However, my best friend from high school, who was stationed at a Marine base across the country at the time, grabbed it and asked me if I wanted to join him. I opted to, as we had a ton of fun on our own private Minecraft server a year before, and this was a good way to keep in touch.
Since then, I've put hundreds, if not thousands, of hours into ARK. Those PC port issues were disappointing and definitely made it hard to play at times, but playing with my friend really helped make up for that. Additionally, the promise that the survival MMO would clear them all up when it officially "launched" made me hope that someday I'd be able to play above 40fps (a new graphics card down the road helped, too).
As bad as the performance was for me, it was nothing compared to my friend, who was playing ARK on a laptop without a dedicated graphics card. Oftentimes the framerate would be a slideshow, averaging about 7fps during busy scenes. Yet he overcame them all and had the most impressive collection of dinosaurs and the largest fortress on our server.
He was also the only one who could tame and beat the largest and most dangerous of the beasts on the island, again, all at 7fps.
The loop was addicting for me. I loved romping around the island with a group of Velociraptors with me to take out anything (or anyone) who meant me harm while I farmed. Riding my eagle Landroval with two other eagles in tow to the top of the mountain to collect the precious ore deposits there was always a fun balancing act, especially as other players and beasts competed for them all the same.
We played on this server for years, inviting friends to our own variety of Jurassic Park, competing with rival clans and more. A game that, when I first looked at it, wasn't appealing at all thanks to its performance, became the most played game on my PC in 2015, and it's a game I still get an itch to play every once in a while (stay tuned for our impressions of the new Switch port from PAX, btw).
For me, ARK was an example of not simply writing off a game at the outset because something about doesn't seem that appealing. As a result, I've played other titles like Conan Exiles (which I love), Elite: Dangerous (which is one of my favorite exploration games of all time now) and it even influenced me to pick up No Man's Sky at launch. While there are definite misses (Atlas), I was surprised at how much I enjoyed taming dinosaurs and hunting for the secret on the island, so much so that I wanted to replicate that dopamine hit in other, similar games, since.
What about you? Is there a game out there that you didn't think would be for you, yet you were surprised at how much you enjoyed it when you finally got into the game? Let us know in the comments.