NYMVG: ARK:Survival Evolved

Welcome to our first installment of NYMVG: Not Your Mother's Video Games. Our goal with NYMVG is to review non-AAA gaming titles, and also to discuss issues pertinent to women in gaming.

Today I'm going to be taking a look at an open-world survival game from Studio Wildcard that's been in early access since June 2015. Primarily played online (single player is an option), it is currently available for PC and Xbox One. While ARK is designed to be a PVP game, there are PVE servers and variations of both—and anyone can run a private server.

Your character has been dropped naked on an island of genetically-engineered dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, and your goal is to survive. You have to craft everything: clothes, weapons, and even shelter. You must forage for food and stay hydrated. The island has several biomes, and temperature changes affect survivability. Most things want to eat you. You can form tribes that make survival and progress easier, but the biggest feature is that you can tame dinosaurs. Every tameable critter has a specific function (resource gathering, hunting, deep-sea diving, pvp griefing, farming aid, etc).

Seriously, you can tame dinos. It is nothing short of awesome to ride a t-rex to hunt or fly around the island on a pteranodon. You can even breed and raise baby dinos!

Dino Babies!
Visually ARK is gorgeous… if you have the hardware to run it. Speaking as a PC gamer, this is one of the most system-hogging games I’ve played since Thief on ultra settings. Official servers are also notorious for chugging whenever the autosave kicks in. Some of it has to do with early-access. However, since I began playing ARK back in October 2015, there have been optimization patches that have improved the gameplay.

On the subject of taming, which is really what makes ARK unique, new players should know that as you rise higher into hierarchy of bigger and better dinos, it takes serious time to tame (if you’re on an official server, that is). You can be waiting on a tame for literally hours of real world time. Bring a book to your gaming session, this is going to take a while.

Character creation is a pleasant surprise. Gender has no effect on survivability (thank the Maker!). There are a wide range of possibilities for body types and skin color, although this just seems to encourage some gamers to make horrifically disfigured and rather frightening avatars. My primary server is a PVE official, and I've been running around since October with a dark-skinned female avatar. Never once have I been harassed for being female (nor for being dark, for that matter). It seems most players assume I am a male gamer, and are surprised (but not gross) when I use the microphone. I created the same avatar on two separate pvp servers; no one bothered me on the first server, though some guy made a racist joke on the other.

Which brings me to the thing that can make or break an online game like this: the community. Based on my little experiment above, which hardly follows the scientific method, the only conclusion I can reach is this: every server is a world unto itself, and no one size fits all. My suggestion to gamers concerned about community is to shop around: find the right server for you, even if it means trying out several.

Fair warning: ALL online survival games tend to attract certain gamer personalities at any given time. Even the official servers are self-policing, with no mechanic for reporting dudebro behavior. And it is definitely there, because Internet. That said, there are decent communities out there. PVE servers seem tamer in this regard. We had some gross trolls show up on my PVE server once, and my community drove them, with tribes banding together to grief them away.

On a final note, this game is indeed early access. Curiously, the servers haven’t been wiped in a long time, so besides new official servers released with updates, most servers have very old, established communities. This can make it difficult for new players to grow, especially on PVP servers. And the game does have bugs. Everything falls through ceilings and floors at some point or another, even when not online:
I sleep like the Bat...
I just about wept when my level 190 female direwolf fell through the terrain in a cave and got stuck in a watery undermap. This story has a happy ending, because my partner and I spent hours trying to bug ourselves through the terrain to get her, and we saved her! She went on to mother puppies. Hurray!

That’s another thing. After taming and naming dinos, I find myself emotionally attached to them. I have genuine feels when they get killed. You have been warned, folks.

ARK: Survival Evolved is available for PC on Steam or Xbox One at the Xbox store.

Ivonne Martin is a writer, gamer, and avid consumer of all things geek—and is probably entirely too verbose for her own good.