Instead of taking to Twitter, and spamming your timelines with my thoughts on the Xbox One "Ark: Survival Evolved" preview experience I figured it best to include it all here on this blog post. That way you can reference all of my thoughts any time you wish ...
When 'Reverb Inc.' contacted me about getting in on the preview of "Ark: Survival Evolved" I was honestly very excited. What got me even more excited than that base excitement was the fact that I was given the go ahead to stream, or post my thoughts on the game if I so wished. Not many PR, developers, or publishers have the brass balls to let the journalism outlets have at their game so early on, and this alone had me thinking we might actually be seeing one of the Xbox One's best game offerings yet. You can imagine the thoughts racing through my head when I realized that. While my anticipation was definitely hyped up, and my anxiousness to get into the game and hunt dinosaurs was to the extreme I found said expectations met with a bit of disappointment. Mind you, the game is still far from being hammered out to perfection though, and I expect it will be a work in progress up until release date. I fully realize that this is a preview build, and that the final product will no doubt function, and look much better than it does now. At least I'm hoping so.
For those of you who have not played "Ark: Survival Evolved" on the PC the game is basically as it sounds. It's a survival game. At the core the game is centered around cavemen, and cavewomen tribes with individuals who are trying to survive in a pseudo-prehistoric age where technology, and prehistory meld together to form a sort of science fiction realm. While I noticed no story elements in the hour I spent playing the game you will find as I did that it's an immersive experience where you'll feel as if you are actually trying to survive in a living, and breathing ecosystem. When you first get into the game's 'PvE', 'PvP', or 'PvE/PvP' server based lobbies via a main menu listing you will be prompted to create a cave person, or tribe member that has a meticulous amount of physical appearance tweaks available from the start. Everything from colors to various points of body structure can be adjusted to your liking. You can even name your tribe member before spawning them into the island environment where you'll be fighting for survival in more ways than one.
Once your character is finished you can create him, or her via the "Create Tribe Member" button, and spawn them into an 'Easy', 'Medium', or 'Hard' difficulty location that each have inhabitants with strengths tied to said difficulty settings. Once in the character will immediately notice the ARK medallion implanted in their wrist, and awaken in a more coherent state. Once they shake off their spawn lag, or trans-dimensional travel disorientation you will be given full control of the character you have created. When it comes to controlling your character you'll find that he, or she has basic attack, and movement functions ranging from melee actions to the ability to sprint as well as the ability to gather materials from animals, plant life, and natural resources. All of which is done in a first-person point-of-view.
From about an hour spent with the game I discovered that there seems to be RPG elements tied to an 'Engram' crafting system, and a crafting setup that seems oddly similar to games like 'MINECRAFT". When it comes to the hunting, and gathering of the resources needed for crafting, and for survival you'll find that those actions can be done in one of two ways. Those ways involve using attacks for pummeling things into materials, and using the 'Y' button to pick things up. Think of it as Minecraft in a more realistic setting, if you will. As of now I have yet to figure out how to craft items, but I do know that there is an accessible in-game manual available at all times for reference purposes. My problem which was a bit overbearing even in the 'Easy' areas was the fact that death comes swiftly, and from many real world problems (starvation, environmental health hazards, attacking creatures ...). Not only that, but hit detection was off at times making my attacks miss the intended target/s. This, and the lag/frame rate drops really didn't help the survival situation out much. Again, I do realize this is a preview build, and more patches are no doubt in the works.
When it comes down to the visual aspects of "Ark: Survival Evolved" I found this game to be a bit primitive (pun intended). The graphics don't look like fully fledged new generation gaming graphics, and appear to be more of an indie creation than a proper "Triple A" title. Some environmental, and physical textures do stand out as being impressive, but others are so crudely made that they make the environments seem a little halfhearted in delivery. The UI (user interface) also seems to be out of place even though the game's lore involves future tech. Things like the character management menu, and the oddly futuristic map that you can hold up look out of place even in a game that is geared towards such technological advancements. Not only do the menus look misplaced, but they are also one of the less user friendly features of the game. The character management menu, which can be brought up by pressing "B" houses things related to tribe management, crafting, and character attribute leveling. It also contains the "Engram" system which seems to be tied to the ARK tech that's implanted in your characters' wrist. By surviving, hunting, gathering, and killing your character will level up in the RPG sense, and the points gained for said leveling can then be applied to the 'Engram' crafting skills system as well as to things like health, food, stamina, and a long list of other character specific attributes.
Sadly the survival part of "Ark: Survival Evolved' seems to be a drop in, and drop out experience where only the well equipped, and well prepared can survive for the long haul. I feel being dropped into the game without any tutorials whatsoever, or any hint as to what it is you are supposed to be doing does the player a huge disservice. Simple prompts do appear on downed creatures, and there is that accessible manual, but having to reference those things seems like a bit of a hassle. I was able to figure out the basics of gameplay on my own without said reference material, but I will have to read through that digital manual to be able to fully understand how crafting works. Looking back though I can see why the developer chose to do things this way as it offers a more true to life survival experience. For that I give them much respect.
For now I'm a wee bit disappointed, but still hopeful that the game will look better, and play better as patches come out. I'll continue playing, and continue updating you on my finds via Twitter (@OtakuDante).