ARK: Survival Evolved is one of those survival games that flourished under early access on Steam, and is still one of the most popular games in the genre after release, as the combination of dinosaurs with the possibility of progressing through to modern technology such as rockets and flamethrowers is a big draw compared to other survival games like Conan Exiles that stick to one theme throughout. Despite seeing a video every now and again and understanding the basic gist of the game, our reviewer went into the Ark experience knowing very little, to get the truest first impression possible.
When you start, you spawn on a beach, and when we did that there was already plenty to see - a triceratops to our right and an enormous, thumping Brontosaurus to our left, with some critters scurrying about as well. We tried to punch one to death to get some food or other materials, but it fled underwater, meaning we needed to chase it down below the surface... but then we suffered our first death at a watery grave.
Choosing the same spawn area, we started on the other side of the same island. Thinking that we'll be better off with a weapon, we started punching trees, because that's how every other survival game works, and voila, we're rewarded with wood and thatch. We still needed stone to make a pickaxe and punching rocks didn't work, but small stones litter the shores so we spammed every button and figured out triangle picks things up. We crafted a traditional pickaxe, then attempted to jump over somebody's fence because they'd blocked off the beach, only to get stuck between their wooden fence and a spiky barricade. Unable to escape, we starved. Second death.
Third time around, we opted for one of the other southern areas of the map, but still considered easy in difficulty. There was a lot of plants and trees around, so we crafted another pickaxe and figured out that triangle also forages for berries and fibre. While gathering food, however, a Dilophosaur appeared and took us out before we could get a single hit in. Third death.
Understanding the basics, we quickly got to building a thatch hut as our base of operations for somewhere to shelter and store our possessions. We crafted and placed down a few foundation blocks, but another Dilophosaur snuck up on us and ends our life before we could even get the walls up. Fourth death.
As we spawned so close to our corpse and got further last time than before, we managed to retrieve our items and evaded the lingering dino. In an attempt to find somewhere less inhabited by hostile creatures, we tried to swim across a river to a nearby island but were eaten by piranhas. Fifth death.
Our sixth attempt was short lived, as we tried to get our stuff from underwater but were eaten by piranhas for the second time. In frustration, we gave up and pledged to have a different approach the next day.
Booting up the game for the second time, we found a new server, had the Getting Started page open to our side, and got to work. The early game is the same as every other survival experience (as you may have gathered by reading this far); punch trees, acquire wood, gather other basic resources until you have enough to build a basic shelter, all while managing your food and water levels and avoiding hostile beasts. Ark does little in the way of innovation, but everything it does is competent and holds up well against other titles.
Levelling up your character rewards you with one skill point to invest in any attribute such as health, oxygen, or weight. It's fairly straightforward, but becomes slightly more complex with Engrams, which are essentially blueprints that you have to learn to be able to craft various items, and the more you level up, the more Engram points you receive and the array of options becomes much greater. At the start you're limited to simple things like a spear, wooden club, and thatch building materials, but before long you'll have hit level 20 and be able to make things like irrigation pipes to transport water, smoke grenades, and a flare gun. Keep persevering to the much later levels and you'll eventually get rockets, turrets, electrical based systems, and more.