Following on from my preview of ARK: Survival Evolved earlier this year – which you can read here – and a long drawn out discussion between Sony and Studio Wildcard, the popular open world dinosaur survival game has FINALLY landed on the shores of the PlayStation 4 in early access. It’s been nearly a year since the game launched on Xbox Game Preview and the question many PlayStation owners simply want to know is if it was worth the wait. The answer is a resounding; sort of.
• Developer: Studio Wildcard
• Publisher: Studio Wildcard
• Previewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: Xbox One, PC
• Release Date: Available Now (Early Access)
Having outlined the basic premise of ARK before (you’re a man or woman stranded, naked and ready to become a dinosaur’s next meal if you don’t build a shelter and you can level up and build more advanced items) I’ll focus on what you’ll find is slightly different in the PlayStation version if you’re picking up the game for the first time.
For starters ARK on PlayStation 4 comes in two different bundles, one with the base game and one with the base game and the ARK: Scorched Earth expansion. Scorched Earth provoked a bit of controversy and backlash earlier this year as a premium paid expansion with a new open world level and a handful of new mythical beasts such as a wyvern and rock elemental. The problem with this strategy is that ARK as a whole is an early access game that has been supported consistently since launch and to lock a portion of it behind a £30 pay wall whilst the game is in active development is simply shameful.
Scorched Earth is definitely something I would hold off on until after the game has fully launched in its “complete” state or if it goes on sale for half price or less. At this stage, what you’re getting (a barren, hostile map and a handful of new creatures and items) simply isn’t worth it when the base game is getting new additions in free updates nearly every month. To top it off, the official Scorched Earth servers are almost dead on the PlayStation 4 as of writing this – similarly to its Xbox counterpart. Base game servers running The Island and The Center maps are consistently full with no room to join them and there are hundreds of servers running those maps. Scorched Earth servers on the other hand tend to have between 10/20 players on them out of a possible 70. Where’s the fun in playing with only a handful of people when you could be playing on servers that are densely populated?
Playing on the base game servers is where you’ll want to be at the moment. To be clear right away, ARK on PlayStation 4 is certainly still in early access as there are plenty of bugs and problems to be found at every corner. The most prevalent at the moment are graphical errors, minor screen tearing, lighting problems, texture pop in/out and a chat box that gets stuck on your screen and doesn’t go away. Yes, it sounds awful, but ARK is surprisingly more stable on the PlayStation 4 over the Xbox version – though that much shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Frame-rate is more consistent and doesn’t nosedive as frequently and load times are significantly quicker as is menu and UI navigation. I’ve experienced a couple of crashes here and there but my experience has been smoother than that on Xbox.
Those of you who own a PlayStation 4 Pro will also be able to take advantage of higher resolutions and increased performance too. Whilst I haven’t been able to play ARK on a PlayStation 4 Pro myself; gameplay footage that I’ve seen confirms that the game looks significantly improved.
ARK is undeniably a fun game if you have the time and patience to get into it, and there is new content being added to it on a monthly basis. However, the game – when played on official servers – is incredibly grindy and slow paced. You’ll harvest resources to build one thing and tame a certain dinosaur in order to harvest resources from another thing to build another item that lets you harvest resources quicker and more efficiently from the first thing. It can get really tedious and if you don’t check in on a regular basis your structures will decay and can be destroyed by other players – in PvE servers, which is where I spent most of my play time – and your dinosaurs will starve to death unless you regularly check in on them and fill their inventory with food. Myself and many others simply don’t have the time to do that on a daily basis.
Like the Xbox version of ARK, my enthusiasm to play the PlayStation version came shortly before I started to write this article as I logged on to the server I’d been playing on only to find all of the dinosaurs that I’d quite literally spent nearly 3 hours of my play time taming had been killed by wild creatures and one of them had destroyed a significant portion of the house I’d built as shelter (again, a few hours of in-game work). I shouldn’t have to babysit the game in order to not be set back hours at a time.
You can play with friends in a non-dedicated server where time doesn’t pass unless you’re online and if you don’t fancy mingling with others on official servers, but it comes with a catch. You can’t go more than 300m away from the host due to an invisible wall which holds you back. If you need to go and do something on another part of the map but the host of the game isn’t able to tag along with you then you’re completely out of luck. There is talk of being able to host your own dedicated server for your console using a PC, but that seems like way too much effort just to be able to play with your friends.
ARK is at its best when played with friends who you can form a tribe with and – like I mentioned in my other ARK preview at the start of the year – there’s nothing quite like it on consoles. Back when I wrote that article I was enthusiastic about ARK and the possibilities it could create, but now my enthusiasm has flat-lined as I’ve grown fatigued with the experience. I want to like the game – in fact, I want to LOVE the game because it has dinosaurs in it. But when I come home from work and sit down to unwind and find that the video game I’ve been investing my time into has thrown up a massive middle finger at me and ruined my progress then I’m going to be inclined to pick up and play something else.
I admire ARK and what it is setting out to achieve, but it has a long way to go and has some lessons to be learned along the way in order to entice myself, and my friends into playing it frequently again. ARK is like marmite, you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it and PlayStation gamers will only find out which camp they fall into by giving it a go. If you pick up the game and love what you find then more power to you. Unfortunately, some may be sorely disappointed by what they find.