'Free' Ark: Survival Evolved upgrade turns out not to be free, and a lot of players are mad

Ark: Survival Evolved screenshot detail
(Image credit: Studio Wildcard)

After teasing a free Unreal Engine 5-powered upgrade to the six-year-old Ark: Survival Evolved in January, developer Studio Wildcard said on Friday that players will actually have to pay for it if they want it—and fans, as you might expect, are not happy.

"The UE5 tease a couple weeks back is referring to in-the-works complete free upgrade/remaster of Ark Survival Evolved in Unreal Engine 5," Studio Wildcard co-founder Jeremy Stieglitz tweeted in January. "Not a cinematic. We haven't officially announced the Ark UE5 upgrade yet 'cause there's other major things we wanna show then as well."

The official announcement of Ark: Survival Ascended, as the UE5 remaster is known, arrived last week, but notably without the "free" part. Instead, Studio Wildcard said "players will only be able to get it via an ultimate-value bundle known as the ARK Respawned Bundle," which includes Ark: Survival Ascended and the recently delayed Ark 2 for $50. The bundle will be available for purchase "for up to one year," beginning at the end of August. After that, Ark 2 and Survival Ascended will be available for purchase separately.

The announcement has not gone over universally well with fans. Some players are irritated by the prospect of having to re-purchase the game at full price to get the UE5 upgrade, while players on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles are being left out in the cold completely. It's also sparked debate over whether Studio Wildcard is struggling to pay for the development of Ark 2. Some of the posters in this Reddit thread defend the move, saying the cost is really for an Ark 2 preorder, but that defense isn't really flying: Ark 2 isn't expected to arrive until the very vague "end of 2024," and in the meantime there's simply no other way to lay hands on Ark: Survival Ascended.

Making matters even worse, the official servers for Ark: Survival Evolved will be taken offline when Survival Ascended launches, meaning that players who'd rather avoid the expense and continue playing the original game will be very restricted in how they can do so. 

"At that time, the final save-datas from the Ark: Survival Evolved Official Servers will be uploaded for players to re-host on their own servers or play in singleplayer/non-dedi, as well as slightly earlier snapshots," Studio Wildcard said. "You will still be able to play on single-player, non-dedicated, player-dedicated, and unofficial servers. Ark: Survival Ascended will have its own fully supported Official Network for all platforms."

And of course there's the simple fact that the UE5 upgrade was promised as free—and Stieglitz' tweet to that effect is still up—but is actually going to cost as much as a full game. Redditor 4ar0n, for instance, said getting the Ark remaster and Ark 2 for $50 "is an exceptional deal," but added, "Jeremy never should have said that Ark was gonna get the upgrade for free as he clearly didn't know what he was talking about."

"Forcing people to buy Ark2, and selling the DLCs separately on a remaster (usually they are bundled), and deleting the original official servers... that's scummy," redditor KevinFlantier wrote.

Several messages to this effect were also posted in response to the announcement on Twitter:

(Image credit: Seosaur (Twitter))

Studio Wildcard said Ark: Survival Evolved and Survival Ascended will not support crossplay because the remaster will have undergone "profound functional changes" that prevent compatibility, which is fine, but taking down the official Survival Evolved servers the day Ascended goes live does come off as a little coercive. 

In a statement sent to PC Gamer, Studio Wildcard executive producer Jatheish Karunakaran confirmed that Stieglitz had spoken too soon with his January tweet.

"We have been really excited to deliver an incredible Ark UE5 experience," Karunakaran said. "Admittedly back in January we got ahead of ourselves at that time, as the scope of the project increased, we hadn't yet realized the full time, development resources, & costs needed to produce a complete next-generation remaster."

Studio Wildcard also confirmed that players who want the Unreal Engine 5 version of Ark—that is, Ark: Survival Ascended—will have to purchase it in the $50 bundle with Ark 2. 

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.