Why is ARK such a hit?
While there are dozens of Early Access survival games, one definitely stands out, having sold over a million copies in its first month and taken Twitch by storm. The sudden popularity of ARK: Survival Evolved isn't hard to understand:
1. You can ride dinosaurs.
2. You can make your character poop.
But what do you actually do in ARK? I decided to see what it has to offer besides dinosaurs and doody.
The first thing I see upon waking in ARK is a dodo bird. As I am a muscular man, and the dodo is a living creature, I decide to punch it to death. It takes a while—it is a Level Eight Dodo Bird, and I am a Level Zero Jerk—but eventually it is dead. Having played a great many survival games by now, I know what is next required of me, and I brace myself for it.
I need to cut down trees. I have cut down so many trees in so many games—and the following is not an exaggeration—that I have developed a legitimate negative physical reaction to it. The idea of wood-cutting in a game literally makes me feel ill. And yet, here I am. With no tools, I use my fists to beat up a log. My fists bleed and my character yells in pain. Good. We should both suffer.
A few things happen simultaneously. I beat up enough trees to be able to make an actual tool for beating up trees, I gain a level of experience, and there's a farting noise as an impressively large turd falls out of my character. What an eventful moment! Poop isn't just for laughs, either, it can be used for farming. It can also be used for laughs if you throw it around.
Having gained a level, I get a peek at something else that probably gives ARK some staying power: a huge and elaborate list of engrams, or crafting recipes. It's basically an RPG skill tree, only with stuff you can make. I want to keep playing just to make myself some clothes. I want to keep playing just to see what else is on the crafting tree. Cutting down trees doesn't seem so bad now. All it takes, apparently, are some boxes marked with '???' to keep me motivated.
Food, as in most survival games, is a real priority, and despite my character's beefy and obviously well-nourished frame, I still need to eat fairly often, probably because my turds are the size of bowling balls. I chase down a couple more Dodos, kill them with my pickaxe, and take some meat.
Another nice thing about ARK: the dinosaurs all don't automatically try to kill you. You can actually walk up to some of them and just look at them. A friendly Carbonemys—basically a giant turtle—has been ambling around. It doesn't attack me, and I don't attack it. It's a nice feeling, not having to kill or be killed! Unfortunately, I'm about to try to kill it.
After an evening spent gathering wood and almost freezing to death, I have to eat again, and in a major case of art imitating life I appear to have exterminated the entire dodo population. That leaves me with one option: murdering the friendly giant turtle.
Unfortunately, the dino-turtle is not as mild-mannered as it appeared, and it quickly turtles me to death. I respawn nearby, find my corpse, and loot it for all my stuff. Since I've respawned, I'm not even hungry anymore, proving dying isn't such a bad strategy. Since finding food for myself is too hard, I decide to visit a beacon I can see on a nearby island.
Beacons indicate supply drops, an easy way to gather food. As I'm swimming to the island, however, I run out of stamina, which requires rest to replenish. Unfortunately, resting means I begin to drown. Unable to move due to lack of stamina, and unable to breathe due to being a few inches below the surface, I slowly sink and die. Cool.
After respawning I eventually make it to a beacon, where I get some berries and other supplies. As I stand there munching, I suddenly slip through the ground and fall, as if the entire world had suddenly turned to air. At the bottom of the world is water that still acts like water. I drown again. Cool.
That seems like a good place to end my first session. I've seen some of the features (and problems) of the Early Access world of ARK, but while I've met several dinosaurs, I haven't yet done the best thing you can do in ARK: tame them and ride them. Taming, which Tom learned all about in a recent stream with the devs, involves punching them unconscious and feeding them drugs. That seems irresistible. So, that's my goal for next time.