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ARK: Survival Evolved: Valentines, Dino-Ween...What A Year It's Been in ARK

Company: Studio Wildcard

It's been a little more than one year since we first took a look at ARK: Survival Evolved, at the point where it had made the transition from PC to console. The game was Early Access with some expectation that it would be out as a full release by the end of 2016. That didn't happen, but you'd be hard pressed to find a fan who isn't thrilled with where the game has gone since that time. On one hand ARK: Survival Evolved remains in an unfinished state, but on the other, it has spawned more improvements and new content than many "fully released" games see in their entire lifetime. If you haven't jumped on the dino train yet, we'll help you unpack the pros and cons.

At the moment, we have an expansion (Scorched Earth) and major holiday events that look like annual traditions, including Halloween's "Fear Evolved," the "Winter Wonderland," and the "Eggcellent Adventure" Easter-themed event. Along with these came a host of new and special dinosaurs themed around a holiday, obviously with some strong fictional elements. Hallmark wasn't exactly a Jurassic invention, after all! Keep in mind that ARK: Survival Evolved wasn’t aiming for David Attenborough-level historical accuracy in its depiction of dinos, but candy corn drops and the dreaded DodoWyvern fully ensure you won’t mistake this game for a Smithsonian production. Some releases, Dino-Ween for instance, lagged behind the PC version, highlighting the game’s state of ongoing development and the unpredictable nature of buying into an Early Release title.

Outside of special events, there have been a slew of improvements to this version of game, keeping it largely in sync with the PC release schedule. The expansion ("Scorched Earth") is a fiery hell with dragons that also comes complete with a new set of bugs the devs are swatting. The core game experience filled in segments of the map to add new tiers of survival difficulty, but also added new abilities and gear for you –the puny human– and the dinos you can tame and ride. Settlements and buildings now feel like a core part of the game, and the much anticipated "Tek Tier" of upgrades lets you bridge the gap between your helpless human character and the overlords of this magical sci-fi world you occupy.

There’s still a huge learning curve for new players, but the core game is a much more consistent and polished experience than when we first dipped in at the end of 2015. Of course, ARK: Survival Evolved will have critics along with its adherents, but it’s obvious that the positive feedback is largely drowning out the negatives. As open-world adventure and survival games go, you’d be hard pressed to beat this for sheer variety and for its vast multiplayer world. Instead of crafting feeling like the endgame, it feels like the means to an end here. Taming and riding dinos will have you feeling like a demi-god, until somebody comes along with a bigger dino. The upgrade curve may flatten after Tek, but we’re excited to see what ARK: Survival Evolved has in store for us this year. If this is what continual development looks like, we’ll be happy to stay in Early Access forever.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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