ARK: Survival Evolved: Part 1
Running up a snowy mountain firing a machine gun at a woolly mammoth from the back of a tyrannosaurus is a fantastic example of the reason many video games exist: living out ridiculous childhood fantasies. ARK: Survival Evolved has plenty of that to go around across its multiple sprawling maps - which it calls ARKs - which can be explored solo or crowded with up to 100 players. Some lingering technical issues, bad dino AI, and an extreme amount of grinding to reach endgame are the main factors keeping it from being as sharp in the tooth as it could be.
Like many of the survival/crafting games of the genre it partially helped popularize, ARK dumps you on the beaches of a massive, foreboding island with just enough clothing to stay modest and your own two fists. From there, the challenge is to stay fed and hydrated while avoiding a huge variety of terrifyingly detailed dinosaurs and other beasts long enough to progress up the tech tree. Early in the life of a character, you might be taking out dilophosaurs with throwing spears and hoping a triceratops doesn’t come and knock your thatch hut over in the middle of the night.
From there, there’s a really nice flow of technological progression that makes advancement feel like more than just an increase in stats. Thirty hours later, you may preside from a sturdy stone castle from atop which you snipe pterasaurs out of the air with a rifle. By the endgame, it’s possible to have a massive steel fortress full of blast furnaces, complete with electric lighting and gas generators, churning out components for building rocket launchers and SCUBA gear.
But the excitement is dulled as the amount of menial grinding required to reach the higher tiers of technology goes up exponentially, to the point where it could take an entire day of playtime just to stock up on ammunition for certain weapons. This can cause things to really start to drag when you’re just getting access to some of the most interesting tech - especially if you don’t have a large tribe of other players to help you divide the labor. It’s one of those games that can be played solo, but at least on PvP servers, I wouldn’t recommend it.
On public PvP servers, other players are both your greatest opportunity and greatest danger. As I learned the hard way more than once, making sure your shelters are hidden from potential looters is far more important than making sure they are strong, and I often returned from less than 12 hours offline to find my barricades wrecked and hours worth of resource harvesting hauled off. Things get much better if you can work your way into a strong tribe of players that can protect your stuff 24/7.
In offline single-player, there’s actually an extensive and detailed sort of campaign to follow that will take you to a variety of monster-filled caves to acquire artifacts and summon three challenging bosses. There’s a giant spider queen and a bona-fide fire-breathing dragon! These encounters show quite a bit of attention to detail, though they rely a bit too heavily on summoned minions to increase the difficulty. It’s also extremely punishing to lose in one of these encounters because not only will you lose any armor, weapons, and ammo you had equipped - potentially several hours of gathering and crafting - but you’ll also lose the artifacts needed to summon the boss, forcing you to replay those challenging caves all over again.