It is not one thing I brag about fairly often – primarily as a result of remembering you as soon as invested practically 2,000 hours of your life right into a single sport does are likely to set off a level of introspection – however Ark: Survival Advanced is well probably the most performed sport in my Steam library. I ultimately wrenched myself away shortly after its 1.0 launch in 2017, however even as we speak I look again on its early entry years with a mix of fondness and imprecise PTSD.
There’s so much to like about Ark; it is a wildly immersive survival journey with the sort of premise – dwell alongside the dinosaurs! – that will have made child-me dizzy with pleasure, and it is full of an intoxicating variety of methods to show its vicious nook of unreality into an odd little house. Nevertheless it’s additionally a sport I bear in mind being deeply disrespectful of gamers’ time, perpetually dancing on the sting of dysfunction and requiring intense quantities of repairs and dedication to stop hours upon hours of progress from immediately vanishing in a puff of air.
Damaged guarantees and an obvious disregard for the neighborhood have been finally the issues that drove me away from Ark, so it wasn’t completely shocking to observe a brand new controversy unfold when developer Studio Wildcard immediately introduced Ark: Survival Ascended, an Unreal Engine 5 “next-generation remake” of the unique sport, earlier this 12 months.
Ascended, whereas technically an non-compulsory improve, can be obligatory for anybody wishing to proceed utilizing Wildcard’s official servers – and if that wasn’t unhealthy sufficient, gamers would wish to make a full-price buy of the much-delayed and nonetheless largely nebulous Ark 2 to get it. After an comprehensible outcry, Wildcard half-heartedly relented: it could now uncouple Ascended and Ark 2, nevertheless it was hardly a powerful victory for gamers; the newly separated model of Ascended would value greater than the initially proposed bundle, albeit with some DLC now thrown in, and official servers for the unique Ark have been nonetheless going away – which means long-time gamers, significantly these on PvE servers, stood to lose doubtlessly years of progress come wipe day.
It is not the sort of starting that fills you with confidence for a challenge – particularly when adopted by a launch date delay, a delay to 2024 for the majority of its promised DLC, a last-minute delay for the console variations, after which a succession of additional delays for Xbox with no PlayStation model in sight. However truthfully, I used to be intrigued; I’ve some splendidly blissful recollections of my two years with the unique sport, a lot of it spent carving out a positively decadent homestead in a quiet PvE nook someplace. And, regardless of early rumblings of significant efficiency points, the dizzying listing of enhancements and enhancements that accompanied Ark: Survival Ascended’s shock PC launch final month had me cautiously optimistic this may lastly be the contemporary begin Ark has long-needed – an opportunity to pull the rickety unique into the sort of uber-polished AAA territory Wildcard clearly aspires to, given its slick, narrative-heavy, Vin Diesel-starring trailer for Ark 2. And so, for the primary time in practically six years – with a level of trepidation, I am keen to confess – again I made a decision to go.
For this preliminary experiment I opted to ease myself in gently, organising a non-public sport to reacquaint myself with Ark’s mechanical idiosyncrasies, primarily as a result of I wasn’t fairly prepared for the total pressure of – how can I put this politely – dedication I bear in mind being typical of different gamers on official servers throughout my unique time with the sport. And first impressions have been, if not overwhelmingly optimistic, a nice shock. From the title display screen to character creation, the opening moments have been significantly slicker than the Ark I remembered from six years in the past.
That is most instantly evident in Ascended’s character creator, which has obtained a very absurd overhaul. Now, in sharp distinction to the resolutely crap providing discovered within the unique sport – one which launched 1,000,000 memes of bafflingly misshapen participant characters (and by no means improved, regardless of many guarantees) – Ascended’s choices are virtually overwhelming. It looks like each muscle in your character may be tweaked in a large number of the way – which makes it all of the extra hilarious that this dizzying new degree of customisation selection comes instantly unglued by Wildcard’s insistence that each participant has precisely the identical face. This, because it finally transpired, is simply the primary inexplicable second of self-sabotage that permeates the brand new sport.
With character creation full (and with the one out there face making me seem like somebody popped Quentin Tarantino’s head on Stretch Armstrong), it is into the sport correct I went, spawning, for previous time’s sake, at my previous hang-out on The Island map’s south-eastern shores. And goodness me does Wildcard’s remake look beautiful. A bit bloomy, sure, however all the things from the intricately formed rocks to the luxurious foliage has been given a richly detailed overhaul – the water, folding and cascading as you splash about, being a very eye-catcher. The issue, in fact, is that the second you attempt to transfer anyplace, the entire phantasm comes crashing down; as you have in all probability heard, efficiency ranges from wildly inconsistent to flat-out horrible regardless of quite a few patches – hardly compelling proof this remake is a worthy improve.
Wildcard has promised efficiency enhancements, in fact, nevertheless it additionally took the studio years of post-launch assist to carry significant upgrades to its equally wonky unique. And that is the rapid concern; regardless of being touted as a “ground-up” remake, there are simply too many cases of previous points rearing their heads in Ascended, even throughout my comparatively transient return – how my coronary heart fluttered with nostalgic revery as shutting down the sport induced my display screen to blow up in a sequence of error messages I might not seen since 2017, and stories nonetheless abound of dinosaurs and gamers merrily sinking their approach by way of the ground. Wildcard would not precisely make it straightforward to consider any of these things will probably be remedied in a well timed or passable trend.
To Ascended’s credit score, alongside the visible overhaul, it actually does characteristic a considerable variety of high quality of life enhancements that genuinely make for a extra nice expertise. It is largely within the small particulars, just like the much-improved constructing instruments or the very fact night-time is now not so darkish that total servers are pressured to enter a gamma console cheat simply to see the place they are going. However for each marked enchancment in Ascended, there is a obtrusive flaw from the unique that is still untouched – the horribly inconsistent UI, as an illustration, or the weirdly weightless participant animations – and the bafflingly scattershot strategy to the entire enterprise turns into clear.
As harsh because it could be to say, Ark has lengthy felt like a sport that got here into being by way of sheer fluke slightly than any notable design acumen on the a part of Wildcard, and it is a sense solely exacerbated in Ascended. There simply would not appear to be any consistency of imaginative and prescient right here; you get new dinosaurs and new constructing items, a photograph mode, cross-platform assist – however tutorials are non-existent; I am nonetheless caught laboriously faffing round with a clumsy, unintuitive stock system; stability is all over, and on it goes. Ark: Survival Ascended is simply an extremely bizarre beast, a remake completely in thrall of the shiny stuff however with minimal regard for the basic annoyances which have lengthy plagued the sport.
Six years on, Wildcard’s outlook would not appear to have altered a lot – it was each amusing and all-too-predictable when Ascended’s surprise-launch was instantly delayed by virtually a full day, provided that the developer’s perpetual lack of ability to satisfy its personal public deadlines has lengthy been a working joke between gamers – and that is the factor the troubles me. Why, based mostly on the studio’s historical past, ought to anybody consider that issues will probably be totally different this time, and purchase into its guarantees that significant enhancements are undoubtedly on the way in which?
I realise I am being deeply sceptical right here, and, truthfully, I might be mendacity if I stated it wasn’t genuinely good to be again in Ark for the primary time in years. For all its bizarre, wonky techniques and chaotically carried out concepts, it is nonetheless a sport that is still extremely good at producing thrilling emergent adventures on the fly. I nonetheless bear in mind daring rescues within the frozen north again within the day, nights spent splitting duties with my tribe to tame a few of Ark’s most ferocious beasts, even small moments like quietly stumbling on a good-looking vista within the dying mild of the day after hours spent exploring tangles of mountaintop terrain. And, coming again through Ascended, I felt the previous pleasure return, working away from velociraptors, constructing a fledgling house for myself on a sun-kissed shore, slipping again into the groove of Ark’s strong survival core.
However the query lingered: is Ascended price utterly upending a complete neighborhood, cynically forcing them off official servers, mandating a brand new buy at not-insignificant expense for a lot of, then presenting this technically flawed, wildly inconsistent, semi-realised imaginative and prescient of a remake in return? Steam figures would counsel loads of gamers are consuming Ascended up – and I do know my Ark nicely sufficient to understand that many of the enjoyable will probably be happening in closely modded non-public servers, particularly (and tellingly) tailor-made to sidestep Ark’s extra egregious design points – however as for me, I believe I am going to must see some actual dedication from Wildcard earlier than I might be tempted to return in any significant approach.