ARK: Survival Evolved Xbox One Preview

ARK Survival Evolved screen 1
ARK Survival Evolved T-Rex. Studio Wildcard

Released in the Xbox Game Preview program in mid-December 2015, ARK: Survival Evolved is showing a lot of promise despite its work-in-progress status. ARK is basically Minecraft with dinosaurs and (eventually) guns. If that concept interests you in the slightest, and it should, ARK: Survival Evolved is worth a look.

What Is Xbox Game Preview?

First off, an explanation of the Xbox Game Preview program. You do NOT have to be on the Xbox One dashboard preview program. Anyone can play Xbox Game Preview games. Just like Early Access on Steam, the Xbox Game Preview program allows games to be sold and played several months before they're really final and "done". This allows gamers to get their hands on hot new games months early but also gives developers the opportunity to get fan feedback and make changes and make the game better before it gets a final release. 

While each preview game does have a free 1-hour demo, you do have to pay for Xbox Game Preview titles - $35 in the case of ARK: Survival Evolved - if you want to keep playing. Just think of it like you're buying early access to the game.  When it does go final in Summer 2016, you'll already own it and don't have to buy it again if you buy the Xbox Game Preview version. There is no reason not to buy the preview version of a game you're interested in. Elite: Dangerous was the first game to come out of the Xbox Game Preview program, and it turned out super good.

What is ARK: Survival Evolved?

So what is ARK: Survival Evolved? It is a first-person survival game where you have to gather resources, build buildings for protection, fire for warmth, drink water and eat food, and try to stay alive in a crazy world full of dinosaurs. Not only are there dinosaurs and other prehistoric critters to worry about, but since it is an online MMO-style game, you have to deal with other human players as well. The idea is that you team up with other human players to form tribes and help each other survive, but other players can form rival tribes on your server and you'll have to fight each other. Again, all while also fending off raptors and T-Rex and giant alligators and giant scorpions and dire wolves and dozens of other creatures (including plenty of friendly herbivores, of course). 


If playing online with a bunch of jerks doesn't sound appealing, ARK also has an offline local single-player mode as well. It isn't present currently, but there will also be a split screen option available as well sometime soon. I just want to say, thanks so much to the developers for not forgetting those of us that would rather play offline. We appreciate it. 

Even better, the single-player offers a ton of sliders and options - and I was told that even more options will be added leading up to release - that let you determine the overall difficulty, damage, food and water drain, health regen, day/night cycle speed, the number of resources, and more. You can make the game more or less difficult and play however you want. I absolutely love having so many options! At default settings, ARK is actually a pretty hardcore survival sim. You have to eat food - either berries or cooked meat - and drink water, and also have to constantly regulate your body temperature. It is a tough game at the beginning, so having options to make it a little easier / more fun is awesome. 

I think it is worth saying, however, that the balance of the game needs a little more tweaking for single-player to really work. The number of resources required late in the game - especially if you need lots of oil or obsidian - are clearly designed with multiple people collecting them in mind, and trying to do it by yourself is a pain. It's doable, but man is it a pain. Other than that, however, playing solo is pretty awesome.


Obviously, the most appealing part of ARK: Survival Evolved is the huge selection of dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures that occupy the land. The dinosaurs are all at a mostly proper scale, so a brontosaurus is gigantic and shakes the ground with every step, and a T-Rex is just as imposing and scary as you'd imagine. They're mostly of the "Jurassic Park" no-feathers variety, but there are some feathers here and there. Personally, I'm team #nofeathers, so I'm happy with this. An interesting gameplay feature is that you can tame almost all of the animals and even ride them! Yes, riding atop a T-Rex charging into battle is crazy awesome. You can also put platforms on top of the really big guys and essentially turn them into mobile bases. It isn't a pure dinosaur simulator, but if you love dinosaurs there's a lot to like here.


The way upgrading and leveling works is that you earn points that you use to buy engrams - plans for building stuff - each time you level up, and more advanced engrams become available as you keep leveling up. Everything you do in the game, from harvesting resources from trees/rocks/plants to building things to killing creatures/enemies earns you XP, so you actually level up fairly quickly. The first things you can build are simple stone tools, thatch buildings, and light clothes made of animal hides, but the deeper into the game you get, the more complicated and interesting the things you can build become. You eventually work your way up to wooden and metal building materials, bows and arrows, crossbows, better armor and clothing, and even high-powered guns and rocket launchers. 

Resource gathering and building actually works pretty much like Minecraft. You harvest wood and thatch from trees, stone and flint from rocks, fiber from plants, hides from animals, etc.. Different quality of tools will produce more or fewer resources per hit, and you can even use certain dinosaurs to help you harvest materials more efficiently. Building structures require you to build walls, roofs, etc. in the crafting menu and then place them in the world where you want. Certain engrams require specific workbenches and things to build, such as you need a mortar and pestle to make gunpowder or tranquilizer, a smithy to build things with metal, and a fabricator to build more complicated things like electronics. It's all fairly intuitive once you get going, but knowing where to find specific resources can be a challenge at first.


So far, ARK: Survival Evolved is a ton of fun, even in this early state. Because it is early and still 6-months or so from release, there are some mostly presentation-related things that need fixing. The visuals actually look pretty good once everything actually loads, but textures take a surprisingly long time to pop in and it looks pretty barren until they do (By the way, any YouTube videos you see claiming how awful the game looks compared to PC were taken before the textures loads. Don't believe their lies!). Environmental objects like rocks and trees also pop into existence before your eyes. Granted, they're actually pretty far away from you (several hundred feet) but seeing them materialize out of thin air is weird. The biggest problem is that the game runs like an absolute pig. Framerate drops, including regular drops all the way to zero for a second or two, are a frequent occurrence even on menus, which can make getting things done sort of sketchy. You do sort of get used to it so it doesn't affect your gameplay too much, but it is pretty inexcusably bad.

Sorting this out needs to be a priority over the next several months.

Bottom Line

Even with some technical hiccups, however, we're really having a great time with ARK: Survival Evolved so far. The world you can explore is big and the terrain is varied. There are dozens (yes, dozens) of species of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. The crafting system is awesome. The core gameplay is solid. This is a game that has all kinds of potential to be totally awesome. And it is only going to get better as things are tightened up and even more features are added. 

We'll keep this article updated with any new improvements and enhancements, so stay tuned.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.