Hi everyone. Long time no see.
I haven’t written much lately. I would love to tell you that life got in the way, or that I was too busy, or that something happened that took away from my ability to be creative.
Nah. I became hopelessly addicted to a dumb survival game with dinosaurs in it.
Ark: Survival Evolved was released in early access in 2015. It remains in that state, to be “officially released” at some vague point this year (maybe). When you start, you wake up on an island, stranded with no clothing, food, or weapons. You want to survive? Figure it out (or read the wiki). It is an incredibly complicated game, with systems on top of systems (no, seriously, if you want to play this game, read the wiki), but all you need to know is that you can tame an army of dinosaurs, and ride the biggest and baddest ones. It is as awesome as it sounds.
Actually, for the reasons of this piece, there is another thing you need to know: Ark features a “Tribe” system, which allows you to ally with other players and share resources. In a tribe, taming a level 135 Rex, a task that even with its preferred food takes over a hour and a half, is much more manageable. Building a base is easier with five people working on it while another five are out using Ankylosaurs to farm metal. In PVP servers, tribes will often war with each other for dominance over the map, especially those containing the most valuable resources such as oil and metal. In response, they build giant, elaborate fortresses surrounded by auto turrets and tamed beasts to protect their herds, resources, and tribe mates from raids.
The tribe system is fine. Great even! The game is built in a way that it supports joining a tribe, and the bigger tribe you have, the better. The game is plenty punishing, even with the help of 15 friends.
Even so, I created a little self inflicted challenge. At the expense of my own time (and possible sanity), I play solo. I am a lone survivor, simply trying to carve out my own little life on a harsh island filled with creatures large and small that want to kill me.
I am like those solo survivalists that always pop up in zombie movies. And much like them, I do fine until a group of under-prepared people unwittingly draw a pack of vicious Raptors right to my doorstep.
Solo play requires a ton of patience, and acceptance of the fact that you are going to die a lot. Even the smaller carnivores such as Dilos can make short work of a player in early game. Building a shelter is paramount, but without strong weapons or tames for defense, every venture inland for resources is incredibly dangerous.
Complicating manners is that the materials used to build shelters in the early going can be easily destroyed by hungry dinosaurs. Things are downright scary until you get to a high enough level where you unlock the ability to craft stone walls, a sword, and a crossbow. The journey to that point takes hours, and getting there without getting destroyed by a Therizinosaurus or three is pretty much an impossibility.
Even now, I don’t leave the walls of my base without at least a couple powerful tames to watch my back. Every patch overtakes the last with an entry in the “incredibly obnoxious creature that will kill even the most prepared survivor easily” category. I currently live in the Redwoods biome, and the most recent patch gave us the Thylacoleo, or “Tree Kitty”, as it is known in the community. Spawning high in the trees, the beast will leap down upon you, disabling and eventually killing you unless one of your scaly friends is there to help.
None of that mentions random players who will kill you and/or the unconscious Wooly Rhino that you have spent the last 45 minutes carefully taming simply out of cruelty. Certain tribes are more warlike, and inexperienced players can try to kill you simply because they know no other way.
I am not completely isolated. I discovered quickly that you can’t be. As a solo player, making positive relationships with larger tribes and trading for weapons, tames, resources, and protection is vital. I have found that established tribes tend be friendly, sometimes even generous. It makes one less of a target for revenge if they are nice to people, and the biggest tribe in my server rules with a classic “speak softly but carry a big stick” mentality. Helping them out every so often is a small price to pay in exchange for relative autonomy.
I try to pay it forward to new players to keep from making unnecessary enemies. If a new player pops up in global chat asking for assistance, I might give them supplies, tools, or weapons. Hell, I have even given a low level player a Carnotaurus I no longer needed. I know how hard it is out there. But they can not join me. Everyone is held at arm’s length. If they want to join someone, I can put a good word in for them with the big tribe’s leaders.
These alliances haven’t made my position any less precarious. I have lost everything numerous times. I could be losing everything right now as I write this. My base has been torn apart by Alpha Predators: rare, glowing red, super powered versions of the worst beasts on the island that are some of the only creatures that can break stone walls (I have since upgraded to metal). Even with a powerful ally, I have been invaded by bandits. Most frustratingly, I have lost progress due to server rollbacks that have put my game days in the past.
There are numerous reasons why I could’ve, and probably should’ve, quit this game, but I keep coming back.
The challenge is unique, even in a world where we have games like Nioh, Dark Souls, and Hyperlight Drifter to make us pull our hair out in rage. Unlike those games, Ark is forever. You don’t really “win” Ark (although taming a high level Direbear is close. Seriously, they wreck). This is a test of endurance, perseverance, and will. The world of Ark is fierce and unyielding, and I am here to throw myself against it like the rocks of an eternal shore. And for now, I stand. Unbroken.
At least until Wildcard wipes the servers again. Then I am fucking out for real this time.