I know I said part two of the survival guide, containing a host of single-player survival games, would be the next entry in this new column (and it’s still coming, I promise you!), but what happened this past week is just too big a thing to pass up. The big bird nerf. No, Sesame Street wasn’t attacked: ARK: Survival Evolved’s fliers were. Swatted down hard, in fact. And folks are not happy. I’m not happy. A major portion of the known game took a major hit, nullifying tons of gameplay.
When the feathers hit the fan last Friday night, I was all set to rant to high heaven in this edition of The Survivalist; I’d already set up this topic in full preparation of grousing about what some folks hoped was simply a really bad April Fools’ Day joke, and I expressed my displeasure on OPTV the morning after the nerf. It’s no secret that I’ve been losing faith in Studio WildCard, and this latest change felt like the ultimate example of screwing over your veteran players in favor of grabbing new ones. Then it occurred to me: This is the real ugliness of Early Access rearing its head. What is actually best for the game overall may very well not be best for current testers. Because we aren’t launch players — we are EA testers, and we really did sign up for this.
Swatting down the birds
So what was the damage done by the infamous nerf bat? All of ARK’s flying birds took a massive hit to speed and stamina, the two stats essential for a flying mount. On top of that, the ability to raise the speed of your flying mount was removed, and the ability for specific birds like the quetzal to regain stamina in the air if the rider dismounted is gone. All points spent in speed were removed, and survivors logged in to seriously de-leveled birdies. Oh sure, the levels that people spent points on to increase speed were refunded, but the numbers of lost levels and stats didn’t add up; if your bonus tame levels automatically went into speed, you were just out those levels.
No one likes to log in and see stuff they’ve worked long and hard for become worthless overnight. I know people who bred speed animals specifically. That was ruined. Having a fast bird to race to the rescue new players? Not a possibility anymore. Want a speedy flier as admin to zip around to spots to take care of any issues or set up server events? No can do now. It really was a disheartening blow that chips away further at the ARK enthusiasm.
Now there’s a scary thought! But in reality it is better than you think. In WildCard’s defense, devs have come out saying that this nerf was purposefully done to the extreme and fixes based on feedback would be forthcoming. The devs went for the rip-the-bandaid-off-fast method of change instead of a little at a time. So what you saw as of last Friday is not what you will ultimately get. A first version of this rebalancing flier fix hit on Tuesday in fact. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to do much actual balancing yet. It did, however, define the roles of the different birds as well as provide a googledoc on the birds’ proposed stat values and what they were changing from. And the next patch on Thursday upped the stats some (like the Quetxals’ idle stamina consumption was reduced by 50%) as well as gave birds the ability to attack when landed, a very good feature I must say. SO things are definitely looking up.
Was the bird nerf necessary? Some say yes, and some say no. I’ll readily admit that fliers make a chunk of the ground game feel trivial, but that’s kind of the point to advancing to a certain part of the game. And you could start arguing that Tek gear trivializes the ground game, but that’s another topic. Many wanting the change are saying that fliers are too overpowered in PvP. But what about folks on PvE servers who have no such issues? It feels like that’s doesn’t matter — they have to deal with changes that help PvP.
The point is, the game is evolving, and there could very well be more drastic changes incoming that will upset blocks of players who have been supporting this game for nearly two years. But, you could ague that is exactly what we should expect, because that is what we signed up for.
Now if I’m honest, I admit that there are times I momentarily forget that ARK is still an Early Access game. I’ve been playing since the beginning — nearly two years now — and more than one promised launch window has come and gone over the past year, so it is understandable to feel the game is “out” for real. But alas, it is not. As an EA game, I should be prepared for there to be changes made. It makes that fact quite clear before your scrolling takes you to the purchase button, saying:
“Early Access Game
Get instant access and start playing; get involved with this game as it develops.
Note: This Early Access game is not complete and may or may not change further. If you are not excited to play this game in its current state, then you should wait to see if the game progresses further in development.”
So yes, every single one of us that bought the game bought into it knowing that it was still developing, and that changes could, and likely would, happen. Heck, there are changes we still hope will happen (optimization anyone?). In all fairness, I have to say that it has been years since I read that before my purchase! Since ARK is still in EA, we have to expect these changes. We don’t have to like them, but they shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you don’t want to play an in-development game, don’t buy ARK.
But here’s a thought: Some did buy the game because they did want to play it in its current state. What about those folks who are very excited to play the game in its current state and buy it? What happens when there are massive changes away from what they bought and then they aren’t happy? Yes, it said that the game might change, but that is still an interesting way to think about the end of that disclaimer, no?
That also brings us to the question regarding those folks who bought into the game with the announced launch dates. Yes, we understand that things happen. But that doesn’t negate that there are people who invested in a product that they were told would be done during a certain time frame, and it is well beyond that time. Nearly a year late, in fact. Now let’s add the fact that WildCard had announced there would be no more wipes; doesn’t a lack of wipes pretty much signify a launch then? That position held for a long time, but has since been softened to “We haven’t made a decision [if we will wipe or not]”. Is EA being used a shield to deflect criticism and avoid the whole responsibility that comes with launching? Is ARK ever going to launch? Can WildCard even possibly optimize the game after the extent of feature creep that’s happened? I definitely have my doubts.
Assuming that the game actually does intend to launch (and along with others, I do have some doubts), I believe it can still be a great game to play… for new players. Those who buy the game now or when launched will have a great experience playing — up through to a point at least. However, those who have already purchased and played may not have a good experience. Drastic changes can be deal breakers. Yes, in all fairness before launch is exactly the time that drastic changes should happen; can you imagine the outrage of a massive overhaul after the game is live? Unfortunately, for those of us in EA, many have watched aspects of the game they enjoy disappear in the name of making a better launch game. True, we knew there would be changes, but that doesn’t make losing the game you love much easier.
With so many other options out there, its hard not to have a wondering survival eye. As much as I loved it, ARK is losing my interest. It had a good premise, it had good fun, but at this point it doesn’t seem to have much for folks who have already played it. And I am not exactly sure how much WildCard really cares about about current players. After all, our money is already spent, and it is the launch experience of all those new survivors that the studio is gunning for. I can’t blame them for working toward a new revenue stream, or for continuing to develop their game to be what they feel is the best experience come launch. What I can blame them for is the endless feature creep and the lack of launching. WildCard does say it listens to feedback, so we’ll see how well the fliers nerf ultimately plays out when all the feathers finally settle.