The Survivalist: How Aberration saved ARK
It’s no secret that plenty of people have felt disappointed by Studio Wildcard, disillusioned by decisions and direction. I was among that crowd. It reached a point where I had to give thought as to whether or not I felt I could continue to support the company. Added to that was the feeling of been there, done that in ARK: Survival Evolved that made logging in a drudgery. Not even the unexplored spaces of procedurally generated maps, Scorched Earth, or Ragnarok could rekindle that fire and entice me to delve back in with the regularity of my previous adventures; there just wasn’t enough to keep my interest or heart in it. I was reduced to mostly just making sure my dinosaurs were fed (because no way could I stand the thought of letting them die!). I had to decide, was it now time to move on?
And then came Aberration.
It is no exaggeration to say that Aberration saved ARK for me. Right when I was ready to relegate my ARK adventures to only memories, I found myself sucked back in. And I dived in with gusto! More than just logging in more often, I am back to thinking about the game even when I am not online. I am making long-term plans for my ARK: Aberration life. And I have clocked numerous lengthy play sessions that probably should have ended sooner but I got caught in the “just let me do this one last thing…” trap multiple times.
What is it about Aberration that caused such a change? What about this expansion enamored me so much when Ragnarok, Scorched Earth, and the procedurally generated maps failed? It wasn’t any one thing. Instead, it was the combination of many hooks that appealed greatly to me woven together in the perfect super lure. It certainly wasn’t that WildCard regained any trust! No, it was the melding together of darkness, caves, luminescence, the unknown, cool creatures, unique environment, and exploration. It’s like someone picked my mind and went looking for all the right ingredients to make the most irresistible concoction that would lure me in all googly-eyed and goofy-smiled. Then they mixed it all together and tantalized me with a whiff. I had no chance!
Hello darkness my old friend
First off, I love the dark. I have always preferred the dark, from taking long walks in the middle of the night to working the graveyard shift. Darkness as a special quality of comforting isolation mixed with the anticipation of surprise just beyond view. The peacefulness and quiet only makes the sudden influx of activity that much more intense. Perhaps that’s the adrenaline junkie side talking — I do love the rush! But the fact is I like to discover things, and there is so much more of a sense of discovery in the dark when you can’t see everything in your surroundings; every step is uncertain. That’s probably why I love caves and spelunking so much! And of course, Aberration is one giant cave. This whole ARK is underground, so you can see how that appeals to me on a fundamental level.
Now, add all that darkness to another intense love I have: luminescence. Aberration is all about luminescence! The light of the glowing plants and animals among the dark backdrop is just gorgeous to me! I log into game just to look at it sometimes. I don’t even need to do anything to play; I just love looking. This is a beauty that entrances me. I’d say you successfully reeled someone in if you can make her happy to log in and just sit there. (OK, I don’t always sit — sometimes I take hundreds of screenshots!)
As I touched on above, another huge factor for me is the element of the unknown. While the other maps did have new explorable space, none of it ever really felt very unknown. They were all set on islands with similar or familiar biomes and dinosaurs. Yes, there was some variety, but it was all so… familiar. And that made it more predictable. Familiar.
With Aberration, the entirety of the map was an unknown — not because I hadn’t explored it but because it was so unique. Biomes were all new and you had to discover how to best survive. I no longer knew what could be around the corner, and that made me want to go around the corner that much more! I can’t deny that the thrill of discovery was ever-present in this new ARK. This is my whole love of exploration: wandering into the unknown and finding out what is there. And then you have the mystery of what happened to this ARK that you want to uncover.
Related to the uniqueness is the increase in difficulty. I could anticipate much of the dangers of the other maps, which took that unexpected element I craved out. That decreases enjoyment for me. But in Aberration, dangers could come from the sides, above, or even underground. Danger became an issue from any direction. Even more, in the darkness you might not even see danger lurking over your head until it drops on you. The fact that I can’t snooze my way through adventures and have to keep my attention focused is awesome. The added element of danger does indeed make the game more interesting. On top of that, the dangers are tougher and, well, more dangerous.
Compare that to the original island where I had done everything and dangers became totally trivial. In essence the survival elements of the game were stripped away which stripped away the core of the game. And without the danger, the striving to survive, it is less interesting to me. Ironically, the removal of flight could very well be one of the reasons I feel the difficulty is enhanced. No, that doesn’t mean I approve of the bird nerf on the Island per se as a veteran player, but it likely did have a positive impact for new players to keep the game from reaching a snorefest stale state too soon.
If it were just the fact that regular, known creatures had the glow in the dark marking, I would have been pretty happy. I did say how much I love luminescence! But Aberration introduced a number of new creatures that have captured my attention and my heart. You have the crab with its grabby grabby claws and giant leaps and basilisks and moles with their tunneling. There are the ravagers, my perfect pack animal combining cuddly puppiness with vicious power and leaping. As a dragon lover I adore rock drakes! Even more than their dragonness, though, I really love their gliding, cloaking, and wall-scaling abilities.
Of course, you cannot forget the glow pugs! Bulbdogs have such an endearing ugliness that you can’t help but love them to pieces and want a whole bunch of them. And they make great lightbulbs! Not too far behind them are the glowy baby goats and lizards.
Yes, Aberration gave me all new animals to love. Some are just adorable, and some have fun new mechanics. And I need to tame and breed more for my little zoo!