The Survivalist: Yes, ARK Survival Evolved actually does have a story
Survival — or more? You might be surprised. When I first started playing ARK: Survival Evolved at the launch of its early access, it was an all-out dinoriffic survival game. And those of us who played in the beginning knew it just as that. As development moved on, more futuristic additions joined the primitive survival aspects. Some folks rebelled against this, balking at the inclusion of Tek. (Hey, some didn’t even want electricity and stayed playing on Primitive+ servers.) But the point of it all was not to rain on people’s dino survival parade, but because ARK has an actual story to discover. Yes, there is an ARK story. And after experiencing the conclusion of the first act this past weekend, I am way more stoked about it! Warning, there are some spoilers in pictures, so ogle them at your own risk!
Too early, too late
I admit, I was one of those folks who was not fond of the implementation of Tek in my dino survival world. That’s because I knew and loved the game as a dinosaur-filled survival. When folks got upset about such sci-fi changes, devs explained that there was always a plan — a story they were following — and Tek was a part of that. I honestly didn’t even pay this much mind for the longest time, keeping the idea of the game “pure” and Tek-less in my mind.
Why would I, of all people, resist story? A big part of that is because the story elements were added so late in the development process, long after what the game was to me was cemented in my head. (This would definitely be a plug for waiting for release over early access!) Maybe I started in too early, but I had a blast in the game for what it was at that point. So I am glad I didn’t wait, because that was years of fun with friends already.
The story just came came too late for me. Having already played ARK’s island for a couple years, I had been there, done that to pretty much everything. The game’s story doesn’t come about through quests I could just go back and do. It uses the hidden lore object type of reveal as you play through the game. You really have to just run over the items to get the flash of journal entries and such. This makes it a perfect goal for anyone who started the game at launch or after, or even those returning after a long absence. It’s no so great for those who played throughout early access. The final iteration of the explorer notes, those little discoveries that spelled out the story, didn’t even manifest until we were all pretty done with the island map and moved on. To go back and find all the explorer notes would be a massive undertaking. You’d have to re-traverse every inch of the island. I just didn’t have it in me. There wasn’t anything else new to see. I wasn’t really having much fun on the island anymore; it was maintenance mode for all of us there. We had moved on to the excitement of other maps.
And then I returned and experienced the end of act one, and the idea of story was reinvigorated.
Yes, ARK is a dino filled survival game. And you are more than welcome to play it as just that. After all, I did. Or, you can dig around and discover the story under it all. I wanted to do that initially, I had just lost that focus as time wore on without it. Obviously I was curious as to why there was a freaky implant in my arm from the get go. I also wondered about the forcefield surrounding things. I could see the glitches (the purposeful ones, not the accidental bugs in the game). And obviously there were the drops and the pillars. My curiosity never went away, but was relegated to the “no answers for u” pile in the back of my mind. I just accepted that this was how it was. After all, game development doesn’t need a reason, right?
But there is a reason, and I have been reminded of this. This past weekend we ran the ascension cave raid on the island (you can watch the whole thing!). We did it because none of us had ever completed it before and we wanted to see what it was. None of us were really interested in going back and reliving the island in its entirety to build to that point, and thanks to personal server wizardry, we didn’t have to.
Once your mind takes hold of the story arc, it is much easier to accept Tek. Nay, embrace Tek! If you haven’t yet gotten to the final boss fight in the ascension cave (that would be the one nestled in the lava of the volcano) and you want an idea of what is behind the ARK, then you really need to go. And to do it, you are going to need Tek. As much as I resisted Tek in my dino survival, I am very glad for it as it enabled us to clear our path through the cave and explore the heart of the ARK. It was fascinating! I don’t want to give spoilers so I won’t go into details (hint: don’t watch that stream if you want to avoid them), but let me tell you that the final moments after you defeat the boss were pretty amazing. I had no idea what to expect, but I wasn’t disappointed. You even get ending credits like a movie. And it made me more hungry for the rest of the story.
So now that I have had a taste of what awaits me in ARK’s story, I want more. I really do want to run around and find all those notes (or at least a guide to read them all on the island). I am not all that interested in returning to eke out a life on maps I have finished with, but I do really want to go find the notes. (A friend and I have toyed with a special idea to run through the whole story and learn it, but more on that in a future The Survivalist.) And I want to finish finding the notes on my current Aberration server to learn the info there. And I can’t wait to see the ends of the other acts in this story arc. And the conclusion? I am even more interested in what Extinction, the final expansion to this universe, holds. As much as I want to see and live in this last ARK, I am eager to see the story through to the end of the arc.
When I started this whole adventure of surviving among the dinosaurs, I never would have thought that I’d be treated to an overarching plot. And now I can’t wait to experience it all.