the survivalist

The Survivalist is a feature column all about the biggest and best survival sandboxes; it is helmed by MJ Guthrie. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]

The Survivalist: Excited for ARK’s Extinction

I finally broke down and watched ARK: Survival Evolved’s Extinction trailer. It’s not that I didn’t want to! On the contrary, I was very interested to get that glimpse; I just wanted to wait until we had even more info about it so I could really delve into it. But since that doesn’t seem to be coming about, I couldn’t hold out any longer. It is the conclusion of the multi-expansion story arc after all, and we’ve just gotten all excited about ARK’s story!

After watching the trailer, my anticipation level inched up a few notches. The teaser hints at answers to some long-held questions, and I am excited to take on the all-new survival challenges. Helping to amp that enthusiasm up are the monthly Extinction-themed content drops: Say hello to some bionic dinos! (They even lay tek eggs!) Perhaps Extinction will be quite a grand finale. I definitely look forward to learning, and sharing, more as we learn about the expansion.

All that said, there’s still that little bit of nagging disappointment at the lack of attention older maps get, especially the original game. Who knows though, perhaps once the final game is out and done the devs can turn some attention back to fixing those issues with the island.

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The Survivalist: Using Conan Exiles for a virtual tabletop campaign

So I’ve been thinking. (A dangerous pastime, I know!) And I have actually been formulating an idea. And that is using a survival game like Conan Exiles to run a guided player campaign. You see, way back when as I was first playing D&D and other tabletop campaigns, I dreamed of the ability to play them in virtual reality. Can you imagine it? Instead of saying, “I cast a fireball,” you actually just do it! It is still a dream; a VR experience is not quite possible yet, but when I found MMORPGs I felt it was one step closer. I could see my actions play out in an adventure. However, for the most part it was an already scripted adventure according to the game devs. In some cases there were tools for players to make their own adventures (and boy, have I celebrated those!), but there were still more like story vignettes in a larger world out of the game master’s control. To  really have a fully-crafted experience, you need greater control than what the MMORPGs afforded.

And then came survival games. Now there is a whole world you can take control of and run a story campaign. Granted, they aren’t perfect, but survival games offer more tools for creating a robust visual player campaign a la tabletops. And that’s exactly what I am planning in Conan Exiles.

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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!

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The Survivalist: Eight ways to give Just Survive a fighting chance

Do you remember at the beginning of May when Just Survive was talking about “working on a plan to go forward”? I understand if you don’t: It almost seems as if Daybreak itself has forgotten about the game, so how can it expect players to remember. Well, with H1Z1 doing so well on the PlayStation 4, maybe — just maybe — the game that actually birthed the battle royale version (that it lost its name to) will get some love. We can dream! And while we dream, we can also help the studio out with its plan-making endeavors. And boy, do I think it needs some help! As it is, the next promised patch sound like little more than maintenance mode and doesn’t really dispel the rumor that the game is on the sunset path. In order to survive, Just Survive needs to step up and offer a bit more than that. So here are eight ways Daybreak can give this survival game a fighting chance.

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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.

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The Survivalist: The good, the bad, and the barbaric of Conan Exiles’ launch

If the survival genre is any indication, Early Access is a nigh indestructable beast! Time and time again we’ve seen where so many have failed to defeat this end boss. But that all changed when one mighty barbarian came along and did just that. Conan Exiles strangled the last breath out of the Early Access beast with its bare hands and cast it aside, then strode straight into the waiting arms of launch this week.

Now there is lots to say about this launch, and a good chunk of it is pretty glowing. However, no launch is without some troubles. And sadly, there is also a despicable element as well. Here’s my look at the good, the bad, and the barbaric of the first couple of days of Conan Exiles’ launch.

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The Survivalist: Seven survival games I want to love, but can’t… yet

Well that didn’t take long! There are a plethora of survival sandboxes out there for fans to play (as you can see from our multiple guides!), enough that there might be some worry that the market for this genre is getting pretty saturated. Perhaps there is room still, but anyone entering that crowded market needs to have a good hook and be able to deliver a worthwhile experience in order to attract and keep players. Sadly, this isn’t always (often?) the case. Even when you want games to not just survive but thrive, there are a host of factors that work against that.

I have found that I enjoy the survival sandbox genre, and I play a number of the games. A couple get the lion’s share of my attention and game time while others are visited occasionally. Some of these titles have a chance to move into a favored position in my heart and my gaming line up. Others, however, have lost their chance completely. Here are seven survival sandboxes that I want to love, but don’t — at least not yet.

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The Survivalist: Four hopes for the future of ARK Survival Evolved

As we explored last week, game development isn’t always an upward trajectory. Some things soar, and some things crash. Our last Survivalist conversation was about four ways that the ARK: Survival Evolved that launched was better than the early early access build and four ways that it was worse. Since launch, development has continued, some on the base game and quite a bit on expansions. Whether the overall game as it stands right now is better or worse depends in part on what aspects are more important to you and likely which expansion you play. (Let’s hear it for Aberration!)

Even with improvements made to the game since launch, there are areas that could really use some attention. Today, I’d like to focus on four things that I really want for the future of ARK!

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The Survivalist: ARK Survival Evolved’s early early access vs. launch

When a game is being created, you usually expect that development to move the title in a positive direction and make it better, right? The state of the game when it launches should be much better than when it started. Well, sometimes that doesn’t quite happen. In ARK: Survival Evolved’s case, I think there are instances when it did just the opposite; certain aspects of the launched game were worse than the earlier versions. However, that’s not the case for everything: There were also a number of ways the game was definitely improved. Does one outweigh the other? Is the game better, or is it worse? It might depend on which features you feel are more important for the game and the side that they fall on.

While not exhaustive in either case, here’s a list of four ways that early early access ARK was better than the launch and four ways the launch version is better. Then tune in next week for four hopes for a better future.

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The Survivalist: A tale of two early accesses (and why Conan Exiles comes out on top)

It was the best of early access, it was the worst of early access. We needn’t even stop there: It was the age of wisdom and it was the age of foolishness as well! I venture to say that Dickens didn’t know he would be so on point in relation to video games. As much as I know players are disappointed about the announcement from Conan Exiles that multiple anticipated features will not make it in for launch (trust me, I’ve been looking forward to them as well!), I actually really appreciate the decision. You see, I have already experienced the maddening delay of “just a few (hundred) more features before launch” and I lost heaps of respect for the studio that went that route. A studio, I might add, that was the epitome of doing early access right for a long while.

In this week’s edition of The Survivalist, I’ll juxtapose these two examples of early access in the survival sandbox genre and show how Conan Exiles’ latest announcement secures this game the title of doing early access right — a position once held by the other.

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The Survivalist: ARK’s latest exploit highlights how cheaters ruin official servers

Let’s talk exploits. And no, this is definitely not a how-to guide! For shame! If you are a person who exploits, a pox on you. No, we are going to discuss how exploits — and more importantly, how those exploits are handled — can seriously harm, if not irreparably damage, a survival game.

This exact principle was highlighted this week with Studio WildCard’s announcement and its accompanying emergency update for ARK: Survival Evolved. I applaud the studio for jumping on the fix, even when it meant a surprise major version change that locked folks out of unofficial servers until they updated. However, how the exploit and the exploiters were handled is a different matter. In survival sandbox games, cheaters can ruin the long-term experience for the entire server, as does the subsequent action (or inaction) against those cheaters.

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The Survivalist: The downside of hosting custom servers for survival games (and why we don’t do it)

After the latest guide introduced even more possible games to sink our survival teeth into, it is understandable that the question cropped up again asking whether Massively OP would be officially hosting any servers for any of these titles. Think of it, life and death alongside your fellow MOP fans! Of course, we think it could be great fun, and we like playing games with ya’ll. However, as much as we love having folks congregate and have fun together, the answer is unfortunately no. Could it happen in the future? You could say there is a possibility, but it is extremely remote. Remote as in you have a higher chance to win the Powerball lottery. (Of course if you do win and want to fund such an endeavor, let’s talk.)

But why, you ask? Didn’t MOP have an ARK: Survival Evolved server? There are a number of reasons that official servers are not in the future, some of which the official unofficial ARK server helped illuminate or reinforce.

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The Survivalist: Another year, another Survival Game guide

A new year, a new batch of survival games! Yes, the genre has become so popular that one guide, no not even two guides could contain all of the survival goodness. More keep cropping up. I certainly can’t say as I mind, since this is the style of game that has been giving me the feeling of having an impact on my environment. And it’s not all the same collection of zombies, although there is still plenty of that. It is interesting to see what new takes developers are bringing to the table. Want to do a survival reality show? There’s a game for that! How about living like a viking? Yup. What if you want to be the psychotic killer that survivors are trying to, well, survive? Got you covered. Fell like upping the ante and surviving via VR? There are a few of those available.

If you are looking for a new survival to sink your teeth into, here’s the addendum for some newer games in development as well as some newly discovered ones since the last mega double guide. Note: This collection will be a mix of multiplayer and single-player titles with some uniques thrown in.

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