Ark: Survival Evolved (PS4) Review: You Didn’t Say the Magic Word

Ark: Survival Evolved (PS4) Review: You Didn’t Say the Magic Word

Ark: Survival Evolved still feels like an Early Access game. The game is (ostensibly) a completed release, in that it hit 1.0 as of this review and you are now expected to pay $60 for the privilege. But it still lacks that certain level of spit-shine you would expect from a full priced release, right down to multiplayer that doesn’t quite work & a suite of mechanics that are either completely broken or utterly incomprehensible and I’m not sure which is worse. I suspect I would have a terrific time playing Ark with my friends, but I can’t ask them—nor anyone else—to pay retail price for this game.

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Ark: Survival Evolved gameplay images via Studio Wildcard

The game takes place in three different settings: an island, a desert, and a fantastical flying island. Each bio-dome is packed with dinosaurs and other kinds of prehistoric animals, although the last two have supernatural creatures like rock elementals and direwolves. The islands are the easiest, but I found the desert’s difficulty more rewarding, even though I never quite got those rock elementals to spawn.

If you’ve played an open-world Early Access survival game (see also: Minecraft, Rust, Don’t Starve, Terraria, Starbound, H1Z1, Day Z, Rokh, No Man’s Sky, Hellion, Stranded Deep, Beasts of Prey, Dead State) then you know what Ark: Survival Evolved is all about. You punch trees with your fists to get bundles of wood, you pick up some rocks, you build a pickaxe, you use the pickaxe to get better materials, so on and so forth. It’s a series of little victories and small steps, which is supposed to culminate in an endgame where the player feels like the God-King of the universe.

The endgame mostly focuses on fighting giant monster spiders with assault rifles, but the problem with the survival loop is that said endgame always feels miles away. I spent most of my time in Ark: Survival Evolved trying to find the best climate for my home base, in part because the primary map’s weather system was completely nonsensical. There were times where I was standing on a beach, and the game told me it was too hot. I took a few steps to the right, and the game told me it was too cold. These status ailments affected my character’s water and food levels respectively—both of which already drain too quickly—which keeps the player shackled to regular sources of food and water.

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Ark: Survival Evolved gameplay images via Studio Wildcard

Every crafting item requires a sizable amount of resources, and crafting recipes are locked behind the player’s level progression, so most of Ark’s higher-level mechanics—like farming—are relegated to much later in the game. High-level predators roam parts of the island earmarked as “easy,” taking out the player in seconds and guarding the dropped items, forcing players to start from scratch. Equally high-level piranhas stalk the rivers, keeping players away from water sources & forcing long treks around…which also drains the player’s water and food.

Yes, there’s a lot going on in Ark: Survival Evolved, often to the player’s detriment. The single-player is a constant war of attrition rather than a tightrope walk between success and failure—which is generally not “for” me. I’m mature enough to admit that much, which is why I took advantage of the game’s built-in admin console right around the time I started violently cursing all raptors who have ever lived. I am extremely happy for the addition of console commands in PS4 games, especially when they let me skip the parts of the game I don’t like (the accursed, horrible raptors) in favour of the parts I do (harvesting resources). That, along with incredibly modular difficulty, gave me the freedom to play the game however I chose, rather than smothering myself in hours of limp, uninvolving combat.

Ark: Survival Evolved (PS4) Review: You Didn’t Say the Magic Word 1
Ark: Survival Evolved gameplay images via Studio Wildcard

For me, Ark’s main hook is not its single-player campaign, it’s the game’s multiplayer component. In theory, up to 60 players can enter a map and wreak any kind of havoc they want, or you could host your own server and invite your friends. You can choose between the first island or the desert, as well as player vs. player or player vs. AI. I fantasized about inviting my friends to a game of Ark: Survival Evolved, only to trap them on an ultra-difficult island where I am all-powerful thanks to the admin console commands. They would have to fight for their lives against horrific man-eating lizards and me, the virtual equivalent of a very low-stakes Jigsaw Killer.

Alas, since I don’t have 4-6 friends with PS4s and $60 (USD) to blow, I had to settle for joining random games. I mostly aimed for PvE games, where I wouldn’t have to worry about having my block knocked off by more experienced players and their sniper rifles. When people weren’t joking about selling child porn (not a joke), there seemed to be a real sense of camaraderie. I snuck into a fellow player’s settlement, and instead of hollering at me through the game’s chat system, he gave me some free stuff! What a nice guy.

I did give PvP a try, which started off well enough. I scrambled around the beach where I spawned, hoping to put together enough tools to keep me safe in a hostile environment. It was tense as hell until I realized from the context in the chat that everyone else on the server had no interest in hunting me down. Then, a couple of level 120 miniature raptors ate me alive, which seemed as good a sign as any to stop playing on that server.

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Ark: Survival Evolved gameplay images via Studio Wildcard

After trying a second server, I spawned into a world where the framerate was in the single digits and the textures didn’t properly load. That was the first technical problem I encountered in Ark: Survival Evolved, followed shortly by the game displaying inaccurate server ping, displaying inaccurate controller mapping, and preventing me from taming any dinosaurs by disabling their inventory. Once, I saw a crocodile spawn into the world by literally falling from the sky and bouncing off the ground.

The apex of Early Access weirdness was a problem I noticed across all three maps after playing a couple games on the desert map. See, whenever the player mines a tree or rock or similar resource to completion, it breaks and disappears. But after playing keep-away with some feathered T-Rexes in the desert, every resource I farmed exploded into grey textureless shapes before plummeting through the earth.

Even the parts of the game that work still feel unfinished. The menu system and controls are clearly ported over from the PC with little consideration for controllers, and bear a disquieting resemblance to the menus from the launch version of the game. When the textures deign to load, they look ugly as sin. Dinosaur riding is clunky and unintuitive, with movement split between the left and right sticks. Ark: Survival Evolved just isn’t ready for prime time, and it (unfortunately) reinforces the idea that games often release in an unfinished state.

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Ark: Survival Evolved gameplay images via Studio Wildcard

There’s room for Ark: Survival Evolved in the Early Access survival space, in part because every aspect of the game is very modular and has plenty of dedicated servers. There will be a version of Ark that caters to your tastes. But every version of the game uses the same playbook, so if you’re not down with the core mechanics or if you can’t get past some Early Access jank, I don’t think you’ll enjoy this game without a dedicated group of like-minded friends.

Lego Worlds Nintendo Switch Version Announced Along With DLC

Lego Worlds Nintendo Switch Version Announced Along With DLC

The world of Lego continues to expand as new DLC and a Nintendo Switch version of Lego Worlds have been announced.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Traveller’s Tales and the Lego Group announced that Lego World’s first themed content pack, the “Classic Space Pack”, will be available July 5th and will cost $3.99. The new DLC will include brand new quests, introducing new characters, builds and vehicles from the popular Lego Space playsets. Players will be able to travel through space, exploring the new moon biome and classic space theme world.

It was also announced today that Lego Worlds will be coming to the Nintendo Switch later this fall. The physical version of the game will feature access to two bonus DLC packs, including the newly announced Classic Space Pack. The digital version of the game will only include the base game with DLC available separate on Nintendo’s eShop.

Lego Worlds is a Lego sandbox game which allows players to build a world made up of Lego bricks. Unlike most Lego titles, Lego Worlds plays similarly to Minecraft, allowing players the freedom to do as they please in a world of their own creation. Players can edit their appearance and outfit and are able to build a variety of structures and vehicles. A beta version of the game was released on PC through Steam’s early access program in 2015. The finalized version of Lego Worlds launched earlier in March for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.  The game is being updated regularly and is set to add features such as world-sharing and a multiplayer mode. Reception of the game has been mixed since its release. While most critics praise the game’s Lego aesthetic and the ability to build freely, Lego Wold’s UI and controls are considered to be slightly cumbersome.

The Nintendo Switch version of Lego Worlds is currently available for pre-order.

Shattered Skies (PC) Review

Shattered Skies (PC) Review

Let me be perfectly clear that I would not have played Shattered Skies for as long as it took to review it if I weren’t being paid for it. It commits a crime much worse than simply being a bad game; it’s dull. It’s also uninteresting, static, and barren. A world with no concept of object permanence—like it ceases to exist when I’m not actively engaging with it. Bad games can have character; they can be memorable and even enjoyable for the very reasons that render them terrible. Being uninspired and forgettable, though, that’s as bad as it gets in my books.

Shattered Skies (PC) Review 4From a technical standpoint, Shattered Skies appears serviceable enough, and it does—rather unusually for games in the genre—run rather smoothly. But all of its assets feel like either a placeholder or an afterthought. A smattering of landmarks consisting of a few houses, a general store, and in the case of the larger city in the centre of the map, an office building and apartments are really all there are to entertain. Between them exists vast, open spaces of nothing but hills, shrubbery, trees, and the occasional cluster of broken down cars to loot. It all feels like it’s been orchestrated to present an illusion of scale but without enemies to occupy them or meaningful terrain features to inspire tactical engagements. These sprawling bits of nothingness simply sit there as little more than a gating mechanism for the amount of time it takes to travel from one loot hub to the next.

There are only so many times one can walk past the same shrub while spending minutes running from one lootable area to the next before stopping to ask “what’s the point”. Once that illusion is shattered and the veil is lifted the player begins doubting the experience. With enemy spawns so infrequent and formulaic (shoot at face until dead, don’t let it fireball because it has no valid path to you) and the gunplay beyond disappointing in its desperate lack of feel in its animations or sounds, there’s little to encourage a player from hopping on an empty server and farming up loot alone. Player engagements are rarely on an even keel, thanks to the hard-gating of loot by level, and the obvious emphasis that puts on roving groups of griefers as a result. The added lack of NPCs leaves the whole experience feeling more like a prototype or a featureless alpha than a full-launch title that’s asking between $28 and $89CAD, depending on how much XP and cosmetic junk you want from the start. Oh, and it’s entirely possible, if buying one of those fat bundles, to be granted so much XP when you start that you’re immediately bumped past the level 15 threshold that pushes you out of the newbie servers into the “bite the pillow” post-learner servers. I couldn’t even imagine my first experience with the game being on those servers when, by the developers’ own admission, PvP (read:griefing) is the focus of Shattered Skies.
Shattered Skies (PC) Review 2
To be fair, Shattered Skies is not without its innovations—and clever ones at that—but they fail to be implemented in any meaningful way when stacked up against the rest of the game’s shortcomings. I do quite enjoy that loot bags from events and supply drops aren’t lost on death, with their contents remaining safe and secure until opened. I do like that being flagged as a PvP aggressor leaves you vulnerable to attack even in the game’s safe Dominion hubs. I like that there are quality tiers to add some variety to the extremely limited pool of weapons. I like that Legendary quality loot isn’t lost on death, but has a finite durability that cannot be repaired; it removes the fear of using them, without leaving them a be-all end-all. Unfortunately, many of these strong points are implemented in a ham-fisted manner with little thought to their effect on the core loop or longevity of the experience. Paired with the time-gating of the game’s events, it makes for a very forgettable experience.

Shattered Skies (PC) Review 5Here’s what really gets me about Shattered Skies, though. It’s the latest in a long list of rubber-stamped open-world survival games, each based heavily on their predecessor. Yet astonishingly, each seems to be both less expansive AND less focused than the title on which it was based. You see, Shattered Skies, is another bite at the apple from the team responsible for the frankly abysmal Romero’s Aftermath. Romero’s Aftermath was, in itself, the latest genre game to be bailed on by the team responsible for Infestation World. Infestation World was the free-to-play version of the abandoned premium title Infestation: Survivor Stories. Infestation: Survivor Stories was the re-brand of the game that everyone loved to hate, War Z. And finally, War Z was the bastardized open-world cash-cow of a zombie survival game that was developed by the team responsible for a little-known (and terrible) military shooter called War Inc—which is where Shattered Skies can trace all of its wonderful (read: terrible) issues with audio thanks to it sharing the same developers and game engine.

I actually bought War Z back in alpha (it came to market in the wake of Day Z’s popularity; shush). Not the cheap version, either. I swung for the fence with the $70 package. What blows my mind is that Shattered Skies reeks of the same half-assedness and I didn’t even know of the connection until well into this review. The funny thing is that War Z (or Flashlight Deathmatch Simulator 2012 as it was affectionately called) felt like a more engaging experience, despite its wealth of bugs, hackers, and downright terribleness. Even still, as I’ve just downloaded its latest iteration, Infestation World to ensure my memory hadn’t betrayed me, it at least has character in its awfulness. And for all its lack of direction, at least the terrible zombies, even with their appalling AI, feel at least somewhat threatening and bring a touch of (un)life to the countryside.
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To be clear, I’m not advocating anyone actually play Infestation World any more than I’m advocating they play Shattered Skies. But it speaks a lot about the experience to be had when I can honestly say that the free game based on a half-decade old game that’s universally regarded as a scam by the same studio offers a more memorable experience.

The Witcher III Gets NG+ DLC

The Witcher III Gets NG+ DLC

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt official Twitter account announced that there will be a NG+ DLC.

There isn’t an official release date, but it has been confirmed it will be the last free installment.

NG+, New Game Plus, is known as a feature that makes games harder. After the player has finished the game, they can play over with the stats that they accumulated prior, rather than starting with low stats. It’s a feature usually found in RPGs like Bloodborne and Dark Souls 2.

Not much has been said about the DLC, but there is a lot of speculation. Some are hoping it will allow for the beasts to be more difficult to attack, and others are hoping that they can start over with all their hard-earned skills.

The already enormous game is said to be 200 hours, and with more DLC on the way, it could be even longer.

Rebel Galaxy: Wild West of Space

Rebel Galaxy: Wild West of Space

One of the earliest mainstays of PC gaming has been the space combat/trading game. From Elite on the Commodore 64 back in the 80s to the early 90s Wing Commander epics, Freespace, and countless other lost to time, these games were a big business. Possibly due to the inconceivable success of Wing Commander creator Chris Robert’s Star Citizens, exploring the grand void is back in style. But that juggernaut of virtual space life is far from the only game in town, with the recent release of the gorgeous Elite Dangerous and a shocking amount of indie games taking off into space as well.

Among those is probably one of the oddest and most likeable of the bunch yet, Rebel Galaxy. Far from a typical Elite/Wing Commander clone, the game takes its influences from a wide variety of new and old classics. We chatted with Travis Baldree, who is the co-owner and co-developer for the makers of the game, Double Damage Games.
rebelgalaxyinsert5Travis and his partner in development, Erich Schaefer, have an impressive pedigree, as they are the masterminds behind the Torchlight games. With that success behind them, they left the comfort of fantasy RPGs to pursue something completely different.

“We needed a change of pace, and the scope of these types of games are more manageable for a tiny team,” Travis explains. “If we were to make another Diablo/Fate/Torchlight game, people would expect us to make it do all the things those games do, have all the features, look better, have more hours of gameplay, etc. At least we would expect that of ourselves. With Rebel Galaxy we have a clean slate to make the game we want to make, and not chase past successes.”

Rebel Galaxy, even at its early stages, is already incredibly impressive, especially considering the bulk of the work is being done by just two guys. The game itself is a mix of space trading, exploration, conversation, and combat. When the protagonist gets an old space ship and a strange message from a distant aunt to come meet her in a hurry, it sets off a grand and humorous adventure. The aunt, it seems, was something of a smuggler and has gotten herself into trouble. Tracking her down is part of the main storyline and there’s no shortage of story-based missions, but (as with most open world games) it’s all the other things to do that really make things interesting.
rebelgalaxyinsert3There are constant streams of randomly generated side missions to partake of. Whether simply buying and selling goods, actively smuggling, delivering cargo, or completing mercenary bounty runs, there’s always something to do in Rebel Galaxy. As the name implies, the game has a distinct mercenary spirit to it, evocative of popular movies and shows.

“It’s a great fantasy to be the captain of a giant spaceship, of course: Han Solo, Captain Kirk, Adama, or Malcolm Reynolds,” Travis says. “Making their way through the galaxy, calling the shots, and blasting the bad guys. It’s common in books and movies, but hasn’t been as well represented in games. Most space sandbox games have you piloting a fighter and frantically dog fighting all the time.”

Players who recall the classic Star Control 2 will be right at home with the crazy cast of alien characters. Space stations hold an array of interactive lifeforms to talk to and how you choose to interact with them dictates how they treat you in return. You can also hail ships—even during combat—and talk to the captains. Dialogue is handled with a familiar dialogue tree, and certain responses can instantly lead to combat, while others to new and profitable opportunities.
rebelgalaxyinsert4Star Control 2 had a huge influence, probably most directly in the faction system and dealing with hostile-but-goofy alien captains, but also in tone I hope,” Travis explains. “The Wing Commander: Privateer and Freelancer games lend a lot of themes and dynamics. Sid Meier’s Pirates is also a huge influence.”

Another surprising influence is Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Unlike other space combat games, Rebel Galaxy takes directly after pirate ship-style combat. There’s no vertical controls to the space flight. Instead, the game focuses on broadside combat to create a thrillingly unique take on deep space battles. It’s an odd choice, but one that Double Damage is very excited about.

“The Black Flag-style ship battles were our solution to handle the size of our ships and the scope of our battles,” says Travis. “We think it’s easier to control multiple weapon systems and keep track of multiple enemies (some battles have you taking on 60 enemies at once!).
rebelgalaxyinsert1“It’s got a great balance of strategy in the way you equip your ship, tactics in your position and orientation in battle, and shooter-style action in aiming your broadsides while on the run.”

It’s also a ton of fun, and the broadside weapons have a surprising feeling of heft that makes the combat incredibly satisfying. The more simplified controls also help make the game more accessible for those not as into the 360 degrees of motion most games of this sort rely on.

Although the early version only contained a couple systems, there will be around a dozen star systems, each with about 10 to 20 space stations. “People playing our recent demo reported the first system has about 10 or 12 hours’ worth of content,” Travis says. “I can rush it faster, and some later systems might be smaller, but there’s a lot to explore!”
rebelgalaxyinsert2Double Damage is surprisingly not going the crowd funding route to finish the game. They have instead chosen to finish the game outright and release it, which seems almost bizarrely novel in these modern times.

“I’m not sure we feel comfortable asking the fans to fund the game,” Travis says when asked about this choice. “The pressure is brutal enough just releasing any game without the chance of letting down people who had faith in us. Plus, we’d have to manage the campaign, keep people updated, keep better books – all things we wanted to get away from when leaving Runic. Our intention was to finish the game completely and drop it on everyone like ‘Hey, look what we did!’“

Rebel Galaxy is already fun, distinct, and clearly on track to get even better. Double Damage is plowing ahead to get the game ready for its release on the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 later this year.