Game Title: ARK Survival Evolved
Company: Wild Card
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Retail | Digital
Battery Life: 2 – 3 hours
Cloud Save Support: Yes
Download: 11.6 GB

Open-World games have been a big topic for handhelds ever since the Nintendo Switch showed that it could run them pretty well when games like Skyrim started releasing. Since then, more gamers have pondered and more developers have attempted to bring their giant, open experiences over to the handheld, mostly with success.

Today, we’re going to talk about one game that has received a lot of criticism since before the game even launched. That game would be the huge open-world survival dinosaur game, ARK. It’s not exactly known for good performance on any console, including its smaller Mobile version.

But high criticism just makes me want to play the game and cover it even more. Here is my review of Ark: Survival Evolved for the Nintendo Switch!

Story

ark 2 - story

The story of Ark is a bit mysterious. It doesn’t have a “cutscenes/shown to you” storyline. It’s story is more told through it’s lore that you find in the open world and from the ending cutscene. As such, I can’t really say anything here without spoiling the end of the game.

So, there definitely is a story with a ton of lore, but it’s not told to you rather than hidden for you to find.

Gameplay

ark 3 - gameplay

Ark is an Open-World Survival RPG with a lot of crafting and taming elements. Across the entirety of the game, you’ll be collecting materials, crafting tools and equipment, and fighting off the harsh island and all of its giant dinosaurs that want to eat you.

First of all, this is Base Ark. You’ve got the original game’s map, The Island, and that’s about it. The DLC Expansions, Scorched Earth and Ragnarok, have yet to come out for the Switch version so, for now, we just have the main game.

The way Ark works is that you create a character, choose a PvP or PvE multiplayer server or local/single player server and are dropped onto a giant sandbox island. To be able to survive the harsh climate and all the hungry dinosaurs, you have to collect materials and craft tools, shelter, armor, and weapons to fend off pretty much everything the island is constantly throwing at you.

ark 4 - cac

Considering how much resource-collecting and crafting you do, think of Ark like a Minecraft RPG. You collect and craft anything and everything you can think of, and everything you do in the game nets you experience towards leveling up your stats and unlocking new recipes. You then use all of your created items to protect yourself and fight off all the hungry dinosaurs littered around the island that want to have Lunch with a side of You.

There’s also a pretty big taming aspect to the game. Not only can you fight and kill dinosuars, but you can also feed and tame them, turning that raptor that snuck up behind you into an ally that will murder anything and everything that gets in your way, or even turning a Pteranodon into a makeshift airplane to let you fly across the island instead of running across it.

And finally, there’s the “Main Quest” of Ark. Despite all the surviving and crafting you do, your main task is to locate the floating pillars around the island and use special Artifacts found in caves to summon and take down the game’s 3 major bosses in order to reach the Final Dungeon and see the game’s big story reveal. This isn’t easy to do, though, as each one requires special Artifacts found in caves very cleverly hidden across the map, turning each boss into entire-map runs and that’s assuming you are using guides and know exactly where these caves are.

ark 5 - muffin

This turns the game into a huge, repetitive grind. You build up your character, and then you’re sent to this side of the map, then the other side, and then the north side, and then this corner, and finally you can go back and use those items to summon the first boss. And then repeat that lengthy process for the next 3 bosses. Without a flying dinosuar, it’s a massive time-sink and feels very out-of-the-way and repetitive just to be repetitive.

The other problem is the fact that the game explains NOTHING to you. Unless you spend a significant amount of time in the main menu’s various options, you don’t know how to gather materials, what any of the buttons do, how to unlock new recipes, how to craft new items, how to attack enemies, how to get materials from enemies, how to tame dinosaurs. You don’t know how to do anything. I figured out most things thanks to IGN’s Starter Guide Article.

ark 6 - flying

Of course, if you ask the Ark community, you’ll likely get “That’s how survival games work. You’re not supposed to know how to do anything.” A small in-game tutorial would’ve gone a long way, instead of a game where you essentially either spend your first several hours pressing random buttons, hoping you figure something out before that Level 15 T-Rex crosses the river and kills you, making you lose all of your items and waiting for him to leave to go and retrieve them.

Now, once you get things down pat, there’s a pretty fun and lengthy game here. The first local server I created for Single Player lasted me a good 50-60 hours before I managed to reach and take out the Final Boss. And that’s with me trying to progress the main story without crafting many of the later weapons and constantly modifying my server’s settings to make the material grind significantly faster. Doing everything on default settings would likely take a lot longer.

Controls

Controlling the game I won’t say is -bad-, but I won’t say it’s good, either. It certainly works, but it would just have been nice to have been shown how it works.

You move around with the Left Analog Stick and move the camera with the Right Analog Stick. You use the D-Pad/Arrow Buttons and Face Buttons to access equipped items and weapons as you’re exploring, but the face buttons are also used for certain actions, like the A button for jumping.

Finally, the four triggers. The ZR trigger is used for attacking, and the ZL button is used for focused aiming or zooming for the game’s long-range weapons. The L and R buttons are also used for bringing up special menus.

Again, it works well, but it would’ve been nice to have been shown how this intricate control scheme worked instead of having to figure it out yourself.

Presentation

ark 7 - presy

Presentation, oh boy. Ark on the Switch looks decent, occasionally. To be honest, this game is rough on the eyes with its resolution constantly changing. You’ll get some sequences where it’ll look pretty good with a ton of detail on everything, and the next minute, it will look like a blurry mess, and then a middleground between the two. It isn’t consistent, hence why I say that it ‘occasionally’ looks decent. And this is in both Docked and Handheld Modes.

Next let’s get to performance, something Ark has never been good at on any platform. There are a lot of times when Ark runs at a pretty decent frame-rate, but those times don’t happen nearly enough. Once you get a bunch of enemies on-screen, the frame-rate tanks, especially in caves. Not even that dropped resolution helps keep the fps on a stable level unless there isn’t much near you, in terms of enemies.

Load Times and Crashing are more issues with performance. While Load Times are just a matter of patience, loading into a server, be it an online or offline one, takes quite a long time. I can start loading a server and go start making dinner in the next room and come back to have it still not loaded in.

And crashing is, well, crashing. I’ve had Ark crash on me in very random moments. Sometimes when the fps is pretty low and the game is freezing up and other times when the frame-rate is fine and I’m just waltzing around a field. But considering Ark doesn’t save very often, I’ve lost quite a lot of progress due to this issue.

Not to add more onto this is the fact that a lot of well-known Ark issues are still present in this game. From Artifacts not spawning in their respective caves to dinosaurs glitching into underground rivers and dying from it, this game is glitch city, requiring lots of reloads and resets to overcome some of the more annoying issues that have plagued this game since it was first made for PC.

Battery Life

Now let’s get out of all of the game’s performance issues and talk Battery Life. Here are my times, from 100% to 0%

Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 16 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 30 minutes

Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 36 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 49 minutes

About what I expected. Thankfully, this is pretty acceptable for a huge 3D game.

In conclusion, ARK: Survival Evolved brings the full ARK experience to handheld fans on the Switch. It’s got a lot of fun crafting, exploring, and dino-taming to be done, but it’s brought down by a ton of glitch and performance issues. It’s definitely playable for handheld fans, but you’ve gotta be really, REALLY patient with it.

Final Score: 4.5/10