I am a huge fan of survival games. I would rather play a multiplayer survival game where it is players versus the environment (PVE) over any kind of player versus player (PVP). I enjoy cooperating toward a goal. In the case of ARK: Survival Evolved, the goal is to survive, build structures, and tame dinosaurs to explore the world the developers constructed. I enjoy this so much that I have logged in over 1600 hours on the PC version across The Island and Ragnarök; then through the expansions of Scorched Earth, Aberration, and the most recent Extinction. If that’s not enough of a pedigree for you, then I don’t know what more I could do. Now that it’s on the Nintendo Switch I simply had to check it out!
I’m going to address the elephant in the room. This game absolutely cannot be compared with itself on different devices. I can’t fairly compare my custom-built PC to a Switch. The important thing for me is to let you know whether ARK can be fun on the Switch. There is already a myriad of problems with the PC version, so it might come as no surprise there are a host of issues with the Switch port. The reason the PC version is so playable, fun, and downright awesome is because of the incredible modding community out there. Steam, along with the server rental companies make it so easy to enjoy this game despite its technical glitches and problems. Modders have done the developers’ work in solving workarounds and creating new and awesome tools to make the game even better on the PC. In fact, the reason Skyrim is still so popular on the PC to this very day is because of the modding community. But let’s start talking about this cute little version of ARK for the Switch.
I’m not going to sugar coat this. The graphics have more issues than probably any other game to release on the system. Shadows will disappear and reappear within a couple of steps. The framerate will take noticeable hits and drop and the result is often stuttering movement. Accessing containers will cause momentary lapses in the ability to control your character. The trees and shrubbery will render and disappear close to you as you wander the wilderness. The pixelization of the environment is cringe-worthy and is not conducive to an immersive experience. Those of us who have played ARK since it was in early release, know that graphical issues and environment issues are just part of the game. Since it plays a little bit into the story, we just ignore these things. If a player just can’t accept imperfection, they go play something by EA, Ubisoft, Rockstar, or Bethesda because we all know their games are perfect, polished, and ready to go from day one. If you don’t understand sarcasm, that was an example for you to learn from.
Let’s focus on the important items, shall we? Character creation in ARK is not as good as Fallout or Skyrim. I’m pretty sure they are the most customizable characters out there as far as looks go. Here no matter what you choose, male or female, you’ll undoubtedly end up with Mr. and Mrs. UG-LY. There is nothing that can be done to make these characters beautiful. So, pimp them out, give them Popeye arms and legs, or make them look like Mike Teevee from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after he was stretched through the taffy puller. You can go as realistic or as creepy as you want. The point is that you have some options, even if the end results are less than eye pleasing. Keep in mind that if you make a short character, you will notice it in game, especially standing next to your shorter or taller friends. Think Legolas and Gimli from Lord of the Rings. I did have about a minute’s worth of trouble before I figured out which control sticks and buttons changed the sliders.
We know the graphics suffer, but how do they affect gameplay? Some of the dinos that will attack you, especially early on, can be obscured by their surroundings. This can cause some surprise attacks. To be fair, even with one of the more advanced PC rigs available, I still manage to get surprised and killed. ARK is about survival (heck it’s in its name). They make it as difficult a thing to do as possible. Everything on the island is trying to kill you. Even the environment. Just like in real life, snakes hide in water and shrubbery. The confident and large dinosaurs don’t hide, they just run around and eat everything they can get close to. You can always see or hear these things, so no worries there. If the graphics aren’t loading in quick enough while you are chasing or being chased, this can lead to you taking a swan dive off a cliff to your death. The graphics aren’t always to blame for this as sometimes we just leap before we look. Sometimes there’s sharp rocks at the bottom of your fall, other times there are some nice waters infested with megalodons waiting to devour you. Either way, you’re going to end up dead – a lot. So, all in all, the graphics aren’t really going to add to your death total nearly as much as just good old-fashioned stupid luck.
The music of ARK has always been fantastic and is something to be cherished. From the triumphantly strong intro to the excellent tracks to get eaten by, there is something good in store for your ears. Along with the excellent soundtrack are the oh-so-many eerie and scary ambient sounds that are intended to creep you out. There are effects that will help you detect that a giant millipede is bearing down on you, but you don’t get to hear those for very long. Creeping through the forest or walking along the beach, you will hear the distant screech of a pterodactyl or a guttural roar from the mighty T-Rex. Yes, in the game the birds are called Pteranodons, but they will always be pterodactyls to me.
Crafting and building are the bread and butter in ARK. On the Switch it appears to work about as well as it does in the vanilla version on the PC. Perfectly horrible. It’s hard to get things to line up and many times you must scrap your build thanks to one stupid little thing that won’t line up and snap into place. The best way to build is on a bird or something big. But early on you don’t have access to that. So, it’s just best to keep it small and layered so that dinos must break in through a perimeter to get you. Maybe a nice roof would be a good idea since there are flying jerks that like to steal your stuff.
I am a huge fan of ARK and I love it enough to devote a large chunk of my life to it. However, because I do play a modded version on private servers with friends, this version does not interest me as much as I had hoped. The idea of a portable experience is compelling, but it’s just not a game that plays on a console very well. You tie that in with the problems around building and the graphical issues that can cause more problems than just ugly scenery and you have a title that can be passed up by everyone except those who have wanted to play ARK and they only own a Switch. If you have any other way to play it, I would recommend getting it there. If I were to give the game itself a score for how much I personally enjoy it with the mods and all I have available today, it would get a 9. But, I am reviewing the Switch version, and as such it’s only worth considering for a small segment of the user base.
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
Unless portable ARK is the number one reason for picking it up, I would recommend getting it on something other than the Switch. PC is really the best way to play it, but the Switch does offer portability, which the PC would only give you with an expensive laptop. I did have fun playing on the Switch and taking it with me when I left. But wherever you do go, remember it’s an online game so you will need a decent connection to the web should you want to play on the official servers.
Jay has been an avid gamer since the Intellivision days. His hobbies include building PCs, 3D modeling and printing, and spending time with his children and dog.