Like the rest of the world, I too succumbed to the call of Odin and bought Valheim.
But unlike the rest of the world, here’s my hot take: Valheim ain’t special.
This isn’t to say it’s bad. Valheim is indeed clever in many ways… assuming that it’s austere design is intentional, and not a result of it being an Early Access game built by two dudes. Part of that cleverness is the fact that Valheim put a tutorial inside an otherwise open-world survival game. Just think about all the other survival games out there, and how they all proudly lean into their cold opens and lack of direction. I have spawned into ARK with a level 1 character on what was supposed to be a safe(ish) beach and was immediately eaten by a raptor. That may be par for the course for survival games, but it doesn’t have to be. And so it’s no wonder that Valheim with its exclamation mark raven has hooked millions of people into an experience they don’t quite realize is about to get very survivalish.
By which I mean the tedium of resource gathering.
After killing the first boss, the player unlocks the ability to craft a pickaxe with hard, deer god antlers and otherwise move on to the Bronze Age. Which requires the exploration of the Black Forest biome to find Copper and Tin deposits, which can be smelted into Bronze that can then be crafted into better armor and weapons. It is at this stage that I realized I could have been playing ARK, Conan, No Man’s Sky, Subnautica, The Long Dark, The Forest, 7 Days to Die, State of Decay, or Fallout 76. And probably should have instead, because Valheim is incredibly basic at this level. Whereas I could tame dinosaurs to speed up resource gathering in ARK, I’m stuck sloooooooooowly collecting 20 Copper Ore at a time, bringing it back to the Smelter, and eventually turning it into Bronze. Meanwhile, you get attacked by Greydwarves every minute and a half, punctuating the tedium with a different kind of tedium. Oh, and make sure you scour every hillside on your gathering missions so you can find instanced crypts and collect enough red cubes to create your Smelter and stuff.
Seriously though, I’m reading these other bloggers and then looking at my game and wondering if they have never played a survival game before. And maybe they really haven’t. There is nothing particularly approachable about ARK (etc), especially in comparison to Valheim. But thus far, it appears all the really interesting genre innovation died with Eikthyr.
For example, a lot of hay has been made regarding how Valheim is a survival game in which you don’t actually die to starvation/thirst. Supreme innovation! But what really happens is that you trade off ignoring food at the front end to becoming obsessed with it for the rest of the game, when the opposite is true in every other survival experience. In Valheim, both your HP and Stamina meters are dictated by what food you eat, and you must eat three different varieties to keep them topped off. You can get by with just cooked meat from boars and deer in the beginning, but later generic enemies can almost one-shot you if you aren’t eating cooked meat, neck tails, and then something else like Honey or Mushrooms. That is a lot more varied farming for food than I would need in ARK or 7 Days to Die once I’m past initial hump.
I will continue on playing for a bit and see if anything fundamentally changes after defeating the second boss. Based on writings of people who have already logged 60+ hours though, it sounds like it will be more of the same with a slightly new resource. Which is literally the formula for survival games, I know. Thing is, other survival games typically have an X factor that sets them apart from one another.
As of yet, I don’t see what that is with Valheim.
I have not had much time for gaming for the past week or so, much to my dismay, and the next few weeks aren’t looking either. And by “time for gaming” I mean uninterrupted time specifically. This uncertainty has changed my usual gaming M.O.
For example, I now float between a number of titles. Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a meaty title that I prefer to digest over time. It’s entirely possible to play it for 20 minutes or whatever, but you often lose the narrative in the process – it becomes much easier to start treating it as just another dungeon crawler than some kind of grand RPG.
Other times I will boot up ARK and collect resources until (in-game) nightfall and then get bored.
I have been actively trying not to play Oxygen Not Included, because while it is still engaging as hell, my base is hopelessly riddled with the equivalent of spaghetti code, and I get caught in priority loops that paralyze my planning. “I really need to get some plastic up and running. But that requires converting crude oil to petroleum. Maybe I could use that Iron Volcano to boil it? That means I need to prep the area to handle the 2000+ degree heat. Definitely need to solve the Polluted Water situation first though. Oh, and some Heavi-Watt Wire…”
This is not, strictly speaking, a very satisfying scenario. Each day, I am playing the game that I want to play in that moment and having fun. But it’s a shallow sort of fun. These sessions do not engage my mind, keeping me thinking at work about what I’m going to do when I get home. I very much prefer games that consume my life and take up residence in my mindspace. I need games that I look forward to playing, to the exclusion of all others.
And I have those games, technically. Just not the means (e.g. time) to satisfyingly play them.
Project Zomboid (PZ) is an Early Access, isometric post-zombie apocalypse survival game set in Kentucky. While the pared down graphics and isometric camera might give one pause, I was fairly excited to give the game a try. What I discovered is possibly one of the more “realistic” survival games out there… and that realism is way overrated. And less fun to play.
Honestly, I was actually surprised how much I disliked PZ almost immediately. After character creation, you take control inside the one for-sure non-zombie house – your own. From here, you go through houses and find… normal stuff. Fully stocked refrigerators and freezers. Ovens to cook raw meat. Working lights. Faucets that deliver fresh water directly to your mouth. While your character starts with no skills, you are fully capable of surviving quite a while just fine doing nothing.
That does not last for long, of course. Within a month or so, both the electricity and water will shut off permanently. So the game’s central conceit reveals itself: how long can you survive?
In the abstract, this is not dissimilar to, say, Oxygen Not Included, wherein there is no win condition per se. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find myself immediately repulsed by PZ, conceptually. When you wake up naked on a beach in ARK, there is a very obvious, grokkable progression path towards survival. All of that is turned on its head with PZ. I found myself ransacking houses for supplies, and then asking myself why.
The answer is supposed to be “to prepare for self-sufficiency and safety after the lights and water turn off,” but that feels like such a weird, abstract endgame. It’s definitely unique in this particular genre, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like it’s probably unique for a reason, e.g. it feels bad. You aren’t building up to self-sufficiency, you’re building down. It is also harder to feel any particular sense of urgency without metagaming the entire experience.
I dunno. There is technically a starting game mode which takes place 6 months after the start of the zombie apocalypse, which features the water and lights already off, and most things already looted. In other words, a more typical survival game experience. But after spending a few hours with the base game, I don’t know that I feel it.
This is definitely going to be one of those Early Access titles that needs more time in the oven.
First up, everything that Jason Schreier from Kotaku reported was true: Fallout 76 is an online survival RPG. Second, my Concern Meter has been dialed to 11 since the E3 presentation.
As I said before, I am all onboard with a Fallout survival game. Exploring the wasteland and looting all the things consists of about 80% of my gameplay in this series, and I am currently on an extreme survival game kick the likes of which I have not experienced since my high school JRPG days. All of that sounds fantastic to me.
What was considerably less fantastic was this bit:
Bethesda Game Studios, the award-winning creators of Skyrim and Fallout 4, welcome you to Fallout 76, the online prequel where every surviving human is a real person. Work together – or not – to survive. Under the threat of nuclear annihilation, you’ll experience the largest, most dynamic world ever created in the legendary Fallout universe.
That is direct from Bethesda marketing material, and you can hear Todd Howard say it several times during the E3 presentation. Oh, and here is Todd with the final nails to finish that RPG coffin:
“You cannot [play offline]. Even if you are playing by yourself doing quests, you will see other players.”
“There are no NPCs. […] There are still robots and terminals and holotapes.”
“We want a little drama there [with PvP/griefers] without it ruining your game.”
Sometimes I wonder whether any of these people have ever played a videogame before.
So there it is. Apparently there will be private servers at some point in the future, complete with modding capabilities. Considering that would likely compete with their own (presumed) microtransactions, I won’t be holding my breath. I haven’t actually heard anything about microtransactions, for the record, so maybe they will surprise us by keeping things honest. Howard did admit that the modding scene is always where their games end up in the long term.
In the Reddit thread where I found the interview clip above, there was this amusing exchange:
So what do you do then?
Do quests and build stuff with friends.
Quests from who? Doing what? With no NPC’s who’s going to give a quest, or at least one that’s meaningful. How am I supposed to give a fuck about the quests if theres no reason in behind them
It’s a fair question, especially if someone has never played a survival game before. The answer: it doesn’t matter. ARK has no NPCs or quests and I racked up 136 hours playing by myself on a local server. For reference, my /played time on Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4 are 128 and 96 hours, respectfully. Granted, the quality of those gameplay hours differs significantly – I can recall specific quests and epic moments from the Fallout games in a way I couldn’t describe cutting down the thousandth tree for wood in ARK – but the point is that entertainment can occur without there being a reason for it.
Plus, you know… Minecraft. That is a thing that people do.
Based just what we know today and random musings, here’s what I’m thinking:
- Basically Fallout ARK minus the taming
- Ghouls/robots/etc = dinosaurs
- Overseer quest is extended tutorial to get you to visit all six maps
- Each zone unlocks specific progression crafting stations/items
- Overseer is a robot/AI and possibly the Navi to your Link
- All quests are passive, e.g. go here, find this, activate X, defend Y
- No direct quest giver NPC, no factions
- World boss spawns, and public group quests are frequent
- Radiant-esque quests via Note Board or similar
- Might find magazines/notes that lead to mini-dungeons
- The six zones are not contiguous; fast travel at the edges/specific locations
- Looting/scavenging is a big deal for building supplies, main motivator for exploring
- CAMP system will reduce base griefing a little bit
- Pack up your base before logging off; crops (etc) probably won’t grow though
- Unable to spam buildings across the map to block locations
- A ton of people setting up hostile turret bases near newbie areas though
- XP and levels and Perks and Skills, like normal Fallout
- “Jobs” in the trailer correspond to group-based roles (scout, tank, etc)
- Always “dozens” of players per map, per server
- Expect a lot of activity near best resource spawn locations
- Nukes aren’t necessarily for griefing – they create endgame locations
- Getting codes to unlock nukes is its own mini-progression
- Extra hard enemies/bosses spawn in nuked area
- Some kind of endgame resource spawns only there
- Radiation requires loot/crafting grind just to survive brief trips inside
- No private servers at launch
- “Progression follows you” means getting OP on private, then griefing public
- Or farming Power Armor quickly, then handing it to your friends
- Alternatively, allow private servers but character cannot migrate
Most of that is idle speculation, but we can come back to it once more details have been released.
[Edit: Updated Youtube link, since first interview was taken down]
The big news is that Bethesda teased the next Fallout entry: Fallout 76.
People were understandably confused by the naming convention. “What happened to Fallouts 5-75?” The mirth turned to trepidation when Jason Schreier from Kotaku tweeted:
Well, as of this afternoon, Jason tightened the thumbscrews further with this article:
When Bethesda announced Fallout 76 with a teaser trailer this morning, promising more information at E3, it was easy to assume that the new game would be a traditional single-player role-playing game. But Fallout 76 is in fact an online survival RPG that’s heavily inspired by games like DayZ and Rust, according to three people familiar with the project.
This could be a total disaster. An unmitigated, unrelenting disaster.
…or this could be the best thing of all time. Either/or.
No, but seriously, it’s difficult to assess the firestorm going on in my head right now. Am I disappointed that we’re not seeing a straight-up Fallout 5 right now? Sure. But take a moment and remember back to Fallout 4 and Fallout 3 (and New Vegas for that matter) and ask yourself: how important was the main story, really? Conversely, what were the best parts of this series for you?
For me, it was precisely the post-apocalyptic exploration bits that I love; the mini-vignettes in the form of skeletons or computer logs; the hoarding of thousands of pounds of tin cans and bottle caps; looking at my map, seeing the quest marker, and decidedly going in the opposite direction. While there were never many traditional survival elements to the Fallouts – baring the New Vegas option, which did not change much mechanically – the game setting just had a certain… je ne sais quoi which led me to ransacking every ramshackle shack in the wasteland, in spite of it being totally unnecessarily. Fallout 4’s base-building components were… well, also unnecessary, but at least gave those thousands of pieces of debris a purpose.
So, in short, my body is ready for this.
In fact, I have never been more ready. The only reason why I don’t own Metal Gear: Survive or Conan: Exiles is because they haven’t been bundled/deeply discounted yet. I only uninstalled ARK because it takes up 100+ GB on my limited SSD. I only stopped playing 7 Days to Die because I didn’t want to burn all of my interest until at least patch A17 is released (which is apparently in July). I don’t really advertise it, but my own personal dream game elevator pitch is “Fallout 3 meets Silent Hill – post-apoc psychological survival FPS.”
Now, it’s entirely possible that the devs won’t be able to thread all the needles:
Originally prototyped as a multiplayer version of Fallout 4 with the goal of envisioning what an online Fallout game might look like, Fallout 76 has evolved quite a bit over the past few years, those sources said. It will have quests and a story, like any other game from Bethesda Game Studios, a developer known for meaty RPGs like Skyrim. It will also feature base-building—just like 2015’s Fallout 4—and other survival-based and multiplayer mechanics, according to those sources. One source cautioned that the gameplay is rapidly changing, like it does in many online “service” games, but that’s the core outline.
How exactly does one have both survival multiplayer and quests? Is this going to be a stripped-down The Elder Scrolls Online? Jason mentioned in the comments that “Yeah I’ve also heard people who know the game make comparisons to Ark, fwiw,” so I could imagine it being… well, ARK with quests. But are they going to all be radiant quests ala Skyrim? Can people kill the quest-givers? Can you create your own private (single-player) servers? Will there be modding available?
Details will emerge in the next few weeks, for sure. In the meantime, I’m loving it. Even if Fallout 76 is a total disaster, it has solidified in me the understanding of something I wasn’t quite able to express. Namely, that I want a Fallout ARK. The RPG elements and VATS and such are traditional features that help define the narrative a bit, but I don’t view them as essential anymore. And maybe they never were. I just love that setting, and that gameplay loop of exploring the wasteland.
War never changes, but perhaps our appreciation of it can.
I’m running out of space on my gaming SSD, which is 500 GB.
The primary offender is Ark, which at this moment is sitting at 104 GB. I have The Center and Ragnarok “expansions” installed too, but I mostly recall that the original install was north of 60 GB by itself. There is actually another expansion that is coming out soon, that I confess to be mildly interested in. Not sure that I would pay full price for it, whatever that ends up being, but I find it unlikely I would reinstall the whole game all over again in the future, just to play the expansion.
FFXIV is still installed, of course. That’s around 21.4 GB right now, as I do not have either of the expansions. Deleting it would effectively end the FFXIV experiment for good. Which gets more tempting by the day, honestly, as I have discovered that questing is no longer sufficient to reach necessary level milestones. Old news, I’m sure, but it’s still a little surprising that in such a story-centric MMO, one must explicitly farm dungeons, Leves, or FATES in order to progress. Side quests do not even remotely help anymore.
GW2 is sitting at around 35 GB. Just as before, I do not own either of the new expansions. However, I have been rather consistently logging on each day for the daily chest, for about the last three months. Each month means 10 Tomes of Knowledge, which is 10 free levels you can distribute around. I could probably power-level crafting professions to bypass any grind I wanted to, but I enjoy the ease and utility of the Tomes. I plan on coming back to GW2 for a bit once the expansion prices come back down.
WoW (43.7 GB) remains installed, of course. I don’t remember if I ever uninstalled the game; it’s possible it has persisted in some contiguous form since TBC, albeit copied a few times. In any case, that portion of my hard drive is reserved, even if it’s been almost a year since I’ve logged in.
Overwatch (13.8 GB) is a bit more dicey. The Halloween skins caused me to log in for the first time in years, but the game does not scratch any itches for me anymore. It’s a small-team arcade hero shooter… and that’s it. This one can probably go.
I bring all this up because there are games on my time horizon in which storage space will be relevant. The biggest one is Destiny 2, which requires 68 GB. Expansions to any of the MMOs will be 10-15 GB. If Nier: Automata ever goes back on sale, that will be 30-40 GB. I have a few Steam RPGs purchased but never played that clock in the ~30 GBs range as well. Deleting anything I am not actively playing is an option for a reasonable human being, but my gaming whims tend to brook no argument – I either play what I want to play right then, or the alternatives seem a waste of time.
Ark is the most reasonable sacrifice here, as over 100 GB for one game is truly absurd. But will I ever download it again? Hmm.
A lot of the fun of survival games is learning from your early pain and suffering, figuring out how everything works, then coming back and steamrolling those same challenges. If you are just looking for some early-game direction, I recommend reading the Spoiler-Free Beginner’s Guide. It gives you a leg up, but not the whole body.
The rest of this guide? The whole damn body. Read at your own risk of adventure.
General Base Considerations
First things first: build two beds. You can stick two practically on top of each other, while still fitting in a 1×1 Thatch hut. Beds have a ~5 minute respawn cooldown, but it’s per bed, so having two will effectively remove the cooldown. This is a good idea whether you’re at an outpost or your main base.
Second… go ahead and double or triple up on everything, wherever you are. A stack of 200 Metal Ore takes over 30 minutes to smelt in one Refining Forge. Split that stack across two Forges, and now it only takes 15 minutes. Chances are good if you managed to collect a whole stack of Metal Ore, the extra 125 Stone and 65 Hide for Forge materials are not going to be a limiting factor here.
Similarly, if you’ve unlocked the Preserving Bin and have a dino capable of harvesting a bunch of meat, go ahead and throw down 3-4 Campfires at a time and light them all up. Stacks of Cooked Meat are always going to be useful, either as general walking-around food or Cooking Pot materials, and the collected Charcoal will useful for Gunpowder.
Third, take a moment to reflect on your base layout and location. How far are you from water? Are there strategic resources nearby? Is this area defensible? There is nothing particularly stopping you from recreating a primary base elsewhere… other than the logistics of either moving all your old stuff and/or tamed dinos. Better to get it right the first time though.
As far as layout goes, there are some obvious-in-retrospect ways of arranging things. For example, you are going to want most of your crafting stations and containers within reaching distance of each other without moving – this will allow you to move hundreds of pounds of resources between containers, e.g. double your max carrying capacity. Likewise, you will want there to be room for you to do the same thing when removing items from tamed dinos to your containers.
This was my base setup originally:
While everything was within reach, I actually had to hop over my Smithy to get out of the circle, and I was constantly running out of room for stuff. After watching some Youtube videos of other setups though, I realized that yeah, you can arrange your Large Storage Containers like this instead:
Four times the storage and more room to move around. I removed the Refining Forge entirely, because my main base is nowhere near natural Metal deposits, and it’s much more efficient smelting on-site, and either bringing back the Metal Ingots or finished products.
Speaking of that, where should you be building a base? The answer is: wherever you want.
But, really, here are some other considerations:
The above map displays Metal Nodes around The Island map, along with the Obelisks. No matter what you plan on doing in Ark, you will need Metal eventually, for weapons, ammo, structures, tools, or even just saddles. It’s not impossible to build your main base over near, say, the Red Obelisk, but you will be performing some serious long-distance trucking to get those ingots.
Another consideration? Check where beacons come down. That’s right, there are specific, set locations where beacons spawn on the regular. Most of them will be filled with garbage, especially if you build up in the southern areas of the Island. But, hey, free is free. If it’s all the same to you, I’d suggest going over to that next ridge where they spawn before setting down roots.
Finally, consider where some more esoteric resources might be available. Giant Beaver Dams, for example, are great sources of Cementing Paste and Wood. While the specific spawn locations are not fixed, there are some rough guides. Giant Bee Hives can spawn pretty much anywhere, and can technically be moved, but if you manage to find one near a potential base location, that area should be considered prime real estate. Oh, and if you’ll be needing Sap, maybe choose something closer to the Redwood Forest area.
When you are just starting out, just about everything is scary and can kill you. Once you figure out “the trick” for specific tiers of dinos though, they start becoming speed bumps instead of brick walls. Less scary, but can still kill you if you’re sloppy.
Here are the tiers:
Slingshot: This tier encompasses any dino encounter that can be defeated by simply backpedaling at normal speed. This includes any passive creature like the Dodo, but also more dangerous ones (once provoked) like the Trike and Turtle (Carbonemys), provided they could catch you. Which they shouldn’t be able to.
Spear: The simple spear provides enough knockback to keep the target at bay until death. Quintessential example being the Dilo (Dilophosaurus), aka the spitting one. Insects and most fish belong to this group too. Troodan, notably, do not, since they can leap back at you.
Bola: Too fast or large to be affected by the spear’s knockback, but small enough to be rooted by a Bola. Most common contender in this tier is the Raptor. While the Bola can trivialize encounters with these dinos, keep in mind that it takes a few seconds to wind up the throw, and most of these dinos are especially dangerous if they get the jump on you on the ground.
Platform: Encompassing the rest of Ark’s carnivores unaffected by the Bola, you will likely need to be on a platform (e.g. cliff face, rock, structure) in order to safely take it out. Alternatively, sometimes a platform can be substituted with a Wooden Spike Wall instead. This works well with creatures like the otherwise deadly Therizinosaur, who will happily attack the 3500 HP wall while you re-feather its head with arrows.
All of the above assumes you are trying to take down a dino unassisted, using common weapons around the level of the beast you are encountering. Facing down a Carno on foot with nothing but a Crossbow is scary. Doing so while wielding a Pump-Action Shotgun and 400+ HP with armor? Much less so. Hell, add two Trikes to your bodyguard detail and you can take out a large chunk of the food chain using just a Spear yourself.
Taming Dinos and Utility
It always bear repeating: Ark is a dinosaur taming game. What balance exists in the game is dependent upon it; a lone survivor isn’t one for long. Here is some early-game progression:
- Unlock the Slingshot at level 5. Go tame a few Dilos.
- Unlock the Wooden Club at level 8 and Bola at level 9. Tame some Raptors.
- Farm Hides for a while, using your Bow (level 10) and/or dino buddies.
- Unlock the Trike Saddle at level 16, craft it, and go tame a Triceratops.
- Unlock Mortar and Pestle (level 6) if you haven’t already, and use the Trike to collect hundreds of nacroberries in less than a minute so you can turn them into Narcotics.
- Tame another Trike, and leave both parked in your base for protection.
- Unlock Tranquilizer Arrows at level 21. Enjoy your ability to tame damn near anything.
Along with their normal characteristics, many dinos have “secret” talents that elevate their value far beyond normal. For the most part, you will need to have a saddle created for the dino in order to take advantage of their skills, but sometimes you do not. Here is a non-exhaustive list, based on the level at which you can craft a saddle for them:
- (Lvl 6) Phiomia: Force-feeding Stimberries will create Medium Feces on demand.
- (Lvl 16) Trike: Excellent tank/base defense, gathers 100s of berries at a time.
- (Lvl 18) Raptor: Best early-game mount, and protector while exploring.
- (Lvl 20) Equus: e.g. wild horse, has reduced Stone weight and is fast. Saddle acts as Mortar & Pestle.
- (Lvl 30) Iguanodon: Infinite Sprint on four legs, high jumping on two. Can turn plant into seeds.
- (Lvl 31) Mammoth: Wood gathering machine, and makes Wood weigh 75% less.
- (Lvl 34) Doedicurus: Stone gathering machine, and makes Stone weigh 75% less.
- (Lvl 36) Ankylo: Metal gathering machine, and makes Metal weigh 75% less.
- (Lvl 37) Sabertooth: Efficient at gathering Hides, Chitin, and Keratin. Decent speed.
- (Lvl 38) Pteranodon: First flying mount. Pretty speedy too. Can grab tiny dinos.
- (Lvl 40) Beelzebufo: e.g. giant toad, huge jumps, turns insects into Cementing Paste, fast in water.
- (Lvl 43) Pelagornis: Flyer that can land on water. Harvests fish easily. Fishing Pole from saddle.
- (Lvl 61) Castoroides: e.g. giant beaver, Wood gathering machine, gathering Wood automatically while Wandering. Wood, Stone, Thatch, and Fiber weigh 50% less. Fast swimmer. Saddle is mobile Smithy.
- (Lvl 62) Argentavis: Fantastic flyer with lots of Stamina and Carry Weight. Can pick up most medium-sized dinos, including Raptors, Titanboas, etc. Best everyday flying mount.
- (Lvl 69) Therizinosaur: Insanely versatile, bordering on OP. High health, high DPS. Left-click harvests Meat and Wood incredibly fast. Right-click harvests 100s of Fiber from bushes. C attack harvests Hide and Chitin from corpses, Berries from bushes. Each level-up also allows greater specialization in harvesting types (Delicate vs Power) via Interact Menu.
As you might expect, higher levels give you access to better options. Do note however, that your ability to actually find and/or tame these dinos are not assured at the level you could. For example, while you unlock the saddle at level 34, the Doedicurus curls up into a defensive ball after losing health, which makes knocking them out difficult without having Tranq Darts (unlocked at level 62). One of the few ways around that is to use a Beelzebufo’s attack, which adds Torpor while dealing little damage. But even then, the Beelzebufo saddle is only unlocked six levels after the other one.
Then there is the matter of finding these dinos. The Mammoth and Equus are relatively low level tames, but they are not commonly found in the South, which is where you might be spawning as a newer player. So, if you want to be taming creatures when you unlock their saddle, you might have to, ahem, hoof it yourself and find them.
Cooking Like a Pro
There are two types of recipes: Standard and Custom. It’s a good idea to utilize both.
All recipes below require there to be water in the cookpot, in form of a filled waterskin.
- Enduro Stew (+melee, +healing): Mejo (10), Carrot (5), Potato (5), Stimulant (2), Cooked Meat (9)
- Focal Chili (+crafting, +movement): Mejo (10), Yellow/Blue/Red (20), Lemon (5), Cooked Meat (9)
- Lazarus Chowder (+underwater): Mejo (10), Corn (5), Potato (5), Narcotic (2), Cooked Meat (9)
- Calien Soup (+hot area): Mejo (10), Yellow/Red (20), Lemon (5), Stimulant (2)
- Fria Curry (+cold area): Mejo (10), Blue (20), Corn (5), Carrot (5), Narcotic (2)
- Medical Brew (+40 HP): Red (20), Narcotic (2)
- Sweet Vegetable Cake (special): Fiber (25), Corn (2), Carrot (2), Potato (2), Stimulant (4), Sap (4), Giant Bee Honey (2)
As you might expect, the feasibility of having a ready stock of most of these items is dependent on having a robust Greenhouse situation and/or playing on a server with Crop Growth cranked up. Medical Brew is the exception, needing only some Narcotics and 20 Tintoberries, both of which can be harvested enmass by a Trike or other herbivore. The catch is the 2 hour spoilage timer, although it lasts longer when refrigerated.
While custom recipes might sound both cool and complicated, it is really neither. The steps are:
- Craft a blank Note.
- Place Note and ingredients in Cooking Pot.
- Click Make Recipe
- Ensure Recipe note is in Cooking Pot with ingredients, then start fire.
The final output is an item with a percentage of the effects of the individual ingredients. What percentage that ends up being is based on your Crafting Speed stat at Step 3 only. A full optimization would require a level-capped player to consume a Mindwipe Tonic, place all of their upgrades in Crafting Speed, consume a Focal Chili, and then pen some recipes before using another Mindwipe Tonic to get their stats back. Thereafter, whoever uses that recipe will get the full benefits no matter their Crafting Speed. Because that makes sense.
For the rest of us, the “hidden” benefits of custom recipes (with the help of Focal Chili) still makes things worthwhile. For example, a custom recipe for 20 Raw Meat creates an item that grants 43 Food and 32 HP. That may seem pitiful considering a single piece of Cooked Meat restores 20 Food and 8 HP. The upside is that the custom recipe doesn’t need to be cooked, weighs 0.3 pounds, and lasts for 48 hours in your inventory, rather than 20 minutes.
So, really, custom recipes are mainly about saving space and avoiding spoilage. Did your Mammoth get bogged down with hundreds of pounds of berries when it was harvesting lumber? A 10 lb stack of Tintoberries can get refined down to a 1.1 lb paste that grants you 53 Food and 15 HP.
Bonus tip: Stimberries and Stimulants are great for giving a Stamina boost at the expense of thirst. Cut out the downside by creating a custom food (as opposed to drink) recipe of, say, 50 Stimberries. That’ll give you 27 Food, 8 HP, and ~89 Stamina back without the thirst. Just note that these gains are capped at basically 1/second, but it should still aid in your sprint out of danger.
Harvesting Specialty Resources
Beyond the basic building resources like Stone and Wood, there exists a lot of specialty resources to craft more advanced items. Gathering these special resources is sometimes a pain, depending on the method. Here are some of the best.
The default method of creating Cementing Paste is x4 Chitin/Kreatin + x8 Stone. This is incredibly inefficient though, as it would require 200 Chitin/400 Stone for an Assault Rifle, or even 2400 Chitin/4800 Stone for a Wooden Tree Platform.
The best and easiest source are wild Beaver Dams. These are built by Castoroides, and are located on land or in the water. While accessing the inventory of a Beaver Dam will cause all nearby Castoroides to go hostile, each one usually contains 150+ Cementing Paste. Since items do not respawn inside containers, it’s best to loot (and drop) the rest, so that the Beaver Dam collapses and another one can spawn later.
The second best source is from the Beelzebufo mount. Using Right-Click against insects will result in 5-15 Cementing Paste apiece, along with some Chitin. The biggest challenge is finding a stable enough insect population. The good news is that the mount is adept at navigating the same areas where Beaver Dams spawn, so one can double-dip in farming.
Third, there is a “passive” form of collection: from tamed Achatina, e.g. giant snail. These creatures will slowly accumulate both Achatina Paste (same properties as Cementing Paste) and Organic Polymer up to 100 apiece in their inventories. The catch is that Achatinas only eat Sweet Vegetable Cake, which requires both Sap and Giant Bee Honey, which are themselves specialty resources.
The default method of Polymer production is x2 Cementing Paste + x2 Obsidian. This isn’t too terrible by itself, although it requires the construction of a Fabricator, which uses Gasoline as its fuel. Organic Polymer can be substituted for Polymer in all situations, and the Ghillie Suit actually requires Organic Polymer specifically in its construction.
Note: You will want a Wooden Club or Metal Sword for harvesting Organic Polymer. A tamed Pelagornis will also work effectively. Hatchets or Picks will give you none.
The best and easiest farming target are Kairuku, aka penguins. Each iceberg in the NW corner of the Island has a dozen or so, and they react basically like the Dodo when attacked or threatened. Tragically, the babies have the most Organic Polymer, so club them first.
If you are far from the North, the alternative source will be from Hesperornis, aka duck-like birds. You can typically find them swimming around shorelines and rivers hunting for fish. While they have zero offensive capabilities, note that that they frequently exist in otherwise dangerous areas. Keep an eye out for Sarcos, Spinos, and other river terrors.
Considering that Organic Polymer spoils extremely quickly (~30 minutes) and is unaffected by most preservation techniques, be sure and have the other materials/blueprints ready to go for when you collect this resource. The last thing you want to happen is collecting a bunch and then scrambling to find the other materials.
Black rocks on mountains. Go mine them.
There are several different sources of Oil in Ark, with different levels of ease of acquirement.
The first would be the Oil Rocks up in the NW corner of the Island, and scattered about in other snowy regions. While the environment is hostile, mining them is almost as easy as clubbing seals for Organic Polymer. The tricky part is actually traveling all the way up there, so be sure to stock up via boat or wagon train once you’ve made the effort.
Second would be the Oil nodes located in many places in the ocean. These are usually closer to home, but often require long dives in hostile waters. Cook some Lazarus Chowder and bring a dino that can breathe underwater. Underwater caves are another source, but chances are that you won’t be needing this guide if you are advanced enough to be plumbing those depths.
Third, is from killing/harvesting Trilobites and Leeches. You actually get a respectable amount of Oil from each kill, but the trouble is actually finding a suitable amount of targets. In that regard, be sure and stop what you are doing and kill them if you happen to spot any, no matter what else you might have been doing.
Finally, there is a quasi-passive source: Dung Beatles. These animals have to be tamed and brought out of the caves they inhabit, then be fed a constant source of Feces (tame a Phiomia) before it is turned into Fertilizer and a bit of Oil. While it ain’t nothing, Medium Animal Feces is turned into x2 Fertilizer and x4 Oil after 15 minutes. This might be enough Oil to keep the lights on (via Gasoline), but not for those endgame Industrial stations that need 400+ to craft.
Sap/Giant Bee Honey
These are combined because the only real reason you might need either is for Sweet Vegetable Cake, so they go hand-in-hand.
For Sap, there is no reasonable way to avoid crafting at least one Tree Sap Tap. Then you have to specifically place them high up in a Redwood Tree. Being able to collect the Sap will require either a Wooden Tree Platform (600 Cementing Paste!) or constructing your own janky scaffolding out of Wooden Pole and ladders. Once that’s done, visit it periodically to collect your 20 Sap.
Giant Bee Honey can be harvested from Giant Bee Hives, tamed or wild. The taming process to set up your own Hives in convenient locations is quite difficult, and requires a lot of prep work – Bug Repellent, Ghillie Suit, hand-feeding Rare Flowers to the Queen Bee, etc. If you don’t need a constant source of Sweet Vegetable Cake, it might be better to just note the locations of wild hives and swipe their honey when needed; a Ghillie Suit and fast escape mount are recommended.
Ark is a fascinating sandbox experience, even when just played in Single-Player. No matter how powerful you end up feeling, the game world is ready to remind you to take it seriously or suffer the sometimes absurd consequences. While even a low-level Argentavis mount can effectively (albeit slowly) murder the meanest Alpha predators with impunity, all it takes is one Microraptor sailing out of trees to knock you off your mount into a pool of Megapiranha before you realize how dangerous the world still is.
Hopefully the above guide is enough to give you the edge necessary to survive out there. Or at least live that much longer.
There is no tutorial or hand-holding in Ark. The game is unfair, the world hostile, and the dinosaurs are without remorse. While that is part of the appeal of the game for some people, it can also serve as a barrier to others who might otherwise enjoy the experience. That’s the purpose of this guide: provide enough hand-holding to get you out of the nest safely, and into free-fall.
Whether you flap your wings afterwards, is up to you.
When you first start Ark, you will have to choose a general starting area to spawn into the world, but the specific location will be random within that area. As the game text mentions, some areas are easier than others. While you cannot do much about the randomness at the beginning, one of the first things you will want to accomplish is removing the randomness by building a bed, and NOT a Sleeping Bag. Beds have infinite respawns, sleeping bags have one respawn.
Note: You can build more than one bed. In fact, I highly recommend you build at least two, even in your first starter base. There is a respawn cooldown of 5 minutes, but that’s per bed. This will allow you a 2nd chance at collecting your stuff if the first naked run doesn’t work out.
At the beginning, think Minecraft: punch trees for Wood and Thatch, collect rocks from the ground, then craft a Stone Pick. Use that to collect some more material to craft a Stone Hatchet. Between the two, the Hatchet will collect more building material (Wood, Stone, Hide) from an object, whereas the Pick will collect “special” material better (Flint, Metal, Meat). For the majority of the game, the Hatchet is where it’s at.
By the way, save every piece of Flint, Charcoal, and Spoiled Meat you find/create. You’ll be using those quite a bit for mid-game stuff.
Dying in Ark is practically an everyday experience in the beginning, especially before you get to taming a lot of dinos. When you die, everything that you were carrying will drop to the ground into a backpack, which will despawn in 15 minutes. Additionally, your backpack will (usually) have a beam of green light shooting out of it, to assist in recovering your gear.
There are some key things to note here, given the above. The biggest is the fact that whatever killed you will still be hanging around your corpse. Dinos will wander around randomly, but they frequently do not roam large distances, and certainly not within a tidy 15-minute timeframe. So, you will need to make a decision about whether or not it’s worth trying to grab your stuff. That decision will also be informed about whether or not you can grab your stuff naked, which is your immediate condition having just respawned.
Here is a good breakdown off “the rules” then:
- Only carry what you are willing to lose.
- Die in a convenient location.
- Don’t be greedy.
The first rule is just a basic philosophy that you will need to embrace in Ark. Do you really need to be running around in your best armor and weapons all the time? Are you sure that carrying two rafts in your inventory is a good idea when exploring a cave? Unlike a lot of games, the basic armor and weapons of Ark are still viable for a large portion of encounters you’ll face. Once you have tons of resources and duplicates, sure, go out there in your Sunday best. But only do that if you’re not afraid of losing what you got.
A convenient location to die would be one in which is farther from whatever killed you to begin with, but easy to access for your replacement. Sometimes this means throwing yourself from a cliff, sometimes this means not throwing yourself from a cliff. Similarly, forcing that Carno to chase you into the water means there will be a buffer to snag your stuff back. Then again, there could be a swarm of sharks in the area too. Try your best, but also acknowledge that sometimes you will need to cut your losses and move on.
Finally, being greedy means hitting up one last node despite having already collected more than you need. Every moment away from home is a risk, and nothing in your inventory is really yours until it makes it back into container. Besides, you’ll likely have more than one death due to something dumb like Compys who ate your ankles because you gathered 20 more pounds of Metal Ore and became too encumbered to run away.
By default, E is the button to interact with just about everything: containers, campfires, dino inventories, etc. This will get annoying over time though, because pressing E around a campfire will light/smother the flames rather than giving you access to the Cooked Meat you wanted. Get in the habit of pressing F to access inventories instead. Pressing F will directly access the inventory of your target, up to and including a dino you might be riding.
This might seem silly to mention, but this is a dinosaur taming game. When I first started playing, I didn’t tame anything until level 21 when I unlocked Tranquilizer Arrows. This was a mistake. You can and should be taming dinos as soon as you have your basics covered, e.g. hut with some storage and a bed.
Here are the steps to taming:
- Render a dino unconscious.
- Feed it food it likes.
Some dinos are tamed “passively,” which means skipping step 1). For the vast majority though, you need to knock them out. You accomplish that by dealing Torpor damage. The early game options available for inducing Torpor are: Slingshot, Wooden Club, and Tranq Arrows. While it will be quite a challenge to knock out fast-moving predators like Raptors with something like a Slingshot, there are a lot of dinos that are fairly slow and can be kited around. In the early game, for example, Dilos make excellent guard dogs. And if you manage to make it on top of a rock or cliff that the dino can’t reach, you can typically knock out just about anything.
Once unconscious, go up to the dino and access it’s inventory by pressing E or F. Transfer food from your inventory to theirs, either by left-clicking for individual items, or by pressing T to transfer the entire stack. While there is special “kibble” that can be used to speed up the process, you can stick with raw meat for carnivores and berries for the herbivores. Special note for the latter though, do NOT give them Stimberriers – eating those can make the dino wake up faster.
Depending on the server settings, taming dinos can take a long time. To keep them unconscious, you’re going to need to keep their Torpor meter up. Beating them with a Wooden Club can do this, but any damage taken will reduce Taming Effectiveness, which in turn makes the dino gain fewer bonus levels. Typically, you’ll want to use either Narcoberries or Narcotics. Place either one into the dino’s inventory, hover over the icon and press E. This will “force-feed” the dino the item. The Torpor gain will not be immediate, but rather gradual. Depending on the dino, you may need to force-feed them quite a few.
Note: many older videos/guides used the term “Remote Use Item,” which doesn’t exist in the game anymore. Pressing E on an item in the dino’s inventory does the same thing.
Once you have tamed a dino, there are several means by which you can control them. If you have a saddle available, you can directly mount them and ride around. Some dinos are more useful than others as actual means of transportation though. Raptors are extremely fast, for instance, whereas Trikes are extremely slow. That said, saddles give you access to a given dino’s special talents, which sometimes more than makes up for its other deficiencies. For example, that same slow Trike can harvest 100s of berries at a time from nearby bushes, but only if you are riding it with a saddle.
Dinos are still extremely useful even without a saddle. If they are on Follow Mode and Attack MY Target, they will, well, follow you around and help kill your foes. This can and will save your life many a time if you happen to stumble into a bad situation you were not prepared for. If you are trying to tame additional dino pals though, be sure to switch your current bodyguards to Passive.
Surviving the Early Game
As mentioned previously, Ark is unfair. But it is unfair in fairly consistent ways. There will be times when there really is nothing you can do to avoid death. Other times? You can survive. Here are some quick tips for the common causes of death in the early game.
Dilos – Counter: Spears. The biggest gimmick with Dilos is their spit attack. It’s sometimes difficult to juke, so I like to jump right before they spit, which usually causes it to sail over my head. Beyond that, a simple Wooden Spear has greater reach than their melee attack, and will knock them back far enough to strike again with relative impunity.
Raptor – Counter: Bolas. Raptors are too fast to outrun, and spears aren’t near strong enough to keep them at bay. But a single Bola will automatically root them for ~30 seconds. Once rooted, shoot them in the face, or maybe beat them unconscious with a Wooden Bat if you have one handy.
Carnos – Counter: Turtles. Truly one of the more annoyingly unfair dinos in the early game, Carnos have a HUGE aggro radius and will relentlessly chase you down with what seems like infinite Stamina. One trick though, is that if you can kite them into the path of a turtle (i.e. Carbonemys), the Carno will injure itself and start attacking the turtle instead. Take that opportunity to book it or try and take it down.
Hopefully the above is enough get you started in your Ark experience.
Ark can teach you a lot about life. Namely, man’s futile struggle against a hostile, uncaring universe.
It all started when I returned to my base with a handful of Obsidian from a scouting expedition. Emboldened by my success, and reading about the usefulness of the Sabertooths (Saberteeth?) I spotted on the mountain, I took flight again to snag a pair.
I made it to the mountain in one piece, and scout around. I spot a pack of four Sabertooths, land on a nearby rock, and tranq two but the others had already wandered off. While taming, I am stuffing my face with Cooked Meat, because the temperature of the mountain is below zero. During this process, I realize that I’m out of Raw Meat, rapidly losing health due to the weather (no Fur clothing, because no Fur from these dinos), and while I have plenty of arrows, my crossbow itself is about to break. Shit. In a frantic bit of survivalship, I manage to kill some dinos for meat, tame the Sabertooths, and make my way to the warmer beach. Then I begin the journey back to my home base.
Along the way, I have to go through the Swamp biome. I stick to the edge, between the Swamp and the ocean, to avoid the more dangerous swamp creatures. What I did not avoid was the seemingly endless amount of piranhas. Despite doing only 15-20 damage per hit, one tiger dies. I hop off my bird to try and assist the remaining tiger. One minute later, the piranhas eat the remaining tiger and, somehow, my flying mount. I embrace the darkness.
Take a backup bird to fly back and get my dropped items. This time, I load up on a fresh crossbow and extra meat. Spot my corpse, pick up my items. In the distance, I notice a low-level Sacro (e.g. giant crocodile). Thinking this might be a worthwhile tame to assist with the piranhas, I land on a rock and start shooting tranqs. With the Sacro down, I hop off the rock to start feeding it meat.
That’s when its mate shows up and starts feeding on me. Turning around to try and escape on my bird, I notice that the bird has simply dematerialized. No death record, it’s just glitched out of the game. Cool. I die.
Fuck it, Imma build a boat.
I spent the next few days collecting resources and constructing a boat and adding crafting stations and such to it. The goal was originally to boat up to the mountain, tame the Sabertooths, then boat them back. That’s when I realized that the snowy biome sounds more interesting, and hey, those penguins give you tons of Organic Polymer when you beat them with clubs. No, seriously, that’s how it works. Since I need a bunch of Polymer to craft advanced weaponry, let’s head North instead.
After a long time, I make it to the Snow biome. Club some seals, mine some frozen Oil, good times. Off in the distance, I see a Carno and some of hell boars. Huh, interesting. I craft some stuff for a bit, and then start to prepare to take my bird out to collect more resources. Except now there is a Carno and some hell boars, having aggro’d and swam out to greet me, clipping through the bottom of my boat killing my birds and my favorite mount. Fuck this.
I ruthlessly murder every Carno and hell boar that I see. At one point, I got a little too zealous and fell off my rock perch, and the hell boars got their revenge.
Let’s just avoid that area and get a little further North. What’s the worse thing that can happen?
This. This is the worst thing that can happen.
It should be noted that I am actively save scumming in Ark, e.g. backing up files. Why they just don’t add a Quick Save functionality to Single-Player Mode, I don’t know. Perhaps it goes against the general principle of Ark, or might give people the wrong impression when/if they try and go to public servers and lose all their stuff for real.
In any case, I don’t even feel the least bit bad for what I’m doing. I cannot possibly imagine a scenario in which “cheating myself” out of that last loss will result in more game time than rewinding it. Maybe if this was more of a roguelike with a definite end, like Don’t Starve (Adventure mode), or even Binding of Isaac, I can see less replay value overall. With Ark though, losing an entire boat worth of stuff along with some of my best tames? I would be more liable to quit altogether than start over. Or perhaps never to have set sail in the first place, which is kinda the same thing.
I guess we’ll see. I managed to craft a modern pistol and assault rifle with my (rewinded) resources, while avoiding the anti-boat whale area. If the novelty of Ark wears off after gaining such weaponry, perhaps I did “cheat” myself out of time. Then again, I still have projects that I want to complete, caves I want to explore, and map to uncover. I’m thinking it’s better overall to trade future game time of uncertain value for non-frustrating gameplay right now.
Especially because of all the bullshit Ark throws at you out of nowhere.