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Spoiler-Free Beginner Ark Guide

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.

Spawning

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.

Basic Gathering

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.

Death

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:

  1. Only carry what you are willing to lose.
  2. Die in a convenient location.
  3. 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.

Inventory Interaction

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.

Taming

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:

  1. Render a dino unconscious.
  2. Feed it food it likes.
  3. ???
  4. Profit

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.

Controlling Dinos

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.

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Ark Life

Ark can teach you a lot about life. Namely, man’s futile struggle against a hostile, uncaring universe.

Ark_FeelingLucky

Don’t do it… it’s a trap!

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.

Life 1

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.

Life 2

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.

Life 3

Fuck it, Imma build a boat.

Tour length: 3 hours.

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.

Life 4

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.

Life 5

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.

Ark de Solo

In the comments for my last post, SynCaine questioned my decision to play Ark solo:

I’m not sure I’d understand the point of solo ARK. Say you push past the initial curve and get to the point where you have a base that dinos can’t mess with, you are near max level (so all blueprints you would want you have), and you have some low-mid range dinos tamed. What then?

In solo, again after the initial challenge, there is zero risk of another player causing problems, or of working together with a tribe on something bigger. So it’s just a slow grind that doesn’t have an end (you can’t ‘win’ in ARK), and gets slower and less rewarding as you go (taming a t-rex takes longer than a raptor, but what does the t-rex really give you over the raptor?).

The “what then?” is the same answer as any survival game: play until you get bored.

Ark_NormalDay

Meet Pinky. He’s basically a jet ski that flies occasionally.

I’ve been playing Ark pretty much the exclusion of anything else since the beginning of September. This past weekend’s project was shepherding an Ankylo up a mountain and setting up a metal refinement base at the top. Big improvement over riding a train of dinos to a now-depleted smaller hill along the coast. It was not until just yesterday that I got my first node of Obsidian, which was up a completely different mountain, near a full day’s flight (on my slow bird) away.

My next project is to try and snag Dung Beetles from somewhere – possibly a cave – so I can have easier access to oil, as I want to avoid underwater shenanigans if possible. Then I was looking at taming one of those snails, which requires the vegetable cake, which requires Sap, which requires a high-cost collection piece most easily inserted on top of an extremely high-cost tree structure, then you can’t forget Giant Bee Honey… and so on and so forth.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t even left the SE corner of the map. I’ve seen the Redwood Forests, but haven’t actually been inside yet. Much less anything North or West of that. Steam says I’ve been playing for 60 hours.

Ark_Hours

Actually kind of impressive.

Sure, exploring and exploiting shit is only going to get faster from here. I’m way more confident in my ability to handle (or avoid) hostile dinos than before. But the game is still interesting to me, still dangerous, and I still have things I’d like to do. Maybe try out some of the caves, maybe see how far along the tech tree I can get before things get too annoying. I don’t know how much more novelty the game necessarily has – could be another 60 hours playing solo, maybe only 20. At my current rate, I’m leaning more towards the former.

If I do get bored, I can try a fresh character in a different starting zone, for a different experience. Or perhaps on a different map entirely, e.g. the Center, or Ragnarok. There is already one paid DLC map on top of that, with another on the way. There is even apparently a procedural generated map option, or custom maps.

What I don’t need is other people to make my gameplay meaningful. I’ve gotten 200 hours out of 7 Days to Die so far, and who knows how much time in Minecraft. All solo. If I want the experience of social obligation and responsibility again, there are plenty of MMOs to fill that non-existent void. Personally, I’m still enjoying the ability to close games without having to apologize for leaving, or doing exactly what I want to be doing in that moment without asking for permission.

Is Ark more fun with friends? Possibly. It is also completely, 100% fine by yourself too. There is enough sand in the box to make for a good time either way. At least alone, you avoid getting sand into your shorts and hair from other people mucking about. These days, I’m good, thanks.

Arked

Maybe there was some fanfare somewhere, but it came as a complete shock to me that Ark came out of Early Access this past week. As in, it’s fully released. It even has a Big Boy Pants price going on:

Ark_Price.JPG

Glad I picked it up for $12 a year and a half ago.

Deleted my prior saved game and started fresh on a “Single Player” server. The results were… rough.

The early-game in Ark is essentially broken as shit. I spawned in the “Easy 3” section of the default Island, which puts me on a beach. The first few minutes is the traditional Minecraft experience of punching trees to create tools. As you gain levels, you can spend Engram Points to purchase schematics according to your level, which kinda allows you to differentiate yourself between a builder or scavenger or whatever. Which is fine, but particularly sucks in single-player considering that I’m level 10 but still can’t build a Thatch house (since I went for weapons).

The real problem though is the absurd difficulty spikes. The beach where I spawned has a cliff face blocking access to the interior of the Island, and the water is filled with massive sharks. No matter which direction you travel down the beach, there are extremely aggressive raptors essentially trapping you in a corridor of death. You can respawn after being eaten, but whatever items you were carrying will have been dropped, and the dinosaur responsible will still be by your corpse.

Ark_SpawnCamp

Carno corpse camp.

Oh, and your items despawn after 15 minutes.

In other words, in the early game, consider your former items to be permanently lost. Which wouldn’t be too bad if not for the fact that getting back to some baseline of combat readiness requires you to punch trees, craft a Pick, mine some stone, create a Hatchet, gather some wood, then make some Spears. Oh, and hold E down when near about two dozen bushes so you can craft some clothes. All so you can maybe engage some raptors that you cannot outrun and will likely kill you. So you can do the whole thing over again. And by the way, you can actually spawn into the game right next to a raptor or T-Rex and start getting eaten before you even have full control of your character.

If you make it past this early game though, you can craft a house and a bed that will let you respawn at a stationary location. And perhaps build some storage containers filled with surplus equipment, so that you aren’t starting from zero every time.

Ark_HellNo

Carno, Alpha Raptor, Therizinosaurus? No thanks, I’m good.

This terrible beginning experience will not deter my Sisyphean struggle however. Part of the reason I stopped playing Ark 1.5 years ago was the terrible optimization that caused my PC to run it at 24 FPS max. With some settings tweaks, the game runs basically around 50 FPS at all times now. I’m hesitant to say everything is fixed on this front though, because I have a GTX 1060 now instead of a 970, so your frames might vary.

In any case, what I’m curious about is how the single player portion will play out. Supposedly there is an actual storyline involved, rather than this being a pure sandbox experience. [Fake Edit: Nope, no story] I routinely boot up 7D2D despite there not being any particular narrative, but the fundamental fact is… I like these sort of survival games. Ark scratches that “collect hundreds of Wood to build things” itch, in spite of being unbalanced as hell thus far. So, I will persevere. And should the boulder roll back down, I shall smile as I walk back down to push it up again.

At least, unless I spy a more interesting boulder somewhere else.

Ark: Griefing Evolved

I picked up Ark for $12 as part of the Humble Monthly bundle the other day, and my five or so hours with it have been… interesting. Even more interesting was what I was reading on the Steam forums about the recent addition of handcuffs into the game:

Ark is a great game but it’s become unenjoyable for some and unplayable for others. As I write this, my avatar on official server 16 has been caged, immobile and unplayable for over six hours. I’d suicide and respawn… but that’s not an option. […]

And no, you can’t do anything about it. Handcuffs can’t be escaped and don’t allow you to use your hands. No punching walls or using anything to suicide with. Your captors encumber you so you can’t burn stamina, food and water to kill yourself. And captors are able to force feed you to keep you alive indefinitely. So you’re stuck, unable to actually play Ark for as long as they decide to hijack your game.

In case you don’t know much about it, Ark has a “torpor” mechanic that is primarily used to knock out dinosaurs so you can tame them. As it turns out, torpor can also be used on other players (the game is PvP by default). There have been cages and prisons and the like for a while now, but players used to be able to kill themselves by thrashing about, as the esteemed sir throttlejam mentioned above. Handcuffs remove this ability, and make it so that other players can manipulate your inventory directly.

The player responses to throttlejam’s plight go on to demonstrate that one really can justify anything. They basically run the full gamut from “your friends will save you” to “you got what you deserve for not playing with friends” to “go play on a different server.” Quick note: your character’s progress is limited to the specific server you are on. Playing on a different server basically means rerolling.

Some people were doubting throttlejam’s description of events. Surely it can’t be that bad? Which then led to this description:

You’re not unconscious. You’re handcuffed and they put weight in your inventory to encumber you so you can’t move and they force feed you like taming a dino. All you can do is stand there and wait… forever. You’re in a cell made of greenhouse glass and you can see everyone else being held around you… and there are multiple levels of nothing but cells and captive players. I can see them all.

An immobile player uses very little food or water… so it’s not a big drain on a large tribe’s resources to imprison a LOT of player avatars. On this server there are maybe 20 – 30 players online at one time… and these guys have most of those players avatars in lock up. How’s that fun?

…I think I’m done with Ark for now.

For the record, it is not necessarily due to Ark’s dedication to raising the bar for sociopath simulators. Indeed, my gameplay thus far as been entirely on a single-player server – I went to a official PvE server for about five minutes, saw a huge player-constructed tower, and remembered I don’t actually like people all that much. No, I’m primarily done with Ark for the time being because not even a GTX 970 can eek out more than about 24 fps on a good day.

Well, that, and I built a small hut, then a larger hut with a better view, then realized that I’d never be able to farm with a nearby source of water. I actually scouted abroad pretty far, found a nice area near a river, and then it occurred to me that I’d be looking at another half dozen hours just gathering resources. Let alone taming dinosaurs, or venturing out and getting immediately eaten by raptors.

There’s fun, and then there’s fun. I’m more in the mood for the latter.