This review is written from the point of view of someone who has played many hours and in truth not got very far. To date I have only played solo, mainly because of the time of day (usually very late or very very early UK time) I have free time to play, I find it hard to join players who have the same time limitations that I do.
ARK EVOLVED (from herein I refer to it only as ARK) is a massive adventure escape game that sees your character dumped unceremoniously onto an island beach wearing just enough to cover your modesty and your wits.
ARK, this is the name given to the different regions (maps) in the game, is about survival and evolution and like both of those it is a long, hard, often perilous, haul. You can play solo offline PVE or online in a PVP environment.
First off it's Survival and that means sustenance from foraging and exploring and, of course, dodging the dinosaurs. Recognising which are omnivores, carnivores and herbivores can be life-saving but watch out for the tiny terrors that look cute yet band together to munch large pieces out of you. If you die several things happen. I should rephrase that to "when you die . . . " Anything you had gathered is lost, setting you back to square one. When you reappear on the island it is quite likely to be back exactly where you died, and thus next to the creature(s) that killed you.
If you play offline your main objective is to build your character into a formidable force and to collect the necessary resources to defeat the major end of line monsters - there are apparently three to defeat (not all at the same time) in different caves, but I have yet to discover this for myself in game. If you lose a fight against a major monster you again lose everything, including all the resources gained to get to it in the first place. It is quite easy to lose against them for not only do they not fight fair (computer generated A.I.) they also have several creatures that help them in the fight - your best bet is to dodge the main guy and kill of its helpers first, and good luck with that!
If you play online then you are going to need to find friends that you can trust - like joining a Guild in an MMO. Playing solo online is not just signing your own regular death warrant it is also really not worth the time and effort you will have to put into playing. Once you get the hang of dodging the Dino's, fighting those you know you can defeat and discovering resources, you need to build and fortify secret caches where you can store the stuff, weapons, equipment, resources etc, that you gain during your adventures in the land that time forgot. If you do this with a friendly group there is almost always someone around (ie online) to keep an eye on everyone's stuff. If you play solo it is more than likely when you come back online you will find your cache has been destroyed and your loot stolen. Seeing as this will have literally taken you hours to build and fill you are faced with the prospect of doing it all again or giving up completely. Let me tell you that the game is good, but it's not that good that you want to continually restart from scratch, after a while it gets like the definition of insane - doing the same thing over and over and thinking you'll get a different result.
Playing online without protection from a community of sorts means that everyone you meet in the game is a potential enemy. Players who have been playing for a lot longer than you will know many more of the nuances of the game and are likely to kill you and/rob you. Don't let anyone know where your cache is unless you trust them implicitly - and that includes family members known to go behind your back. This is a very unforgiving game that shows what humans are often depicted as reverting to in films and TV shows like the Walking Dead (and I don't mean the Zombies, just the normal folks who trust no-one and kill each other to survive).
Visually this is a glorious vision of a game. The terrain is beautifully crafted, though when you pick shrubs and leaves (food, crafting material etc) it is with a clumsy, poorly animated paw of a hand, and the Dinosaurs are good - I've seen better (Jurassic World for example) but for a computer game where memory space has to be restrained they are mostly more than acceptable. The game is like this throughout, some of it is unbelievably good, some of it acceptable and some, thankfully not too much, is truly poor, as my old school-teacher would often say "Could do better!"
Unlike most MMOs there is no safe zone for lower level characters. You don't gain experience in one area and then move on to the next where the creatures are of the same or slightly higher experience than you so that there is a challenge but one you can generally quantify. You can begin on the shore of a river, wearing your modesty covering nappy, wake up, turn round, and be confronted by a 31st level Dilophosaur (not sure I know what one of these looks like because I was dead (again) before I caught sight of it.
Like many games, ARK gets better as you gain experience through playing as long as you can stay alive long enough to enjoy it. There is a lot of fun along the way, such as making spears, riding Dinosaurs and hunting while doing so. Collecting resources and learning new skills just like it must have been for cavemen when they first emerged into the world (with the exception of Dinosaurs of course). If, so I have been told, you successfully play for long enough (and especially if you play in a good strong group) you will evolve mentally, physically and scientifically until you have developed automatic weapons, gas-based flame-throwers and nuclear bombs (okay, maybe not flame-throwers LOL!) Seriously, this is a class game of adventurous evolution, but it can get to be so frustrating that you have to take a break from it if you die too often and too regularly. As I have already stated though, if you do take a break, even to sleep overnight, then it is likely you will be starting again with only your knowledge.
I played World of Warcraft from the first day of its Beta beginning in the UK right through until about 2 years ago, playing every day and getting hooked on it. Then one day I awoke and couldn't be bothered to fire it up and I haven't played it since. That took me several years to come to that decision, many years of mostly playing solo, joining a guild to help and get help but mainly playing in PUGs (Pick-Up-Groups) to complete Quests. The thing about WOW is that I could always start a new player in a new area with new missions. In ARK you can play Male or Female and the game is only an extension of itself every time you play no matter what level of experience you reach. It just gets tougher and easier to get knocked back or knocked out.
I haven't reached saturation point of playing and dying yet and I haven't got as far into ARK as I would like and thus I continue to play. Thankfully my PS4 console is connected to a fairly large HD TV screen (not 4K unfortunately) which helps with the overall panoramic vision of the terrain and shows the game's fine details of objects and creatures such as the Dinosaurs, Trees and Rocks to great effect, it also shows up the defects in glorious vista-vision; thankfully these are few and far between.
Apart from taming Dinosaurs to ride you can also tame them to hunt and fight with and you, they will even carry some equipment but this takes many long hours of real time playing, at an average 8 hours a day it could still take you the best part of a week or more and this, as I said, is REAL time. You've still got to learn crafting from the basic Spear to making firearms - this is something I have read about while researching the game. I am not taking credit (yet) for having actual first-hand knowledge of this but there is no doubt in my mind that I eventually will.
If you have the inclination and the stamina/willpower to spend the amount of time necessary for playing this thoroughly you will discover there is more, much more, good than bad. It is frustrating and repetitive but on occasions very rewarding and satisfying and it is those times that you are playing for and aiming towards.