I wrote before that ARK is RUST with dinosaurs, and that general opinion hasn’t changed. However, I think that statement is somewhat like saying “DayZ is a shooter with zombies”. It’s a true statement, but doesn’t really explain why DayZ is what it is compared to a lot of other shooters with or without zombies, and why DayZ is a mega-hit and some of those other games aren’t.
And much like zombies make a game cool (or did before every game had zombies), there is something interesting and relatable to dinosaurs compared to more generic creatures or monsters. It’s easier to understand the fear behind a T-Rex chasing you or smashing your base compared to the same happening from a pure-fantasy monster, at least for me. In fact, the whole “survival in a harsh world” theme works better when said harsh world is one that is somewhat like the one we know existed on Earth long ago, with all the dinos walking around and whatnot.
Another major aspect that ARK gets right is the amount of time you invest in things. Taming dinos is a major undertaking. For many of the best ones, you have to commit multiple hours straight just to complete the initial tame, and success not only depends on bringing the right materials to get the job done, but also on external factors like a big aggressive dino not coming by and eating your unconscious dino, or you. In addition to that investment of time/effort, there is also however long it takes you to prep the items you will use, and then your dino storage solution (usually a larger containment area in your base). Having a tamed dino is awesome, as they are very functional for both gathering and/or combat, so when you lose one, it really strings.
Building up a larger base is an even more serious commitment, so you really care about its location, setup, and functionality. A lot of planning goes into one, and seeing it take shape and working out the kinks that come up is a great deal of fun and challenge. Similarly, raiding a solid base isn’t a trivial matter, but the rewards can be huge. Such an action can however start a war, and you might quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a raid. Because of the amount of effort involved, raids and wars aren’t done on a whim, and carry a good deal of weight behind them.
Other examples exist, but my larger point is that ARK does a great job in getting you invested in what you are doing, and caring a great deal about all of it. You want to log in the next day to keep progressing forward, because you know forward also means unlocking new systems and items to play with, and to also get further and further invested in what you are doing. It’s a very similar feeling to playing a great MMO, but more on that in another post.
In summary, even though ARK is very similar to other games of its type, so far it has gotten a great deal of the details correct, and because of that the game is a ton of fun even in its early access state (though this is one of those ‘early access’ games that could be released tomorrow and no one would notice its missing anything major). Highly recommended, even if you have recently played something similar.