Ark: Survival Evolved is one of the most popular survival games ever, and if you can’t see why, you’re the dumb adult in one of those old Cinnamon Toast Crunch commercials. It’s the dinosaurs. So what happens when a patch makes them markedly less useful? Things go south in a hurry.
The PC version of Ark recently received a surprise balancing patch that dropped dinosaurs down a few rungs on the evolutionary ladder. While individual creatures received different tweaks to stats and scaling, the gist is that all tamed creatures suffered 50+ percent reductions in damage and health across the board. Initially, players suffered some big losses, pitting their once-absurdly powerful high-level raptors against herds of stegosauruses (or a T-Rex) and watching them suddenly get stomped into prehistoric paste. Naturally, they were pissed.
While players quickly wised up to the New Way Of Things, they began noticing other ramifications of the patch. For instance, weaker dinos are slower at harvesting resources, turning the game into more of a grind.
After a day of sustained outcry, Ark’s developers chimed in, explaining that they felt like this sort of thing was long overdue. Basically, tamed dinos were super overpowered, leading to absurd situations like the aforementioned raptor taking out an entire herd of stegosauruses with relative ease. In PvP situations, people would just have their hulkiest mini-godzillas do most of the work through brute force, removing tactical elements from the equation. Drastic though the patch might have been, it was done to bring the game in line with the way the developers originally envisioned it. They explained:
“Earlier on in development we had a misunderstanding between how both player and creature stat scaling was supposed to function and by the time we had realised what went wrong, and how it went wrong - we had to come up with a solution. The misunderstanding was noticed as we started to introducing higher levels and more difficulty into the game, which resulted in higher-stated dinosaurs, basically much stronger creatures to what we had planned and intended.”
“Our first-step to coming up with a solution to tackle the scaling was to hit dinosaur stats in one go, retroactively. We wanted to scale down tamed creatures vs wild creature interaction so that you’ll no longer have absurd situations where one Raptor is single-handedly destroying 10s of max-level wild Brontos without any trouble. However we also wanted to keep it so that tamed creature vs tamed creature interaction would remain similar to how it is currently.”
Since the initial patch, they’ve tweaked things like dinosaur resource harvesting (to reduce the grind a bit) and some specific dino stats. In time, they hope to differentiate dinosaurs and other creatures from each other in big ways—rather than just with levels and stats. “We want them to become more similar to how they’re described in their dossiers and different to what their base-stats are like,” the developers explained. “So it’ll be possible to have creatures that function in completely different ways, as opposed to everything being so uniform.”
Many members of the community are still having trouble coping with the sudden deflation of their precious dinosaurs. While I think Ark’s developers made a smart decision in the long run, I feel like they executed it poorly. For one, they could’ve sapped tamed creatures’ steroidal strength gradually instead of meteor nuking everything in a single go, resulting in a collective losing-of-shit so profound as to be considered a mass extinction event. They also could’ve paid closer attention to balance ramifications, such that resource harvesting and certain creatures (like the direwolf) wouldn’t have suffered so much. Lastly, it’s worth noting that this is a game where it’s easy to get attached to your dinos, dopey-as-fuck though they might sometimes be. Deaths due to sudden balance changes? That’s infuriating and a little heartbreaking.
To an extent, this is what happens when Early Access games collide with massive, expectant audiences. Sometimes developers make sweeping changes to unfinished games; that’s just how game development works. At the same time, though, millions of people have already paid for and are playing Ark. Clearly, designating it simply as an “unfinished” game —with all the allowances that come with that term—is no longer useful. It walks a strange middle ground, especially given that it’s one of the most popular games on Steam despite its early state. It’s not just any old Early Access game, in other words, and its developers can’t treat it that way.
Ark’s developers are usually pretty good at communication, but this is a case where they could’ve been better, especially before they rolled out the patch. Instead, it seems like they succumbed to a game-still-in-development mentality and made a surprise overhaul to perhaps the most notable element of their dinosaur game: the goddamn dinosaurs. Odds are, Ark’s players will settle down and adjust with time, but until then, things are probably gonna be ugly for a little bit.
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