Thanks to ARMA II DayZ Mod, several games have spawned a new genre that some like to call “emergent gameplay”, where the stories are made by the players in a massive sandbox world, governed by the environment and whatever exists in it, and you have the threat of permadeath looming over your head every second. ARK: Survival Evolved is the latest addition to this genre and I played it for free on the most recent Steam Free Weekend. And it was fabulous. The game not only challenges a lot of the existing theory for how emergent gameplay titles should run (kill on sight, etc.), it also sets very high standards in graphics. Currently ARK is a DirectX 10 title with some DirectX 11 features, but the developers have now announced that there will be a free upgrade to DirectX 12 later on.
Developed in tandem with several studios (Studio Wildcard, Instinct Games, Efecto Studios, Virtual Basement), ARK‘s DirectX 12 update will make it the first game that you can buy right now that will use it. The update was announced on Friday 28 August 2015, but representatives from the game’s publisher, Studio Wildcard, posted in the game’s Community page that the update will be delayed slightly while they work with NVIDIA and AMD to get some issues ironed out before the update becomes widely available.
ARK currently requires a dual-core 64-bit processor running at 2.0GHz, at least 4GB of system memory, a DirectX 10-compatible graphics card with at least 1GB of VRAM and 20GB of free drive space. Windows 7 64-bit is required at a minimum. Although the game is still in Early Access, the minimums are absolutely real in my testing over the weekend. I had to drop down to 1080p and mostly medium settings to maintain playability on my triple-core CPU, while my Radeon R7 265 didn’t break much of a sweat. 8GB is recommended if you want to avoid disk swapping with virtual memory held in your page file.
Will the DirectX 12 upgrade change anything? I’m not sure. Studio Wildcard claims that there’s at least a 20% performance boost waiting for players playing ARK on Windows 10. ARK‘s island and jungle environment is extremely lush and detailed, easily rivaling Crysis‘s sandbox world. Like Assassin’s Creed Unity, there do seem to be limitations with draw calls, and fairly often the game will stream in assets if it begins to run into performance issues. It works well enough, but not having the CPU overhead currently bogging things down on weaker systems would be great.
As the first shipping game available today that will receive a DirectX 12 update, it also puts itself in the spotlight, and the developers need to make sure that their implementation is good enough to not draw criticism on what is otherwise a nearly perfect PVP survival shooter title.
ARK: Survival Evolved is currently available on Steam in Early Access for $29.99. Ports have been promised for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 console systems, but those will only be available well into 2016. Oh, there’s also a dragon in it now.