It’s another ARK expansion! More Dinosaurs to tame, more expansive open world wonder to explore! There were just so many reasons to be excited – and so many ways to be let down. But it turns out it wasn’t you babe, it’s me. It was me all along.

This review isn’t anywhere near a complete review. Instead, I’m going to give you what I’ve got so far, I want to help you decide if you need this in your life. There’s a golden period between the release of any game and the need for a review. There’s an expectation that within hours of a release you should be able to go online and read a comprehensive, coherent coverage of a concept. But there are some immutable truths in life; the Sun always rises, silicone based lube will stain your bed sheets, and these sorts of games will always take longer to get your head around than a day or two. I really wanted to hate this expansion at first, I really did. The Oxford English dictionary defines the word aberration as; A departure from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically an unwelcome one. But this expansion is like that ex, the one that was REALLY good in bed, calling you up, admitting that all of the horrible things they did filled them with regret, and asking how they could possibly make it up to you. It’s the sweet thrill of something you know so well, just being made so much better.

I mean it is Ark – it really is. Nothing could highlight that for you more than its first, simple request. Of course, it would like 69gb of hard drive space to download and install the Aberration expansion. 68.7gb, to be precise, but near enough so-as-to make no difference to 69. 69. I found this a little hard to swallow – I tend to put the games I like to play regularly on a rather small, but fast, solid state drive. You can imagine being asked to free up this much space was irksome. I chose to re-download the entire Ark package, which, for some strange reason, took far less total space. As I took an evening stroll around the park, I thought that I really should do some research around this sort of thing, and write you all an explanation.

Ark Aberration is, in so many ways, a paradigm shift as much as an expansion. The concept of it is so far removed from previous Ark experiences that it almost requires a new way of thinking, a new mind set. This new mind set will change the way you go about exploring, the creatures you tame, and your general meta-approach to the game.

 

Home on the fertile lake, amongst the mushrooms.

 

I just want to take a moment, to expand on my ex-partner analogy. Remember; you’ve just taken back that oh so tempting ex. Only you realise that a lot of their problems are still there. I mean they’re totally hot still, but they just have their foibles.  A lot of the glitches which could have been fixed; the odd snapping system when building, the creature hit-boxes, the zip-lines are about as awesome as the grappling hooks (so not all that and a bag of chips) and lastly…Kibble. I will talk about this a little more when I get into the choice of creatures but suffice it to say that they’ve not thought this right through. How can I use kibble to tame a Spino, a creature that is common in the beginning areas of Abberition, if there is nary an Argentavis to be found? What about imprinting? There are Equus’ but no veges. Think McFly, think!

Ark Aberration’s paradigm shift is evident immediately. There are things we’ve come to expect from Arks; things which our mind relies on to make sense of them.  The Arks are traditionally sprawling vistas, marked by varied biomes distributed horizontally. I mean that’s what you’d expect, right? We’ve seen variations on this theme over each map. There are clusters of resource – normally visible in plain sight, and easy to obtain. So now, I’d like you to load up Abarration (say the developers) and forget all of that. Now start to think vertically. Now think both vertically and horizontally. Aberration’s map is structured both vertical and horizontal. Biomes do not change as much horizontally as they do vertically – they’re laid out side-by-side and stacked on top of each other. To help you deal with this, they’ve introduced climbing hooks and gliders.

Climbing and gliding become part of life….

Unfortunately, the glider is worn as a skin over your chest piece meaning that any other skin you’d wanted to wear is cancelled out. So much for all those awesome achievements you’ve racked up over the last 1000 hours, right? But, as some sort of twisted pay-off, the ability to glide is a lot of fun. In a very clunky way. Don’t expect gliders to allow you to swoop and dive like some sort of prehistoric Batman as they seem patchy at best. While I seem to be able to glide down a waterfall comfortably in some scenarios, in others I can only direct myself on the x axis. Odd, right? The technique that I’ve managed with so far is to simply leave my keyboard alone. Likewise, climbing is…. interesting. AGAIN, leave the keyboard alone son! Let the green marker tell you where you are going. Of course, this become problematic when you encounter cave ceilings or over-hangs.

This, my friends, is where you come to get metal and (believe it or not) blue gems.

The biomes themselves are works of art. I cannot stress this enough – they are brilliant. At times, something reminiscent of Far Cry Blood Dragon. Do not be fooled by the easiest biome’s decidedly mushroom brown colour scheme. This, just like stuffed mushrooms, is just an entrée, a starter if you will, for the visual feast that follows. Lurid psychedelic trees, glowing spires of rocks, pools of fluorescent shimmering water. You might think that this is hyperbole and a half. But there is no way I could be that funny or that clever. This is, visually at least, a magnificent expansion.

Psychedelic in the extreme – the biomes are individual works of art.

 

Resources are interestingly laid out. I think, in perhaps 18 hours of game-play so far, I’ve seen 2 normal looking high-quality metal nodes.  I mean that is INTERESTING, right? It did, indeed, capture my interest. Where are we meant to get all the metal from to build our bits and bobs.? Of course, there is something I might be missing. I am but one man, trying to make his way in a hostile Ark. Of course, once you transition biomes into a much bluer state of mind, metal becomes far more abundant. As do crystals and gems.

Want a Rock Drake, this is getting to where they keep them…

Some things change, some things stay the same. There are new creatures, and they’re still distributed by biome. Don’t expect to find the typical range of creatures. There are no fliers to be found in the beginning tiers of Aberration. This, I strongly suspect, is deliberate. When you begin to look at the list of new tools that have been introduced; climbing hooks, zip lines.

There are several new, smaller creatures introduced. The Bulbdog, a passive tame, clearly provides light for exploring dark, cavernous spaces. There are surprisingly few new creatures to be found on the easier levels. Although, the Stego continues to appear, no one really knows why. Perhaps the developers are unaware of the current meta? Doubtful. Perhaps, like some sort of fedora-less Notch, they take great delight in generating salt amongst their players. To spice things up a bit, and perhaps make you feel validated for your purchase, they’ve taken some of new glowsticks, and spread it over the skin of your favourite creatures. Raptors are Aberrant Raptors, Stegos are Aberrant too, as is just about everything apparently.

Everything, and I mean everything, looks like it came from Fukushima…

As far as I can tell, only one creature has received an out-of-the-ordinary buff; the Pulmonoscorpius. New creatures are plentiful, and there are so many new things to capture your interest and monopolise your time. Shinehorns capture the award for most cute, while Reapers are the most interesting. I mean common!? A creature that impregnates you and uses you as a breeding host. How cool is that? Ravagers have become the utility creature of choice amongst the GetRekt.com crew – like an Argentavis they carry large amounts, have a reasonable amount of tank, can fight, and move fast enough to get you from point A to B in a timely fashion.

As a multiplayer game, I could see Aberration being much more of visceral foot-slog, a grind with you and the crew doing the do. This is mainly due to the complete lack of a variety in the flying creatures department. Is this a bad thing? Well, no. Again, we’re talking about a change in the way you think about playing the game. Is it bad to learn something new? Not in my opinion. I should be noted that Aberration is exceptionally hard. I like to think I know what to do when starting fresh on an Ark. However, the easiest spawn location is woefully devoid of water, and you will encounter carnivores almost immediately. Water is a constant problem, as (without revealing too much) Aberration is very much about being a scorching hot environment, so you are much better spawning somewhere with ready access to it.  All in all, Ark Aberration is a completely welcome DLC which breathes even more life into a rock-solid, all time favourite game.

I rate it an 8/10 – the only thing I can fault Aberration for are faults which currently exist within Ark. Things like the terrible build system, the odd hit-boxes on creatures etc. I can absolutely give Aberration credit for amazingly vivid biomes and challenging gameplay. I would recommend it for everyone, although it would be more enjoyable if you have an understanding of the basic mechanics of Ark.

The ARK Aberration DLC is available from the Steam store now