Update September 1, 2017: With Ark: Survival Evolved now fully released, we’ve revisited the game to see how the launch patch affects the game’s performance. We’ve also tested the game on an additional four GPUs, and you can see the data in the Graphics Performance section.
Studio Wildcard’s prehistoric survival sim entered Steam Early Access so long ago that you could probably mistake it for being an actual relic from the Stone Age. Now, with the final retail release of Ark: Survival Evolved having arrived on August 29, it’s time to see whether this dino romp looks delectable, or if it’s the graphical equivalent of three tonnes of Triceratops dung. Can Ark serve us decent performance, tidy visuals, and still balance enough leathery leviathans to fill ten Jurassic Parks? Let’s find out.
What to know what we think of the gameplay? Check out our full Ark: Survival Evolved review.
Update 31/08: We’ve now revisited the final retail version of Ark with all the latest patches installed, and can report that little has changed since we finished our initial tech review. Visually, Studio Wildcard’s dinosaur romp remains an absolute eyesore, though there are a couple of quick things to note in regards to the game’s performance.
While frame rates at 1080p across all four presets remain more or less identical to the performance results we measured in last month’s review build, 4K results have improved slightly, which you can read about further down the page. Having furthered fiddled with various graphics settings, we can also now definitively state ambient occlusion can slay fps figures, especially on Epic settings.
Ark may have its technical issues – don’t worry, we’ll get to those – but there’s no denying Studio Wildcard have thrown a tonne of tweakable graphics options into its online caveman romp. Four main presets govern the look of the game, ranging from the full bells-and-whistles Epic setting, down to the dreadfully plain Low option. All the usual suspects like textures, post-processing, shadow levels, sky quality, and various lighting effects can be tweaked individually to help improve performance, while an FOV slider is also a welcome sight. That said, it’s slightly disappointing the game never tells you exactly what kind of anti-aliasing it’s using.
Most of the above settings are very much par for the course with any half-decent PC port. But where Ark earns itself serious brownie points is in the number of granular visual options it lets you fiddle with. Anisotropic filtering; sub-surface scattering; high quality LODs; two types of ambient occlusion (both distance field and screen space); mesh level of detail – it’s an exhaustive list. Switching on all of these settings can seriously hamper performance (even on monster rigs), yet there’s no denying they lead to a slightly more vibrant, convincing image should you leave them on.
Controller support also makes it into the game and is perfectly serviceable. Still, considering the ‘enthusiasm’ with which most of Ark’s ancient beastie attack you with, the natural snappiness of a keyboard and mouse setup is likely to save your caveman keester more than once when a Yutyrannus comes looking for its din-dins. And yes, that /is/ a real dinosaur.
Update 31/08: Ark’s retail version has a handy new feature in the main options menu. Now, each graphics preset is accompanied by a little bracket which suggests what level of GPU you’ll need to run the game effectively. It suggests a GTX 660 for Low; GTX 770 when aiming for Medium; a GTX 970 for High settings; and finally, an ungodly powerful Titan X if you’re hoping to play Ark smoothly at Epic.