"As a man or woman stranded naked, freezing and starving on the shores of a mysterious island called ARK, you must hunt, harvest resources, craft items, grow crops, research technologies, and build shelters to withstand the elements. Use your cunning and resources to kill or tame the leviathan dinosaurs and other primeval creatures roaming the land, and team up with or prey on hundreds of other players to survive, dominate... and escape!"
Gameplay is similar to most sandbox survival games of the genre. The basic story elements are provided by subtle narrative included in the scripted spawn 'movie' and the notes on Dino Dossiers.
You gain experience (XP) during gameplay. When you have accrued enough XP, you level up and gain a point to spend on an attribute and multiple Engram Points (EP) to spend on Engrams.
In ARK, you gain XP for every action you take:
- Time spent playing the game - you very slowly gain XP every second you are in the game
- Harvesting and gathering of resources
- Crafting items (higher level crafting gives more XP)
- Killing enemies
- Taming and breeding creatures
- Gathering Explorer Notes
- Actions of nearby tribe members give you 50% of their XP
Important Note: Explorer Notes can often be found in ruins or caves. For every note you've found, you gain 100 XP and a 10 minute buff that doubles XP gained. Also, they can only be gathered once, so make it count. The highest level is 100, but you can get 105, 110, and 115 after ascension.
The survivor has 11 attributes and can spend points into all but Torpidity.
- Health (HP): Current life value. The higher it is, the more damage you can take.
- Stamina: Available energy. The higher it is, the more actions you can do without becoming exhausted e.g. running, fighting, harvesting
- Oxygen: the higher it is, the longer you can hold your breath underwater
- Food: The higher it is, the longer it takes until you're starving
- Water: The higher it is, the longer it takes until you're dehydrated
- Weight: The higher it is, the more weight you can carry until you're encumbered
- Melee Damage: The higher it is, the more melee damage you can inflict with a weapon
- Movement Speed: How fast you can move. A value between 120 and 130 will allow you to escape most creatures.
- Crafting Speed - Higher values reduce crafting time
- Fortitude: A measure of your resistance to weather, torpor, and disease and lessens the negative effects of hypothermia and hyperthermia.
- Armor: The higher it is, the less damage you take. Also includes torpor-increasing effects
- Hypothermal Insulation: The higher it is, the better you are protected against cold weather and freezing. Clothing/armor will cause increases or decreases to this value. Being near a fire increases the value (e.g. carrying a torch, or sitting by a campfire). Eating Fria Curry also increase the value.
- Hyperthermal Insulation: The higher it is, the better you are protected against heat and hot temperatures. Clothing/armor will cause increases or decreases to this value. Eating Calien Soup also raises the value.
|Cold||The temperature is too cold and you are losing stamina|
|Freeze||You're freezing and your stamina decreases quickly and you are taking health damage|
|Hot||You're overheated and you are losing stamina|
|Burning||You've been burned which results in a quick loss of stamina and you are taking health damage.|
|placeholder||Enflamed||You've ben set on fire by the breath of dragons or during a heat wave (only in Scorched Earth).|
|placeholder||Heat Stroke||You've been overheated for too long, resulting in slow movements and cloudy vision. You're taking health damage.|
|Starving||You need something to eat! You're taking damage and you can't regenerate stamina.|
|Dehydration||You need water! You are taking damage and you can't regenerate stamina|
|placeholder||Encumbered||You're carrying too much. Movement is slowed or stopped completely.|
|placeholder||Exhausted||You have no more endurance. Wait a bit until your stamina regenerates or you will fall unconscious.|
|Poisoned||You have been poisoned by bad food and are taking health damage|
|Poisoned (blind)||You've been blinded (e.g. by Dilophosaur).|
|placeholder||Crafting/Repairing||While crafting, your movement speed is decreased.|
|placeholder||Suffocating||You ran out of oxygen and you're drowning! Get out of the water!|
|placeholder||Injured||You are badly injured and your movement speed is highly affected.|
|placeholder||Poisoned (Tranquilized)||You've been tranquilized and torpor increases|
|placeholder||Knocked Out||You're k.o. and can't move. Wait for your torpidity to reduce in order to wake up again.|
|placeholder||Webbed||You've been slowed down (e.g. spiderweb)|
|placeholder||Leeched||Leeched! Your health and stamina is slowly being drained - remove it by standing in a fire.|
|placeholder||Gnashed||You've received a dangerous wound (e.g. via carnivore). In the next 5 seconds you'll lose 5% of max HP|
|placeholder||Experience (XP)||You gained experience (XP).|
|placeholder||Experience Bonus||You found an Explorer Note: For the next 10 minutes you will get a bonus to XP.|
|placeholder||Ice-cold water||You drank icy water (water from the fridge). Your resistance against heat will increase.|
|placeholder||Home||You're home. A shelter provides you Hypo- and Hyperthermic insulation.|
|placeholder||Healing||You're regaining Health (e.g. due to consumable).|
|placeholder||Lesser Antidote||You've consumed a lesser antidote and are healing from Swamp Fever.|
Players try to survive on The Island by Gathering resources, leveling and improving their stats. Every level grants Engram points which can be used to unlock crafting recipes allowing tools, weapons, shelter, saddles, and various other technologies be built.
Berries and other plant resources can be planted to yield more permanent crops.
Dinosaurs provide various uses to players. A Dilophosaurus can be used as a watchdog, A Triceratops can act as base or camp defense, and a Brontosaurus can act as a mount. Some may just use one as a pet. Creatures such as the t-Rex or stego can be used to farm berries or meat. Some creatures are tamed differently, like the passive tame creatures where you skip the knock out step.
Tribes survive together or attack other Tribes. Working with a Tribe allows shared XP gain as well as shared buildings, resources, and dinosaurs.
The Broodmother acts as the first Boss offering a goal for avid survivors. A second boss monster, the Megapithecus, is even stronger and requires a higher level to take on. A third boss monster, the Dragon, is the most powerful of the three vanilla bosses. The Scorched Earth DLC added in a boss even more powerful, the Manticore.
Players can enter boss arenas with the imprinted blueprint within the Obelisk once various items have been collected from around The Island.
Upon waking on The Island the player will find they have nothing but the artifact in their arm and are usually stranded on or near a beach. Basic survival will require three things; Food, water, and shelter. It is generally best for early players to stick to the beach as water and food can be found along the fringes and less aggressive monsters are generally found in these areas.
Players should generally start by collecting as many loose stones and plant matter they can that is near by. Plantlife will provide various berries which can be used to tame dinosaurs or sustain the player. Punching trees will lower health but provide needed wood and thatch. A good source of meat can be obtained from Dodo if any are nearby. If water runs low a player should swim in the water until they are underwater completely. After a few minutes the first level should be gained, granting the first stat point and engrams points.
- It is important to note that not every Engram in the game can be learned so care should be taken when spending Engram points.
Once a good foothold has been created using basic building with thatch the next step should be to tame a few dinos for safety. It is recommended you get at least one saddle engram if working alone, although you may find a blueprint later. Taming several Dilo can create a great hunting pack which at 5 large averaging level 8 can easily take down an average Trike. Additionally any Beacons that match the player's level should be sought out as soon as they land providing additional resources or gear.