"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.
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 and 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.