Studio Wildcard’s ARK:Survival Evolved isn’t whole just yet. By the end of 2016, the game’s sci-fi tinged Island setting will get a healthy dose of context, and a plot of some kind; for now, though, it’s simply a sprawling terrarium beckoning those players creative enough and patient enough to build their own worlds. For those intrepid souls, there’s so much more to ARK than a simple storyline could provide.

In it’s unfinished state, ARK: Survival Evolved is probably best described as a survival sim. That is, new players wake up naked on a mysterious island with no explanation as to how they got there or what they should do (like Minecraft but prettier). Presumably both of those questions will get answered when the game enters retail release, but for now, the answer to the first question is irrelevant and the answer to the second question is: survive.

Expanding in every direction is a hostile paradise of dangerously varied terrain, wildly unpredictable weather patterns, and a shitload of dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes. Some will try to kill you, some will be your biggest ally, and some you’ll keep around purely because they look silly when they run.

Those kinds of considerations come later. First, though, survival is the name of the game until you’re able to stop dying from exposure, which is tougher than it sounds.. Don’t let the brutality of the game’s first hours throw you, though. ARK: Survival Evolved is already one of the best games currently running, and it’s only going to get better.

Why It’s Better Than ‘Minecraft’

Okay, on the level, ARK almost definitely began its life as a Minecraft rip-off. At any rate, the whole “waking up naked on an island” thing has been done before. However it may have sprung to life, though, ARK: Survival Evolved has long since distinguished itself from its blocky predecessor.

First (and Most Obvious)

ARK is extremely pretty. You spend just as much time chopping down trees and hacking away at rocks as you do in Minecraft, it’s just much more pleasant-looking repetition.

Second

Instead of the Island crawling with a variety of random monsters, each of the fauna on the island is dino-themed. Most of them provide tweaks on their real-world counterparts, though the ever-expanding variety of animal species are always getting slightly stranger and more experimental.

Third

The tech team behind ARK: Survival Evolved must be chained to their desks, because they’re extremely active when it comes to updating the game and adding content. Since it’s release at the end of last year, rarely has a month gone by without substantial tweaks and fixes being applied to the ARK* formula.

Fourth

Where Minecraft goes for complexity as it develops, relying on players to gain a rudimentary understanding of electrical currents (for starters), ARK goes big. As they level up and explore their world, ARK players gain access to new technology that allows for a larger variety of gameplay styles. Sure, there’s electricity to play with, too, but there’s also machine guns.

The cumulative effect of that formula is a strikingly deep experience with a shiny new coat of paint that takes off in its own kickass new directions.

Mod Love

What’s even cooler is that ARK’s developers wisely handed the keys to modders at a really early stage, even offering big time prize money for modders with a truly singular vision. Not only did Studio Wildcard carry through on that promise, they’ve used it to expand and improve the game for all of its players, totally free of charge.

Most recently, ARK saw the release of The Center, which began as an enormous modder-made map from Ben Burkart. The new world caught the eye of Studio Wildcard execs, which prompted them to not only adopt the Center as an Official DLC, but offer Burkhart a job, as well. The result of the mod love has resulted in ARK’s map doubling in size before the the release of the retail game.

A Super Massive Update

While fans are working to expand and update the game, so are the devs at Studio Wildcard. Tomorrow, another update for ARK is expected to hit servers and offer not only more fixes, but also a new biome — the Redwood Forest — and the ability to toss Dodos.

What’s more, Studio Wildcard is also constantly adding new servers to help accommodate the steady influx of new players.

That being said, unless you’re down to play some cutthroat ARK: Survival Evolved, your best bet is to hunt up someone with a private server and schmooze your way on board. Just check out reddit when you’re looking for people to play with. Making friends and joining a tribe is really the easiest way to play.

TL;DR

Even though ARK still has at least seven months to go until it’s in a box and on a store shelf, the game is already one of the most fun survival simulators to be found. If you loved Minecraft, ARK surpassed it a few months ago in terms of sheer fun. What’s more, the studio seems committed to improving the experience by trying lots of new shit and listening to fan feedback.

There’s also a fairly constant stream of new content consistently being added to ARK at the beautiful price of free. If you’re looking to participate in a living, challenging, changing world, and join a thriving community of people for the bargain price of $30 on PC and $35 on Xbox One and PS4 (with a free update to the full game when it releases), then check out ARK:Survival Evolved.