Everything is nicely interconnected, which also means it's quite easy to see to your basic survival needs and move on to more interesting tasks. After getting to grips with survival, I set off into the forest in search of terrible lizards. Within five minutes, I was stung to death by an insect the size of a kite. I simply couldn't hit the damned thing with my spear. At present, the combat in Ark leaves a lot to be desired. The first person mechanics don't gel particularly well with the game's more MMO-ish feel. The game is at its lowest ebb when you're fending off nuisance enemies like giant insects.
But the painful irony of being swatted by a giant fly revealed another interesting aspect of Ark. When you die, although you lose all your equipment, you don't lose your level progress. This is the other more MMO-ish element of Ark. Crafting diagrams, known in-game as "Engrams", are unlocked as you level up. Grinding isn't required either, you gain experience points just for staying alive, with bonuses for performing certain actions like killing an enemy.
Having respawned on a sandy peninsula some way up the beach. I restocked my equipment and headed inland via a different route. As I jogged merrily along I passed through a player base containing a brachiosaurus wearing a saddle, and instantly wanted one of my own. Unfortunately, such dreams were a long way off. Ark lets you tame and ride most of its dinosaurs, but doing so requires considerable time and effort (and ideally the appropriate level). At a measly level six, the only dinosaurs I could reasonably ride were parasaurolophus and phiomias, a sort of cross between an elephant and a black bear.
Targets identified, I wandered further inland with my spear and my newly crafted slingshot. Trekking through Ark's landscape is equal parts pleasant and terrifying. Dense forests and twisting canyons suddenly open up to sprawling plains watched over by looming mountains, while dinosaurs roam freely across the land regardless of type or level. At one point I stumbled upon a T-Rex egg, and nabbed it with the intention of making the omelette to end all omelettes. Then I remembered what lays a T-Rex egg, and sure enough the mother was just a few metres away. If it wasn't for the sudden appearance of a Stegosaur into the mix, I'd have been deader than a lawyer hiding in a toilet.
In terms of scale and visual detail, Ark's dinosaurs are mightily impressive. Watch them for any length of time, however, and the sense of awe deflates. Again, is that MMO issue of characters feeling oddly disconnected from the world. This becomes especially apparent when hunting. When alarmed the dinosaurs either run blindly away, over rocks and into trees, or clumsily attack you, striking at the air as you hop easily around them. None of it is particularly grounded or convincing.
After a couple of abortive attempts, I finally managed to chase down a parasaur and knock it out without killing it. Taming a dinosaur involved feeding it while it is unconscious (not recommended as a dog training exercise). Then you wait, and wait, and wait. Taming a dinosaur can take up to an hour, and its success rate depends on a wide variety of factors. Needless to say, I failed, and that was despite the extremely generous help of another, much higher-level player.
I'm also unsure I want to try again, for the moment at least. I really don't relish the idea of sitting around for an hour waiting for what is essentially a loading bar to finish. Ark is in an interesting position for a survival game. Most games of this ilk have a solid foundation but a dearth of content, which is the primary focus on the expansion over their development. Ark is the opposite. Feature-wise it seems fairly comprehensive, but it's very rough around the edges, with wonky combat and even wonkier dinosaurs.
These issues are entirely fixable, and the developers are extremely active tweaking and adding stuff to the game, so I imagine that the final version will be much improved. As for whether you should venture into Ark right now, that depends on just how much you like dinosaurs, and how long you're prepared to wait for them to like you.