ARK: Survival Ascended (Early Access)

Posted:  Oct 29, 2023
SDHQ BUILD SCORE: 
Full StarFull StarNo StarNo StarNo Star

Review

ARK: Survival Ascended (ASA), a remastering of ARK: Survival Evolved (ASE) using Unreal Engine 5, has just launched onto Steam Early Access. Although it seems to have been a bit of a rough launch, which we're getting used to in the PC space, the game provides a huge amount of scalability, which is great for handheld users.

ARKSAStock2

ASA isn't just a simple graphical upgrade however, although the map is largely similar, it has been updated and redesigned in some areas. There are improvements to the UI, making it much more simplified and easier to control with a controller. We're also treated to other improvements such as dynamic foliage/water that reacts to dinosaurs and players moving through them, as well as baby dinosaurs in the wild.

The core gameplay experience of ASA remains unchanged from ASE. You will still be crafting your tools, building bases, taming dinosaurs, and progressing through the game's extensive technology tree. This is a plus in my book, as I enjoyed these aspects of the original, and I'm glad they've transferred into the remaster. ASA also makes a huge improvement over ASE in the visuals department. When you can set the graphics settings high, it takes advantage of Unreal Engine 5 features such as Lumen and Nanite to create a truly beautiful world.

ARKSAStock1

The game supports up to 8 players on private multiplayer servers and up to 70 players on dedicated servers. It also supports up to 4 players in split-screen, a first in the series for a PC version. And since a recent patch fixed BattlEye support on the Steam Deck, we can fully take advantage of it! Now, let's take a look at performance.

ARK: Survival Ascended - Steam Deck Performance

While the game itself appears to be fully playable from our testing, making a character might be out of the question. So you can't name yourself or choose how you look as it stands, which is a shame, especially for online play. But, outside of that, it is quite playable.

Right out of the gate, ASA is a much nicer experience than ASE to control with a gamepad. The menu has a simple layout, the buttons are bigger, and there are fewer of them, which makes the whole experience surprisingly pleasant to navigate.

ARKSAMainMenu

16:10 resolutions are supported, so Steam Deck users don't have to suffer with black bars here. There's a large array of graphics settings at our fingertips, and we also have some UI scaling, although I found the default UI scale to be adequate for the Steam Deck.

Recommended Settings - 30 FPS

Right off the bat, we're going to want to select the "Low Preset" to get some settings in place. Studio Wildcard has also said that choosing Presets changes background settings that aren't visible to the end-user right now, so choosing a preset can impact more than we can easily change. After a preset has been chosen, set all other settings to "Low" and disable the optional extras at the side, like Light Bloom and Light Shafts. For resolution, we're running at 960x600 with a resolution scale of 65 and in fullscreen mode. We can lower the resolution further, but the text becomes very difficult to read, so unless you know the UI by heart, keep it here.

On your SteamOS, you'll want to select a frame rate lock of 30FPS and make sure there's no TDP limit, the GPU really needs all the power we can give it. We're also applying the FSR filter to improve the visual quality of the game a bit.

ARKSAOptions

Once you're in the game with your unnamed character, open your Steam on-screen keyboard with STEAM+X, and hit the Tilde key. Once the console opens, type 'r.volumetricclouds 0' and hit enter. This will disable the game's volumetric clouds, it boosts the FPS by quite a bit. I personally prefer the game without the clouds, as they degrade in quality a lot at lower frame rates.

When using these settings and running around a multiplayer server with about 30-40 players online, I found that the Steam Deck mostly held 30FPS. At certain times of day, the frame rate does drop, mainly during early morning and late evening when there are a lot of shadows on the screen. I would describe the experience as Playable but not ideal.

It's worth noting that having large amounts of tamed dinosaurs or large structures will affect the performance. Given the type of game that ARK is, players can do some crazy things, especially online, so if you run into an army or encounter a tribe stronghold, your experience may vary. For single-player or a small server with a few friends, though, the Steam Deck should hold up for you.

Optional INI Edits

If you want to maximize performance, there are also some edits to an INI file you can make. As always with INI files, you edit at your own risk, it could cause glitches/errors in the game, and game updates in the future might stop them from working. These INI edits made it so I was almost always hitting 30FPS, and the visual quality was still pretty decent.

In Desktop Mode, navigate to /home/deck/.steam/steam/steamapps/common/ARK Survival Ascended/ShooterGame/Saved/Config/Windows/

Now open the GameUserSettings.ini. Once in the INI file, edit the following lines:

sg.ShadowQuality=0
sg.ReflectionQuality=0
sg.ShadingQuality=0

Those lines were likely on "3", as ARK currently offers no way to change these from in the game. Shadows should be able to be changed in-game, but for whatever reason, mine was still set to 3.

Further down edit the following lines:

HighQualityMaterials=False
HighQualitySurfaces=False

Accessibility

There are some accessibility features in ARK: Survival Ascended, like subtitles for the few voiced lines in the game, increasing the scale of some of the UI elements, the ability to disable view bobbing, and you can adjust the camera's FoV.

Controller support is pretty good, from what I can tell, and I don't think the experience is much different from using a keyboard and mouse. There is also a chat filter to filter out profanities in online play, but it is worth noting that the game carries a PEGI 18+ rating, and the chat filter didn't seem very effective anyway.

Conclusion:

If you own the original game, you may not want to dive straight into Ark: Survival Ascended. Much of the content is the same, and right now, the DLC hasn't been added yet. But the graphical upgrades and QoL improvements are a great addition, and in time, ASA will become the clear choice. Performance on the Steam Deck is acceptable and should only improve as the developers make optimizations. We hope that the crash in the character editor is resolved soon. We will keep an eye on this game and update this review accordingly if improvements are made for Deck users throughout early access!

Our review is based on the PC version of this game.

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SDHQ's Build Score Breakdown

ARK: Survival Ascended is out in Steam Early Access, and while it doesn't run great on the Steam Deck yet, there's hope for the future.

Build Score

Performance: 
Full StarFull StarNo StarNo StarNo Star
VISUALS: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarNo Star
Stability: 
Full StarFull StarNo StarNo StarNo Star
Controls: 
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarNo Star
Battery: 
Full StarNo StarNo StarNo StarNo Star
Oliver Stogden
Oliver began playing video games at an early age, starting with the SNES console and Commodore Amiga computer. Nowadays, his interest is in the future of portable technology, such as handheld gaming systems, portable power stations/banks, and portable monitors. And seeing just how far we can push these devices.
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