Atlas – Early Access Review

Well, it’s been a week since Atlas released, and it’s been a rough ride. After (arguably) one of the worst launches of all time, Atlas is now in a state where it is playable and the servers are (usually) responsive, lag free, and are no longer crashing constantly, which leads us to our first, early access review of the game.

At first glance, Atlas is very Ark-like; it is quite obvious that the game is not only running on the same engine as Ark, it also reuses much of Ark’s poorly optimized code and assets. This resulted in a game that launched with (hidden) menus from Ark, such as the single player Ark menu:

This re-use of assets and the hidden menu fiasco has led to some players dubbing it “Ark 2.0”, with a subset angrily refunding the game, claiming that it is nothing more than a buggy Ark DLC marketed as a new game, but are these comments justified? Let’s take a look.

While the game looks and feels like Ark, with the same ability to make characters with impossible proportions that look more alien than human, the actual gameplay is significantly different. Yes, you will still craft a stone pick and hatchet, you will still collect berries and fibre from bushes with your bare hands or a sickle, the similarities end there. The engram system from Ark has been completely reworked into a point-based skill tree that must be unlocked, rather than specific engrams being available at specific levels. Higher level skills require more points, and there certainly aren’t enough to go around, which means that companies (tribes in Atlas) are practically required to specialize – at low to mid levels you will almost certainly have one member who builds ships, one who builds structures on land, one who cooks, one who makes melee weapons, et cetera. While this results in a tight-knit team working together, it does mean that Atlas is not a good experience for solo players – even if the game does give you a free stat and skill point respec every level.

Taming, arguably the key feature of Ark, does make a return to Atlas, but unlike Ark, it is certainly not the focus of the game. Taming is much more difficult than in Ark, requiring not only a special skill set, but also often requiring specific foods, which aren’t available on all (or even most) islands. Cows, for instance, require rushes to tame, which are a specific type of thatch only available in certain biomes. Thus, becoming a master tamer requires a lot of exploration, and for those of us who aren’t interested in taming, it is also a system that is completely unnecessary to progress in game.

Speaking of exploration, let’s talk about world size: The world of Atlas is approximately 1,200 times larger than The Island in Ark. This comes with some caveats – The world is not, as the devs would tell you, completely seamless. The world is divided into a 15×15 grid of maps, each one with a biome and several islands, with world borders that connect you to adjacent squares on the grid. Unfortunately, Atlas is using an antiquated system whereby each square is a different server, and it is not only possible, but also not terribly uncommon for servers to come offline, leaving the player stuck at the login screen while thousands of other people in different zones are free to play the game. This also leads us to another problem – each server only supports 150 players, and while the devs have claimed that Atlas can host “40,000+” players, simple mathematics shows that that is simply not true in its current state: 15x15x150 = 33,750 players at maximum, assuming everyone is perfectly distributed across the map. Why the game was shipped with these arbitrary limits instead of using load balancing is beyond us.

That said, while Atlas has its problems (and there are quite a few of those), the game is certainly fun. The water physics in the game are unlike anything else we’ve seen, and anyone looking for a believable open ocean sailing experience will not be let down. The water is very realistic, and players and ships alike bob up and down while crashing through the waves, resulting in a beautiful, engaging experience. Combat is enjoyable, and after a week of testing, weapons seem to be reasonably balanced. Unlike Ark, Atlas’ “technology level” ends with black powder weapons, such as the flintlock pistol, the blunderbuss, and cannons, which have their own advantages and disadvantages, and are not overpowered compared to melee weapons and bows.

In conclusion, Atlas certainly has a lot of work that needs doing – which we will go over in more detail in future posts – but it has a great amount of potential. We feel that the 71% negative reviews on Steam are unwarranted now that the servers are more-or-less stable, and at only $25 USD in early access, we think that Atlas is well worth the asking price.

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