The move to Unreal Engine 5 was originally said to be a "completely free upgrade." Uh, whoops?
A person aiming a wooden bow and arrow at a T-Rex in an area with rolling green hills. Two other hunters are aiming crude weapons at the dinosaur.

Late in the day on Friday of last week, Studio Wildcard announced some unfortunate news bundled with some even worse news. The development studio put out a blog update that says Ark 2 is now being pushed to a 2024 release instead of its originally planned 2023 release.

If that wasn't already bad enough, the studio says that they are taking the official Ark: Survival Evolved servers offline in August. These official servers are being taken offline on all platforms: Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. In order to keep playing this game online, you will need to host your own server or pay someone to host an Ark server for you. Offline single player should remain functional.

If you wanted to know how this could possibly be any worse, Studio Wildcard says that there is yet another option for fans of the original Ark to keep playing online after that August server shutdown. You can always just purchase a current-gen upgrade for the original game! There will be no free upgrade path here, regardless of platform.

This remaster of the original game will move the game to Unreal Engine 5 and will be titled Ark: Survival Ascended. If you want this remaster/upgrade, you will have to pay at least $39.99 (USD) for the privilege to keep playing a game you already bought once. Ark: Survival Ascended will be released by the end of August 2023 for Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and PC. This release will include the original map, The Island, along with Survival of the Fittest, and "all the 'Non-Canon' DLC maps (which will be added to ASA over time)."

If you are on Xbox and PC specifically, the only way you can get Ark: Survival Ascended is to spend $49.99 to get the Ark Respawned Bundle. This bundle includes both Ark: Survival Ascended and Ark 2. This bundle is only going to be available to purchase for up to 1 year after its release this August, at which point Studio Wildcard will then sell each game separately. This bundle also includes 1-month closed beta access to Ark 2 prior to release.

PlayStation 5 owners are the only ones who will be able to pay just $39.99 right out of the gate, but this only includes access to Ark: Survival Ascended and does not include Ark 2.

Oh, and the expansion packs are going to be sold separately again for Ark: Survival Ascended.

All the expansion packs will be sold separately on all platforms:
  • $19.99 for Explorer’s Pass, which includes Scorched Earth, Aberration (Q4 2023), and Extinction (Q1 2024).
  • $19.99 for Genesis Pass, which includes Genesis Part 1 (Q1 2024) and Genesis Part 2 (Q2 2024).
At ARK: Survival Ascended’s launch, players will have access to The Island, Scorched Earth, and the new revamped game mode, Survival of the Fittest.​
There is much to be upset about here for fans of Ark, but the blow could have been softened slightly had the co-founder of Studio Wildcard, Jeremy Stieglitz, not said back in January that the upgrade to the original Ark would be "complete (sic) free."

To clarify: the UE5 tease a couple weeks back is referring to in-the-works complete free upgrade/remaster of ARK Survival Evolved in UnrealEngine5. Not a cinematic. We havent officially announced the ARK UE5 upgrade yet 'cause there's other major things we wanna show then as well
Obviously this planned changed, but to be told that the upgrade would be free and believe it for several months without a retraction only to be told you need to spend at least another $40 is, what the kids like to say, kinda shitty.

It's not clear who is to blame here for this absolute mess of planning, pricing, and communication. While Studio Wildcard is the developer of Ark and the now delayed Ark 2, the series is published by Snail Games. More often than not in these cases, it's the publisher that dictates these changes, including the decision to charge for what was previously said to be a free upgrade.

If you are interested in purchasing Ark: Survival Ascended, the paid upgrade to Ark: Survival Evolved, here are some of the improvements and changes the devs say you will experience. The initial changes do appear to be somewhat extensive on paper here, for whatever that's worth.

In addition to many other new features, ARK: Survival Ascended will feature the following improvements and enhancements:
  • Unreal Engine 5 Overhaul with Nanite, Lumen and RTXDI
  • Dynamic Water
  • Interactive Foliage
  • Unreal Engine 5 performance gains: instanced-rendering (large-bases etc.), threaded server networking, and native physics engine
  • Cross-platform Multiplayer
    • This includes cross-platform accounts and cross-progression, cross-voice chat & friends, etc. No matter what platform you start playing on, you can access your account, character, dinos, and items on a different platform for the ultimate cross-platform experience.
  • Cross-platform Modding
    • We recognize the power of giving players the tools and capability to define their survival experience, so we want to take cross-platform one step further by working with Overwolf to introduce an industry-first cross-platform modding experience where mods created on PC are delivered directly to end-users’ consoles from a custom modding backend.
    • The modding capability will include FULL blueprinting support , stacked mods, and maps. Everything that is currently possible on the Steam version of ARK: Survival Evolved and more will be possible on the new system and be available for end-users to play on consoles in all modes.
    • Premium Mods: Reviewed by Overwolf and Wildcard for quality control and value, Mod authors will optionally be able to specify price points for their Mods (with 50% of the price point going to the Mod author). This is necessary to pay for the custom infrastructure required for Overwolf to support, administrate, and deliver Mods to the console.
    • We plan on streamlining the process of upgrading legacy ARK: Survival Evolved mods to the next-generation platform. We plan to reach out to current/former sponsored modders in preparation for the launch of ASA with the tools they need to get their mods ready before the launch.
  • Cross-platform Anti-Cheat
  • Survival of the Fittest
    • SOTF will be integrated into the main product as a new fully-supported game mode. It will have a dedicated team that will continue to work on more gameplay changes, mechanical improvements, quality of life, maps, and balance adjustments. The initial mode will be revamped with an exclusive ARK: Survival Ascended update, including:
      • Upgraded to Unreal Engine 5 with complete cross-platform and cross-modding support (the SOTF UE5 source content will be released for modders to utilize as they wish within ASA)
      • Scorched Earth SOTF Map
      • Matchmaking queue
      • Character and Creature customization with cosmetics
      • Local Lobby where you can group up with your friends, configure the look of your survivor and dinos, and queue up for lobbies together
      • Lots of bug-fixes and balance and functionality improvements
  • Art Assets are being upgraded throughout the entire game
  • Newly-designed holiday events take advantage of the next-gen pipeline, released as mods, so they’re always available to play!
  • New content, QOL improvements, balance, and gameplay changes, including but not limited to:
    • Updated mini-map (pan, zoom, pings, etc – similar to the SOTF mini-map)
    • New structures (display cases, smaller TEK Teleporters) & building QOL improvements (snap fixes, increased foundation support, foundation height adjustments, and more)
    • Queueing System
    • New third-person camera (with the option to opt out)
    • Directional Sprinting and Walking
    • Ping system
    • Gamepad cursor
    • Chibi Slot and Skins Tab
    • Balance passes (e.g. Cave Entrances, MEKs, Aberration Creatures, more breedable creatures, etc)
    • …and more! (seriously, a lot more, this list isn’t exhaustive, but it’ll get super long if we list everything, and there’s more we’ll decide to do between now and launch too)