Dark and Light recently became available on Steam's early access, and many of its systems were taken from Ark: Survival Evolved, making the two easily comparable. Studio Wildcard's controversial but popular title, which I recently reviewed, had just left Early Access.
My greatest criticism of Ark was its developer's unethical acts and ineptitude. Perhaps Dark and Light’s greatest advantage is that the title has little to do with that studio. Dark and Light has been developed and produced by Snail Games USA, Wildcard’s parent company, who appear to have had little to do with Ark’s development. Essentially, Dark and Light is built off the same foundation as Wildcard’s Ark, in that it uses the same engine and incorporates many of Ark’s game systems, but it is being further developed and maintained by a different developer.
Whereas Ark was meant to be a first-person action survival game, Dark and Light is locked to third-person on official servers, and draws more influence from MMORPGs. Dark and Light features multiple player races and factions, a currency, trade, human NPCs, and towns. Players can invest in these NPC towns, rent housing, or even attack the NPC residents.
The premise of Dark and Light is that the various elven, human, and dwarven civilizations fled their destroyed mother planet, Gaia, making their home on a new one, Archos. However, Archos is primal and inhospitable, so players need to tame the land’s creatures and build new homes. To make matters worse, dark creatures leftover from the destruction of Gaia are raiding Archos, attempting to destroy this new world. As with most MMORPGs, plot is secondary to gameplay, but the premise is well supported by various gameplay systems, such as undead invasion events.
Dark and Light uses the same building system as Ark, one where players gather resources, build them into various pieces, like floors, walls, or pillars, and create more complex structures by snapping these together. There are also different tiers of building materials, such as straw and iron, which create structures that are different in both aesthetics and durability.
Dark and Light has a taming system, but there are a few features which set it apart from Ark’s. First of all, it is much easier to acquire kibble for quick and simple taming. Secondly, to knock out creatures, players must actively wear them out by binding them with rope-arrows rather than tranquilizing them. Thirdly, the creatures of Dark and Light have a distinct fantasy theme; think goblins, dragons, griffins, and unicorns.
The skill trees in Dark and Light remind me of those present in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Rather than simply learning to create different items as they level, players train in each skill tree by performing various actions. Leveling is still essential, but the other unlocking criteria make it so that mindless leveling isn’t necessarily the optimal path. Though technically one can unlock everything, the grind that doing so would take incentivizes specialization. For example, I had a friend who chose to focus on unlocking water magic and cooking, whereas I chose to work on earth magic and building. Another friend worked on air magic and gardening. This allowed each of us to contribute something different to our group and to feel engaged through doing so.
Dark and Light’s diversity of magic is quite impressive. I never cared for unmounted combat in Ark, but in Dark and Light, magic improves it. You can shoot thunderbolts from your staff, use telekinesis to throw boulders and trees at enemies, shape shift yourself into a deadly creature, or even shape shift your enemies into a not-so-deadly creature. I found that all of these options made combat feel more immersive while providing extra incentive for me to level and train skills.
As I mentioned earlier, Dark and Light is in early access, and this shows. The game has serious issues, including both horrendous load times (make yourself a snack while you’re waiting to load) and game-breaking glitches. There’s one bug where you can’t log back into a server until someone already in it kills your character. This is obviously a huge problem for solo players since they can’t have a tribe member kill them, and likely must suicide after each session, which is obviously inconvenient. Glitches like these are certainly nothing abnormal in an alpha that’s only been out for two months, especially one of Dark and Light’s scale, but they do make it difficult for those who want to enjoy the game now.
Actions performed by the player can often feel imprecise due to poor hit-boxes and network lag. Most of Dark and Light’s weapons feature two attacks: a quick one and a strong one. I found myself relying exclusively on the strong one because the quick one felt almost impossible to connect (the strong one wasn’t particularly easy to land either). A lot of this is probably due to network lag, and hopefully future optimizations will help solve it, but in the meantime combat feels clunky. There’s little more frustrating than hitting something on your screen, seeing blood fly and hearing the sound effect which indicates you hit it, but seeing the health bar ignore all this. This is because your client is registering and displaying that you hit the creature, but on the server, you’re missing entirely due to the server being behind the client.
Dark and Light is a pretty game, but much like Ark, it's poorly optimized. If you want the game to look good, you’re going to need a high-spec computer to run it and get good frames. Character and creature models aren’t nearly as pretty as the environments, and are rather ugly. It’s possible that Snail Games will later work on both issues, as Wildcard did the same for Ark, but I find the ugly models particularly discouraging. The sound design is generally lackluster, too. Some of the music tracks are decent, but sound effects are weak. Due to the poorly designed character models and sound effects, many of Dark and Light’s creatures felt inanimate, which is unfortunate considering how much of the game revolves around them.
In my review of Ark, I warned readers that certain aspects of the game, like tribes and competition over scarce resources, encouraged toxicity, and the holds true for Dark and Light. Unless you’re playing on a PvE server, expect to encounter griefers, cheaters, exploiters, and all sorts of toxic players fairly regularly.
Dark and Light can feel like an unforgiving time sink at times, but much less so than Ark. If you die in Dark and Light, a pillar of light rises from your body, making it much easier to recover your loot. Base taming times and resource gather rates feel better than Ark’s did, and some of the most time-intensive systems (breeding and imprinting) aren’t implemented, and may not be. Further, there is a method called soul-bind that makes it so you don’t drop gear on death, and the resurrection of deceased tames is possible. Given all of this, Dark and Light feels much less grindy than Ark did.
At the end of a review, I typically ask myself “who would I recommend this game to?” In this case, the answer is easy: anyone who enjoyed Ark will probably enjoy Dark and Light. Even if you don’t know Ark, you might still enjoy Dark and Light. Fans of fantasy MMORPGs and survival games could find plenty to like here. That said, if it were me, and I were purchasing Dark and Light out of more than curiosity, I would hold off until it’s a bit more complete. That way I’d avoid potential wipes, annoying alpha bugs, and could potentially buy the game on sale.
In terms of rating, I’d give Dark and Light a seven out of ten at this stage. It’s got plenty of promise, and there’s enough to immerse you right now if you’re inclined to play it, but there’s also a lot of frustrating issues. Also, given Ark’s controversial development history and considering that these two titles are related, it might be prudent to wait and see how Snail Games USA conducts itself. However, if Dark and Light interests you, I would recommend not letting its mixed Steam review score scare you away. Many of these reviews have more to do with Ark than they do Dark and Light.