Despite its plethora of bugs and issues that would drive you to madness, ARK: Survival Evolved has been massively successful and garnered a loyal and persistent player base. It's easy to see why developers Grapeshot Games and Instinct Games would want to compound on that success. ARK gave birth to two children Dark and Light and ATLAS, neither of which came anywhere near the success of their predecessor. What was originally intended to be a marine-themed DLC for ARK: Survival Evolved quickly became too large for just a DLC, and so ATLAS was born. All of the building blocks that made ARK the success that it is, are present in ATLAS, so why is it still just barely clinging to life?
The concept and design of ATLAS are truly brilliant as an open-world sandbox based on piracy and exploration with beautifully designed assets. There is even a store on the main trading islands to purchase various skins and cosmetics for your ship and character. Design your own custom ships, pick out whether you want cannons or ballista, and paint and customise your vessel right down to the placement of your sails.
Now ARK is very well known for being a buggy mess and ATLAS is no different. It all seems fine on the surface until you spend weeks building your very own Galleon with your Company, spending hours painting it a gorgeous dark purple colour scheme, christening it The Cabernet, only for it to end up being teleported into the middle of a mountain. Then of course your stubbornness takes over and you’re determined to free your baby from its stony prison and spend hours managing to jiggle it out, only to get a great view from the beach as it breaks apart because the water is too shallow. Next thing you know it’s four years later and you still can’t look at wine the same.
I suppose the defining difference between ARK and ATLAS is the lack of awesome dinosaurs to tame, however, there are still other creatures to tame: bears, elephants, giraffes, lions, and my personal favourite, cows! There's more of an opportunity for homesteading, creating a cosy little farm to return to when you grow weary of travelling. A farm that will be necessary for providing your character with all the necessary nutrients for a well-balanced diet — you wouldn't want to develop scurvy now, would you?
Among the few things ATLAS did better is giving you more direction, having quests and various treasure maps to follow. When you reach your target on the maps, you then get to battle the undead that rise to protect their buried treasure chest. Another improvement is how ATLAS provides an extensive skill tree to work your way through. Different islands and regions also have different variations of resources, some of which are needed for higher-tier craftable items.
Regular updates add new content, bug fixes, and new seasons, plus events are introduced every few months. While it doesn’t come even close to ARK’s numbers, ATLAS certainly hasn’t been abandoned by the developers or players.
ATLAS is mostly kept alive by the small player base providing unofficial servers for their communities. The server system is actually quite interesting, the map is customisable as well, as it's essentially just a grid of servers, so your world map is determined by how many small individual servers you have connected and what map you have in each grid. Servers are also split into PvP and PvE, allowing servers to even further customise the experience their players would like to have.
The potential was certainly there but unfortunately, it’s doubtful that ATLAS will ever fulfil the promise of what could have been. ARK’s charm was enough to convince players to continue despite the bugs, but by the time they reached ATLAS, most players just couldn’t sink into it the same way.