Difficulty in ARK: Survival Evolved affects the possible levels of creatures in the world as well as the available quality range of loot drops. Although Difficulty is ultimately calculated as a single value, the many ways that value is determined and the ways that it is applied are not simple.
How Difficulty is Calculated
To determine the final numerical value for Difficulty, the following is checked, in order:
- If the "Maximum Difficulty" checkbox is enabled (
Game.ini), Difficulty is set to 5.0 and all other related settings are ignored. However, The Island is the only widely proven special map that would completely ignore the "Maximum Difficulty" checkbox and therefore if it needs extra ini settings to change the dino levels.
- Otherwise, if
OverrideOfficialDifficultyis set (command line or
GameUserSettings.ini), the provided value (e.g. 4.0 if
OverrideOfficialDifficulty=4.0is specified) will be used.
- If neither
OverrideOfficialDifficultyare provided, Difficulty is calculated by multiplying the "Difficulty Level" setting (
GameUserSettings.ini) by a base difficulty that varies per map:
- The Island, Scorched Earth, Aberration, and Genesis: Part 2 multiply by a base value of 4.0 (maximum level of 120 for standard, wild dinos with a 1.0 offset)
- Other maps, including Extinction and Genesis: Part 1 multiply by a base value of 5.0 (maximum level of 150 for standard, wild dinos with a 1.0 offset)
For consistency and clarity, it's generally recommended to use
OverrideOfficialDifficulty whenever possible. These settings directly set the final Difficulty value (to 5.0 or whatever is provided, respectively) with no variation between maps and no further calculation involved.
Impact on Dino Levels
The effective Difficulty value establishes the size of a "step" in wild dino levels, with a standard Difficulty of 5.0 corresponding to 5-level increments for most dinos. Tek Creatures have a 20% bonus applied to this step size, meaning they will appear in 6-level increments in the same 5.0 Difficulty environment.
Independently of Difficulty, each type of dino has a fixed number of such "steps" it selects from upon creation:
- Most dinos, like the Dodo, have 30 possible level steps -- this means levels range from 5 to 150, in 5-level increments, with 5.0 Difficulty
- Some dinos, like the Wyvern or Rock Drake, instead have 38 possible level steps -- meaning levels range from 5 to 190, in 5-level increments, with 5.0 Difficulty
The final level of a dino will round to the nearest whole value and will always be at least one. This means, as examples:
- A difficulty of 0.1 produces an unweighted spawn with approximately half of normal dinos (steps 1-14) as level 1, a third (steps 15-24) as level 2, and a sixth (steps 25-30) as level 3
- A difficulty of 1.5 produces a predictable rounding rhythm with levels 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, and so on up to 45 possible for normal dinos
- A difficulty of 10.0 results in 12-level increments for Tek Creatures after their 20% bonus, meaning dinos like the Tek Rex reach up to level 360 at this setting
Impact on Loot Quality
Difficulty is a direct multiplier in the randomized calculation of Item Quality. Higher difficulty values will result in items and blueprints with higher tiers, damage/armor multipliers, and crafting costs appearing more frequently while lower difficulty values may result in high-quality items appearing infrequently. This can be further adjusted with Server configuration settings like
SupplyCrateLootQualityMultiplier if high quality loot with low dino levels is desired.
Impact on Perceived Difficulty
Because higher difficulty values provide players with more powerful tamed dinos and better equipment, higher values may not result in gameplay perceived as subjectively "harder" despite raising the levels of dinos encountered in the wild. This is made even more relevant as bonus levels from taming effectiveness and percentage bonuses applied by leveling scale up with the power of available dinos, meaning the power gap between player-controlled dinos and the environment can actually grow faster with a higher Difficulty value. In turn, a higher Difficulty value can be seen as "easier" once better tames and equipment become available.
Further influencing this potential reversal of intended effect, some threats like the Giga or many Bosses do not significantly increase in power with Difficulty despite players and their tames becoming substantially more powerful as Difficulty values rise. A survivor tackling Megapithicus with an army raised from level 30 Rexes found at a 1.0 Difficulty will have a much tougher challenge than a similar survivor raising an army from level 300 ones at 10.0 Difficulty!