Studio Wildcard today announced the Scorched Earth expansion for its dinosaur-combat RPG Ark: Survival Evolved, creating a new desert-based island that's the same size as the core land-base. Available today, the expansion has effectively doubled the game-world's size, for those willing to pay extra.
Given Ark's success and popularity, there's a lot to get to here, not least the fact that this paid expansion — it costs $19.99 on PC and Xbox One — is being released for an Early Access title which will not actually launch until later this year.
"I definitely think that as far as Early Access goes, this announcement is new territory," said co-creative director and co-founder Jesse Rapczak in an interview with Polygon earlier this week. "Some players may think that it's not a good thing to do that. But Ark is essentially a very cheap game-as-a-service. There's not a lot of games that you can put down 20 bucks or 30 bucks and play thousands of hours of always-updating content."
The core game currently costs $29.99 on Steam and usually around the same on Xbox One, so anyone who buys the game and the expansion is looking at a $50 lay-out, roughly the same as a Triple A release at launch. Rapczak said that the expansion will continue to be sold as an extra when the final game arrives.
Ark initially launched in Steam Early Access in June, 2015. Like many other popular multiplayer games, it drops the player into a harsh environment and tasks them with survival. Players explore, craft, fight and build a base.
The environment of Ark includes a collection of dinosaurs and fantastical giant creatures that can be fought, tamed and used. Advanced players can roam the approximately 36 square kilometers of landmass on the back of a T-Rex, armed to the teeth.
Scorched Earth is a separate desert island that offers the further challenge of heat and scarcity of water. "You have to play it a little more smartly," said Rapczak. "There's a lot more that can happen to you based on different weather events, like sand storms that really slow your progress or electrical storms that totally disable advanced equipment."
The new world also offers environmental clues about Ark's lore and backstory, something that Studio Wildcard has hitherto held back on discussing. Although full reveals about the Ark story are being reserved until the full game launches, there will be new clues in the expansion.
"The players are all very curious about what's going on," said Rapczak. "There are countless conversations in our community, speculating what's going on in Ark. We've already put so much stuff in, like the sci-fi obelisks, but in the new expansion we've got civilizational remains of previous inhabitants including left-behind cities and caves."
Although the word 'desert' conjures unending sand dunes, Scorched Earth offers a diverse selection of seven areas including mountains, canyons, badlands, oasis and a dragon trench. There's also 50 new items to craft as well as new creatures to best and to tame.
A central challenge in Scorched Earth is to get hold of a dragon-like wyvern. In the main game, taming creatures is mostly a matter of knocking the beast out and feeding it appropriate grub until it becomes friendly. This doesn't work on wyverns, of which there are three varieties: lightning, fire and poison.
"You have to steal an egg and and then raise the baby wyvern, feeding it with the milk of an adult wyvern," chuckled Rapczak. "Getting an egg is hard as they are all in the dragon trench which is a difficult place. It's also challenging to raise these things from babies to being your companion. But this is a more interesting way of getting hold of these creatures. It makes them a little more special."
Another new creature is a manticore boss, which is the game's toughest fight yet, according to Rapczak. "We spent a lot of time on the programming and the AI of this creature. It's got a lot of minions that it orchestrates against you in ways that the other bosses don't. It attacks from the air and from the ground. But by defeating the manticore you get some really cool gear."
Players can take their gear and their creatures from the Scorched Earth island back to the main island. Rapczak said that this will allow players who don't have the expansion to try to grab those creatures through player-vs-player combat, even though they are unable to venture to the new island themselves.
"It's complex, but we feel it's the best thing to do because we don't want to segment the player-base any more than we have to," he said. "We still want those players who may not have the expansion yet to experience some of that content.
"If you own the expansion, you can take your character back and forth from the main Ark island to the Scorched Earth island, regardless how many or how few experience points, but you can only take items and dinos from Scorched Earth to the main island, not the other way around," he explained. "We don't want people stomping around the desert on a T-Rex on day one."
As well as the expansion, Studio Wildcard also announced today that its Update v739, released on PC last month, is now available for Xbox One. This includes resolution improvements as well as new creatures and modes.
Rapczak said that the company will continue to offer updates and free DLC in the months to come, and after the game's launch.
"We don't want to charge players more than we have to," he said. "That's why we give away a lot of free DLC. Some people might see that this is an Early Access title and we're selling an expansion pack and they might have an ideological issue with that. I don't think we're ever going to please those people.
"But what I would say to them is that this expansion pack represents much more closely the final look and feel and polish of the game. We've been working on it for a long time. We always planned to release it close to the launch of the game, so why sit on it? Let's get it out there and let players enjoy it."