'ARK: Survival Evolved' Devs Talk Extinction Dinos, PvE & The Series' Future

ARK: Survival Evolved took the games industry by storm in 2015 with its survival-based mechanics, expansive roster of cool dinosaurs and an unabashedly early access development plan. Three years of continued growth later, the team at Studio Wildcard has announced the game's third, and possibly final, expansion will release Nov. 6.

To learn what Extinction is all about, Newsweek spoke with Studio Wildcard Co-Founder and Co-Creative Director Jesse Rapczak and Lead Engineer Chris Willoughby. Suffice to say, the world, creatures, story and future of ARK are about to take an exciting turn.

A World to Explore

Extinction takes players to a futuristic version of Earth populated by an overgrowth of plant species and the technological remnants of a mysterious civilization long since passed. ARK ventures further into the sci-fi realm than ever before, to a time when nature has reasserted dominance over most of humanity's creations.

"We're all children of the '80s and '90s here, so things like crazy worlds with dinosaurs and robots are ingrained in our psyches as inherently cool," Rapczak joked. That setting, mixed with four unique boss fights, new things to interact with and fresh ways to play allow Wildcard to confidently describe Extinction as equally big or bigger than any past ARK DLC. Since the map's divided by difficulty tiers, players of all skill levels can enjoy exploring the secrets of this new environment.

ARK Extinction world
The world of Extinction blends sci-fi elements with the series’ prehistoric roots. Studio Wildcard

Creatures to Tame and Items to Use

While there may be more creatures and items in Extinction than we know about today, Wildcard has chosen to focus on six different features whittled down from hundreds of possibilities. Some of the concepts are just plain cool, while others are a direct response to fan feedback.

On the cool end of the spectrum is the Enforcer. Based partly on the teleportation movement featured in many VR games, the Enforcer is a constructed Dino capable of warping over short distances. Players can add one to their party via traditional taming or by collecting the individual pieces required to craft one. The team has not decided on a process. Once that's finished, the Enforcer's ability can be used by looking in the desired direction.

The Scout, on the other hand, is a drone originally designed to be part of the security force of the abandoned city. The only way to get your own is to destroy one in the wild and harvest the raw parts it drops. High-level Scouts drop high-level parts, so you'll get the best crafting results by attacking and rebuilding the strongest ones. In your possession, the Scout can reveal enemy targets to your survivor and others on your tribe.

ARK Extinction Scout
The Scout helps tribes target enemies. Studio Wildcard

Extinction also introduces several more transportation-related items: the Item Balloon, Gasbags and Cryochamber. The Item Balloon lets players float caches of goods back to their base, like a more primitive version of the Fulton from Metal Gear Solid V. The Cryochamber freezes creatures into small cubes players can carry, trade and release at a later date. It's the Gasbags, though, that were most directly inspired by player demand.

ARK Extinction Item Balloon
The Item Balloon brings materials to distant places. Studio Wildcard

"It's based explicitly on solving a problem that exists in the game, which is that there are lots of things and they're heavy to move from place to place if you want to set up a forward-operating base or you want to harvest a ton of metal and bring it back," Willoughby described. "What's neat about this creature is it can carry lots and lots of weight then expels gas to launch in the air and jump great distances. It's not really flying, it's just launching and you've got air control. It's almost like when you let go of a balloon and it flies through the air."

ARK Extinction Gasbag
The Gasbag is a direct response to fans’ transportation concerns. Studio Wildcard

Behind all of that are the monstrous Titans shown below. These mini-bosses can be tamed and encountered in the wild, but you'll have to master a totally new taming mechanic to add each one to your crew.

ARK Extinction titan
Titans serve as mini-bosses in Extinction. Studio Wildcard

Just like all previous ARK expansions, Extinction's creatures and items will be transferable to all maps and partially available to those who don't purchase Extinction outright. However, in the latter case you'll need a friend with the expansion or to use cheat codes on a server that allows them. That degree of openness suggests Extinction's creatures could impact far more than the map they were designed for.

New Ways to Play

Extinction also offers new gameplay modes. High-level areas of the map, like No Man's Land, will feature groups of corrupted Dinos with a hive mentality that must be taken down in PvE fashion. Willoughby thoroughly described how players must approach this challenge.

"They're going to be able to bring all their existing items, gear and Dinos. Then, when one of these spawns out in the wild, they'll become aware of it and have a period of time where they can come in there and have a chance to set up some defenses. There's some element of base-building there, and there's some element of tower defense. You face these waves of Dinos, different kinds of challenges and different difficulty scales. If you're able to fend them off and survive, then there's going to be a nice reward.

"What's really cool, even beyond that, is that this is ARK, and it takes place in that world. That means other players can show up in the middle of it. Maybe they'll help you for a piece of the reward, maybe they'll wait for you to fight off all the dinosaurs and then take the spoils for themselves, or maybe they'll start a fight with you. It brings a new wrinkle to the game with these [events] happening out in the world."

With all that in mind, Willoughby confidently described the live PvE element as his most anticipated part of Extinction.

New Stories to Tell

While he couldn't reveal much, Rapczak says his favorite part of Extinction is the lore reveals and the world itself. "Our inspiration was to take everything we've done with ARK up to this point and put a bow on it, to let players know that in this world they're going to find answers to their questions. Why are all these crazy creatures here? What's going on with all this sci-fi stuff and where did all this come from? All of that stuff is coming to a head in Extinction."

Despite Extinction's sci-fi underpinnings, Rapczak hinted its story might also tap into ARK's prehistoric roots.

"People often associate hi-tech with being the best, but look at the world. If you look at the state of Extinction, it's clear hi-tech's not always the answer. There's going to be a couple cool surprises for the people who really like the core of what they first came to ARK to play, which is these amazing creatures and dinosaurs. Extinction is going to be pretty satisfying for them, even if they're not into the robots and sci-fi stuff."

For those eager to see more, the Extinction Chronicles event is happening now. Leading up to Extinction's launch in November, current ARK players can collect Explorer Notes, items and skins that offer clues to the lore ahead.

The Future of 'ARK'

As the three-act story of ARK comes to a close with new lore and creatures, Studio Wildcard is still looking ahead. Given ARK's success it's obvious the franchise will continue, but both Willoughby and Rapczak were unsure what form the series' next chapter might take.

"It will be an opportunity for us to step back and figure out where we go from here," Willoughby told Newsweek. "ARK has been hugely successful and we want it to continue to be successful and relevant. We like making it, so we want to continue to produce content for the fans."

That means another Season Pass, more free content or even a full sequel are all on the table for 2019 and beyond. But the team at Wildcard is mostly focused on the here and now with Extinction. As Rapczak put it, "it's going to be a gameplay, story and visual feast for everybody."

ARK: Survival Evolved is available now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, OS X and Linux. The Extinction Expansion comes to PS4, Xbox One and PC Nov. 6.

What are your thoughts on Extinction? Where do you want to see ARK go next? Tell us in the comments section!

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