"This is not Ark 2."
That secret message, decoded by some clever fans, was embedded in an Ark: Survival Evolved teaser page, and it's now been confirmed. There's no Ark: Survival Evolved sequel coming (yet, anyway), but Studio Wildcard has announced two new expansion packs collectively called Ark: Genesis. The first Genesis pack will arrive this December, and the other is planned for the second half of next year. You can watch the announcement trailer further down the page.
In addition to a new map, a new story, and some cool new creatures—including a giant sea turtle you can build a damn fort on—Ark: Genesis is adding something that's not a something. It's a someone.
"For Genesis, we're actually introducing our first speaking character to Ark who's with you throughout the game, in the form of HLN-A," said Jesse Rapczak, technical art director and co-creative director of Studio Wildcard, when we talked earlier this week.
HLN-A (an acronym for Human Learning Neural Aid) is a fully-voiced floating AI companion who follows you around, talks, gives you missions and goals, and brings the story of Ark to the forefront instead of concealing it in scattered explorer notes as it has in the past. In fact, HLN-A is a reference to Helena, the biologist who authored those explorer notes and created this AI companion.
"So instead of just being a sandbox survival experience," Rapczak said, "Genesis takes that sandbox heritage that comes from the rest of Ark, but wraps it up with some direction on things that you would want to do to get through the story points, and tackle the final boss, and uncover the next chapters of the story we're telling."
While you'll need to wait until December to experience the first part of Genesis, the season pass is available for pre-order now and those who purchase it will immediately get access to the first version of HLN-A in Ark.
According to Rapczak, HLN-A will work on any current Ark map, follow the player around, talk and react a bit to player actions, serve as a hovering flashlight in dark areas, and perform a few other functions.
Over the months leading up to the release of Genesis, Rapczak said they'll probably use HLN-A to deliver little snippets of lore related to the Genesis expansion to players that have obtained her by pre-purchasing the season pass. You can still play Ark with friends who haven't pre-purchased the expansion and they'll be able to see HLN-A following you around in the game.
As for the Genesis map, it will contain a number of biomes including dangerous volcanic regions, home to the massive fire lizard you see above, and a high-altitude "crazy snow mountain biome" with some severe survival challenges. There's also a small, tamable shoulder pet nicknamed "Tiny" who completely hulks out into a rampaging monster when exposed to Element, one of Ark's crafting resources.
And, again, there will be giant sea turtles and you can build bases on their shells. You can even harvest the resources that grow on its back and use its oxygen supply when it submerges.
If you're wondering why Ark is getting yet another expansion instead of a sequel, Rapczak told me it's due to the overwheming response to the previous expansions, which has kept Ark in the top 10 most-played games on Steam for the past two years. "The game has had a much longer life and enthusiasm from the community than really we could have forseen," he told me.