This is the brutal reality of the new desert location: out here death will find you using teeth, stingers, claws or heat.

This is the brutal reality of the new desert location: out here death will find you using teeth, stingers, claws or heat.

We smear a tanker full of sunscreen (that’s 20,800 litres of sunscreen, in case you’re wondering) on our sexy bodies and take a squint at the blazing-hot Ark: Survival Evolved expansion.

I feel like I’m practically a camel at this point. Time to start practising my moos, neighs or whatever it is they do. Don’t camels spit? I think they spit, and there’s probably some form of growl in their vocabulary as well. Hang on, this just in – I did a bit of YouTube research, and camels actually make a sound that’s a bit like Chewbacca being eaten alive by a Sarlacc.

So, why do I feel like an even-toed ungulate (thanks, Internet), you ask? Well, firstly because I’ve just come off playing the Battlefield 1 beta, which is set in the Sinai desert. Now I’m heading back into the desert in the Scorched Earth expansion to Ark: Survival Evolved. It’s really just more desert, but a much, much harsher one than the child-friendly, beach sand-type desert in Battlefield 1. To give you an example, this is something I typed into the game’s chat window the other night: “Where can I find obsidian in this godforsaken hellhole?” Not only is water extremely scarce, it just feels hot here – at least, it feels as hot as a game can make you feel. There’s heat haze making everything shimmer and dance, your water level visibly drops while you stare at it, and food goes rancid faster. Oh, and there are sandstorms that sap your stamina and damage electrical equipment, and violent thunderstorms that offer little rain but loads of lightning and thunder. You should really consider carrying a tent with you wherever you go in the early game, because getting caught outside in any one of these natural phenomena means almost certain death. It’ll be a slow death too, and only your dry, polished bones will serve as a reminder that one more survivor… didn’t.

Just look at this cute little Jerboa. You almost want to eat him up. Actually, they do taste good with a sprinkle of cactus sap.

Just look at this cute little Jerboa. You almost want to eat him up. Actually, they do taste good with a sprinkle of cactus sap.

Now, because the Internet and many of the people on it are painful, there’s some negative sentiment about releasing DLC for a game before it’s out of Steam Early Access. People are complaining that some bugs remain unresolved in the base game, while others appear affronted that the developers are going for a quick money-grab. In response to this, Ark developer Studio Wildcard released a statement that smoothed over all these misaligned, thorny dragon scales. My opinion: I can’t relate to the kind of negative thinking that people are applying to the expansion.

Scorched Earth is one of the best surprises I’ve gotten from the games industry in a long time. Completely shunning the industry standard of drip-feeding information over the course of a few months or years to maximise their marketing, Studio Wildcard instead said nothing about this expansion and released it to their unsuspecting fan base, delivering a towering stack of amazing new content for their already super-popular game. Huge well done to them for delivering such a high-quality, well-thought-out expansion before the base game is even out. I can’t wait to see what they do next. This should be the template for how expansions are made and released – via a single blistering, completely unexpected download filled with dragons, searing conditions and very little water. How many games out there offer hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of hours of play before they’re even out of Early Access, and then release such well-crafted bits of DLC?

This is what adobe, the new base construction material, looks like in action. Because you know, clay keeps you cool.

This is what adobe, the new base construction material, looks like in action. Because you know, clay keeps you cool.

So what’s new in this sizzling expansion? First up, the environment is damn brutal. I know I’ve touched on this already but it needs to be said again, because it’s especially brutal when you first start. It gets better once you upgrade a little, but last night I found myself taming a dinosaur while hiding in a tent and running low on water. I actually had to plan and think a little harder about surviving the rest of the taming process. Secondly, and this is resource-related, not having early access to a flying mount (like pteranodon) causes a lot of survivalist inconvenience. Running around on foot dodging terror birds and raptors brings a fresh bit of challenge to the game, and if you’re a veteran of The Island or The Centre, prepare for a very rude awakening. Scorched Earth is especially tricky because you can’t go too far away from the limited water supplies on the map and your exploration is limited by the sandstorms, so getting your bearings takes time.

Once you’ve found your footing you can craft desert armour that gives some protection from the heat and allows you better visibility during sandstorms (but won’t do much to help you survive them). Making this new armour requires silk, which is a new resource obtained from flowers (which is a slow process) or by killing a Lymantria (which is a quicker, but far deadlier way to acquire silk). Lymantria are giant desert moths that can be flown around, but you need to be level 45 to craft the saddle.

The morellatops is an essential dinosaur to tame early on. It collects berries, holds water and can stomp terror birds.

The morellatops is an essential dinosaur to tame early on. It collects berries, holds water and can stomp terror birds.

While we’re on the topic of creatures, the expansion adds vultures, which can’t be ridden but are useful for speeding up the process of rotting meat. Morellatops is also new and makes up for the lack of triceratops and stegosaurus in this desert. They collect rainwater and fill up their stockpile of water when near shallow pools. Survivors can tap into this water to fill containers or just drink it directly. [That’s… wait, what? O_O – Ed.] Morellatops are also a great source of food and good for long trips, and can hold their own in a ramming and stomping fight. New bugs appear to enjoy the desert life and in Scorched Earth we’ve got jug bugs that carry water or oil. There’s also the mantis. If you manage to tame this tough bug, you can use it for harvesting and fighting because it can hold tools and is rumoured to be pretty intelligent.

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This is the Lymantria, an early flying mount until you get yourself a fat pigeon going by the name of argentavis.

One last creature I’m going to mention is the cute and friendly Jerboa. This little shoulder-mounted creature is an essential first tame and serves as an early warning system for storms. They are so cute, but also delicious. There are a few other creatures I’m not going to spoil because discovering them for yourself is part of the fun – especially in the case of the rock elemental.

And that’s about it. Scorched Earth is a well-designed expansion where every problem has an innovative solution, whether it be making clay structures to keep yourself cool, to mining salt and sulphur to help preserve food. It’s a great addition to the Ark franchise and if this is a taste of the kind of expansion content we can expect from the developers in future, then Ark is something that’s going to steal many more hours of your life away.

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Jug bugs. These guys provide water or oil. Just run up to them and take a sip. Not to be confused with the mantis.