Second Extinction is all about player groups of three mowing down endless waves of living, breathing, mutated dinosaurs in a war to keep humanity from, well, extinction. As interesting as its premise sounds, the three-player dinosaur-killing fiesta is only the foundation for what the team hopes to build. Why do we want to shoot these dinosaurs in the face? How many ways can you shoot a dinosaur in the face? Developer Systemic Reaction has laid the groundwork for something special, and it intends to use the game’s time in early access to evolve Second Extinction into a dominant species.
Second Extinction launched in early access on PC in 2020 and as an Xbox Game Pass / Game Preview title on Xbox consoles this past April. Along with a bevy of other benefits, programs such as Game Preview and early access enable a productive dialogue with fans as development progresses. Of course, this means studios such as Systemic Reaction need to maintain a flexible attitude.
“When we launched, we had a pretty decent idea of the kinds of places we wanted to take the game on its road to launch and had an extensive laundry list of improvements we wanted to make along the way,” Second Extinction game director Simon Vickers said. “Being a small team, however, we were going to have to cherry-pick those items, so we embraced that we knew players would tell us directly what to prioritize. This meant that we produced a high-level roadmap of things that needed to be done internally and then identified some lower-priority tasks that we could freely move about should it become apparent that there was immediate demand.”
Vickers said that this adaptable approach has worked well so far. While Systemic Reaction’s grander ambitions remains firm, the team has worked to create an environment open to change.
“In terms of post-Xbox, we’ve tried as much as possible to maintain that approach,” Vickers said. “We want to make sure we have absolute parity between platforms, so little changes in terms of the content we make. With more platforms, however, we need to do much more testing, which means that we need to build within stricter time frames.”
Second Extinction dishes out its major content updates via seasonal releases. Each season has its own theme, bringing in additions such as new playable characters, modes, weapons, etc. System Reaction is methodical with its approach to these updates.
“To begin with, we look at our Road Map and identify the key feature for that release, finding an appropriate theme to wrap it in,” said Vickers. “From there, we try to build a set of content to introduce the feature and encourage players to give it a go. So we’ll have a set of contracts with some appropriately themed cosmetics, and our mission designers create an accompanying Emergence Event that we trigger to appear in the world for players to take on.”
Second Extinction’s next major content release, Pre-Season 5, will be unearthed this July. With the upcoming season, which Vickers says Systemic Reaction “really hit their stride” with, players will gain access to a new enemy mutation, gamepad mapping, and a new weapon for the Enforcer class. Part of Vickers’ confidence in Pre-Season 5 comes from the open line of communication Systemic Reaction maintains with fans on social media platforms like Discord.
“(On Discord) we have channels for ideas and feedback where the community is encouraged to read and like or dislike each other’s ideas and suggestions,” Second Extinction community manager Anaïs Palm said. “This system makes us see what the majority of the community wants and not only pick up individual wants and wishes or spend unnecessary time trying to keep track of how many times the same idea is suggested. We also have weekly polls where we can get a quick response from the community on new content, favorite weapons, or get clarity in a case where the feedback we receive is contradictory, where players simply disagree.”
One specific feature molded by feedback is War Effort, a meta-game mechanic that essentially allows every player to have an impact on the war for humanity by completing certain objectives and missions. War Effort is still in its infancy though, and Systemic Reaction is interested in making sure players understand how their contributions affect the game at large.
“It’d be great to incentivize and reward the players who engage with it the most,” Vickers said. “For an idea of where we’d like to link the core gameplay to the War Effort more directly, Expedition Mode is a good indicator. It’s a free-roam mode that we introduced a couple of seasons after launch that deals out objectives based on the War Effort configuration. While they are basic tasks, the added freedom to complete them in any order and the direct relationship to the changing War Effort is an excellent example of how it can be tied into the core of the Second Extinction experience.”
Experimental mechanics such as War Effort benefit greatly from the likes of Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft’s gaming service reportedly towered to 23 million subscribers as of April 20, 2021, all of whom have access to Second Extinction at no extra cost.
“Naturally, as a game fan myself, I love Game Pass; I’ve never felt so spoiled,” Vickers said. “From a game creator perspective, it’s been incredibly freeing. Being a multiplayer game, we live and die by its community. Hence, anything we can do to make joining that community as open as possible is an absolute no-brainer, and Game Pass just gives us access to a wealth of players that have little reason not to give us a try.”
Systemic Reaction’s smaller size meant the team kept reasonable expectations when launching Second Extinction into early access last year. However, the response since launching on Xbox Game Pass left Vickers “stunned”: “When we released on Steam, we got ourselves a great response from a core and lovely audience who saw what we were doing and embraced it. Since our launch on Xbox we hit 1 million unique players in two weeks, which is just wonderfully mind-bending. It’s a really affirming way of telling us to keep doing what we’re doing.”
With a substantial player base already digging into Second Extinction, a treasure trove of content updates are just waiting to be excavated. Horde Mode is one update coming in a later season, and though it will expand with time, Vickers said it will be a “a distillation of our player-on-dino combat that we’re really proud of into its rawest form.” Then there’s Second Extinction’s mysterious next operator character. Vickers teased that “she’s coming along nicely” and has been an “exciting experiment” for Systemic Reaction.
“Most of our characters have been fairly direct, dealing damage to enemies or buffing players, but this time around, we’re looking for ways for players to control the battlefield a bit more and to lean a bit more into the co-op nature of the game,” Vickers said.
It’s unclear what shape the final build of Second Extinction will take beyond early access, but Vickers has a vision. Systemic Reaction is interested in easing solo players into the game, while also making it easier to join up with others online. Polish, polish, and more polish is coming, too, as the dino developer hopes to provide a well-rounded live-service experience that can stand the test of time.
“I can’t say too much about the specifics of what you’ll see next, but post-launch, we’d like to mine a little more depth from our world in terms of narrative progression,” Vickers explained. “Obviously, we want to expand the frontlines to other corners of the globe, but we have the opportunity to have events that change and open up existing maps to keep them fresh. There’s also Chekov’s Volcano there in the background…”
But that’s just the plan, and thanks to passionate fans, it’s a plan that is evolving every day. Systemic Reaction has done everything in its power to cultivate an environment that promotes growth, and now it is working with its community to ensure that, whatever growing pains it might entail along the way, Second Extinction will emerge from early access as an apex predator.