By Jaime Skelton (MissyS)
Who didn’t want to be a paleontologist growing up? Dinosaurs easily capture our interest because they are from a time beyond ours – a scientific puzzle we may never fully solve. Franchises like Jurassic Park have turned them into modern day dragons. It comes as no surprise that one of the most requested additions to Let’s Build A Zoo was dinosaurs; it’s likewise no surprise that Springloaded delivered its Dinosaur Island DLC just in time for summer.
What’s New and Different
The Dinosaur Island (also referred to as “Dino Island”) for Let’s Build A Zoo is, at its core, a finely distilled experience of the core game. Animal research, in particular, has been simplified in a new paleontological system. The scenario contains a separate research tree which has been streamlined from the core campaign. There are over 50 new species – all dinosaurs, of course – along with a host of new shops, decorations, and pathways to fit the prehistoric theme.
Alongside the DLC is a free update that also affects the core game. In addition to a long list of bug fixes and optimizations, there are several quality of life updates that significantly improve gameplay. This includes controller support, a larger and easier to read font, staff entrances, new fruit tree crops, improved store room functions, and new floor types. It also includes the Bio-Waste facility and “Dung Diary,” a new collection type that makes note of the various types of poo you’ve picked. A zookeeper must be thorough.
Paleontology 101: The Basics of Dinosaur Island
Let’s Build A Zoo’s Dinosaur Island DLC is easily accessible from any game once the basic tutorial has been completed. The new island zoo can be acquired for free from the world map, drifting in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. When you move to the new zoo, you will be able to choose a new avatar and will begin what amounts to a new game within your save, including a fresh research tree and neutral morality.
Since DNA and cloning lies at the heart of managing a dinosaur park, you’re given one extra boon with your starting zoo: a CRISPR, the building in which you can clone and hybridize your creatures. In fact, you’ll need this for your first dinosaur, the Microraptor, as you will only be given one to start with and will need to clone a mate (or a replacement, down the line.)
To obtain further dinosaurs, you will need fresh bones, obtained through the World Map and the paleontology system. Unlike the core mode where you must breed variants to trade with other zoos and adopt from the animal shelter, in Dino Island you must have paleontologists working at dig sites to unearth new species. Each location has its own team that you will manage and pay for, with later locations becoming increasingly more expensive. There’s also a nice touch here: you can check on each team’s progress and see not only the silhouette of the dino, but also a gradually uncovered species name that gives you a hint to what’s coming.
Much of what remains to discover in Dinosaur Island is a fresh coat of paint: new shops, decorations, moral choices, and tasks to complete. There are a few other key differences, however, that change the ‘feel’ of the DLC versus the core experience of Let’s Build A Zoo.
Paleontology 201: Reconstructing The Past
The first notable difference from LBAZ’s core gameplay loop is the lack of variants. Normally, each species has ten variants that are unlocked through tiered breeding, each with their own unique sprite. However, dinosaurs lack this system; each species has its own variant. Since there are no variants to unearth, there is no need for a breeding facility, and so it is absent, leaving any breeding programs to chance within your enclosures. I find this change a double-edged sword. Combined with the paleontology system, the lack of variants greatly simplifies the process of obtaining new species or completing your collection. However, this leaves a lack of visual variety in your enclosures, reduces the number of potential hybrid variants, and makes breeding and population management a different kind of chore with little incentive.
Another key difference in Dinosaur Island is the research tree. Springloaded fully embraced the chance to start fresh, vastly improving the research tree’s flow, particularly around feature unlocks. Water is unlocked immediately, and water decorations are sprinkled throughout the research tree rather than along the far edges. Likewise, the Nutrition Hut and Population Hub, also added to the core game after its launch, are much closer to the center. Because of their late addition to the game, these research options had to be fit along the outside of the research tree in the core game, making them taxing and illogical to achieve. Here, however, the research tree feels a lot more rewarding “in the moment” with each choice, rather than a grind to carve out the way to a specific and useful function. As someone who has poured over 160 hours into the original campaign, I find the new research tree absolutely delightful.
Finally, many of the quality of life updates enhance the overall experience, regardless of game mode or campaign. The font change was an immediate relief on the eyes. Staff entrances make it so that you can finally discourage visitors from roaming facilities or farm areas, keeping them focused on visiting shops and exhibits. The storeroom changes make it much easier to see what you have on hand, and what’s being used. All these updates, combined with fixes to pricing making it more profitable to use materials rather than sell them outright, reveals another layer of depth that can be examined in either mode.
Dinosaur Island offers a fresh experience for Let’s Build A Zoo. Veterans will find their interest in the game rekindled through the joy of managing their own Isla Nublar (with less run away dinos), while newer players will find a rejuvenated experience that comes with a little less of the day to day grind. Alongside the free update that offers a clear major upgrade to the game systems and improves or fixes many standing issues, Let’s Build A Zoo has dug up a treasure for all simulation players.
Note: A copy of the DLC was provided free for purpose of this review. The reviewer purchased the base game at its launch.