I talk in most of my posts about the prehistoric origins of the guilds I discuss, but up until now, I’ve never done a full post focused on events from one of the previous expansions. Today I’m going to try my hand at it, and what better place to start than with the most hyped of all legacy builds, the Tyrannosaurus rex? T. rex has long had a reputation as one of the most OP builds in gaming history, but how did it get to be such a legend? And did it really live up to the hype?
Now before I start, it’s important to note that I’m taking a risk by talking about a build that’s been out of the game for so long, because the processes that Outside uses to track past player activity are notoriously glitchy and unreliable, which makes it difficult to say anything with confidence about how players behaved in past expansions. There’s a decent chance that much of what I write here will be disproven eventually. Nevertheless, I’ll try to the best of my ability to explain what we do know about the T. rex and what made it so broken.
Dinosaurs were first introduced to the game as bipedal predator builds about 230 million years ago, in the later portion of the Triassic expansion, but they didn’t become the dominant faction in the game until the Jurassic expansion dropped, about 30 million years later. During this expansion, dinosaur players in the sauropod guild put all their points into bulking up and became the largest land-based animal builds ever seen in the game, while other dinosaur players put points into a variety of innovative defensive strategies and started the ornithischian guild. Still others mostly stuck with the bipedal predator playstyle; this was the strategy used by the theropod guild, and they became the dominant predators in nearly every land biome in the game during this period. Around 170 million years ago, some of these theropod players decided to become the tyrannosaur clan, starting down the path that would lead to the development of the T. rex.
When first introduced, the tyrannosaur build was actually one of the smaller dinosaurs — roughly the size of a modern human — and was known for its long arms. The role of large, powerful land predator in the Jurassic was instead filled by other theropod builds, like the ceratosaur, megalosaur and allosaur. These builds were too powerful to compete with on raw strength, so tyrannosaur players had to find other ways to remain viable. Their solution was to focus on an area that most Mesozoic-era players neglected: the brain. While dinosaurs generally had mediocre intelligence stats on par with those of most modern-day reptiles, tyrannosaurs specced into larger and more sophisticated brains, giving them some of the best intelligence ever seen in the game up to that point. This intelligence was complimented by heavy investment into a strong sensory perception kit. Tyrannosaurs had extremely enlarged cochleas — bones in the inner ear that transform sound vibrations into messages registered by the brain — and olfactory bulbs, giving them both the best sense of smell among theropods and hyper-sensitive hearing great for picking up low-frequency sounds. They also had great eyesight, being able to see objects clearly up to six kilometres away and with visual acuity nearly four times that of a modern-day eagle.
Besides intelligence, the tyrannosaurs always had another key advantage over the rest of the dinosaur meta in mobility. I’m not talking about speed here; while the small early tyrannosaurs were quite fast, the larger ones like T. rex were nothing spectacular in this regard, not being able to run any faster than a modern-day elephant at most thanks to their size. However, what the large tyrannosaurs lacked in speed, they made up for in endurance and agility. Compared to other theropods, tyrannosaurs had shorter bodies and enlarged upper hips, providing space for increased hindlimb muscles that enabled them to turn more than twice as rapidly as other theropods of the same size. This wouldn’t be particularly impressive by the standards of modern-day predators, but in the Mesozoic meta, when megafauna players mostly used mobility as a dump stat, it got the job done very effectively. To maximize endurance, tyrannosaurs specced into compact bodies and long legs, which made them much more energy-efficient when walking than their competitors. This made them the best persistence hunters of the era.
The combination of high intelligence with keen senses and good mobility kept tyrannosaurs viable through the Jurassic and most of the Cretaceous meta. But it didn’t get them anywhere near game-breaking power. For that, they would have to wait until near the end of the Cretaceous expansion, about 90 million years ago, when the allosaur builds that were previously the dominant predators of North America suddenly started to disappear. This created an opportunity, and the tyrannosaur players, having saved up a lot of evolution points over the previous few millions of years, seized their chance. They invested as much as possible into increasing their size, and by the time the T. rex rolled around, 68 million years ago, they had become the most massive predators ever to walk the earth.
It wasn’t just the size that made the T. rex such a standout; it was also its [Bite] attack. The T. rex had the most powerful bite ever seen in a land animal, with a force equivalent to the weight of three small cars and more than double any predator in the meta today. Now when talking about hyenas in an earlier post, I said that the [Bone-Crushing Bite] ability is actually kind of overrated and is much more useful for efficient scavenging than for PvP. I stand by that assessment in the case of the hyena, but in the case of the T. rex, it’s not so simple. See, in the current meta, the most common large herbivore types tend to be builds like the zebra and antelope, which are optimized more for evasion than for defence. The bite force of a typical large predator is more than sufficient to kill these creatures if you can catch them, and speccing into an even stronger bite doesn’t make catching them any easier. However, in the Cretaceous meta, most large herbivore players specced into thick armour which allowed them to block all but the most damaging attacks. If you wanted to be an effective hunter in this era, it made sense to spec into as much raw power as possible, and having a bite strong enough to rip the head clean off a Triceratops player was more than sufficient to make the T. rex a standout.
With this set of abilities, T. rex established itself as probably the best build in one of the most fiercely competitive metas ever seen in the game. Some players will tell you that T. rex’s strength was used less for the purposes of hunting and more for stealing kills from smaller, weaker predators, but actually this is mostly a myth. Like nearly all carnivore players, T. rex mains were not above stealing kills when the opportunity presented itself, but it wasn’t really all that important a part of their playstyle. You might think this would be a peculiar strategy choice, since stealing carcasses from smaller, weaker predators is typically easier and safer than killing massive armoured tanks, but there’s a reason for it. The longer a carcass has been left out to rot, the less XP you get for consuming it, so scavenging remains other players leave behind is a much less energetically efficient feeding strategy than killing other players yourself and consuming them quickly. In the early levels, most tyrannosaur players did make frequent use of kill-stealing despite its relative inefficiency, but once a T. rex main reached max power, the enormous XP cost of their massive size and high stats made it essential to go for the most valuable loot available, and that meant hunting their own food as much as possible.
As powerful as the Tyrannosaurus rex was, it had one notorious weakness: its very small arms. The first tyrannosaurs started off with very large arms, but over time took more and more points out of their arms until they might as well have not had any. The question of why they made this choice and what purpose, if any, these small arms might have served, has inspired no end of speculation among fans; dataminers and former tyrannosaur mains have given all manner of contradictory answers to this question. Personally, I think they just took points out of the arms as needed so they could afford all their other broken abilities. If they hadn’t been banned, their arms might well have continued to shrink into nonexistence over the course of their evolution.
But even with this weakness, the T. rex was still undeniably S tier. To give you an idea: for the entire time that T. rexes were around, there were no other predators even close to their size in their biome. The second largest theropod in the environment, the Dakotaraptor, was about fifteen times smaller. Why was this? Well, dinosaurs, like most reptiles, laid eggs instead of giving birth to live young. That meant that unlike elephants, whales and most other modern-day megafauna builds, large dinosaurs had to start off small and grow to huge sizes as they levelled up. In order to get big as quickly as possible, low-level T. rex players had to eat a lot, and since they couldn’t hunt the biggest prey until they got huge, they had to hunt midweight prey until they reached full power. This meant that any other predator main who wanted to hunt medium-sized targets would have to compete with growing T. rexes, and nobody dared take that risk — or, if anyone did, they didn’t last long enough to leave a trace behind. Even when they hadn’t reached their final form, T. rex players were already so powerful that trying to challenge them was a total non-starter. To put this into perspective, in my tier list on the apex predators of Africa, I described lions as one of the most overpowered and meta-centralizing builds in the game because of how hard they dominate over other large predators in their environment. But if lions were as meta-centralizing as the T. rex, they would have forced all of the other builds on that list out of the game completely, leaving the honey badger as the second most powerful predator on the continent. This easily places the T. rex at the top of the Late Cretaceous tier list and among the best predator builds Outside has ever seen.
Sadly, the reign of the tyrant lizard king was not to last. As you probably know, just three million years after the T. rex became the highest-ranked build in the game, the devs responded to the growing centralization of the meta around a few top-tier builds by implementing a major balance patch and permanently banning all branches of the dinosaur faction except for some birds. But more than any other build in the history of the game, T. rex lived on in the hearts of fans long after it had disappeared. Any time you see a fanfiction or forum thread or meme paying tribute to the former glory of the dinosaur faction, T. rex is practically guaranteed to get at least a shout-out.
Given the enduring iconic status of the T. rex, it should come as no surprise that there has been a lot of discussion about the possibility of re-introducing the character as a playable class. Personally, I don’t think unbanning T. rex would be a good idea, as I don’t think the build would serve much of a purpose in the current meta. A T. rex in the present day would still have enough attack power to kill the present-day large herbivores — but it would have to catch them first, and I don’t think it has the right specs for the task. In the dinosaur era, most of the main large herbivore builds used speed as a dump stat, so T. rex only had to be moderately fast to hunt them. In the present day, however, nearly all of the common large herbivores would easily leave a T. rex in the dust in a chase. The only herbivore today which a T. rex would feasibly be able to chase down would be the elephant; however, elephants have a very high intelligence stat, far surpassing any herbivore from the Cretaceous meta, and T. rex players might struggle to deal with hunting targets smart enough to learn and employ a variety of defensive strategies rather than relying on simple basics. So while it might have been game-breaking in the Cretaceous meta, a T. rex brought back in the present-day meta would have very few good matchups, if any, and would probably be D tier at best. In any case, this is kind of a pointless discussion, since the devs have been pretty firm on not reintroducing banned builds no matter how much fans demand it. The only exception to this rule was a joke event where they re-introduced the banned Pyrenean ibex build, but only let one player use it at a time and then banned it again less than ten minutes after the first player’s game had finished loading. So even if a revived T. rex did have potential to succeed in the current meta, which I don’t think it does, I don’t think there’s any realistic chance of it happening.