What’s With Everyone Trying To Copy Crabs? | The Crab (And “Crab”) Tier List

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

Convergent evolution is a common strategy in Outside where players in one guild try to copy the build design of players in another guild in order to fit into a similar playstyle. There have been many instances of this sort of imitation over Outside’s history, but few guilds have been imitated more often than the crabs. Mimicking the appearance of a crab is such a common form of convergent evolution that it’s even been given own name: [Carcinisation]. What is it about crabs that make so many players want to take inspiration from them? To find out, today I’m going to take a look at the crab tier list. I’ll also take a look at some of the attempts that have been made to imitate the crab’s success.

CRAB BUILD OVERVIEW

  • History of Crabs

Crabs first appeared during the early parts of the Jurassic expansion. At first, early crabs had elongated bodies, and bore closer resemblance to lobsters than modern crabs. But over time, they specced into shorter carapaces until their length was roughly equal to their width, developing the forms we think of as crab-like today. Crabs saw a rise in popularity later in the Jurassic period, due to being one of the best builds for moving through the coral reef biomes that were common at the time. They continued to increase throughout the Cretaceous period, and by the end of the period, they were the dominant build among the decapod crustaceans, a group that also includes lobsters, crayfish, shrimp and prawns. Today, crabs are found in every ocean biome in the world, with some crab builds even having broken into the freshwater and land metas. But where do they rank on the ocean tier list? To find out, let’s take a look at their stats and abilities.

  • Crab stats: defence

So in regards to base stats, crabs have a pretty average distribution. The stat that they emphasise the most tends to be defence. Even in their larval planktonic form, crabs are relatively well-defended compared to other forms of plankton, having long spines projecting from their carapace which make them less-than-pleasant meals. However, in their adult form, their main defence comes from their thick shells. The crab’s exoskeleton is made of a composite of highly mineralised chitin-protein fibres arranged in a plywood-like pattern called a Bouligand structure. Bouligand structures are a common choice for defensive builds, as materials with this structure tend to be exceptionally resistant to crushing and fracturing. This makes the shell of a crab extremely difficult to penetrate with a bite. This gives them a huge advantage in the ocean meta dominated by fish, which rely almost entirely on biting to deal damage.

However, this strategy does have one serious weakness. When crab players level up, they need to undergo something called a moult. In order to moult, crabs take in large amounts of water until their shell cracks open at its weakest point. They then slowly extract their entire bodies from their old shell and try to find a hiding spot where they wait for a new shell to grow. Crabs have essentially no defensive options while they’re waiting for their new shell to grow, so if a predator manages to find their hiding spot during this period, they’re kinda screwed.

  • Other stats and abilities

Besides defence, the crab’s next highest stat is attack power, owing to their surprisingly strong pincers. The forces generated by a crab’s claw closing are higher than those that most animals can generate during any activity. This allows crabs to easily kill targets that would normally be too thick-armoured for a build of their size to hunt. However, the usefulness of this attack is limited by its unidirectional nature – crabs can only really use their claws to attack targets in front of them. Since most predators that attack a crab will tend to attack from behind, this ability is only useful on offence when hunting, and not for defending against predators.

The crab’s other stats are decent, but unexceptional. Their mobility rating is middling; they can move reasonably fast in short bursts, but can’t keep up high speeds for very long and move very slowly most of the time. Their most notable movement-related trait is their odd tendency to walk sideways. Because crabs are so flat, the top joints in their legs have a very restricted range of motion, so they move most efficiently by flexing the second joints of their legs. These legs can only bend sideways, so crabs can actually move faster going sideways than they can going forwards.

The crab’s intelligence is enough to gradually learn and memorise the fastest way through a maze, which isn’t super-impressive overall, but is decent by the extremely low standards of the arthropod guild.

  • Crab build tier rating

Overall, I don’t think the crab build is particularly overpowered. Although the fact that the rest of the crustacean guild keeps trying to copy crabs does speak well of their success, I think this is less because of their design being exceptionally effective and more because it’s simple and easy to copy. Their over-reliance on armour for defence means that they tend to be easily countered by predators with armour-piercing attacks, like the octopus. That said, they are still fairly strong in the ocean meta, with a combination of solid offensive and defensive abilities that I’d say put them around B tier on average.

THE CRAB TIER LIST

But which types of crab use their abilities best? To find out, let’s now go into the crab tier list. As usual, I won’t be able to go into all of the nearly 7,000 crab builds available in the current meta, but I’ll try and cover the most interesting ones. Note that I’m going to be a bit more flexible with my terms than usual: while the label “crab” technically only applies to crustaceans in the brachyuran guild, I will also be including some builds from outside of this guild that are commonly referred to as “crabs”, particularly those in the closely related anomuran guild.

  • F Tier: Hermit Crab

So at the bottom of the tier list, we have the hermit crab. This is the first of the carcinised anomurans on this list, and hence not technically a true crab. The two can be distinguished by the fact that true crabs use eight legs to walk, while anomurans use only six. Hermit crabs have specced into a design that closely mimics the true crab build, but without the ability to grow their own shell. Instead, hermit crabs pick up abandoned shells left behind by snails and use them as armour. When threatened, they retract into their shells, like turtles.

This is a poor strategy, for a few reasons. Most obviously, this strategy means that instead of having a defence that they can consistently depend on, their level of protection depends entirely on how strong a shell they were able to find near them at the time they were able to moult. It also forces hermit crab players to become enemies with each other, because in order to survive, they have to make sure they can find the good shells before other hermit crabs do. If shells in an area are rare enough, hermit crabs may end up fighting to the death for them, something they wouldn’t have to do if they could just grow shells for themselves.

Sometimes, a hermit crab player won’t be able to find a shell at all, and will have to use some other hard object that they can fit into. Since their body plan is only designed to fit into snail shells easily, there’s no guarantee that they will be able to get into and out of whatever other object they use as a substitute – if they’re hiding in something that’s not a snail shell, there’s a decent chance that they’ll get stuck inside until they starve to death. Because of their low intelligence, they’re also not great at figuring out which non-shell items will give the best upgrades, so you often see them trying to equip items that grant almost zero defensive boost, like plastic bags. This leaves them completely unprotected and sitting ducks for just about any predator.

The hermit crab’s already questionable strategy has been nerfed further recently thanks to the [Ocean Acidification] world event, which has caused mineralised shells to start dissolving much more quickly and has forced more and more hermit crabs to use lower-quality substitutes instead. Neither the true crab’s exoskeleton nor the actual snail’s shell are really top-tier defences to begin with, so basing their entire game plan on a strategy that’s basically just a worse, less reliable version of these traits puts the hermit crab in bottom tier in my opinion. Piggybacking off the defences of other builds can work, but there are other crabs that do this much better.

  • D Tier: Porcelain Crab

I have similar problems with another carcinised anomuran build, the porcelain crab. Like hermit crabs, porcelain crabs have avoided speccing into the high base defence of true crabs, and have instead put their points into health regeneration in order to unlock the [Autotomy] ability. If caught by a predator, they can drop a claw to escape, which will then grow back. I’ve talked about my issues with autotomy a few times before. In short, while I recognize that it can be useful to have as a fallback option, I don’t think it’s a good idea to rely upon it. Giving up your own important body parts is something you don’t want to do unless you really have to, even if you can grow them back later. This is especially the case if, like the crab’s claw, the body part you’re giving up is also your primary combat weapon. I’d consider porcelain crabs to be clearly inferior to true crabs, and would place them around low D tier on the tier list.

One thing that’s worth noting is that both the hermit and porcelain crab builds have variants that can use sea anemones as supports. This boosts their effective combat abilities significantly due to the anemone’s venomous sting. It can also help to make XP gain easier, as the anemone’s mucus and faeces are edible to crabs. If you insist on playing either of these low-tier builds, I’d suggest picking a variant that allows for this support relationship.

  • C Tier: Rubble Crab

In C tier, we have the rubble crab. This is a crab that specs into a deadly poison, for which no antidote is known, as well as speccing into bright colours to warn predators of their toxic nature. While poison can be a useful ability, I’ve noted before that it tends to work best when combined with other strong abilities rather than being solely relied upon. This is for similar reasons to my issues with autotomy, in that both are abilities that require you to take substantial damage in order to actually use them. This isn’t necessarily a huge problem for the rubble crab, as its bright warning colours tend to deter most predators before they actually attack. However, in my opinion, there are other builds that use similar strategies better.

If you’re interested in playing a sea creature that uses a poison like the rubble crab’s more effectively, I’d highly recommend looking into the pufferfish.

  • C TIer: Yeti Crab

Also in C tier, I’m going to place another carcinised anomuran build, the yeti crab. The yeti crab is one of the strangest-looking variants of the crab build, with bodies covered in bristles that resemble the alleged colour of yeti fur, hence their name. They’ve opted to play exclusively in one of the game’s most difficult biomes: the deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These biomes are very hard to get into because not many animals can survive the intense heat that the vents emit. However, those builds that do manage to survive there are generally pretty safe from predators and are free to farm easy XP with little competition. Yeti crabs survive in the vent biome through a mixture of scavenging carcasses that fall from the waters above and feeding on extremophilic bacteria that live in the vents. While they’re not a meta-dominating force by any means, they’ve got a pretty solid and reliable playstyle that earns them a spot around the upper middle of the tier list.

  • B Tier: Carrier Crab

In B tier, we have the carrier crab. Carrier crabs have modified their last pair of walking legs into a pair of appendages which can be used to pick up and carry objects. They use this ability to boost their defence by picking up poisonous or spiked animals and carrying them over their backs. This makes them basically an upgraded version of the hermit crab: they have a similar ability to benefit from the defences of other animals, but can still fall back on the strong defences of the base crab build if they can’t find any good cover in their environment.

  • B Tier: Japanese spider crab

Also in B tier, we have the Japanese spider crab. This is the largest crab build in the current meta, and one of the largest arthropods overall. This build has a pretty secure position in the meta simply because its sheer size makes it so hard to kill, but doesn’t really have any other special characteristics that would elevate them to being truly overpowered. If you want to play as a giant crab, there are much better options available, as we’ll see in a bit.

  • B Tier: Ghost crab

At the top of B tier, we have the ghost crab. The ghost crab is a variant of the crab build specced for a combination of stealth and mobility. They have pale bodies for easily blending in with sand on the beaches, and can gallop at speeds of around 4 m/s, making them one of the fastest land invertebrates. Their fast running and camouflage make them one of the most formidable predators among crabs, with a particular talent for griefing low-level sea turtle players.

  • A Tier: Horseshoe crab

Since I’ve already stretched the definition of “crab” to include the hermit, porcelain and yeti crabs, I suppose I might as well throw the horseshoe crab in there as well. This build is actually closer to being a spider than a crab, but I’m including it anyway because of its name.

The horseshoe crab is the only “crab” on this list that is neither a true crab nor an anomuran, nor even a real crustacean. It’s actually the last surviving build of the xiphosurids, an ancient guild that first appeared in the Late Ordovician expansion, around 480 million years ago. Modern horseshoe crabs are pretty much identical to their Paleozoic relatives, except for their larger size. For keeping essentially the exact same game plan viable through so many expansions and balance patches, the horseshoe crab playerbase has been awarded the [Living Fossil] tag.

The horseshoe crab’s viability comes primarily from their extremely high defence rating. Their entire body is covered in a hard carapace that allows them to easily deflect attacks from most predators. This allows them to spend just about all of their time farming easy XP on the ocean floor without needing to worry much about being attacked. Horseshoe crabs also have a special type of blood, which coagulates into a semi-solid form when it encounters bacteria. This enables them to basically wall up any wounds they receive if their armour gets damaged. This ability has drawn the attention of the human playerbase, who frequently use horseshoe crab blood to test new vaccines and other medicines.

In their emphasis on hard, defensive shells at the cost of everything else, the horseshoe crab is essentially an upgraded version of the trilobite build that dominated the arthropod meta in the Cambrian. But where trilobites faded from the meta after other competing arthropods started appearing, horseshoe crabs have just kept on going into the present day. For managing to keep such a simple strategy viable for so long while being mostly unaffected by all the power-creep that’s happened since they first appeared, I have to give horseshoe crabs a high-tier rating, held back from top-tier only by their lack of strong stats aside from defence.

  • A Tier: Swimming crab

Also in A tier, we have the swimming crab. The swimming crab is a variant of the crab build where the back legs have been flattened into paddles, giving them a boost to aquatic mobility that allows them to actually swim instead of just crawling. This is a high-risk, high-reward move; while swimming leaves them open to being attacked from any direction, it also gives them a much greater freedom of movement when attacking others, an ability they use to great advantage. Swimming crabs are fast and aggressive predators, which frequently become devastating invasive species when introduced to new environments. The swimming crab playerbase on the Tunisia server has caused so much destruction to the meta that they’ve been nicknamed “Daesh”, after the notorious human terrorist group. And unlike most ocean animals, some swimming crabs are expected to rise even higher in the meta with the new [Global Warming] event, as they breed faster in warmer waters. The thing that holds swimming crabs back from rising to top-tier, aside from the aforementioned high-risk nature of their strategy, is their toxic player base. One of the most common causes of death for some swimming crab subclasses is getting eaten by another, bigger swimming crab.

  • S Tier: Coconut crab

Coming full-circle, at the top of the crab tier list, we have a build that has managed to transform the otherwise garbage-tier hermit crab build into a meta-dominating force: the coconut crab. Again, this is technically a hermit crab rather than a true crab, but it’s different enough from all other hermit crabs in both strategy and viability to merit a separate entry on this list. There are four major traits that separate coconut crabs from your average hermit crabs. The first is that coconut crabs have totally lost the ability to swim, and spend their entire adult lives on land. They’ve traded the standard crustacean gills for organs called [Branchiostegal Lungs], which closely resemble gills, but function like lungs. They do still have regular gills, but those are for purely aesthetic purposes; they only ever breathe using their branchiostegal lungs.

Another big difference between coconut crabs and other hermit crabs is their defence mechanism. While other hermit crabs have to carry shells around for their entire lives, coconut crabs only have to do this at low levels. Once they reach adulthood, they grow their own tough exoskeletons, just like true crabs do. Relatedly, coconut crabs are also distinguished from other hermit crabs by their massive size. With a leg span of over a metre and weighting over four kilograms, the coconut crab is the largest invertebrate build that you can find outside of aquatic biomes. Because of its large size, combined with the high proportional strength of crab claws in general, the coconut crab’s massive pincers are some of the most powerful in the game. Its grip can exert a crushing force of over 3000 Newtons, which is more than 12 times what any other crab can do, and nearly 10 times more than the grip of a full-grown human’s handthat’s strong enough to snap a golf club clean in half. They use this powerful weapon to access a variety of loot sources that other crabs are too weak to get at. They mostly rely on plant loot, using their powerful claws to crack open shelled plants like nuts, hard fruits, and coconuts, that last one being where they get their name from. But when they’re in the mood for something meatier, they can also use their claws as a weapon to crush birds, as well as rodents and other small animals.

Lastly, coconut crabs have made the unorthodox choice to invest heavily into poison resistance. While they can’t generate poisons on their own, they can eat a variety of poisonous plants, and  can absorb the plants’ poisons into their own bodies without getting harmed. This means that even if you do manage to win a fight with a coconut crab player, trying to consume them for XP will be a very risky move, since you might end up getting killed by the poisons that the crab has consumed.

This combination of abilities makes the coconut crab arguably the most overpowered solitary arthropod build in the entire game. They absolutely dominate every server they’re a part of; aside from humans, no predator dares to attack them. Despite being exclusive to small island servers, which are generally tame and non-competitive, the coconut crab is totally unthreatened by the high-tier predators from elsewhere that humans bring with them wherever they go, like cats and dogs. Considering that apex predator roles in the current meta are almost entirely dominated by vertebrates and cephalopods, the fact that coconut crab mains have managed to attain such an uncontested role at the top of the food chain while playing as arthropods is a truly incredible achievement, and easily marks them as the top-tiers of the crab meta.

The Mustelid Tier List

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

On the Outside player forums, there’s been a recent trend of popular memes celebrating the awesomeness of the mustelid faction. This faction has been around for a while, but has only recently attained a reputation as one of the most powerful in the game, owing primarily to memetic videos of mustelid mains killing or scaring off famously high-tier predators. Do these feats justify considering the mustelids as one of the top-tier factions of Outside? And which of the many mustelid builds are the most overpowered? Today I’m going to go into the mustelid tier list, to explore the strange success of this guild.

Mustelids first appeared in the Oligocene expansion, around 30-35 million years ago. The body plan of the early mustelids was pretty similar to the original carnivorans, and they’ve largely stuck with this body plan since, typically having small, elongated bodies with short legs, short, round ears, and thick fur. Due to their small size and short legs, mustelids tend to have fairly low defence and mobility stats, which can make them seem vulnerable. But what they lack in defence, they make up for in power, ferocity and determination. Mustelid mains are legendary for their willingness to attack animals much larger than themselves, with even tiny weasels being able to kill rabbits 10 times their own weight. Their fighting ability has earned them a memetic reputation as one of the most badass guilds in Outside, and has helped them to become the largest faction in the entire carnivoran guild. Their success has even inspired some copycats, such as the mongoose of the feliform faction and the Tasmanian devil of the marsupial faction. However, despite their reputation, I honestly wouldn’t put mustelids in general above high B tier. Sure, their ability to punch above their weight class is impressive, but their strategies can very easily backfire horribly if their intimidation fails to deter an attacker due to their glass-cannon nature.

That said, not all mustelids share these weaknesses, and there are a few in the guild that I think genuinely live up to their reputation. To find out which, let’s now go through the mustelid tier list. As usual, I won’t be able to go through all of the roughly 60 mustelid builds in the current meta, but I’ll try and cover the most interesting ones.

B Tier: Weasels and martens

There are no mustelid builds I could consider bad or even average, so we’re going to be starting in B tier today. This is where I’d place most of the more vanilla mustelids, including weasels and martens. These two have somewhat similar playstyles, both being primarily predators of mice and other small rodents. Weasels are smaller – the smallest builds in the carnivoran faction – with slender bodies that are optimised for easily following underground-dwelling prey animals into their burrows. However, the lightness that makes them so effective at chasing down burrowing prey can also become their weakness, as they tend to be easy targets for larger predators such as canids, raptors, and sometimes even other mustelids. Martens look and play much like a version of the weasel that’s been adapted to the taiga, trading the weasel’s underground mobility for greater climbing ability. They’ve specced into bushy tails for easier balance in the trees as well as partially retractable claws, and are often seen stealing eggs from birds’ nests. However, they still retain the weasels’ key weakness of low defence, and tend not to be very effective when on the ground.

In addition to being predators, weasels can also be played as human supports by speccing into the “ferret” subclass. However, I don’t really recommend this, as the ferret is one of the less useful among common human supports. Its original main purpose was to kill rabbits for humans’ entertainment, but this sort of sport killing has dropped a lot in popularity, so domestic ferret mains don’t really get to do much anymore except sit around and look cute.

B Tier: Badgers

The badger is a mustelid that plays similar to the weasel, but has specced into a larger and more muscular build for higher power. This means that they have significantly better defensive stats than weasels, but at the cost of lower mobility. They do great at hunting targets in the confinement of burrows, but their slowness means their targets tend to escape pretty easily so long as they are or can quickly get above ground. The American badger compensates for this somewhat through partnerships with the coyote, a partnership I’ve previously discussed in my Looney Tunes tier list. Overall, I’d say badgers are about equal to regular weasels on the tier list, with both ranking around B tier. There is one version of the badger that I’d rate well above this, but we’ll get to that later.

A Tier: Fisher

In low A tier, I would place the fisher. Fishers have a lot of similarities to martens, with large feet for moving on tops of snow packs, and retractable claws for better climbing. They are among the few mammals with the ability to go down trees head-first by rotating their hind paws almost 180 degrees, an ability they share with raccoons, but not with other mustelids.

However, what they’re most known for is being one of the few predators capable of countering the porcupine. This isn’t unique, but most predators who target porcupines have to do it by flipping them over to neutralise their quills. Fishers, on the other hand, kill porcupines by chasing them down, tiring them out and then biting them repeatedly on the face. They’re also capable of killing lynx and bobcats, which is pretty impressive for a build the size of a housecat, but they’re not especially good at it. In most cases, bobcats and lynx tend to dominate them in fights. Overall, while fishers do have some impressive feats, I don’t think there’s much they can do that other mustelids can’t do better, so I’m not going to rate them above low A tier.

A Tier: American mink

Also in A tier, I’m going to place one of the game’s more underrated predators, the American mink. This is a semi-aquatic variant of the mustelid build, with a streamlined body optimised for hydrodynamics. While a European variant of the mink also exists, the American mink is by far the more effective; wherever the two end up in the same territory, the American mink tends to quickly win out and replace its European counterpart. American mink first started establishing a player base in Europe in the 1930s after some mink escaped from human fur farms, and have since embarked on a campaign of terror throughout the continent. In addition to replacing the existing European mink across many areas, their hunting has also led to massive declines in the population of many of Europe’s native bird and rodent fauna. If they had done this sort of thing throughout their range, I might put them in S tier, but since it seems to be limited to the relatively easy server of Europe, I’m only putting them in A tier.

A Tier: Otters

On the topic of semi-aquatic mustelids, A tier is also where I would place the more iconic semiaquatic mustelids, the otters. Otters are a variant of the mustelid build that has switched from a land-predator role to primarily hunting fish in rivers. They have a number of adaptations for this, including powerful webbed feet and well-insulated underfur for keeping warm underwater. Their biggest weakness is that they have very poor ground mobility, and so tend to be pretty vulnerable to other predators when on land. But so long as they remain in the water, they’re pretty great.

There are thirteen variants of the otter build in the current meta, of which two stand out enough to place at the top of A tier, verging on S tier. The first is the giant otter of the Amazon rainforest. As the name suggests, this is one of the largest otters, and the largest of all mustelids if you measure by length. However, what really elevates it above other otters, and also most other mustelids, is its use of team strategies. Giant otters are among the only mustelids that engage in coordinated hunting, as well as forming groups to defend each other against other predators of the rainforest. When hunting in teams, the giant otter’s already impressive power level is boosted to apex predator levels. There have been occasional instances of lone giant otters falling prey to caimans and jaguars, but giant otters in groups are pretty much invulnerable to non-human predators, which is pretty impressive considering that the Amazon is legendary for having some of the most fearsome predators in the entire game. Some giant otter packs have even been known to occasionally fight and kill other top predators, like caimans.

However, there’s one other otter that is both bigger than the giant otter and has managed to succeed in an even more competitive server than the Amazon, and that’s the sea otter. The sea otter is an otter build that recognised the core weakness of main otters is their vulnerability when travelling on land, and said “well, what if we just didn’t do that?” While sea otters still have the ability to walk, they never need to and are fully capable of spending their entire lives in the ocean. Sea otters are relative newcomers to the ocean meta, having only split off from their river counterparts around two million years ago, but they’re already so well-adapted to the marine lifestyle that some data miners once assumed they were weird miniature seals and not otters at all. In some ways, they’re actually already better adapted to the ocean than seals, as even seals still haven’t figured out how to safely give birth underwater, something sea otters have no problem with.

Being much smaller than most marine mammals, sea otters don’t have quite the same adaptations to the marine lifestyle that many others do. Unlike most other marine mammals, sea otters have not specced into the [Blubber] trait; instead, they get all the insulation they need from their dense fur coat, the thickest of any mammal. As I discussed in my whale tier list, the reason most marine mammals use blubber as their means of insulation instead of fur is because it scales better: marine mammals the size of whales can accommodate extraordinarily thick layers of blubber on their insides, far beyond the thickness that would be feasible with a basic fur coat. However, sea otters are too small for this strategy to be possible, so in their case it’s more efficient to just stick with thick fur. Sea otters have also retained their paws rather than speccing into fins. Although this makes motion underwater slightly harder to control, it also opens up a lot of new options for hunting and finding food. For one thing, paws function as an extra means of catching and gripping onto prey, something most other marine predators have to do using only their teeth. Sea otters’ front paws are coated with tough pads to help them get the best possible grip on wet, slippery fish. Unlike teeth, paws can also be used to tear prey apart, an ability which sea otters often use to get past the defences of large shellfish. Most importantly, the sea otter’s paws also enable it to manipulate objects in its environment in ways that other sea creatures can’t. Sea otters can use their paws to lift and turn over rocks when searching for prey, and can even carry rocks for use as tools. Sea otters have frequently been seen using stones as hammers or anvils to crack open shells too tough for them to rip apart on their own. To help make this easier, sea otters have specced into pouches of skin under each forelegs where they store small rocks and other objects while swimming.

While sea otters will eat most small animals that they can find on the sea floor, their biggest impact on the meta comes from being one of the few predators capable of taking on sea urchins. Most predators tend to avoid targeting urchins because of their protruding spines, but sea otters get around this by picking up urchins and biting them on the underside, where the spines are shortest, then licking the soft insides out of the urchin’s shells. Sea otters are such a menace to the urchin player base that, in some parts of their range, the rest of the ocean meta has actually come to depend on them to maintain balance. When sea otters are removed from kelp forest biomes, the forests can end up getting overrun by urchin mains, who over-graze on the kelp until the forest is replaced by an urchin barren. The fact that sea otters are so central to the meta just shows what a great build they are, and solidifies their ranking near the top of A tier.

S Tier: Wolverine

But I don’t think otters quite match up to the top tiers of the mustelid meta. Who are these top-tiers? To be honest, the answer probably won’t surprise you if you’re at all familiar with the memes surrounding the mustelid guild. There are two mustelid builds that I would rate as being top-tiers, and both are among the most memed builds in the game. These two builds are widely seen as essentially the same build on different servers, and they do have a few key similarities, but there are also some important differences that I want to highlight.

The first of these builds is the wolverine. This is a variant of the mustelid build that’s specced for survival in the harsh cold of the far North. Wolverines are exceptionally muscular by mustelid standards, with a design that looks a lot like a miniature bear, and are the largest mustelids aside from some of the larger otters. Where wolverines stand out from other mustelids is in the sheer variety of prey they can take down. Most of the time, wolverines primarily get by on hunting small mammals like other mustelids, but when XP becomes hard to find in the harsh northern winters, they turn to taking down big game instead. They’re able to do this because of the thick layers of snow that regularly pile up in their home territories during the winter. For most animals, this deep snow presents an obstacle that makes it a lot harder to move, but wolverines, with their light frame and broad, snowshoe-like paws, practically float on the snow. Wolverines use their superior snow-mobility to take down trapped ungulates, pouncing on them and kill them with a bite to the neck. They’re strong enough to kill animals more than eight times their own size, and sometimes even score kills on full-grown moose. However, their preferred type of big game is reindeer. One wolverine player has been recorded killing fifteen reindeer players in a single month!

In addition to preying on mammals large and small, wolverines are also quite adept at stealing kills from other players. Because of their ferocious reputation, very few players will put much effort into defending kills from an angry wolverine main, and it’s not uncommon to see wolverines chasing larger predators like wolves away from their kills. However, it’s important to note that the wolverine, like most mustelids, is something of a glass cannon build. While they can easily win 1v1s against much larger animals if their opponent is weakened, trapped, or uncommitted, they can also easily get killed if a larger predator such as a wolf decides to stand its ground against them. If you’re playing wolverine, you need to be very careful with your strategies when dealing with larger builds. Even so, considering how low a weight class they’re in, the fact that wolverines stand any chance in these matchups at all is enough to qualify them as S-tier in my book.

One of the more surprising recent developments in the mustelid meta is that some wolverines have started trying to break into the human support meta as rescue animals, using their keen sense of smell to sniff out avalanche survivors. Humans who work with them report that they train similarly to dogs, but are much more intelligent.

S Tier: Honey Badger

However, I don’t think the wolverine is the highest-ranked build in the mustelid faction. That honour instead goes to a build which is often compared to the African server’s equivalent of the wolverine, the honey badger. Like the wolverine, honey badgers have a memetic reputation for being able to defeat opponents well above their weight class, but they come by it in a considerably different way. Whereas wolverines basically take the glass-cannon build typical of mustelids and just buff its power to the extreme, honey badgers have instead invested heavily into defence to become Africa’s premiere lightweight tank build.

Honey badgers have an extraordinarily high defence rating for their size because of their six-millimetre thick skin. That’s three times thicker than that of a human, despite humans being nearly seven times larger. In addition to being thick, the skin is also quite loose, enabling them to twist and turn to break out of grips with surprising ease. Their solid defence makes them pretty much untouchable by anything in their weight class or below. They’re particularly famous for their great matchup against elapid snakes, due both to their thick skin being difficult to bite through and due to their high resistance to neurotoxins. Even players far above the honey badgers’ weight class will generally be careful around these snakes because of how powerful their venom is, but the honey badger hunts them with ease. They have no trouble tackling other small defence builds, either. Their claws, while primarily used as digging tools, are easily turned into lethal weapons. A single honey badger player in India used its claws to go on a killing spree against tortoise mains, fatally wounding 60 tortoises by ripping open their shells, which is pretty impressive considering that the tortoise’s shell is one of the toughest defences in the entire game. Because of the combination of their ferocity and their high defence, almost no predator players will dare take on a honey badger. Honey badgers are so respected by the rest of their server that other small animals like baby cheetahs sometimes try to scare off predators by copying parts of the honey badger’s visual design. This is the main reason why they and wolverines are so often compared: just like wolverines, honey badgers take advantage of their reputation by using intimidation to drive larger predators like lions and hyenas away from their kills.

In 2014, the honey badger’s already insane reputation rose to even greater heights when a BBC documentary publicised the story of a honey badger main named Stoffel. A captive honey badger, Stoffel managed to survive a mauling by a lion, but what was far more noteworthy was the intelligence he displayed in repeatedly escaping from his enclosure subsequently. Each time he escaped, his human captors tried adding a new barrier, but he just kept figuring out new ways to escape. He first escaped by digging his way out, then when an underground wall was added, he climbed out by building ladders out of rocks and sticks. When a fence with two locks was added surrounding his enclosure, he figured out how to open both locks from the inside with his claws. This level of problem-solving was way beyond anything previously seen in a mustelid, and extremely impressive by the standards of pretty much any non-human animals. It’s a truly amazing story, and I’m kind of confused as to why we don’t see more honey badger mains using intelligence-based strategies like this.

With a great offence and defence, surprisingly high intelligence, and an extremely strong matchup spread in one of the most competitive servers in the game, I’d say the honey badger just surpasses the wolverine as the top build of the mustelid faction. However, I do feel the need to dispel some of the more absurd memes surrounding this build. First of all, it’s a common misconception that honey badgers can use birds called honeyguides as supports; it’s said that the honeyguide will guide the badger to beehives, the badger will use its strength to break the beehive open and eat the honey, and then the honeyguide will eat the grubs that the badger leaves over. That’s a load of nonsense. While the playstyles of both honeyguides and badgers have been extensively observed, not a single credible record exists of this alleged partnership between them. Honey badgers would make poor partners for honeyguides because they tend to have pretty ravenous appetites, and would be unlikely to leave anything for the guides to eat. Honeyguides can get a much better deal by partnering up with humans, who tend to leave behind the grubs when they take honey from beehives. So if you hear a honeyguide main bragging about their partnership with the legendary honey badger, don’t buy it.
Finally, I want to refute the notion that honey badgers can not only intimidate larger predators, but actively kill them. Every now and then, you find guides to honey badger gameplay that claim honey badgers regularly attack lions or other large animals by biting off their genitals, causing them to bleed to death. Again, no credible evidence exists of this behaviour. It honestly boggles me that people buy this, as the Internet is filled with videos of honey badger mains fighting larger animals, and not a single one of them shows the honey badger making any attempt at this move. In reality, a honey badger confronting a lion or hyena will almost always try to keep a safe distance, staying away from the opponent’s paws and teeth. The reason they don’t just run away in such fights is mainly because they can’t. Lions and hyenas are much faster than honey badgers, so the badgers need to keep their opponents on their toes with intimidation moves to stand a chance of escaping the confrontation. The amount of success honey badgers have with this strategy is amazing enough without needing to spread ridiculous myths like this.

The Legendary “Dinosaur” From Before The Dinosaurs: Examining The Dimetrodon Build

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

If you spend pretty much any significant amount of time on Outside fan forums and whatnot, you’ll quickly run into a post from a player expressing nostalgia for the days when they could play as a non-avian dinosaur. But given that even dinosaurs only showed up relatively late in the game’s history, after numerous other builds had seen their time in the spotlight come and go, you might wonder: what builds did players during the dinosaur era lament that they could no longer play as? Today, I’d like to take a look at arguably the most dominant land animal of the pre-dinosaur era, the Dimetrodon build of the synapsid faction. What made this build so dominant? Why did it disappear from the meta? And how did it compare to top predators of later eras?

To understand the significance of the Dimetrodon, we first have to understand the context of the Permian expansion where they debuted, as well as the synapsid faction which they were a part of. The Carboniferous expansion, which immediately preceded the Permian, is today mostly remembered as the age of giant arthropods, but it was also the time of some hugely significant developments in the land vertebrate meta. Before the Carboniferous, the only viable model for how to survive as a vertebrate on land had been the amphibian model, which required laying eggs in water and letting larvae develop there before coming onto land after metamorphosing into an adult. But towards the later end of the Carboniferous, a group of amphibians called the reptiliomorphs figured out a new innovation: instead of laying eggs in water, they’d lay fluid-filled eggs on land, protected by a membrane called the amnion. This led to the creation of a new guild, called the amniotes. Not long after – still in the late Carboniferous – the amniote guild split into two factions, the synapsids and the sauropsids. The synapsids could be distinguished from the sauropsids by the temporal fenestra, a low opening in the skull roof behind each eye. This might seem like a minor difference, but it was enough to send the two groups down very different evolutionary paths, and the rivalry between the two groups has been one of the major driving forces of the meta’s development ever since. During the Carboniferous, both guilds remained in the shadows of the giant arthropods, but after the largest arthropods got banned at the start of the Permian, the synapsids pretty quickly established themselves as the new top dogs. One of the first synapsids to rise to the top in this new meta was the Dimetrodon.

First appearing 295 million years ago, the Dimetrodon was the first land vertebrate in the game’s history to achieve apex predator status. Designing predatory vertebrates was still a pretty underdeveloped art at this time, so unlike some other prehistoric animals I’ve talked about, the Dimetrodon wouldn’t look all that impressive by the standards of modern predators. With its relatively modest stats, it would have gotten easily crushed in a fight by even a mid-tier theropod dinosaur, or by a typical large carnivorous mammal of today. It would be similarly useless against elephants, sauropods, and other giant tank builds that dominated the herbivore meta of later expansions. However, it did have a number of then-special adaptations which propelled it to the top of the Permian meta, and almost every other top-tier vertebrate build since has owed something to its design.

One of the core advantages that the Dimetrodon had over most builds of the time was in their teeth. Prior to the Permian expansion, choosing teeth specs was pretty simple: you just picked the one type of tooth most useful for the particular loot type you wanted, and filled your mouth with as many of those teeth as you could. This method, called [Homodonty], can work effectively, and is still used by many reptile and fish builds today; the gecko, for instance, has its entire mouth filled with bicuspid teeth, which are good for grasping onto small objects like the insects it hunts. However, Dimetrodon and other predatory synapsids broke from this trend by speccing into multiple types of teeth with different purposes. This innovation was a response to the demands of hunting the newly-evolved large land herbivores, which were much more of a challenge to catch than the tiny creatures which vertebrate predators had focused on before. In order to be able to capture and restrain these prey animals, Dimetrodon essentially turned its mouth into a trap, with one or two pairs of large, dagger-like canines extending from the maxilla to puncture and grip onto prey. This is actually where the Dimetrodon got its name, which translates to “two measures of tooth”, indicating how rare it was at the time for a build to have teeth of different sizes like this. Unusually among early synapsids, Dimetrodon had teeth shaped like teardrops, widest at their midsections and narrowing closer to the jaws, and with serrated edges for tearing flesh. There were about twenty available subclasses of Dimetrodon available throughout the Permian, and not all of them had the same serrations. Early variants of the Dimetrodon build actually had smooth-edged teeth, having not yet evolved to rely on hunting large prey. But an arms race quickly ensued, where Dimetrodon’s prey kept growing larger for boosted defence, and Dimetrodon was forced to sharpen its teeth more for extra attack power. Over time, the Dimetrodon’s teeth developed into sharp, steak knife-like implements, ideal for slicing into flesh. The [Serrated Teeth] ability has been copied since by a number of other predatory groups, including sharks and theropod dinosaurs, but Dimetrodon was the first build to unlock them.

Another area where Dimetrodon had a leg up on the competition was in the way it moved. This might come as a surprise to those most familiar with it from fan art made after it was banned, since most depictions of it portray it walking sluggishly, with its legs sprawled out like a lizard. However, the bone structure of the Dimetrodon’s legs was less like that of a lizard and more like that of caimans, which can hold their legs vertically enough to raise their body off the ground when running. This has been backed up by game logs showing footprints of Dimetrodon – or possibly a closely related synapsid – which were clearly made by players walking with a semi-upright posture. This posture, novel for a vertebrate at the time, allowed the Dimetrodon to move in a way that was both faster and more energy-efficient than competing builds, giving them a huge advantage in chasing down prey.

One of the most surprisingly significant innovations of the Dimetrodon build was its nasal cavity. Dimetrodon had distinctive ridges on the posterior internal surface of its snout, which had cartilaginous attachments called nasoturbinals, increasing the area of olfactory epithelium. Later synapsids, including mammals, would continue to spec into these nasoturbinals and increase their size. This might seem like a minor and insignificant innovation, but it ended up being hugely important because large nasoturbinals help to reduce water loss during respiration, which helped to prevent overheating following the later evolution of warm-bloodedness. However, neither Dimetrodon nor its contemporary relatives were warm-blooded, so the true potential of this innovation would not be revealed until later.

Those of you who’ve read discussions of the Dimetrodon in other guides might be surprised that I’ve managed to go this long without mentioning one of its most distinctive traits. So I should probably address the issue: Dimetrodon had a large neural spine sail on its back, formed by elongated spines extending from the vertebrae. The impact of this sail on gameplay is a bit difficult to discuss, because nobody really knows what exactly the sail was for.

Up until recently, the most popular theory was that the sail was an early attempt to create a build with a stable body temperature.  Warm-bloodedness probably didn’t exist yet when the Dimetrodon was around, so both it and its prey had to rely on sunlight to gain the body heat needed to engage in chases. Being larger than most of its prey, Dimetrodon had an easier time retaining heat, but had to wait longer in the mornings to gain the required energy. The sail could have been a way to compensate for this giant disadvantage, essentially acting as a giant solar panel on their backs, and allowing them to keep pace with their smaller targets. Others have proposed the opposite theory, that the sail was actually a surface which could be used to dissipate excess heat when Dimetrodons were at risk of overheating, similar to the enlarged ears of modern-day elephants. If these theories were true, it would make the Dimetrodon an example of an early attempt to make a vertebrate build that could maintain constant body temperatures, thus paving the way for the warm-blooded builds that would dominate the meta in all later expansions. However, these theories probably don’t get at the real purpose of the sail. For one thing, overheating probably wasn’t that big a threat in the early Permian wetlands where Dimetrodon lived, and even if it had been, the sail would not have offered much protection. The claim that it allowed them to warm up quicker is more plausible, and probably was part of its benefit, but this was more likely a secondary byproduct of its true purpose. If it had been the primary purpose, we would expect the sail to grow larger as Dimetrodon itself did, since thermoregulation would have been more of a challenge for larger animals. And while that did happen, the rate at which the sail grew proportionately to the rest of the body over the course of evolution vastly exceeded anything that would have been necessary for thermoregulation alone. Also, the earliest sail-backed synapsids were so small that there’s no reason they would have needed a sail for this purpose at all.

So if thermoregulation wasn’t the main reason why Dimetrodon needed sails, what was? The real answer is that they were mostly just there to show off. Like with many animals, Dimetrodon gameplay revolved largely around searching for a mating partner in order to complete the main questline, and speccing into a big, flashy sail on your back was a good way to attract attention from potential partners. This, too, makes the Dimetrodon one of the great trend-setters in Outside’s history. Nowadays, almost all mammals have to compete with one another for mates, and many of them have taken after the Dimetrodon by speccing into large, show-offy organs extending from their body which they use to win ritual competitions during mating season. Examples of this include the lion’s mane, deer antlers, and, among non-mammals, peacock feathers.

As noted earlier, none of these adaptations would be particularly impressive by the standards of most later expansions, but in the relatively underdeveloped land meta of the Early Permian, they were enough to propel the Dimetrodon to S-tier status. While most fan art of Dimetrodon tends to show it chasing large herbivores through a desert, they actually tended to live in wetlands, feeding primarily on fish and amphibians. But regardless, it was one of the largest, fastest and most powerful predators of its time period, and just about every fish, reptile and amphibian in its habitat lived in fear of its power. They were the first predator ever to unlock uncontested apex predator status in the land meta, and reigned as the #1 build in the game for about 20 million years.


Dimetrodon got removed from the game around 270 million years ago, about 20 million years before the Great Dying patch that ended synapsid dominance, and about 40 million years before the unlocking of the first dinosaur class. The reasons for their removal have never been revealed, but what is clear is that they’ve lived on in the memories of fans long after just about everything else from their time has been forgotten. Dimetrodon is just about the only animal from before the Mesozoic that shows up in fan art and fanfiction with the same kind of regularity as the most iconic dinosaurs, and it even shows up in nearly every tie-in collection of dinosaur toys, despite not actually being a dinosaur. All this is a testament to the enduring influence that its innovations continue to have on the functioning of Outside’s fan community. Its achievements may have been surpassed by other builds since, but the impact it had will never be forgotten.

Jawless Fish: Exploring The Weirdest Part of the Vertebrate Faction

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

Most game guides will agree that the meta of Outside is currently dominated by the vertebrates, a group distinguished from all other factions by the choice to spec into a skeleton made of bones and put it on the inside of the body. The skeleton supports their weight and protects their internal organs from damage, but without restricting their movement as much as the external armour of arthropods does. This allows vertebrates to combine large size, high defence and high mobility in a way that no other faction has been able to replicate. However, the vertebrate faction also contains one of the strangest guilds in the game, the only guild in the history of the game where the players had access to these skeletons and then decided to drop them from their specs. Why did they take this bizarre route, and has it paid off? To find out, today I’m going to look at the agnathans, or or jawless fish as they’re more commonly called, and evaluate where they rank on the tier list.

Jawless fish are one of the oldest guilds in the current meta, dating all the way back to the Cambrian. Throughout the Paleozoic, from the Cambrian until around the Devonian, jawless fish were one of the top guilds of the ocean meta. However, most of the best of these jawless fish builds had a considerably different playstyle and stat distribution from the ones you see today. In particular, most of these earlier jawless fish put a lot more emphasis on defensive traits; for example, the early ones tended to have vertebrae, whereas all current jawless fish have lost them. Many early jawless fish also specced into a coating of heavy, bone-spiked plates on their skin for armour; these were called the ostracoderms. Around 420 million years ago, some of these ostracoderms decided to spec into jaws, the first vertebrates to do so. These became the ancestors of all subsequent jawed fish as well as all other jawed vertebrates, but the rest of the ostracoderms started declining in popularity a while later. By the Devonian, the ostracoderm player base had been reduced to zero, and most other types of jawless fish would soon follow suit. Today, only two guilds of jawless fish remain in the game, both occupying relatively marginal positions in the ocean meta. These two guilds are called the lampreys and the hagfish.

Lampreys and hagfish have very different play styles from each other, but there are some notable similarities, though more in terms of traits they both conspicuously lack than ones they actually share. As their name suggests, all living jawless fish lack jaws, which means they can’t move their teeth up and down like jawed vertebrates. Also, they don’t have teeth made of hard enamel like those of most vertebrates; instead, they have little horns made of keratin in their mouths, called ceratodontes. Other common fish traits which all living jawless fish lack include stomachs, paired fins, skeletons, and scales. Rather than having a stomach, their entire digestive system consists of a mouth and a single elongated gut, which is too homogeneous to be separated into distinct digestive organs. In place of spines, they are supported by flexible rods made of cartilage, called notochords. Notochords are present in all fish as well as land vertebrates while in the embryonic stage of gameplay, but lampreys and hagfish are the only ones that retain them into adulthood rather than replacing them with spines at some point. In place of scales, their entire bodies are just covered in unprotected skin, in sharp contrast to the armoured exoskeletons of their ancient relatives. And rather than having the paired appendages of other fish, lampreys and hagfish get around using only a single dorsal or caudal fin, with some not even having that.

All of these absences severely limit the amount of niches that jawless fish can fill compared to jawed fish. Even aside from their lowered mobility and defence, the lack of jaws, teeth and a stomach severely limits the amount of food sources that they can make use of. Despite these limitations, hagfish and lampreys have actually developed notably different gameplay strategies, to the point that there’s some dispute over whether they should even be grouped into one guild. While the exact relations between lampreys, hagfish, and jawed fish are lost to time, some data miners have argued that the lamprey is actually closer to jawed fish than either is to the hagfish, and so should be grouped in a super-guild with jawed fish while hagfish should be left as their own thing. This is supported by some features of the lamprey’s build design, but is still generally rejected due to analysis of the lamprey’s source code showing it to be more similar to that of hagfish.

In any case, lampreys are generally freshwater fish characterised by toothless, funnel-like sucking mouths. They were first introduced during the Devonian expansion, at least 360 million years ago, and have kept their playstyle pretty much the same ever since then. Today, there are around 40 lamprey builds remaining in the current meta, which are about halfway split between parasitic and filter-feeder variants. That’s kind of a misleading way to divide them, though, because all lampreys start off the game as filter-feeding larvae, and none of them continue to filter-feed as adults. The ones that are officially classified as part of the “filter-feeder” faction actually just stop eating altogether once they reach adulthood, subsisting off fat reserves acquired as larvae until they die.

The other half of the faction are the parasites. Parasitic lampreys feed by attaching their mouths to the bodies of their prey, then using horny plates on the tips of their tongues, called laminae, to scrape through body tissues until they reach blood, which they suck up. Some lampreys feed on the flesh of larger animals, either in addition to or instead of drinking their blood. The sucker used to hold on to larger animals and suck up their blood can also be used to hold onto rocks and ramps, making the lamprey one of the only fish able to access the [Climb] movement option. Many lamprey builds have to use this because they travel upstream to mate, which would otherwise be very difficult to pull off given their lack of fins.

Besides their parasitism, lampreys are notable for their distinctive swimming method. When swimming, lampreys wriggle their tails so as to generate low-pressure areas in the water around them. This causes the water ahead of them to rush in and fill the low-pressure zones, essentially pulling the water ahead of them backward rather than pushing themselves forward. This uses much less energy than normal fish methods of swimming, making the lamprey one of the most efficiently-moving animals in the ocean.

However, I don’t see the lamprey as an exceptionally strong build in the current meta. While it is impressive that they can safely feed off animals much larger than themselves, they have generally low base stats across the board, have little to no combat ability, and don’t really do anything that other builds can’t do better. Even their pull-rather-than-push swimming method is used better by other, higher-ranking builds like eels and jellyfish. The one unique thing going for them is being the only living vertebrate to have four eyes, but this is kind of a gimmicky ability and doesn’t really have much practical benefit. I’d rate the parasitic lampreys on the border of C and D tier. The “filter-feeding” lampreys have pretty much the same design as the parasitic ones, but without the only ability that makes the parasitic ones interesting or worthwhile, so I’d place them down in F tier. If you’re interested in playing a jawless fish, I’d recommend choosing the hagfish instead.

When the hagfish build was introduced is a matter of debate; they definitely go back at least to the Cretaceous, but there are probable logs of hagfish player activity dating back as far as the Carboniferous. Whatever their origins, hagfish, like lampreys, have a pretty basic playstyle and build design which have changed very little since they first appeared. However, where lampreys are optimised for a parasitic playstyle, hagfish are a mixture of hunter and scavenger.

Hagfish have elongated bodies with paddle-like tails, making them look a lot like eels. But instead of having jaws like eels, hagfish have a pair of horizontally moving structures with keratinous, tooth-like projections. In comparison to the jaw muscles in similarly-sized jawed fish, the muscles that hagfish use to feed have more force and a larger gape, but can’t move nearly as fast. For the most part, hagfish use these muscles to feed upon the carcasses of larger animals. They often actually enter and eviscerate the bodies of dead sea creatures, and then devour the carcass from the inside. However, they aren’t limited to scavenging; they’re also regular, active hunters of other small fish and marine invertebrates.

In order to maximise the value they get out of scavenging, hagfish have specced into an unusual type of digestion. Rather than exclusively using their guts to digest nutrients, hagfish also have permeable skin and gills through which they can absorb proteins. Nutrient-absorbent skin is commonly seen in marine invertebrates, but hagfish are the only vertebrates to use it, and while all fish use their gills to absorb oxygen, hagfish are the only ones that use them to absorb nutrients from food as well. Part of the reason hagfish are able to pull this off is because they have a trait called [Osmoconformity]. In order to survive, most fish need to perform a function called [Osmoregulation], which involves carefully regulating the osmotic pressure of the internal bodily fluids surrounding their cells to keep them from becoming too diluted or concentrated. In order to make this work, they require a skin barrier which is difficult to permeate, since allowing seawater to enter their bodies would interfere with this fluid balance. However, osmoconformers like the hagfish can change their extracellular fluid composition to match that of their external environment, so they don’t need to worry about this. Osmoconformity is the standard strategy among marine invertebrates, but hagfish are the only fish that use it, which makes absorbing nutrients through their skin less risky.

Where lampreys have specced into extra eyes as a gimmick, hagfish don’t actually have proper eyes at all – they just have tiny eyespots covered by a semi-transparent layer of skin. They can distinguish light from darkness, but do nothing more than that. At first glance, you might assume that this is a consequence of hagfish forgetting to update their builds for 300 million years, but in fact, game logs from the Carboniferous show that early hagfish players specced into complete eyes. Later hagfish players decided they didn’t need them, so they gradually spent fewer and fewer points away from eyesight until there was basically nothing left. This is probably due to the fact that they spend most of their time deep underwater, where so little light reaches that there’s very little use being able to see.

Based on what I’ve said so far, it might not be clear why exactly I regard hagfish as so much more viable than lampreys. The answer comes down to their bizarre, but highly effective anti-predatory adaptations. First of all, unlike most animals, hagfish don’t have their skin attached tightly to the rest of their bodies. Instead, their skin is more like a blood-filled inflatable sack, which is only attached to their body at a handful of points. Consequently, when sharks or other predators take a bite out of a hagfish, they often end up just puncturing the non-vital and easily-healable skin, leaving their muscles and vital organs unscathed.

If this was their only defence, it wouldn’t do much, since predators could just bite them repeatedly until they got to the good parts. In order for this strategy to work, hagfish need an additional defence to ensure predators that bite once don’t try again. This is where their signature ability, [Slime Shot], comes in. Hagfish have approximately 100 slime glands distributed along their flanks, which are used to secrete massive amounts of mucus at predators. While some other animals have similar slime-based defences, hagfish have gone the extra mile by supplementing the mucus in their slime with fine, fibrous threads that strengthen the slime and hold it together. This isn’t just there to be disgusting: this slime makes hagfish actively dangerous to hunt, because it can easily clog the gills of predators and suffocate them. Of course, this carries its own risks because hagfish also breathe through gills and hence are vulnerable to their own attacks. In order to avoid this, hagfish free themselves from their own slime by tying themselves in sliding knots and then scraping the mucus off their own bodies.

The hagfish’s slime is a pretty solid ability, which I’d say elevates the hagfish to around a low B ranking on the tier list. The main reason I can’t go any higher is because of its limited applicability. Hagfish have basically no counters within the fish meta, but since the primary purpose of their slime is to clog the gills of fish, they tend to have weak matchups against non-fish predators. Hagfish are easy prey for seals, whales, and some birds, all of which are mostly immune to the effects of slime because of their lack of gills. Since hagfish are so effective as a counter to the rest of the fish meta, I think they’ve earned an above-average ranking, but since they have so many counters themselves, I don’t think I can put them any higher than B tier.

So, to return to the question I asked at the start: have the bizarre choices made by the jawless fish faction paid off? I’d have to say, not really. Hagfish are a decent build, but on the whole the jawless fish are probably the least successful of the major vertebrate factions. It’s really not surprising to me that the faction has been losing ground in the meta against jawed vertebrates for nearly as long as the latter have existed.

Reign of Titans: Why Cetaceans Dominate the Ocean | The Whale and Dolphin Tier List

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

One of the most game-changing moments in the history of Outside occurred about 390 million years ago, when vertebrate players first unlocked access to land servers. Mammals, birds, and reptiles, three of the highest-ranked major guilds in the current meta, never would have existed if not for these early land vertebrates. But not all players in these guilds have been entirely satisfied with the land servers, and there have been various attempts by players within each of them to return to their marine origins. One of the most successful examples of this has been the mammal guild known as the whales. What accounts for the whale’s success? And which kinds of whales have been most successful? To find out, today I’m going to go into an analysis of the basic whale build, and evaluate where the different whale subclasses rank on the tier list.

THE HISTORY OF WHALES

The whale guild originated in the Eocene, around 55 million years ago. While hoofed mammals today are almost exclusively herbivores, at this time it was still fairly common for them to be predators, and it was from these hoofed predators that the first whales arose. Early whales were semi-aquatic animals with functioning legs, and generally stayed near the shore when in the water, playing as something like a mammal version of the crocodile. Over time, they lost more and more of their land traits in order to better optimise for aquatic mobility. They replaced their hind legs with paddle-like tail fins called flukes for better propulsion through water, and their front legs with flippers for controlling their direction while swimming. Soon, they were fully marine and could no longer move on land at all. Today, whales are spread across just about every ocean biome and even a few freshwater ones, almost always being at or near the top of the food chain. What accounts for their dominance? To find out, let’s take a look at the whale build’s stats and abilities.

WHALE STATS AND ABILITIES

  • Adaptations for Swimming and Diving

While many air-breathing vertebrates have re-evolved aquatic features, whales have gone further down this road than any other air-breathing build in the current meta. Besides changing their means of locomotion, there are two other big challenges that any mammal build has to deal with when transitioning back to ocean life. Firstly, objects in water gain and lose heat much faster than in air, so warm-blooded marine builds need to invest much more into insulation than their land-living counterparts. Whales deal with this by trading away the fur coat that most land mammals have and replacing it with a layer of thick fat called blubber. Generally, a given amount of blubber doesn’t trap as much heat as the same amount of fur, but this is compensated by the extraordinary thickness of the blubber layer in whale-sized animals, which creates much more overall insulation than would be feasible if they were reliant only on external hairs.

The second big problem with returning to the ocean as a mammal is that you won’t be able to breathe while underwater. However, this is compensated by an ability called [Mammalian Diving Reflex] – which, despite the name, can also be accessed by birds and reptiles. When a mammal, bird or reptile player goes underwater, their heartbeats and other metabolic processes start to slow down in order to conserve oxygen. This reflex is particularly well-developed in whales. However, even with this ability, whales still need to surface for air every 90 minutes or so at least. Having to come up for air regularly might seem inconvenient, but interestingly, it’s actually key to one of the whales’ greatest strengths. Because most whales are so huge, they need lots and lots of oxygen to sustain themselves. You might think this would make it even more beneficial to be able to breathe underwater, but the problem is that water doesn’t have very much oxygen in it compared to air. If you need to get massive amounts of oxygen while swimming, using giant lungs to take huge breaths at the surface is much more efficient than passively filtering oxygen from the water through gills. This is why even the few fish that are able to reach whale-like proportions, like the basking shark, generally have to work as inactive AFK-builds in order to minimise their energetic requirements. Whales, on the other hand, often manage to maintain both a gigantic body and an active predatory lifestyle at the same time.

  • Split in the whale faction: baleen vs. toothed whales

During the mid-Oligocene, around 30 million years ago, whales started changing their strategies due to shifts in climate. During this time, the coldest parts of the Southern oceans saw plankton declines which prevented much of a whale playerbase from forming, while more temperate areas saw localised plankton booms which some whales took advantage of. This created a divide between those whale players who took advantage of this by feeding on the plankton and those who continued to optimise for hunting fish; the former became known as baleen whales, the latter as toothed whales. These two are similar in some ways, but have very different stat distributions on average, so I’m going to talk briefly about each separately.

Toothed whales

As the name suggests, toothed whales are distinguished from baleen whales by their teeth, which are sharp, cone-shaped, and well-optimised for catching fish and squid. In comparison to baleen whales, toothed whales tend to have much lower HP stats due to their smaller size, but also higher mobility, due to their hydrodynamic, torpedo-esque design. Though dolphins and porpoises are often distinguished from whales, both are actually toothed whale subclasses.

The most noteworthy thing about toothed whales is their access to the [Echolocation] ability. Toothed whales have a fat-filled organ in their heads called a melon that acts as a kind of sound lens, amplifying their clicks and focusing them in a desired direction. Their ears are well-adapted to hearing the high-pitched echoes of these clicks, unlike baleen whales, which hear best at low frequencies. Echolocation is one of the most powerful abilities in the entire game, and it gives toothed whales excellent matchups against stealth builds like the octopus. It’s especially useful in the water, because it means that they don’t need light to look for food. Most marine mammals can dive for long periods when hunting, but there’s no use diving especially deep, because if they go beyond where sunlight reaches, they won’t be able to find anything. Toothed whales do not have this limitation, and so are the only mammals ever to attain meta-relevance in the deepest parts of the ocean.

Baleen whales

Baleen whales, again consistent with their name, are distinguished from toothed whales primarily by their choice to drop teeth from their specs in favour of baleen plates. Baleen plates are bristle-like masses of keratin in the whales’ mouths, which they use like a sieve to filter plankton and other small animals out of the water for consumption. There are a few different ways baleen can be used, but the most basic is a technique called skim-feeding. Skim-feeding whales swim with their mouths open and suck in plankton-filled water, then push the water out through the baleen filter, leaving only the meat to be swallowed. Most baleen whales actually use a more advanced technique called lunge-feeding, but I’ll talk more about that when I get into tiering individual builds.

The main strength of baleen whales is their enormous size. Baleen whales have a relatively simple playstyle that doesn’t really require special hunting adaptations, so they’ve spent most of their spare evolution points on just becoming massive enough to avoid threats from other players. Baleen whales are so big that when they die, their carcasses fall to the ocean floor and effectively become entire new ecosystems – large, multi-species communities of animals can spend decades living in and solely feeding off of a single dead whale. Despite their gigantism being what they’re most known for today, baleen whales actually only unlocked this trait relatively recently — around 3 million years ago or so. This was probably another result of changes in climate, causing certain parts of the world to experience seasonal plankton booms big enough to support whales much larger than had existed before.

While they’re technically carnivores, baleen whales have digestive systems that in many ways bear more resemblance to terrestrial herbivores. Whereas toothed whales have stomachs similar to other carnivorous mammals, baleen whales have three-chambered stomachs, like camels. The first stomach chamber grinds up food and dissolves it in acid, the second mixes it with enzymes to assist the protein digestion, and then the final chamber adds more enzymes to aid in fat digestion. Also, like most mammals, baleen whales have symbiotic bacteria in their intestines which help to break down food. However, their gut bacteria more closely resemble those of herbivorous mammals like the hippopotamus than those of other carnivores. This makes sense because large grazers and baleen whales both base their whole game plan around consuming large stocks of low-value loot, and so they need to make sure they get every last drop of available XP out, something usually less important for other predators. Hence, when it comes to digestion specs, the evolutionary incentives for a filter-feeding carnivore are much more similar to those of large grazers like a camel or hippo than to hunters of larger prey.

WHALE TIER RANKING

I don’t think I’ll spark much debate by ranking whales as one of the S-tier guilds of the current ocean meta. Toothed whales are easily among the most dominant predators in the entire game, and just about the only animals tanky enough to be mostly safe from them are the baleen whales. But not all whales take full advantage of the guild’s powerful abilities. So which whales are the true top-tiers, and which ones are wasting their potential? To find out, let’s now go into the whale tier list. As usual, I won’t go into all of the roughly 90 whale builds in the current meta, but I’ll try to cover the most interesting ones.

THE WHALE TIER LIST

D Tier: Narwhal

In D tier, we have the narwhal, a small toothed whale exclusive to the Arctic Ocean. Narwhals have had to sacrifice the [Dorsal Fin] trait of other whales to minimise heat loss in Arctic waters, at the cost of severely reducing their aquatic mobility. They’ve spent their points instead on a long tusk filled with sensory receptors for detecting stimuli in the seawater, although this is usually only present in males. Combined with their relatively small size, their low mobility makes them among the most vulnerable whales; they don’t have a ton of predators to worry about, but they don’t have much in the way of good counter-play against those they do have, particularly orcas. They also have no functional teeth aside from their tusks, and, again, even those are only present in males. They can only score kills on prey by suction-feeding, swimming towards the prey until it’s in close range and then sucking them up into the mouth. This means that narwhals get the worst of both worlds: they can’t hunt high-value targets the way other toothed whales can, but they also don’t have any abilities that would let them bulk-feed as efficiently as the baleen whales.

Narwhals are also held back on the tier list by their choice of server. The Arctic Ocean is one of the riskiest places to play as a marine mammal, because so much of the water is covered by sea ice. It’s not uncommon for narwhal mains to die of suffocation after trying to surface and discovering that the ice above them is too thick for them to break through. This is really the only whale build that I could justify placing below average; all other whales on this list rate B tier or higher.

B tier: Amazon river dolphin

While whales are generally associated with the ocean, there are a number of dolphin builds that have abandoned the ocean and now live exclusively in freshwater. Of these river dolphins, the Amazon river dolphin is the biggest, the most popular, and the highest-ranking. Compared to ocean dolphins, Amazon river dolphins are smaller and slower, but also more manoeuvrable, so that they can more easily navigate through flooded forests. The river water they live in is generally pretty warm, so their blubber has been reduced to a very thin layer. It’s thought that most river dolphins used to live in the ocean, but moved to rivers to avoid competition with the modern-day oceanic dolphins. While these river dolphins don’t have any fatal flaws, they seem weaker in most ways than their ocean cousins, so I’m giving them a just-above-middling rating, at the low end of B tier.

B tier: Beaked whales

Also in B tier, we have one of the only mammal builds to break into the deep-sea meta, the beaked whale. Deep-sea gameplay is hard to observe, so not very much is known about this build, and their rating is largely speculative. We do know that beaked whales have imitated the narwhal in having only one pair of teeth, which is tusk-like in males but small and vestigial in females. The current record for deepest and longest dive by a mammal was set by a beaked whale main who went down over 2900 m and stayed down for over three and a half hours. However, this was pretty unusual, and was probably caused by an adverse reaction to military sonar. In any case, while beaked whales aren’t especially powerful compared to other whales, I do still have to give them credit for being meta-relevant in a server that marine mammals usually can’t even access, let alone thrive in. For that, I give them an above-average rating.

B Tier: Grey whale

At the top of B tier, we have the lowest-ranked baleen whale on this list, the grey whale. Grey whales are unique among baleen whales in that they primarily hunt crustaceans on the ocean floor, rather than ones swimming or floating in the open water. They hunt these crustaceans by swimming slowly along the seafloor while turned on their sides, sucking up sediments filled with shrimp and crab larvae as they go. In my opinion, this is kind of a janky strategy and doesn’t grant enough benefit to be worth the points spent on it. The biggest problem with it is that it depends on easy access to the seafloor, and so is hard to pull off in deep water; this is why you basically only see grey whales being competitive in coastal areas. This is probably the weakest build out of all the current baleen whales, but it’s still by no means a low-tier. It’d honestly be pretty difficult to screw up baleen whale build design enough to drop to low-tier status, since their whole game plan is to soak up easy XP while being big enough that nobody dares threaten them. Grey whales might have the least effective way to do this out of the baleen whales, but they are still doing it, and that’s enough to keep their ranking above-average.

A tier: Bowhead whale

In low A tier, we have another baleen whale, the bowhead. Bowheads are the only baleen whales exclusive to the Arctic. They’re named for their large, bow-shaped heads, which are used to break through sea ice when they need to surface to breathe. Like narwhals, bowhead whales have reduced mobility due to lacking a dorsal fin, but this isn’t really an issue because their size is all the protection they need. Bowhead whales hold a number of records among the Outside playerbase, including the largest mouth of any build, the longest baleen plates of any build, and the thickest blubber of any build, but perhaps the most impressive is their record for the longest game time of any mammal. Bowhead whales are extraordinarily resistant to ageing and related debuffs, and a single playthrough as a bowhead whale can last for up to 200 years.

A tier: Guiana dolphin

At the high end of A tier, we have what might be the dark horse of the whale meta, the Guiana dolphin, one of the few whales that can be found in both saltwater and freshwater. Guiana dolphins resemble miniature versions of the more iconic bottlenose dolphin, but have an ability unknown in other cetaceans: [Electroreception]. I’ve talked before about how powerful electroreception is at close-range, and when combined with the echolocation that all toothed whales get by default, this means the Guiana dolphin is quite possibly the best anti-stealth build in the entire game.

A tier: Blue Whale

At the top of A tier, we have the most iconic of the baleen whales, the blue whale. Blue whales belong to the rorqual guild, a group of baleen whales which includes most of the largest builds in the game. Rorquals are more slender and streamlined than other baleen whales, which enables them to swim remarkably fast despite their large size. Their speed has allowed them to de-emphasize the skim-feeding techniques of other baleen whales, and instead start using a tactic called lunge-feeding. When rorquals hunt, they seek out areas with large schools of fish or other swarming prey, then accelerate at high speed with their mouth opened to a large gape angle, generating the water pressure to suck in the swarming animals in huge numbers. This strategy has required investment in a number of distinctive anatomical traits, including throat pleats that can expand to huge sizes, a unique sensory organ consisting entirely of mechanoreceptors to help their brains more easily coordinate their mouth movements while engulfing prey, and flexible nerves that stretch and recoil like bungee cords to avoid tissue damage that would otherwise result from opening the mouth to such a large angle.

The blue whale is the largest of all rorquals, and the single largest animal build ever to have been unlocked in the entire history of Outside. Given that the main perk of baleen whales in general is their huge size, you might think blue whales would also be the highest-ranked of them, but I actually think the blue whale design is a bit of overkill in this regard. Once you’re big enough to easily win against all predators in your environment, speccing into even more size for even better protection is quickly going to hit diminishing returns, and blue whales probably would have been better off saving the points spent on their size record and using them to unlock a more diverse array of special abilities. That said, diminishing returns are still returns, and since blue whales are still nearly impossible to kill for every other build except humans, I don’t think I can justify putting them any lower than high A tier.

S tier: Humpback whale

If you want to see a rorqual build that spent its points the right way to become a true top-tier, I’d say to take a look at the humpback. Instead of minimaxing for size to the degree that blue whales have, humpbacks have spent their points unlocking a more diverse array of hunting methods, the most varied such array available to any of the baleen whales. The most notable of these techniques is called bubble-net feeding. To use this strategy, a group of whales dive below the surface and swim in a shrinking circle, all blowing air from their blowholes to create a vertical cylinder of bubbles which traps the fish above them. They have two main methods of generating these “nets”: either they approach the surface while continually blowing upwards to create a spiral of bubbles, or they go in a long loop to corral the prey, then lift their flukes out of the water and start making smaller loops to capture targets. Once the net is made, humpbacks swim into it with their mouths gaping wide and eat the trapped fish. This bubble-feeding technique requires a good deal of agility, which is why humpbacks have specced into unique bumps on their jaws and flippers called tubercles. These bumps maximise lift and minimise drag in water, making it much easier for humpbacks to turn while swimming, and compensating for their low speed compared to other rorquals.

S tier: Bottlenose dolphin

However, if you want to see clever hunting tactics really being used to their fullest potential, then the bottlenose dolphin is the whale for you. While not as powerful or tanky as builds like the blue and humpback, the bottlenose makes up for this with its mobility and intelligence. Although not the largest brain among whales in absolute terms, the bottlenose dolphin’s brain is more than four times bigger than would normally be expected for an animal of their size; apart from humans, no other known animal has a brain as relatively enlarged as that of the dolphin. While they obviously haven’t come near human levels of success or intelligence quite yet, they’re still close enough to unlock a wide variety of hunting strategies that make them one of the most effective predators in the ocean.

Because higher intelligence allows for greater variability in behaviour, the techniques you’ll learn playing as a bottlenose dolphin will heavily depend on which pod you end up in. For example, in the Shark Bay biome on the Australia server, bottlenose dolphins regularly hunt by digging up animals buried in the seafloor, and – in a behaviour that is only ever seen in this specific bay – they put sponges on their snouts while doing this to prevent abrasion damage. On the Florida Keys server, other bottlenoses hunt by creating U-shaped plumes of mud in a water column around targets, and then rushing through them to catch the now-disoriented and blindsided fish. Still other bottlenose pods have a technique called “strand feeding”, where they circle a school of fish rapidly to create a mini-whirlpool, then charge at the school and push their bodies up onto a mud-flat, forcing the fish onto it as well. They then crawl around on their sides for a bit, consuming the stunned fish that they’ve washed up. Dolphins in a pod deliberately teach these kinds of fishing techniques to their offspring, arguably making the bottlenose one of the very few animals with the ability to develop and maintain cultural traditions.

Don’t go thinking that bottlenoses only use their intelligence for killing, though. Some bottlenoses actually go out of their way to use their power to help other players, including those playing other species. Bottlenose players frequently form mixed-species teams with other kinds of dolphin, and there have even been instances of dolphin players adopting orphaned whales of other species and raising them as if they were bottlenoses. Many bottlenose dolphins have also been seen rescuing drowning or injured human players, and some on the Brazil server have gone so far as to try to break into the human support meta. Because the water in the oceans around Brazil is often too murky for small fish to be easily seen by humans, fishermen instead watch these bottlenose dolphins and wait for a cue from the dolphins to cast their nets. Once the net is cast, the dolphins will drive the fish towards the nets, eating the ones that manage to escape. Dolphins are currently restricted to the oceans, while humans spend most of their lives on land, so I don’t see speccing for a human support role as a very viable long-term evolutionary strategy for them; but it’s still a great example of the kind of skilled teamwork that’s made bottlenose dolphins a top-tier predator across warm and temperate seas worldwide, and which puts them ahead of the larger baleen whales on the tier list.

S tier: Sperm whale

Though bottlenoses might have had to sacrifice some size to make the best use of their intelligence, that doesn’t mean that you can’t play a toothed whale and still get the benefits of being gigantic. The sperm whale is not only by far the largest of the toothed whales, but also much larger than most of the baleen whales, and is in fact the largest non-filter-feeding predator in the entire current game. Aside from beaked whales, sperm whales are the only mammals that have managed to make an impact on the deep-sea meta. They’ve garnered something of a legendary reputation among the deep-sea player-base, because they’re among the only predators with the power to reliably defeat the other top-tier giants of the deep sea, the giant and colossal squids. The frequency with which this matchup happens is somewhat exaggerated, as sperm whales tend to spend most of their hunting time going after smaller cephalopods like the cock-eyed squid. Nevertheless, being the only predator that can take on one of the ocean’s most overpowered builds is extremely impressive, and solidifies the sperm whale’s status as a top-tier character.

Sperm whales do have a few small weaknesses. While they’re highly resistant to the effects of water pressure, they’re not immune, and sperm whales that spend too much time deep-diving can end up with bone damage from decompression sickness. Also, their eating huge amounts of squid can lead to problems because of the squid’s hard beak, which they have difficulty digesting. Over time, squid beaks can build up in the whale’s gut, causing bowel irritation. Sperm whales typically prevent this by producing an intestinal lining called ambergris, but this comes with its own risks because ambergris is highly valued by humans and has historically made sperm whales a tempting target for hunters. Still, sperm whales are apex predators in every ocean server and have basically no threats aside from humans, so I feel comfortable ranking them in S tier.

S tier: Orca

For the most part, all the S-tier whales on this list are about equal in viability, and I’ve ordered them mainly based on what I thought would allow for the smoothest segues. However, there is one S-tier whale that clearly stands a ways above the rest. There’s no question that the orca is by a wide margin the most overpowered build in the entire whale faction, and the second most OP build in the current meta after humans. In fact, orcas basically represent a perfect combination of the strengths of the other top-tier whales. Like the baleen and sperm whales, they’re large enough that no predator can really threaten them, but rather than continuing to minimax for size, they’ve spent the rest of their points on raising their intelligence to a level nearly as high as that of the bottlenose dolphin.

Like with bottlenose pods, different orca pods have a variety of sophisticated hunting techniques which can be specific to the group and can be seen as a kind of cultural tradition. While some orca cultures have a similar playstyle to the smaller dolphins, getting most of their XP from attacking schooling fish and/or squid, other orcas almost exclusively eat other marine mammals. These latter kinds tend to display the widest variety of innovative hunting techniques, probably because marine mammals are a lot harder to catch than smaller fish. All of the major marine mammals present challenges that orcas have to be clever to overcome, but not all for the same reasons. Other whales are difficult for orcas to hunt because of their massive size. When dealing with whales larger than themselves, orcas tend to rely on endurance-based strategies. They’ll typically search for a mother-calf pair, then chase the two for several hours until they’re too tired to fight back. The orcas then try to lure the calf into separating from the mother, and surround it, carefully blocking it from surfacing until it drowns. Again, they usually target calves, but they can kill full-grown whales using these sorts of methods too. Some exceptionally skilled orca mains have even managed to unlock [Slay the Titan], an achievement only given to players who manage to score a kill on a full-grown blue whale. Besides humans, orcas are the only predators ever to have unlocked this achievement.

Seals and sea lions, the other major type of marine mammals, are also challenging to hunt, but for a somewhat subtler reason. While seals and sea lions feed in the water, they aren’t fully marine like whales. When chased by a fully marine predator such as a shark, they generally only need to evade it long enough until they can find either a shore or a patch of ice to leap onto, where the predators can’t follow them. However, some orcas will actually go out of their way to target seal mains who think this will protect them, using a tactic called “wave-hunting”. These orcas search for seals resting on ice floes, then swim towards the floe in groups to create waves that wash over it, knocking the seal into the water; this strategy can also be used against penguins. More rarely, high-level orca mains will beach themselves to grab seals on the shore and then quickly wriggle back to the sea with seals in their mouths.

As with bottlenoses, some orca mains have tried breaking into the human support meta. In the New South Wales portion of the Australia server, one orca team used to have a strategy where they would partner up with humans to hunt baleen whales. The orcas would corral the baleen whales, and then the pod leader, who went by the username of “Old Tom”, would lash the water with his tail to signal to the humans that it was time to come. The humans would harpoon the whales, tie the carcass to a buoy while the orcas ate the lips and tongue, and then bring the rest of the carcass onto land to harness the blubber. This system lasted for at least a century, until the orca pod mysteriously vanished.


The full list of reasons why orcas are so overpowered could honestly take up a post unto itself, but I think I’ve gone on long enough for now. These kinds of tactics have made orcas the most dominant apex predators across just about the entirety of the ocean – even other S-tier cetaceans like the sperm whale aren’t completely safe from them. Aside from humans, no other animal in the current meta is so universally feared by all other builds across such a wide percentage of the map. I doubt I’ll get any dispute that the orca is one of the most OP builds ever seen in the game, and easily earns a spot near the top of S tier.

The Vulture Tier List

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

Of the many play styles available in Outside, possibly the hardest to pull off is the role of scavenger. While many predator builds will supplement their diet with some scavenging on the side, successful obligate scavengers – that is, builds which get all their XP from scavenging – are almost nonexistent. Of the ones that do exist, almost all of them are small marine invertebrates that aren’t especially high-tier. However, there is one exception to this rule: the bird build known as the vulture. How have vultures been able to succeed where so few can? And what kinds of vultures pull off this playstyle best? To find out, today I’m going to look at the vulture tier list.

VULTURE BUILD ANALYSIS:

  • What is a Vulture?

The backstory of the vulture guild is actually a little hard to explain, because the basic vulture build has been independently recreated three separate times over the course of the game’s history. See, vulture builds are divided into Old World and New World. Both kinds originate in the acciptriform faction, a group of predatory birds which also includes hawks, eagles, kites, ospreys, and the secretary bird, but they’re not closely related to each other. Old World vultures arose from within the accipitrid guild, making them most closely related to eagles and hawks, while New World vultures form their own guild called the cathartids, which split off from the rest of the accipitriforms long ago and has no close relationship with any of the other surviving members of the guild. Some have even speculated that the classification of New World vultures as accipitriforms might be a mistake, as some features of their anatomy suggest that they’re actually closer to storks. And within the Old World vultures, there’s another division between the gypine vultures and the gypaetine vultures, which are no closer to each other than either is to eagles and hawks. These three types of vulture are grouped together not because of any shared common ancestor or taxonomic relationship, but because they’ve all optimised for the same playstyle, as obligate scavengers. As mentioned, they are the only known builds that have managed to make this playstyle work, outside of a few marine invertebrates. The fact that, despite their different origins, all three builds have ended up with very similar designs and abilities is a testament to how narrow the requirements are for making this sort of play style viable, but also to how well-designed the vulture build is for this task. What makes them so well-suited for it, and why is it so difficult to pull off? To find out, let’s take a look at their stats and abilities.

  • Difficulties of functioning as a scavenger

The main reason why it’s so rare to find successful scavenger builds is because, for animals, feeding off carrion tends to be a high-risk, low-reward playstyle. This might seem like a strange thing to say, as you’d probably expect feeding off corpses someone else killed to be less risky than having to kill other animals yourself, but this is complicated by the fact that rotting meat tends to be infested with bacteria and parasites, so eating it can easily put you in danger if you don’t have good enough disease resistance to protect yourself. But this wouldn’t be such a problem if not for the low reward factor. Carrion is difficult to find, and when you do find it, it’s usually been partially eaten by insects and bacteria beforehand. Even if you can avoid getting sick, this reduces the XP gain compared to fresh meat, and it’s near-impossible to find enough of it to sustain a large animal. Even if you could, there’s just not much reason for most builds to optimise for pure scavenging when so many other loot types are more valuable.

  • How vultures adapt to these challenges

Not much reason, that is, except for the relative lack of competition. Vultures have managed to be the best build in their niche basically by default, as nobody else has any good reason to try competing with them. The reason why vulture mains are the only players optimising for this niche has to do with their reliance on the [Soaring Flight] ability, which is their primary method of moving. Since carrion is such low-valued loot and isn’t common enough to bulk-feed on, relying on it requires a way to minimise the energy costs of searching for it. One way to do this is to remain extremely small and not live for long; this is the strategy used by scavenging insect builds like the burying beetle. But if you want to play a larger scavenger, you’re going to need a way to travel large distances while using minimal energy, and walking, swimming or regular flight aren’t going to cut it. The only way that works effectively is the vulture’s method of soaring on thermals.

Soaring isn’t unique; many raptors can soar for extended periods without flapping their wings. However, in order to do this, they have to rely either on updrafts produced when the wind blows over hills and mountain ridges, or on rising columns of warm air called thermals. Vultures are unique in their total reliance on soaring. They’re very careful to stay within thermals at all times, which is the reason for their iconic signature move of flying slowly in circles. They have short, broad wings that are light relative to their area, which helps them to manoeuvre easily at their slow speeds. The result of this is that, while most birds have to increase their metabolic rate by a factor of around 16 while in flight, vultures can soar while maintaining energy usage rates less than twice their base level. However, in order to specialise for this method, vultures have had to sacrifice the agility that allows other raptors to hunt. The presence of this tradeoff between efficiency and agility is the main reason why vultures have had to specialise for scavenging instead of mixing it with hunting, and the fact that this tradeoff only exists in the case of builds with wings is part of why no terrestrial carnivore player-base has seen a need to optimise for a similar all-carrion diet. Vultures also have the most corrosive stomach acid in the game, which kills almost all of the bacteria usually found on carcasses. This solves the other problem with scavenging, the risk of disease. Botulism, anthrax, rabies, cholera, hepatitis, polio, and pretty much every other pathogen all get one-shotted by the vulture’s digestive system.

  • Overall guild rating

I would generally consider vultures to be a mid-tier guild. While they do have a niche that’s free from competition, and are pretty functional in it, it’s one that’s based on specialising for relatively rare, low-value loot, which isn’t a strategy I’d endorse in general. I’d rate most vultures around high C tier.

THE VULTURE TIER LIST

But, which kinds of vultures are best? Let’s now take a look at the vulture tier list. There are 23 vulture builds in the current meta, and as usual, I’m not going to go into all of them. But I’ll try to cover the most interesting ones.

D Tier: Bearded Vulture

Now there aren’t really any vultures I’d consider bottom-tier, but I think the lowest-ranked one would be the bearded vulture. While vultures in general are unique amongst vertebrates in their reliance on scavenging, the bearded vulture has made an even stranger decision: it rarely eats the flesh of carcasses, and instead gets almost all of its XP from eating bones. Bones up to the size of a lamb’s femur are swallowed whole, while those too large to be swallowed can be dropped onto rocks from great heights to crack them into digestible forms. This is a viable strategy because of the high fat content in bone marrow, which is worth nearly as much XP as muscle. However, it’s not very efficient, since bones take much longer to digest than flesh, and they still aren’t worth as much XP. I’ll be honest, I don’t really see much appeal in this playstyle. I get why you would want to have the option of eating bones – they are valuable, and they’re one of the few valuable parts that will usually be left over if another scavenger has found the carcass – but I don’t see the point in completely relying on it, to the exclusion of all the more valuable parts of the same carcass. I rate this build D tier.

C Tier: Palm-nut Vulture

On the opposite end of the spectrum from this unique strategy, the vulture which has the least unique strategy is probably the palm-nut vulture. Palm-nut vultures are the smallest of the Old World vultures, as well as the most eagle-like in appearance. They’re unique among vultures in that they get most of their XP from eating plants and hunting invertebrates, particularly the palm-nuts which they’re named after, with only occasional scavenging. They’re also the only vultures that can sustain flight by active flapping of their wings, rather than exclusively soaring on thermals. While unusual among vultures, palm-nut vultures don’t really have much that distinguishes them one way or the other when compared to birds in general, so I rate them C tier.

C Tier: Turkey Vulture

Also in C tier, we have the most popular of the New World vulture builds, the turkey vulture. Turkey vultures have one of the best senses of smell among vultures and among birds in general, in order to best detect gases produced by the decay of corpses. This super-sense is added on top of the acute eyesight which all raptors, including vultures, get by default. On the other hand, they’re not especially strong, are awkward on the ground, and have great difficulty getting into the air, which can put them at risk if they get attacked while eating. Their most iconic trait is their signature move [Defensive Vomit], where they regurgitate partially digested meat to scare off predators. Unfortunately, this isn’t all that reliable, and they tend to be easily dominated by both predatory birds and other vultures in their environment, including even ones smaller than themselves.

C Tier: Rüppell’s vulture

At the top of C tier, we have Rüppell’s vulture. Rüppell’s vulture holds the record for being able to fly the highest out of any build in the entire game. They’re able to do this because they have a specialised variant of the haemoglobin alpha-D subunit, which allows them to absorb oxygen efficiently in the troposphere despite the low pressure. This isn’t exceptionally useful for a ground-feeding build, but it at least maximises their field of view when searching for carrion. The current confirmed record for highest flight by any player was by a Rüppell’s vulture main found flying at 11,300 metres above sea level; though the player who set this record didn’t get to bask in the glory of his achievements very long, as he accidentally flew into a jet engine just afterwards.

B Tier: Egyptian Vulture

At the bottom of B tier, we have the Egyptian vulture. This is one of the smallest Old World vultures, and it’s used the points saved on size to unlock [Tool Use]. They haven’t gotten very far with this – so far their tool use seems to be limited to using stones to crack eggs, and they’re not very good at aiming the stones properly. So not a game-changer yet, but I could potentially see them rising much higher on the tier list if they continue down this path.

B Tier: White-headed Vulture

Also in B tier, we have the white-headed vulture. This build is unusual among vultures because it’s actually a regular active predator. It’s also the only vulture capable of cooperative hunting; there have been several instances of white-headed vulture mains ganging up to hunt monitor lizards, squirrels and other small animals. Despite the relatively small amount of loot gained from hunting such lightweight targets, they don’t seem to fight over the spoils of their kills at all. Perhaps to account for this, their sense of eyesight is much better than other vultures, and more similar to that of other predatory raptors like hawks and eagles.

B Tier: Condors

There isn’t really any vulture I would consider S or even A tier, but I’d say the best vultures in the current meta would have to be the condors. There are two kinds of condors – the California condor and the Andean condor – and they’re the two largest flying birds in the game, with the Andean kind being a bit larger. They’re so massive that, from a distance, they can easily be mistaken for aeroplanes. These condors have no natural predators within their range, and are the only vultures able to proactively steal kills from other builds using intimidation, rather than just waiting to pick off other players’ leftovers. It’s no wonder that their game times tend to be among the longest of all birds, reaching times of up to 80 years. Neither condor really has any unique special abilities, but their solid fundamentals are enough to make them the best among vultures. I still wouldn’t rate them above high B tier, though.

So that’s the vulture tier list, but before wrapping up, I just want to encourage you to show some appreciation for all the work they do to help other players. While vulture mains have a bad reputation for being disgusting and toxic, they actually fulfil a pretty important function. Rotting carcasses that are left lying around can get pretty disgusting, and can easily become breeding grounds for pathogens like botulinum and anthrax, which most scavengers can’t eat without taking damage. By eating the old, gross corpses that other players won’t, vultures help other animals by keeping the environment clean and controlling the spread of disease. So next time you meet a vulture main, consider thanking them for their service.

What’s So Great About The Great Apes? | The Great Ape Tier List

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

Since humans are by far the most overpowered build that Outside has ever seen, you might expect that the great ape guild which humans come from is also one of the best guilds in the game’s history. And you’d be right, but it might not be so obvious what specifically makes them among the best. So to address that question, today I’m going to examine the basic ape build and all its variations, explaining why the basic ape design provides such a strong foundation and how the different great ape builds, particularly humans, built on that design to dominate the meta.

Great apes first appeared during the Miocene expansion, about 17 million years ago. They were created by monkey players who decided to deviate from the standard monkey build design in a few key ways. The most immediately visible difference between apes and monkeys, and the one that’s most commonly pointed out as the defining distinction, is that apes have given up their tails. This was a controversial choice, since the monkey build’s [Prehensile Tail] trait is one of its most useful abilities, acting as a fifth limb that provides an extra way both to grip onto trees and to pick up objects. The reason apes have made the unusual choice to give up this ability is because they’re optimised for a different form of locomotion than monkeys. Whereas monkeys are principally designed to walk and climb on four legs, apes tend to move with a more upright posture. When they climb, the front arms are used to swing from branch to branch while the hind legs typically just hang below. In this type of locomotion, a tail would only get in the way and be a nuisance. Most other differences between apes and monkeys are also related to their more bipedal movement styles. Compared to other primates, great apes have more flexible shoulder joints, which allow them to swing their arms more freely, and shorter, less flexible spines so as to better balance while standing on two legs. These adaptations are mainly relevant when climbing, as they’re still predominantly quadrupedal when on the ground, but they also make it easier for apes to walk while carrying food or tools. Shifting from quadrupedalism to bipedalism might seem like a minor change, but it actually has some pretty important advantages. For one thing, raising yourself on two legs means you have a wider field of view, which helps to detect predators. But more importantly, only using two of the limbs to move means that you now have two extra free limbs which you can use for any number of purposes. These two free limbs can be used to carry food, grab other animals, block attacks, and so much more besides.

Bipedalism alone would not have been enough to propel apes to dominance; what really enabled them to become so broken was adding it on top of the existing advantages of the monkey guild, of which there are two main ones. First, monkeys are unusual among mammals in having hands with fingers and thumbs instead of claws. This gives them an ability to manipulate objects that is practically unrivalled. Secondly, monkeys have extraordinarily large brains compared to other mammals of their size, and have some of the highest intelligence ratings ever seen in the game. This intelligence was the main thing that allowed great apes to take full advantage of their bipedalism. It’s their ability to think logically about problems that makes apes really stand out, because it makes them one of the best classes for using and creating tools, one of the most valuable abilities in the entire game.

Ape intelligence does have some downsides, though. More complex playstyles take more time to master, so apes have a much longer tutorial period than most other mammals. It takes approximately 13 years for ape players to move past the tutorial stage, much longer than for other mammals. That said, the success of the ape faction proves that the tradeoff has been more than worth it. Great apes are among the most dominant animals in just about every environment where they exist, far more so than the monkeys from which they came, and only a handful of high-ranking predators can really pose a threat to them. Non-human apes have been falling out of the meta lately, but even so, I’d still put great apes overall as on the border between A and S tier. That said, while all great ape builds are high-tier overall, there are still massive differences in viability between the strongest apes and the weakest. So with that in mind, I’m going to examine and rank each of the different types of ape in the current meta.

Again, there is no low-tier or even mid-tier ape, but there are some that are weaker than others, and of the great ape builds in the current meta, I’d say the least viable would probably be the orangutan. Orangutans used to be a fairly widespread build before the human takeover, but today they’re found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. As far as design goes, orangutans are kind of a jack-of-all-trades variant of the ape build. They’re strong, but not the strongest; fast, but not the fastest; and smart, but not the smartest.

Orangutans have two main characteristics that put them at a disadvantage compared to other apes. Firstly, out of all the great apes, orangutans are the least social. One of the main advantages that makes apes so dominant is their skill at managing large groups and forming a diverse array of bonds, but orangutans rarely make use of this ability, with social bonds among them being mostly only between mother and child. This puts them at a disadvantage compared to other apes, as it means that skills learned by one orangutan are much less likely to be transferred to another player than they would be for other apes. Secondly, orangutans are the most specialised for arboreal movement of the great apes. Unlike gorillas and chimps, they can’t actually walk on their knuckles when on the ground; they have to tuck in their fingers and shuffle cumbersomely on the sides of their hands and feet. As a result, orangutans spend much more time in the trees than other apes and rarely descend to the ground. This is highly unusual among animals in their weight class; the orangutan is the largest arboreal build in the current meta.

Orangutans have remained high-tier despite these disadvantages, mostly due to their high intelligence. Orangutan players display a wide variety of amazing intelligence-based strategies, among which include: successfully tracking the potential movement of objects without being able to see them directly; keeping “toolkits” with different types of sticks for different purposes – short ones for extracting insects from trees, and longer ones for harvesting seeds from fruit; jabbing ponds with sticks so that the fish flop out of the pond and into the ape’s waiting hands; and using leaves to amplify their calls so as to make themselves sound larger and more intimidating.

As I said, orangutans are the weakest of the living great apes, but they’re still pretty strong in absolute terms. I’d rate them in low A tier.

Orangutans are the only surviving build in the pongine branch of the ape guild. All other living apes belong to the hominine branch, which split off from the pongine branch around 12 million years ago. While orangutans originate in Asia, all living hominine builds originate in Africa. Of these builds, I’d say the weakest would probably be the gorilla, a build that I actually already talked about in my first-ever post. To recap: gorillas had split off from the rest of the hominine apes by 8 million years ago at the latest. While the other hominines were continuing optimisation for an INT-based generalist playstyle, gorillas instead specced for the role of a predominantly-herbivorous tank, becoming the largest living primates in the process. This size makes climbing and supporting themselves on two legs more difficult for other apes, so gorillas tend to get around by knuckle-walking on the ground, though they can still climb and walk upright for short periods. 

The gorilla’s extreme strength combined with its team play makes it one of the best builds when it comes to defending itself against predators. There’s almost no predator that can stand up to the might of a troop of gorillas, so lethal attacks on gorillas are extremely rare, although there might have been some cases of them falling prey to leopards. Because gorillas are so strong, they don’t have as much need for intelligence as other apes; where other apes might need tools to break into a termite mound or crush a nut, gorillas can often do such tasks with their bare hands alone. However, they’re still perfectly capable of using clever strategies when they need to. They’ve been known to use sticks to gauge depths of water, and to make bridges out of tree stumps.

By shifting their focus away from intelligence and towards strength, gorillas haven’t exactly played to the existing assets of the primate faction, but they’ve found a pretty viable strategy to succeed in one of the game’s toughest servers. I rate them high A tier.

You might notice that as we move up the tier list, the apes become biologically and evolutionarily closer to humans. This probably shouldn’t be surprising; since humans are the highest-ranked build of all time, it makes sense that builds very similar to them would also rank very highly, and the more so the closer to similarity. So it’s also not surprising that the closest-to-human ape, the chimpanzee, manages to make it into S tier.

Compared to other apes, chimpanzees are the most optimised for mobility. Nearly 70% of a chimpanzee’s muscles are composed of Type II, or “fast-twitch” muscle fibres. In comparison to Type I muscle fibres, which make up most of a human’s muscles, Type II fibres are designed to use lots of energy quickly. While Type I fibres have lots of oxygen-carrying blood vessels, and are ideal for powering long periods of low-intensity activity, Type II fibres can create energy anaerobically and are good for powering sudden, rapid bursts of extreme speed and strength. The chimp’s muscular makeup doesn’t grant them a whole lot of endurance, but it does make them well-adapted to rapidly climbing trees and swinging from tree to tree. While more arboreal than gorillas, they’re still on par with gorillas when it comes to their mobility on the ground. Their high amount of fast-twitch muscle fibres has the side bonus of substantially increasing their arm strength. This is somewhat overhyped though, as while anecdotal reports have attributed extreme super-strength to chimps, their actual strength is only around 50% greater than a human’s.

In addition to being the most mobile of the great apes, chimpanzees are generally considered to be the second most intelligent after humans. Nearly all chimp players have sophisticated tool use as a significant part of their strategy; in fact, a chimp main was the first player ever to be officially recorded creating a tool while playing as a non-human, after modifying a twig into an instrument for extracting termites from a mound. Other tactics used by chimps include scooping honey out of beehives with modified short sticks; using rocks to crack open hard nuts; using absorbent leaves as spoons to drink water; sharpening sticks with their teeth to turn them into spears for hunting bushbabies; and using branches to scare squirrels into coming out of their holes and exposing themselves. This sort of tool use by chimps isn’t only something they figure out on their own; they actually have cultural traditions of using particular types of tools. Among chimpanzee players in the Taï rainforest biome, the knowledge of how to use stone hammers to crack open nuts has been passed down from generation to generation for over 4000 years, going back to before humans even settled in the area.

Like most apes, chimps get the majority of their XP from fruit. However, their extra mobility and intelligence compared to other apes has allowed them to supplement this by acting as hunters. While other apes will eat insects and other similarly small animals from time to time, chimps are the only great ape besides humans that use their strength and smarts to hunt larger targets. Chimps can form coordinated teams to hunt other primates in trees, most commonly the red colobus monkey. These hunts occur in regions where the forest canopy is interrupted or irregular, which is where it’s hardest for the monkeys to hide. Each member of a chimpanzee team has a defined role: available roles can include “drivers”, which serve to keep the prey running in a certain direction and follow them without attempting to catch them; “blockers”, which wait at the bottom of trees to block targets that take off in a different direction; “chasers”, which make the actual catch; and “ambushers”, which hide and rush out when a monkey nears. Part of the strength of chimps in regard to cooperation comes from the fact that they keep track of which of their teammates are most effective at working together, and will seek out and selectively recruit the best collaborators for their projects. The separation of duties makes chimp hunting tactics difficult to master – it can take chimpanzee players up to 20 years of practice to learn the more complex roles. Still, this sort of sophisticated, coordinated hunting is one of the most powerful abilities available in the game, and it’s not only used against monkeys. Small antelope, mongooses, rodents, pangolins, hyraxes, and even wild pigs have all been known to fall victim to chimpanzee hunting squads from time to time.

Before moving onto why humans are #1 on this list, I should make note of the big split within the chimpanzee playerbase. There are two kinds of chimpanzees in the current meta: the common chimpanzee, which is often simply called the chimpanzee, and the bonobo. Bonobos are very similar to common chimps, but have differentiated themselves by speccing heavily into the [Neoteny] tree. Neoteny occurs when an animal evolves to have slowed physical development, so that traits which ordinarily only occur in juveniles persist into adulthood. For example, while most apes’ skulls change shapes as they grow, the bonobo retains its juvenile skull shape into adulthood, with only the size of the skull changing. Humans are also neotenized in some ways compared to other primates, which is why bonobos are often said to look much more human-like than common chimps, despite both being equally close to humans at the genetic level.

That said, the biggest differences in practice between bonobo gameplay and that of common chimps have less to do with their bodies and more to do with their social behaviour. While common chimpanzees live in patriarchal societies, bonobos are the only apes to have a matriarchal social structure instead. Unlike common chimps, bonobo groups are generally not territorial, and tend to have positive, cooperative relations with other groups in the same area. Also unlike common chimps, bonobos have never been known to perpetrate infanticide of their own kind. Compared to common chimps, bonobos are in some ways less intelligent, as they don’t show the same level of understanding regarding the interaction of physical objects. However, they do tend to be more emotionally intelligent, with a better understanding of theory of mind and social causality

I’m not sure whether common chimps or bonobos would rank higher on the overall tier list. But when it comes to chimps overall, despite their comparatively lower physical strength, I would say that their mobility and intelligence makes them overall a superior build to gorillas. In regions where chimps and gorillas co-exist and food is scarce, gorillas generally let the chimps have the most valuable loot to avoid competition with them. On the rare occasion where the two playerbases come into conflict, the chimps tend to win out by ganging up to kill the juveniles of a gorilla clan, although they aren’t able to kill healthy adults. So if the gorilla ranks in high A tier, I would say that chimps, being a similar but more viable build, make it into low S tier.

With that said, it’s pretty obvious which ape is the true top-tier of the current meta. The human is, by a wide margin, the single most overpowered build ever seen in Outside’s history. There are so many reasons for this that it’s hard to contain them to just one post, but I’ll try to explain as much as I can.

Now obviously, the biggest advantage of humans is their maxed-out intelligence rating, the highest in the game by a huge margin, but I actually think most guides focus on this a bit too much as a source of their power. I’ve even seen a lot of players say things like “without maxed-out intelligence, humans would be completely useless”. This attitude ignores all the other abilities humans have which have helped to propel them to #1. So to better understand why exactly humans are so overpowered, I’m going to start off by talking about the rest of the humans’ ability kit first. It’s difficult to separate these clearly, because the full benefits of almost all of these are tied to intelligence in some way.

First of all, while all apes can walk upright for short periods, humans are the only apes to have made the transition to full bipedalism. This has had some downsides; for example, human feet, being optimised for walking, are much worse at climbing than those of other primates. However, this has largely been outweighed by the advantages gained. As alluded to above, bipedalism grants a bonus against stealth builds, as it allows one to see over tall grasses. But more importantly, bipedalism means that the hands are permanently freed to do whatever you like. And on the topic of hands, the human hand is by far the most dextrous appendage ever seen in the game. While all primates have opposable thumbs, humans have much more efficient thumb opposition than any other build and can manipulate objects in ways finer than any other animals could even dream of. Compared to other apes, humans also have longer thumbs and shorter fingers, which enable them to grasp objects much more precisely than their ape cousins.

Offensively, humans have an extremely important advantage against almost every other build due to their incredible stamina. This is partly another consequence of bipedalism, but it’s also got a lot to do with their decision to take a huge number of points away from the thick fur typical of apes and re-allocate them towards additional sweat glands. As I’ve discussed before, having to engage in long-distance chases is inconvenient for most mammals because they have to regularly stop and pant to dissipate the excess heat generated while running. While some other mammals can sweat to a degree, most of them have difficulty cooling themselves using this method because their fur blocks the flow of water across their bodies. Because humans don’t have this problem, they can use sweat to continually cool themselves as they’re running, which boosts their endurance to nearly unparalleled levels. There are many animals that can leave humans in the dust in a short chase, but sooner or later, a human will always catch up to them.

The human build has by far the best throwing ability in the entire game. While other primates and elephants can throw objects to an extent, humans can throw them far faster, harder, and more accurately than any other animal. Some people mistakenly assume that this is a consequence of their maxed intelligence – that is, that other animals don’t have a good enough grasp of the way the physics engine works to figure out where their throws will land. This isn’t true; monkeys are highly sensitive to the kinematics of thrown objects and have a pretty good instinctual sense of where an object is going to end up once it’s thrown. The reason apes and monkeys can’t throw very accurately is that they just don’t have the right physiology. The human hand has lost a number of morphological constraints seen in African apes, allowing it to more quickly go through a wide variety of motions in order to maximise the power and precision of a throw. Also, unlike in other apes, the human arm has more muscle mass devoted to extensors – the muscles used in limb-extending actions, such as throwing – than to flexors – the muscles used in limb-contracting actions, such as climbing. The end result of all this is that, while a chimp can’t hit any object further than 2 m away at most, and then not very hard, a skilled human player can break another player’s skull from 30 m away with just a throw of a stone.

That said, without their most iconic advantage, all these abilities might not be enough to make up for their pretty substantial weaknesses. Without tools, humans have a fairly low base attack and defence stat; a human is unlikely to win a 1v1 unarmed fight against most other large animals. Humans also don’t have much in the way of natural stealth. And because their brains are so huge compared to the rest of their bodies, natural childbirth is much more painful and dangerous to humans than for almost any other mammal; this used to be one of the major hazards of playing as this build. So if you ignore intelligence, you might be inclined to think that humans are a mid-tier build at best. It’s only once you factor in the consequences of the human’s maxed-out intelligence stat that you see why humans really rule the meta.

First of all, humans are the only species in the history of the game ever to have figured out how to control fire. Granted, some birds that have been known to pick up burning twigs and drop them elsewhere to scare rodents away from their hiding places, but they still need a pre-existing fire to do this. Humans are the only species ever to have figured out how to start and end fires completely on command. Fire provides an important source of warmth and light, and was a critical asset to boosting the versatility of humans, who would otherwise have found it near-impossible to find their way around in the dark with their lack of night vision. Controlled fire is also necessary to unlock access to the [Cooking] skill tree. Bacteria and other pathogens often have trouble surviving in very hot environments, so being able to heat food on command allows a player to negate or mitigate a lot of the drawbacks associated with things like eating carrion. Since fire is one of the few things that almost every player instinctively avoids, being able to control it also massively boosts your effective intimidation rating and scares off predator players who would otherwise be a major threat to any human settlement. These benefits of unlocking fire control were all fairly immediate, but another benefit which humans took longer to realise was that the heat from fire provides energy which can be used to power other machines. To this very day, many of the human playerbase’s most essential technologies are powered by the ability to burn oil and gas.

Another ability which arises from the combination of the humans’ intelligence, dexterity and throwing ability is the ability to craft projectile weapons. Humans are the only large predator in the game with a viable means of killing prey without getting close enough to be within attack range themselves. Human players first started to develop these sorts of weapons over 200,000 years ago, and they’ve only gotten more refined and more powerful since then. I think that the human-exclusive [Gunshot] move is not only the pinnacle of projectile weaponry in the current meta, but actually the single most overpowered move in the entire game. Some fans might point to other human-exclusive moves like [Drop Atom Bomb] or [Engineer Plague], but most of these moves are so minimaxed for destructiveness that they have almost no practical value outside of major human guilds trying to defeat other major human guilds. When it comes to the 1v1 or small group vs. small group matchups which make up the majority of PvP, guns are about as deadly as you can get while still actually being useful.

Another enormously powerful human-exclusive ability is [Language]. Other animals have sound-based communication systems, but these tend to be very limited in terms of what ideas they can express. In general, the communication systems of other animals can only be used to discuss things in the present and in the immediate vicinity, with a few rare exceptions. By contrast, human language has the ability to serve as a fully general means for communicating ideas. A human can use language to communicate ideas about things happening on other planets, things that happened in the distant past, things that might happen in the future, or even things that don’t exist at all. Humans are also the only animals whose languages display a feature known as recursive embedding. What that means is that human communications can involve nested relations between sequential elements in one sentence. Consider, for example, the sentence “the boy the girl chased kicked the ball”; even though “girl” is the noun that immediately precedes “kicked”, a human can still infer from context that it is actually the boy and not the girl who kicked it. No other animal has a system of communication which allows for such complex and context-dependent relations between words.

Another unique feature of human language is that it can exist in written as well as spoken form. This is important because spoken communications can last only for a short period and depend on close proximity, but writing allows for direct communication between players separated by thousands of years and/or by whole continents. This is critical to one of the human playerbase’s most powerful advantages, the development of scientific traditions. By exploiting the benefits of writing, humans have been able to develop a truly massive body of informational resources which allow any player to gain an in-depth knowledge of the game’s workings, to a degree that no other build could ever hope to match. This body of intellectual traditions has been key to allowing humans to develop all of their most powerful tools, from aeroplanes that can take a human around the world in a day, to bombs that can wipe entire cities off the map, to medicines that have completely eradicated some of the deadliest diseases that the game has ever seen.

Another benefit of human language complexity, which is related to these intellectual traditions, is the ability to form philosophies, religions and other systems of value. This ability is a mixed blessing, as human guilds are notorious for getting a little too attached to their value systems, to the point that they might end up trying to eliminate any player who calls it into question. However, the ability to articulate and communicate systems of values has been absolutely critical to the human playerbase’s ability to form massive teams. Generally speaking, there are three kinds of team organisation in Outside. There are teams like wolf packs, where players might feel loyalty to and trust one another, but only because the team is so small that every player individually knows a good percentage of the other team members. Then there are teams like deer herds, where a large number of players cooperate, but there’s no trust between them, and at the first sign of trouble, everyone quickly abandons the most vulnerable players to get killed. Finally, there are teams like ant colonies, where huge numbers of players all work together and trust one another, but only because they’re all so committed to the team that they’ve completely lost the ability to play for their own benefit. Human value systems enable a unique system of team organisation that combines the benefits of all these types while minimising the drawbacks. At the most basic level, human social organisations are composed of wolf-pack-like teams of small, high-loyalty social groups. But unlike with wolf packs, these small human teams can band together to form larger super-teams which can then band together to form even larger hyper-teams, until they eventually reach ultra-team sizes that make deer herds look minuscule by comparison. The reason they’re able to pull off this unique feat is because their language systems allow them to communicate with each other about their team loyalties and the value systems that create those loyalties. Even if a group of humans becomes so large that no member knows anything about most of the other members, they can still cooperate based on the trust that all of them are committed to the shared values of the group. This is a strategy of questionable reliability, as many large human groups do end up falling apart because of intra-team disputes, but when it’s done right, its benefits are incalculable.

While some other animals do grow crops, humans are the only animals that have been able to take other builds and manipulate them into spending their evolution points on essentially becoming servants for the human playerbase, an ability known as [Domesticate]. This allows them to develop uniquely complex systems of agriculture, a prerequisite for supporting their massive societies. While domestication for non-culinary purposes isn’t quite as important as it used to be, it has historically been essential to humans because it allowed them to cover for their own weaknesses by exploiting the strengths of other builds. Humans might have difficulty carrying around heavy objects, but that need not hinder them when they can train cattle or elephants to do the work. They can’t travel especially fast, but they can speed up travel a great deal by riding horses or camels. And they might have some difficulty getting rid of pests around their bases, but it helps a lot if they have dedicated anti-pest builds like cats and dogs to do the work for them. As I said, these are less important in the present meta, as the practical function of many domestic animals has been replaced by technology; nowadays, keeping around domesticated animals is mostly done for fun and a morale boost when not for food. But it’s something that’s important to understand if you want to know why humans have gotten as far as they have.

I could go on and on about all the human playerbase’s advantages, but I think I’ve gone on for long enough already. The end result of all this is that the human playerbase’s success absolutely blows all their primate cousins out of the water. They’re by far the most widespread and abundant species in the faction, with an active player base of over seven billion and control of territory across nearly the entirety of the map. They’ve become so dominant that their existence has actually completely rearranged the entire meta, to the point of forcing thousands of other builds to quit the game entirely. Nearly every time humans have entered a new server, they’ve quickly wiped out many of the existing top-tiers, with some of their most well-known victims including the mammoths of Europe, the giant ground sloths of the Americas and the diprotodonts of Australia. They’ve also reshaped the meta in the opposite direction, allowing builds that would otherwise be unplayable garbage-tiers, like chihuahuas and domestic sheep, to attain extremely high levels of popularity and relevance. Their success has created entirely new biome types, such as cities, and destroyed or drastically reduced others in the process. Modern humans have even managed to eliminate all other human builds, and are now on the verge of doing the same to the rest of the great apes. There’s really no comparison for how overpowered humans are, and they easily rank in S+ tier.

When There Isn’t a Bigger Fish: The Rise and Fall of the Megalodon

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

If you talk to long-time devotees of Outside, one of the most common sentiments you’ll hear is nostalgia for a time when a fan’s favourite build or guild was much more relevant to the meta than it is today. Sometimes, this nostalgia is just about the only thing keeping some low-tier groups in the meta at all; modern-day sloths are basically useless, but a lot of players who remember when they were one of the game’s premiere tanks still stick with their modern versions out of a sense of guild loyalty. But even players maining high-tier characters can still have this feeling of longing for a time when their build was just a little bit more overpowered than it is currently. By far the most common example of this is bird mains who miss the time when dinosaurs dominated the Mesozoic meta, but I think second place would probably go to shark mains who miss being able to play as a Megalodon. What was the Megalodon exactly, and why are present-day shark players so nostalgic for it? To answer that, I’m going to take a look at the Megalodon’s history, and where it ranked on the tier list when it was alive.

Before I start, I should note once again that any claims about what players were doing in past expansions are inherently difficult to make confidently. Claims about the Megalodon are even more suspect than those about iconic dinosaur builds like the T. rex; there are some more-or-less intact logs showing T. rex player activity, but all of the logs showing Megalodon activity still exist only in fragmentary form if at all. For the most part, all we can see of Megalodon players from the logs are the teeth, and sometimes part of the spine. This is because sharks have skeletons made of soft cartilage, which is harder to preserve than the bones of land vertebrates. Nevertheless, I’ll do the best I can to accurately describe the playstyle of the Megalodon and what made it so broken.

Sharks are famous for being one of the most consistently high-ranking characters throughout the history of Outside’s meta-game. They have one of the most well-rounded stat spreads in the game’s history, with excellent ratings pretty much across the board; even their intelligence rating is quite high by fish standards. Probably their biggest strength is their maxed-out perception rating. Their sight, hearing and smell are all some of the best in the game, and they’ve supplemented this with a rare extra sense, [Electroreception], which enables them to negate all stealth tactics at close range by sensing the electric fields of targets. Sharks have ranked among the top-tier predators in every Outside expansion since at least 380 million years ago in the mid-Devonian, and possibly even as far back as 450 million years ago in the Ordovician. Yet even with such a long and impressive history, the Megalodon stood out as probably the most overpowered build that the shark faction has ever developed. What made it so powerful, and how could such a powerful build fall out of the meta so completely? To answer those questions, let’s take a brief look at the history of the shark faction leading up to the introduction of the Megalodon

One of the most common misconceptions about the Megalodon is that it existed during the age of dinosaurs. Actually, the Megalodon only made its debut in the Miocene, about 23 million years ago, and long after the dinosaurs got banned. Another common misconception is that the Megalodon was basically a giant version of the present-day great white shark. While the two builds do share some similar features, these are largely coincidental; the great white comes from the lineage of lamnid sharks, while the Megalodon came from a different, now-removed guild called the otodontids, or megatoothed sharks. The earliest otodontids appeared during the Cretaceous, but the story that leads to the Megalodon starts later in the Paleocene. Paleocene otodontids fed mainly on other fish, which had become the main food sources available to large marine predators following the decline of marine reptiles. During the Eocene, as mammals started taking to the water and the first whales appeared, a new food source became available which otodontids quickly started taking advantage of.

The main trend in otodontid evolution leading up to the introduction of the Megalodon was driven by changes in the teeth. Otodontids’ most distinguishing traits were their large, triangular teeth with thick cutting edges. As otodontids evolved, their teeth became wider, more serrated, and more triangular, and the lateral cusps disappeared. These changes reflect a shift from teeth optimised for grasping and tearing flesh, to teeth designed primarily for cutting. The change in dentition reflected a change in diet; most sharks have sharp, pointy teeth, which are ideal for tightly gripping onto small fish before either swallowing them whole or tearing them apart. By contrast, the large, serrated teeth of the otodontids formed a kind of cutting blade, ideal for tearing chunks out of animals too large to eat whole. As whales evolved to become larger over time, the sharks and their teeth also became larger, culminating in the Megalodon. This, by the way, is the main reason why the great white shark is often confused for a descendant of the Megalodon, as it also preys largely on marine mammals and so has evolved a similar kind of blade-teeth. (Note: this explanation of the function of Megalodon’s changes in dentition is controversial and recent analyses by data-miners have called it into question).

Megalodon first appeared in the Miocene, about 23 million years ago, and reached extraordinary sizes. No other macro-predatory shark has even come close to its massive size; out of all fish builds in the history of the game, only the Jurassic filter-feeder Leedsichthys grew larger. Like most sharks, Megalodon tended to eat whatever it could get, and at its size, Megalodon could get just about anything. Its prey included seals, manatees, sea turtles, other fish, and probably even other, younger Megalodons. However, especially when full-grown, Megalodons tended to mostly target some of the most difficult prey possible: whales. Nowadays, whales tend to be too much for even the most powerful predatory sharks to handle, but not so for the Megalodon. Now I don’t want to get too caught up in hype here, so I should note that the kinds of whales Megalodon fed on were not blue whales or anything comparably huge. In fact, like most large sharks, Megalodon rarely took on prey close to its own size or larger; the whales it fed on were much smaller than itself. That said, what’s “small prey” relative to a Megalodon is still gigantic from the perspective of your average player. Considering that even the kind of “small” whales Megalodon fed on were still about as big as a modern-day great white shark – far too big for nearly any modern-day fish to take on – this is still pretty impressive.

As mentioned above, the Megalodon’s teeth were in many ways similar to those of the great white shark, the highest-ranked shark build of the current meta. However, they were quite different from great whites in their hunting strategies. When great whites attack a seal, their usual strategy is to attack from below and rip open the soft underbelly of the prey. The Megalodon’s larger, more powerful teeth meant that it did not need to bother with attacking the softer sides, and could instead bite straight through the bones of its victims. Megalodon had a bite force of over 170 kiloNewtons, the single strongest bite ever seen in any build in the history of the game. It’s over six times more powerful than the bite of the Tyrannosaurus, which was itself one of the most overpowered attacks ever seen in the game. The Megalodon used these thick, robust teeth to break through the chest cavities and ribcages of marine mammals and then crush their hearts and lungs for an instakill. Fossils of whales that were lucky enough to survive these attacks have been found with massive tooth marks on the ribs.

Present-day sharks are much more complex and diverse in their hunting strategies than most people give them credit for, and the same was true of the Megalodon. Sometimes, small cetaceans were probably stunned by being rammed with great force from underneath before being killed and eaten. One game log from the Miocene showed a whale player with compression fractures on its spine that appeared to be from a failed attempt at such an attack. Other times, particularly when dealing with sperm whales, the Megalodon would literally take the victim head-on, crushing the whale’s skull with its bite before eating it.

The Megalodon quickly spread around the ocean servers to become one of the most cosmopolitan apex predators in the game’s history. Its ability to survive in colder waters might have had to do with an ability called [Regional Endothermy]. I’ve talked about regional endothermy before, but the gist of it is that it allows you to produce only enough heat to keep certain vital organs at a constant temperature, while leaving the rest of your body at the temperature of the ambient environment. Many sharks and other large predatory fish spec into this ability, so that they can easily keep hunting in cold water without wasting the energy that would be required to keep their entire body warm, and Megalodon probably had it too.

Megalodon remained the highest-ranked build in the game for about 20 million years, a pretty good run for a large apex predator, before finally getting banned in the Pliocene. Why they were banned is a bit of a mystery, but it seems to have coincided with a general nerfing of marine megafauna; about 36% of large marine builds got banned around this time, including most of the marine mammals, for reasons probably having something to do with food chains collapsing. Megalodon, being one of the largest builds of the time and so needing huge amounts of food, would have been one of the builds most vulnerable to this. Their problems could also have been exacerbated by the onset of ice ages; Megalodon players might have had trouble adapting to the cooling of the oceans and the lowering of global sea levels. The exact date of the extinction has been a subject of some dispute, and there are some data miners who think the Megalodon actually got removed about a million years earlier than widely assumed; all of the logs claimed to show Megalodon activity from later are of debatable reliability. If this is the case, it might have had something to do with the global spread of the present-day great white shark. Great whites probably wouldn’t have been much of a threat to full-grown Megalodons, but they could easily have been competition for the juveniles, and might have made it more difficult for them to survive into adulthood. It’s unlikely that competition from great whites would have posed enough of a challenge to wipe out the entire Megalodon species, but it might at least have been a contributing factor.

There is one other theory that, while not taken seriously by most dataminers, has gained some popularity among the broader fan community. Many players refuse to believe that a build as legendarily overpowered as the Megalodon could ever have gone extinct in the first place. There have been numerous rumours and urban legends from players claiming to have spotted Megalodon mains who somehow managed to escape the banhammer. Sadly, it’s astronomically unlikely that any of these stories are real. Fans who consider claims of surviving Megalodons plausible often point to the giant squid, which was also thought to be a myth until recently, as a proof that large marine predators can remain hidden from the rest of the playerbase for long periods of time. However, giant squids live in the deep oceans, which are famously one of the most difficult areas of the game to study, and one of the best places to hide from data-miners. But Megalodon, like all sharks, laid its eggs in shallow waters, where its offspring stayed until reaching maturity. This means that if there were any significant number of them still around, they’d be pretty hard to miss. Also, while the cartilage skeletons of sharks don’t fossilise well, extinctions of shark species are still relatively easy to track because sharks shed and replace their teeth thousands of times throughout their lives, and their teeth are made of hard tissue that preserves just as easily as bone. If Megalodons had existed for the past three million years, we’d expect to find plenty of fossils of their highly distinctive giant teeth, but we don’t have any. Lastly, any Megalodon player would have to eat something to stay alive, and that would mean taking bites out of other animals. If they were still around, every one of them would leave behind a trail of marine mammal corpses with massive bite marks that could not be matched to any known living animal, yet no such corpses exist.


Some fans try to get around these problems by claiming that the surviving Megalodon players actually are hiding out in the deep sea, but this doesn’t make much sense given what we know about its diet. Marine mammals and reptiles, which made up the Megalodon’s primary prey, are incapable of surviving in the deep sea for long periods because they need to breathe air. In order to survive in the deep sea without coming up to the surface to hunt – which we know they can’t be doing for the reasons discussed earlier – Megalodons would have to have somehow radically changed their playstyle to rely entirely off of food sources completely different from what they were used to. Even if we assume they could somehow adapt to hunting exclusively deep-sea life, there’s no reason to think the deep sea even has any biomes that would be capable of supporting such a large predator anyway. Again, giant squids are sometimes pointed to as an exception, but most of their apparent size comes from their extremely long tentacles, which don’t impact their energetic requirements as much as the huge body of a Megalodon would. Deep-sea biomes are inherently limited in the amount of food available because there’s no sunlight, so plants and phytoplankton don’t grow. The food chain is instead based entirely on debris that falls from the surface, and this just can’t provide enough energy to sustain a player base comparable to what phytoplankton support at the surface. There’s almost certainly no ecosystem down there with enough food to entirely sustain a Megalodon-sized predator. So if you’re a former Megalodon main hoping to find the secret that will let you relive your glory days, I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s just not going to happen.

The Paleocene: What Came Next After All The Dinosaurs Died

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

Outside has gone through a number of patches throughout its four-billion-year history, but none have stuck out in the memories of fans as much as the K-T balance patch, which ended the Cretaceous expansion and ushered in the Paleocene. I’ve brought up the effects of this patch on particular guilds in many of my previous posts, but what I want to do today is to go into depth as to its implications for the meta as a whole. This post will tell the story of the K-T balance patch, and how the meta recovered from it.

To understand the impact of the K-T balance patch, we first have to understand a little bit about the meta in the Cretaceous period immediately prior to it. The Mesozoic era, which covered the period of about 185 million years preceding the K-T event, is often described as the age of giant reptiles, and while that’s not inaccurate, it’s also not the whole story. Game guides that talk about the Cretaceous period will often focus exclusively on the giant reptiles that dominated the period, while treating mammals, birds, and other builds of the time as low-tier lightweights that did nothing but get bodied constantly by dinosaurs. In reality, while dinosaurs and pterosaurs did dominate megafaunal niches throughout the period, other groups like mammals and birds were still fairly successful in lightweight-to-midweight roles.

Rather than looking at the Cretaceous meta as divided into high-tier giant reptiles and low-tier everything else, it’s probably more accurate to view it as one dominated by a few groups that each filled very specific niches. On land, dinosaurs held uncontested dominance over megafauna niches, either as apex predators or as giant herbivorous tanks, while mammals dominated small generalist roles. A similar division existed in the aerial meta, with pterosaurs controlling the megafaunal roles while birds remained small. However, just because mammals, birds and other non-reptiles were stuck in these small niches doesn’t mean that they weren’t meta-relevant or that they weren’t growing in diversity. The Cretaceous meta already had a variety of highly successful small mammal builds with a wide range of playstyles, and it was also the time when birds spread across the globe to become more and more dominant in the lightweight aerial meta. There were even some interesting developments in the fish and insect metas, including the introduction of the first ants. Nevertheless, with the exception of some large fish, none of these builds were able to really challenge the stranglehold of giant reptiles over megafauna and apex predator playstyles. Eventually, fans started complaining to the devs that the seemingly eternal dominance of the dinosaurs was making the heavyweight meta too stale and started calling for some sort of dinosaur nerf to make it more competitive again. What they ended up getting was probably a little more than they hoped for.

About 65 million years ago, the devs responded to dinosaur nerf requests by implementing one of the harshest mass-bannings in gaming history. The in-universe explanation for the eliminations was that a massive asteroid, about 10-15 km wide, had hit the Yucatàn Peninsula. The asteroid caused an outburst of thermal radiation that covered the entire planet for hours, cooking to death any organisms that got exposed to the heat. This alone was enough to wipe out just about every large land animal, leaving behind only those that were able to take shelter underground, underwater or in trees for the duration of the blast. Even after the heat subsided, the soot thrown up by the impact blotted out the Sun for over a year, causing a mass die-off of plants and phytoplankton and collapsing global food chains. By the time the patch was fully implemented, over 75% of the player base had been eliminated.

The harshness of this patch came as quite a shock to the playerbase, but competition went on among the survivors. There were a few noticeable patterns as to which builds survived and which ones died. Burrowing or diving animals were less likely to get eliminated, since they had an easier time sheltering from the extreme temperatures in both the early and later phases of the extinction. The survivors tended to be either omnivores, scavengers or insectivores, since pure herbivores struggled to deal with the mass die-off of plants while animals that hunted large prey suddenly faced a severe shortage of targets. The shallow oceans were hit hard, but both freshwater and deep-sea biomes were comparatively unaffected.

After the impact winter was over, the Paleocene expansion started. During this time, the climate reverted to a globally tropical-to-temperate state, pretty similar to the one that preceded the patch. The annihilation of large herbivores led to the growth of dense forests around the globe, even extending to the poles, but since lots of plants had also gotten banned, the diversity of the trees in these forests remained low. Flowers, which had first been introduced in the Cretaceous, continued to spread and diversify, becoming one of the game’s dominant plant groups.

With these general trends in mind, let’s now take a closer look at how particular groups were affected by the extinction, and how they dealt with the aftermath and recovery in the Paleocene.

IMPACTS OF THE K-T PATCH ON THE META

  • Invertebrates

I’m going to start off by looking at the groups that tend to get ignored by most other discussions about this patch. Typical game guides pay so little attention to invertebrate builds when talking about the K-T event that you might think they were barely affected at all, but this is far from the case.

The one invertebrate group that does often get some attention is the cephalopod guild. During the Mesozoic, there had been a rift in the cephalopod playerbase between those players who optimized for a shelled tank role – nautiloids and ammonoids – and those who optimized for a mobile predator playstyle – the coleoids, the group that includes all modern cephalopod builds except the nautilus. By the end-Cretaceous, ammonites – the highest-ranked shelled tank cephalopods – had already been losing relevance in the meta for some time, but the patch forced them out of the game completely. There has been some confusion as to why the devs banned ammonites but left nautiluses alone, given that they seemed to be very similar builds. One reason might be that ammonites were highly specialized for a filter-feeding playstyle, hunting zooplankton and other small organisms. Nautiluses, by contrast, have much more robust mouth parts, which allow them to consume larger and harder-bodied prey than ammonites were capable of. This extra versatility might have given them the edge to let them survive in the new Paleocene meta.

The belemnites, another cephalopod group that thrived in the Mesozoic seas, followed a similar trajectory to the ammonites. In the late Cretaceous, their standing was already starting to decline, while octopuses and squid were gaining in popularity. However, the patch dealt the final killing blow to the belemnite faction, banning them all. The death of the ammonites and belemnites helped make room for octopuses and squid to replace them and explosively radiate into new niches, letting them become the powerhouses of the ocean meta that they are today.

A number of other marine invertebrates were also harshly affected by the patch. Microscopic plankton underwent a devastating loss of diversity, although the survivors recovered pretty rapidly in the Paleocene. The impact winter caused the death of many photosynthetic algae, and consequently killed off many coral builds that symbiotically relied on the algae. Echinoderms – the group that includes starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers – were severely nerfed by the patch; about a third of sea urchin builds got banned, mostly ones that lived in shallow water. Perhaps the most significantly under-appreciated change that resulted from the K-T patch was the nerfing of the bivalve faction. During the Cretaceous expansion, marine reef biomes were primarily composed, not of coral, but of box-shaped clams called rudists. Rudists were banned by the patch, to be replaced by the coral reefs that have continued to be the dominant reef type to the present day.

The group that probably came closest to emerging almost totally unscathed from the patch was the insect faction. A number of insects did go extinct during this time, but the rate of extinction was no higher than just the average background level of extinctions happening constantly. The insect meta has actually remained more-or-less static since this period; all of the major insect guilds from the Cretaceous still exist in more-or-less the same form today. Personally, I think the devs should consider a new patch to shake up the insect meta, but that’s a topic for another time.

  • Amphibians and fish

Among vertebrates, amphibians and fish are also often ignored when discussing the impact of the patch. This is somewhat understandable, as these groups were nowhere near as harshly affected by the K-T patch as their air-breathing relatives, but there were still a few interesting changes in the amphibian and fish metas which are worth exploring.

Freshwater environments in general were far safer places to be in during this period than land or ocean environments, which is probably why so few amphibians got hit by the banhammer. The devs also probably didn’t feel the need to nerf amphibians much, since even by this point, the amphibian faction was already widely seen as a low-tier guild long past its peak. They had been rendered mostly irrelevant for millions of years by other vertebrate factions improving on them in just about every way. The patch did little to change this, but that didn’t stop the surviving amphibian mains from diversifying and attempting to take over empty niches. The global abundance of forests during the Paleocene granted a boost to the viability of amphibians for a time, as a number of frog mains started speccing into arboreal traits for protection against land-based predators. Another important innovation in the amphibian meta during this time was that some frog builds got the option to skip the tadpole stage and go straight from egg to juvenile, mitigating the worst aspects of their early-game vulnerability. Today, about half of all frogs make use of this option, and the overwhelming majority of all current frog builds can trace their origins back to this Paleocene radiation.

Fish were one of the groups that actually shot up in viability following the patch. During the Mesozoic, ocean biomes had been largely dominated by cephalopods and aquatic reptiles, with fish playing only a marginal role. After the patch banned most marine reptile builds as well as the then-dominant cephalopod classes, fish saw an explosion of popularity due to the relative lack of competition. While some fish groups did get banned, almost all of these were large predators that fed primarily on other fish, so their banning just made the surviving fish builds even more attractive to new players.

Nearly all fish alive today belong to the teleost guild, a group distinguished from other fish by the ability to protrude their jaws outwards from their mouth in order to grab prey more easily. In the wake of the K-T patch, teleost fish were one of the first groups to start diversifying. Many teleost players tried to replace the recently-banned predators; among these were the ancestors of modern-day tuna, plus the first barracudas. One of the fish groups that saw the biggest explosion in popularity were the spiny-finned fish known as acanthomorphs. This group today contains about a third of the vertebrate playerbase, and most of that can be traced back to their diversification in the Paleocene. Others evolved still stranger body plans; one group of fish even specced into having both their eyes on one side of their head, becoming the first flatfish. By the end of the Paleocene, fish had become the dominant guild of most ocean biomes.

Cartilaginous fish – the group that includes sharks, skates and rays – didn’t change as much in response to the patch as their bony counterparts. Sharks and rays took heavy losses, but ultimately recovered most of their pre-patch abundance while continuing to use basically the same strategies as before. The only noteworthy change in the shark meta during this time was that ground sharks overtook mackerel sharks as the dominant shark group. This happened because mackerel sharks have teeth that are adapted to hunting large or armoured prey animals, most of which had been banned by the patch, while ground sharks were better suited to hunting the smaller fish that remained. Today, ground sharks still make up most of the highest-ranked shark builds, although the #1 shark build, the great white, is a mackerel shark.

  • Reptiles

As interesting as the effects of the patch on amphibians, fish, and invertebrates may be, there’s no question that the main reason it’s stuck out in the minds of fans is because of its impacts on the amniote meta. So I’ll finish off by looking at the impacts on each of the three major groups of amniote, starting with the group that lost the most from the patch, the reptiles.

The K-T balance patch is today mostly remembered as “the patch that wiped out the (non-avian) dinosaurs”. While that definition leaves out a lot, it is true that one of the most significant effects of the patch was to end the longstanding reptile dominance of the meta. All dinosaurs were wiped out, except for birds, which I’ll give their own section below. The pterosaurs, the dominant aerial predators of the Mesozoic, also bit the dust, as did most groups of marine reptiles, including the mosasaurs and plesiosaurs. While the current major reptile groups – crocodiles, lizards, snakes, turtles, and tuataras – all managed to survive the patch (or at least have remained very similar to their ancestors who survived), none of them managed to escape unscathed. Among the proto-crocodilians of the Cretaceous, about 50% were banned by the patch, including all of the large ones and all of the fully marine ones. Squamates, the group that includes lizards and snakes, also lost a number of their main guilds, and would take about 10 million years to recover from the setback. Rhynchocephalians had already been in decline for a while due to competition from lizards, but they were driven almost completely out of the game following the patch; today, they have only one build remaining, the tuatara. Turtles probably got off the lightest. About 10% of the existing turtle builds were banned, but none of the major guilds were wiped out.

Despite their losses, reptiles continued to be the top group in the meta for a while following the patch. Crocodilians remained near the top of the meta, as I discussed in my post on them, and while some squamate guilds were harshly affected by the patch, others took the opportunity to rise up in their wake. The squamate meta in the Paleocene became dominated by groups like iguanas and boas, both of which had been largely irrelevant to the meta before but have continued to rank highly into the present day. The highest-ranking snake in the history of the game, the Titanoboa, was a product of this period. However, the surviving reptiles were held back by their complacency. Reptile players who survived the extinction mostly focused their recovery efforts on attempting to go back to how things were before instead of exploring new strategies for the changing world. While groups like the squamates developed lots of new builds in the aftermath of the patch, the new builds still filled more-or-less the same roles in the environment as the old ones. None of the surviving reptile mains branched out and explored new strategies in the way that would have been required to really secure their dominance.

  • Birds

It’s fairly well-known by now that dinosaurs didn’t actually get entirely banned by the K-T patch; the winged dinosaurs, or birds, were left alive and survived to the present day. What’s less well-known is how hard-fought the survival of the bird faction actually was. The vast majority of bird builds were hit by the same banhammer as the rest of the dinosaurs, including the enantiornithines, which up until then ranked at the top of the bird meta. The only bird group that actually managed to escape the banhammer were the neornithines. Most neornithines of the time were swimming or diving builds, which might have helped protect them from the patch as the water would have provided a shield from some of the environmental effects of the impact.

In the wake of the patch, neornithine mains took advantage of having all their main competitors for aerial dominance eliminated. Without pterosaurs to compete with them, birds quickly started evolving to become much larger than they ever had before. Of particular note were the pelagornithids, a group of birds that specced into tooth-like points on their beak’s edges for catching fish, and became the first large soaring birds to have an impact on the marine meta. The pelagornithids continued to be the top seabird guild for most of the Cenozoic, until being wiped out during the Pleistocene ice age. A lot of other new bird guilds were also created in the Paleocene. This diversification was probably fuelled in part by the aforementioned spread of global forests, and the consequent abundance of food that was most easily accessed by flying builds. With a few exceptions, nearly every modern bird build can trace its origins to the explosion of bird diversity during this period

Birds didn’t only radiate into new aerial niches. One of the most interesting developments in the bird meta during this time was that some birds gave up on flight altogether to become fully land-based or even marine creatures. The lack of large predators on land following the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs made this one of the safest times for bird players seeking to pursue this strategy. Penguins already existed before the patch, but it was only in the Paleocene that they fully gave up on flight and fully optimized for hunting underwater, exploiting the niches left vacant by the banning of the large marine reptiles. This was also the time of the first ratites, a group of flightless birds that includes the present-day ostrich, cassowary, emu and kiwi. Most of the largest land birds throughout the game’s history have been ratites. The first ratites were actually not flightless, but shortly after the guild was introduced, multiple groups of ratite players independently started speccing for large flightless builds, and these flightless birds were the only members of the group to survive to the present.

This period also saw the evolution of other kinds of flightless bird that did not survive to the present. The most iconic of these was the Gastornis, a giant European flightless bird known for its massive head and huge beak. While often assumed to have been an apex predator, the Gastornis was actually a herbivore that used its huge beak to crack open nuts and seeds. Gastornis players were able to survive the spike in global temperatures that ended the Paleocene expansion, and continued for a while into the Eocene, but then were eliminated from the game for reasons that are still unclear.

While the Gastornis was a herbivore, another iconic group of flightless birds from this time did take over large predator niches: the terror birds. Terror birds were a guild created by former theropod mains who were mad about their old builds getting banned and decided to try to turn birds into a kind of recreation of the old predator builds. They became the top predators of South America, and remained in that position for tens of millions of years until they got wiped out during the last Ice Age.

  • Mammals

Mammals are generally seen as having been the biggest winners from the K-T patch, as the extinction of dinosaurs allowed them to diversify and expand into megafaunal niches. Just like with birds, this notion has some truth, but is overly simplistic.

The vast majority of the mammal builds that existed during the Late Cretaceous were wiped out by the K-T patch; less than 10% managed to make it through. Unlike with birds, where all of the remaining builds were clustered in the neornithine subclass, the surviving mammals were divided among all of the major mammal factions of the time. They didn’t exactly become dominant in the Paleocene; they largely continued to occupy small generalist niches, with birds and reptiles continuing to fill most of the apex predator roles. However, it is true that Paleocene mammals tried out a wide variety of new strategies which would set the stage for their dominance in all subsequent expansions.

At the start of the Paleocene, the highest-ranked mammal guild was the multituberculates. These were a group of small mammals that looked and acted a lot like present-day mice and rats, but had large, blade-like premolars for slicing nuts, and gave birth to underdeveloped young like marsupials. They had been the dominant small generalists on land and in trees during the Jurassic and Cretaceous, and while most of them got eliminated during the K-T patch, they were one of the first groups to recover and quickly reached new levels of diversity. However, they went into decline shortly after that as other mammal guilds developed competing builds that essentially did everything the multituberculates did better. These new builds were called rodents, and their descendants remain among the most successful mammals in the game to this day. The multituberculates would continue to decline until towards the end of the Eocene, the next expansion following the Paleocene, when they disappeared completely.

Next to multituberculates, the second most dominant group of mammals in the Cretaceous were the metatherians, the group which today includes only marsupials. This was the mammal group hit hardest by the mass extinction, and they never fully recovered. One silver lining for metatherian players was the introduction of sparassodonts towards the end of the Paleocene, a now-extinct group of predatory mammals closely related to and often confused with marsupials. Sparassodonts were the dominant predators in South America for much of the Cenozoic, serving as the South American equivalent to the placental carnivorous mammals of other servers, but then died out mysteriously during the Pliocene. However, with the exception of the sparassodonts, and a few other high-tier builds like the kangaroo, metatherians have remained fairly marginal in the meta ever since the K-T patch. I discuss the reasons for this in more depth in my marsupial tier list.

The group of mammals that won the most from the K-T extinction were the placentals. Today, placental mammals are by far the most successful mammal group, and probably the most successful animal group in the entire game. The Paleocene placental mammals weren’t quite there yet, but already diversifying into many of the major divisions that still exist today. Many of the Paleocene placental mammals are so different from their modern descendants (if they have any) that it’s hard to say which guild they were part of, but there are a few major guilds that have known members from this period, including the aforementioned rodents.

The Paleocene was the time of the first proboscideans, the guild that would later become elephants. Also alive in this period were the first hooved mammals, or ungulates, which would give rise to nearly all of today’s large herbivorous mammals aside from elephants. Deer, hippos, pigs, cows, horses, camels, rhinos, giraffes, tapirs, sheep, goats, antelope, and all other hooved mammals of today are all descended from these early ungulates. So are whales and dolphins, even though they’ve since dropped their hooves to better adapt to the water.

While proboscideans wouldn’t start developing their huge size until later to start growing huge, ungulates were already experimenting with megafauna builds during the Paleocene. One of the earliest guilds of ungulate formed were the uintatheres, which were by far the largest animals of the Paleocene. Uintatheres resembled modern-day rhinos or hippos, but with large tusks like elephants and blunt horns similar to those of giraffes. They were the dominant large herbivores from the late Paleocene until the mid-Eocene, when they mysteriously went extinct and were replaced in their niche by the even more massive brontotheres

The Paleocene was the time of the miacids, a group of marten-like predatory mammals with small bodies and long tails. Miacids would later evolve into the carnivorans, the group which includes most of the top predatory mammals in today’s meta; cats, dogs, bears, hyenas, raccoons, weasels, badgers, skunks, seals, mongooses, and wolverines are all numbered among their descendants. However, during the Paleocene, miacids remained fairly small and did not become apex predators anywhere, despite having already developed the flesh-shearing carnassial teeth that are the trademark of their descendants today. Instead, the dominant predatory mammals of this expansion were part of another early guild of ungulates called the mesonychids, one of the few hoofed predator guilds in the game’s history. While often imagined as akin to wolves with hooves, mesonychids had a noticeably different hunting style from present-day wolves, as their thick legs and ungulate spines lacked the flexibility that dogs and other modern carnivorans rely on when chasing down prey. Their teeth also weren’t as specialized for cutting meat as those of today’s carnivorans. Nevertheless, their powerful jaws, robust bodies and strong running abilities enabled them to become some of the top predators of the Paleocene Northern hemisphere. Sadly, they started to decline shortly after the Paleocene ended and were gone by the early Oligocene. Their dolphin-like molars have led some players to mistakenly believe that they actually took to the sea and became whales instead of getting banned, but source code analysis has debunked this.

While the mesonychids were taking over Eurasia, another now-extinct group of mammals was developing large predators of their own: the hyaenodonts. The hyaenodonts were in some ways similar to mesonychids, as both groups had large heads and limbs that sacrificed flexibility in exchange for efficient running; however, the hyaenodonts also had scissor-like carnassial teeth, a useful flesh-tearing adaptation which the miacids (and their later carnivoran descendants) copied. Hyaenodonts lasted much longer and spread much farther than the mesonychids ever did, but they still didn’t make it to the present day, getting banned during the late Miocene around 11 million years ago.

Of all the innovations that mammal players made during this period, the one that would prove the most significant in the long run was also one of the first. Relatively shortly after the K-T extinction, some mammals called plesiadapiforms decided to get rid of their claws and replace them with fingers, granting them a then-unparalleled ability to grasp and manipulate objects. These were the first of the primates, and the potential that this ability unlocked cannot be overstated. By refining the design of the fingers and combining them with high intelligence, primates have remained one of the highest-ranked guilds in the meta in every expansion from the Paleocene to the present. Eventually, one group of primates managed to create the most overpowered build ever seen in the game, a build so powerful that its mere existence actually caused another extinction event on par with that caused by the K-T patch – but that’s a topic for another post.

The Termite Tier List

[This is part of a series of posts about animals. To find other posts in this series, see here.]

In my post on cockroaches, I noted that termites are technically a subclass of cockroach. However, since their playstyle is so different from all other cockroach subclasses, I felt they deserved to be covered in a separate post rather than being lumped together with the vanilla cockroach builds. Today, I’m going to follow up on that by exploring the termite tier list.

The oldest game logs showing definite termite player activity date back to the Early Cretaceous, about 130 million years ago, but the first termites likely existed earlier, in the Jurassic. In any event, the first termite builds were created by cockroach players who had optimized for digesting wood. A number of cockroach builds have done this, but what elevated the termite was an ability that was unique at the time, and remains one of the most coveted in the game: [Eusociality]. While many cockroaches live in large social groups of some kind, termites took it further than ever, to the point that they essentially stopped functioning as individual animals and the colony started to act as a single unit.

In order to unlock the [Eusocial] trait, a colony needs to have three attributes. Firstly, colony members must cooperate to take care of the offspring of other colony members. Secondly, the members of the colony must be divided into different castes with different functions. In all eusocial colonies, the casts include the alates, or “kings” and “queens”, whose job is to reproduce, and the workers, who can’t reproduce but perform a variety of other essential functions, like finding food and caring for young. In the case of termites and some others, there’s also a caste of soldiers whose function is to defend the colony against attackers. Finally, the colonies must have overlapping generations; that is, when one generation of workers is born, the previous generation of workers continues to work alongside them rather than dying off. Today, this sort of team organization is most often associated with ants, and can also be found in some bees, wasps, beetles, shrimp, and even a few rodents, but it all started with the termites.

When the termite build was first introduced, most followers of the meta assumed that eusociality was a dumb idea that could never catch on. After all, the thinking went, the whole objective of Outside is to complete the [Reproduction] quest, so how could a build where most of the players are literally incapable of reproducing possibly be viable? However, this was based on a misunderstanding. The point of the game isn’t to reproduce per se, but rather to spread your genome to future generations. Because all players within a eusocial colony have nearly identical source code, helping the queen to reproduce earns the workers nearly as many points as they would get if they reproduced on their own. Splitting the roles up in this way also means that the players who end up in the breeding castes can basically just spawn in new players near-constantly, while the workers ensure that they are well-fed and kept out of danger without them having to do anything. This system allows a single termite queen to spawn in over 10,000 new players in a single day. Like regular cockroaches, some termite queens can further speed up their respawn times by reproducing asexually if they can’t find a mate. Colonies generating new members so fast means that an individual worker getting a Game Over makes almost no difference to the overall success of the colony, so as long as the breeders are kept well-protected, every team member can end up earning huge amounts of points from the eggs laid by the queen.

Being eusocial isn’t the only thing that separates termites from other cockroaches, although many of their other differences can be traced back somehow to their eusociality. The other major difference between the two is that termites, like most eusocial builds, generally live in shelters of their own construction. The earliest termites built their nests inside logs, trees and other wooden structures, and many termites still use this strategy today. However, more advanced termite playstyles involve building nests underground, or building them above-ground, but with shelter tubes that lead to underground pathways where they can shelter in case the colony gets attacked by a predator. For colonies that last long enough, these nests can reach astonishing sizes; one termite colony in the Brazil server has been working on the same mound network for over 4,000 years, and it now covers roughly the same surface area as the United Kingdom. Because termites spend so much time in nests where there’s no light and no air, most termite players have dropped eyes and wings from their specs, becoming blind and flightless.

When you compare them to other builds that have imitated their eusocial strategy, the termites’ nesting strategies do grant them some advantages over their competitors, as their sturdy nests provide good protection against predators, parasites and environmental hazards alike. This is perhaps reflected in how long termite queens can stay in the game while playing as a single character; some termite queens have managed to go as long as fifty years from spawn-time to Game Over, a lifespan otherwise unheard of among insect players. That said, termites still come up a bit short when you compare them to truly overpowered eusocial builds such as ants and honeybees. Eusocial insect colonies in the same area often compete with each other for food and territory, and when these competitions happen between ants and termites, the termites tend to lose. Ants dominate so hard in the termite matchup that they’re considered the biggest threat to termite mains out of all predators, and many ant players get almost all their XP from killing and eating termites. I don’t think this should be too surprising, as ants and other hymenopterans tend to have venom-type attacks that make them an actual credible threat when in large groups. Termites and other cockroaches don’t really have any comparable damage-dealing abilities, so they can’t put up much of a fight, even in huge swarms.

Even so, the termite’s reputation for success is well-earned. They’re extremely relevant to the meta on every server except Antarctica, and even humans have difficulty defending against the might of a termite swarm. Termite colonies are known among the human playerbase as some of the most destructive pests in the game because of the serious damage they cause to human bases and crops. Their longstanding strength in the meta has not gone unnoticed by other insect players; a number of other builds have taken advantage of this by living inside termite colonies and relying on the strength of the termite army for their own protection, a strategy known as “termitophily”. On average, I’d say that termites rank alongside most other cockroaches in low A tier. They might be comparatively weaker than most competing eusocial insects, but given that eusocial insect colonies in general are some of the most overpowered builds in the entire game, they’ve still got a pretty good thing going.

But which termite colonies pull off the eusocial playstyle best? To find out, let’s take a look at the termite tier list. There are over 3000 termite builds in the current meta, so, as usual, I won’t be able to cover all of them; I’ll only go into the ones I think are most interesting. Ordinarily, I refer to builds using their common names, but with termite builds these are often ambiguous, so this time I’ll provide the official guild names as well.

So we’re going to be starting higher up the tier list than usual today, because there’s really no such thing as a low-tier termite build. However, some termites are weaker than others, and so in C tier, we have the dampwood termites of the archotermopsid guild. As their name suggests, dampwood termites live in and eat damp wood. They’’ll generally spend their entire lives inside a single piece of damp wood; since the wood is their food as well as their home, they don’t even need to leave to forage. Only the kings and queens sometimes leave the nest in order to mate. The main advantage of this strategy is that pieces of damp wood aren’t very useful to most players, so dampwood termites face less competition for territory than many other termites. However, relying on such a restricted environment also makes it very hard for dampwood termites to expand their range. Unlike most other termites, dampwood termites have difficulty succeeding when introduced to new environments because of how specialized they are. Overall, not a bad build, but definitely the weakest of the current termite options.

In low B tier, we have the harvester termites of the Hodotermitidae guild. Harvester termites are unusual among termites in that all of them, regardless of caste, have functional eyes. They live in deserts and savannahs, using their comparatively strong eyesight to navigate above-ground during the daytime. Unlike other termites, though, they don’t build protective tunnels to cover their foraging trails, which makes them highly conspicuous when they’re out searching for food. As a result, they tend to be easier to hunt than other termites and get bodied by desert insectivores while foraging. In particular, the bat-eared fox of the canid faction has a remarkably high K/DR against them.

Next in B tier, we have the exploding termites of the Globitermes guild. This build is noteworthy for its signature move, [Autothysis]. When confronted by attackers that they can’t deter, usually by ants, the soldier termites of an exploding termite colony start secreting a yellow fluid from a large gland that occupies much of their body. The liquid is forced out of the gland by contractions of the mandibular muscles compressing the gland’s walls. The liquid rapidly hardens on contact with air, producing a sticky substance that acts as a trap. The muscle contractions are so intense that they frequently cause the soldier termite performing the move to rupture itself and explode, which is where the build gets its name. Ordinarily, relying on such risky defences would consign a character to bottom-tier status. However, eusocial colonies are set up so that the death of a single soldier or worker matters very little for the overall viability of the colony or the species. Having to sacrifice them to protect against ants is only barely a downside.

In high B tier, we have the sand termites of the Psammotermes guild. This is a termite build adapted to life in hot deserts. While there are a few groups of termite builds adapted to desert life, Psammotermes termites are the best at surviving in these environments, and tend to be the only termites found in the very driest areas. They can eat just about anything, but require very little food to survive. They can even survive in areas where no vegetation grows, by subsisting entirely off of dead plants that get blown about by the wind. As amazing as this is, being specialized for harsh environments makes them overall less viable in the meta than more generalist termite builds.

At the low end of A tier, we have the snouted harvester termites of the Trinervitermes guild. Despite the name, this build is not closely related to the harvester termite, but it does use a similar strategy. However, it augments this strategy by speccing into a poison defence. Snouted harvester termites have squirt guns on their heads that are used to shoot noxious chemical compounds at ants and other predators. This generally keeps them pretty safe, but is hard-countered by the aardwolf, a variant of the hyena build that’s been specced specifically for hunting snouted harvesters. Aardwolves are unaffected by the termites’ poison and can easily lap them up by the hundreds of thousands without worrying about their counterattacks.

Also in A tier, we have the drywood termites of the Kalotermitidae guild. Like dampwood termites, drywood termites live in and eat wood, but as their name suggests, they use dry wood instead of damp wood. To help deal with the dryness, they’ve specced into specialized glands in their rectum which reabsorb water from their faeces, allowing them to tolerate dryness for long periods. Unlike dampwood termites, drywood termites have very little trouble spreading to new environments, and are actually more prone to becoming invasive than any other kind of termite. This is in part because humans build so many structures out of dry wood, including ships; as a result, drywood termites are among the best builds for messing with humans by damaging their bases. Drywood termites are also unusual among eusocial insects in that they don’t technically have any workers; rather, they have pseudergates or “false” workers, who can transform into soldiers or breeders if the colony runs short of either. As a result, drywood termite colonies cannot be defeated simply by killing the queens the way many other termite colonies can. 

At the top of A tier, we have one of the more recent additions to the termite faction, the fungus-growing termites of the macrotermitine guild. Fungus-growing termites build some of the largest and most complex mounds among termites, but what makes them particularly special is unlocking one of the rarest abilities in the game: [Agriculture]. All fungus-growing termites grow and cultivate gardens in their nests, filled with a fungus called Termitomyces. Termites use chewed-up decaying plant matter and their own faeces to feed the fungi, then later remove the combs of the fungi and use them to feed the colony. Some of these termites live entirely off of the funguses they grow. Being able to grow your own food is one of the most powerful abilities in the game, and one of the main things that makes humans the most overpowered build of all time, but so far termites and ants are the only non-human builds to have unlocked it.

In S tier, we have the Formosan subterranean termite, official name Coptotermes formosanus. Also known as the “super-termite”, this build rose to the top of the tier list simply by taking the strengths of the baseline termite build to the extreme. Even for a eusocial insect, their spawn rate is absurdly fast. Where most termites live in colonies of a few hundred thousand at most, Formosan termites live in colonies of up to several million. Formosan termites originated in China, but have since spread throughout East Asia, and then from there to South Africa, Sri Lanka and the United States. Everywhere it goes, the Formosan termite becomes an unstoppable menace; they have yet to be eradicated from any of the areas where they’re invasive. While they aren’t invasive in quite as many places as the drywood termites, they make up for it by the sheer level of mayhem they cause; in the United States alone, Formosan termites cause over 1 billion dollars’ worth of damage to human property every year. In my view, any build that can do that much damage to the human player base without getting wiped out has got to earn an S tier spot.