At its best, combat in Jurassic World: Alive is a series of cat-and-mouse tactical decisions in which players must anticipate their opponents’ next move, consider possible dinosaurs that may be on the bench, and think strategically about how actions, cooldowns, delays and swaps will string together. Part of the fun is taking calculated risks, which means rolling the dice. Do I take a chance on that 75% stun effect, knowing that it might fail, or play it safe and swap out? Do I send in a dinosaur that could finish off my opponent with a critical hit, but would be doomed otherwise? Even building an 8-dinosaur team involves (fun!) strategic decisions about which giant death lizards will complement each other when the final roster is determined randomly. I have no objection to including RNG as part of the combat system. To the contrary, I think it greatly enhances the experience.
At its worst, however, combat in Jurassic World: Alive boils down to a series of 50% RNG rolls that effectively determine the winner of the match, and right now that is happening way too often. The culprits are three dinosaurs – Indominus Rex, Indoraptor, and Monomimus – that feature powerful abilities (Cloak and Evasive Stance) that give them a 50% chance of dodging attacks for 2 or 3 turns. When they are active, those abilities mean that a coin toss determines whether the dinosaur (1) takes no damage at all, or (2) takes full damage despite having invested a turn in activating the dodge move. The RNG problem with JW:A’s combat isn’t with critical strikes or stun moves, which still deal damage even if they do not activate an additional effect, and which have relatively high or low percentage chances that allow players to plan strategically. The RNG problem is the coin tosses. The stakes are too high – either a complete whiff or a complete waste – and the 50% odds exacerbate both the feeling of arbitrariness and the difficulty of tactical planning.
My favorite illustration is the all-too-common matchup of Stegodeus vs. Indoraptor. Indoraptor uses Evasive Stance. Stegodeus then uses Thagomizer, which slows Indoraptor, followed by Armor Piercing Rampage. Coin toss time! If Stegodeus hits with both attacks, Indoraptor is dead, having inflicted no damage at all. If Stegodeus misses both times, Indoraptor uses Cleansing Impact and Defense Shattering Rampage and now Stegodeus is dead (or nearly so depending on the level), also having inflicted no damage at all. Both of those outcomes are so extreme that it is hard for a player to bounce back, at least against an opponent of roughly equal skill with a roughly equal team. Lots of matchups with Indominus Rex and Monomimus play out the same way, and nothing feels more arbitrary than an Indoraptor-vs.-Indoraptor dodge duel. High-stakes coin tosses help to explain why some players complain that Indominus Rex is overpowered, and others complain that he’s underpowered. He’s both! Just call it heads or tails.
The result is that combat in JW:A has devolved into a “coin toss meta,” where far too many matches are effectively determined by a few key 50/50 random chances. As an experiment, I just tracked 20 consecutive matches (all played in the high end of Jurassic Ruins, around 4850 trophies) and kept track of how many 50/50 dodge attempts occurred, which player won each coin toss, and who ultimately won the match. Overall, I went 9-11 during that stretch, so I ended up about where I started (despite winning and losing streaks along the way). But what’s striking is how closely the coin toss results are correlated with match outcomes. For each match, I’ve listed first the total number of coin tosses won by each player (first me, then my opponent), and then the outcome (win or loss for me). (I counted only coin tosses where the dinosaur actually attempted to dodge, not where the effect was nullified. The only coin tosses I excluded from the count were dodge attempts on minor counter-attacks by Tragodistis, which are usually low-damage and low-stakes, but would have inflated the totals in some matches in a misleading way.)
Some key take-aways. First, note how many matches involved coin tosses. Just four matches, 20% of the total, were coin-toss free. The other 80% involved at least 2 coin tosses, and as many as 7, with an average of 3.875 dodge attempts per match. Second, note how strongly those coin toss results are correlated with win-loss record. In matches where there were no coin tosses, or each player won an equal number of 50/50 RNG results, my win-loss record was mixed (I finished 5-2). But in matches where I won more coin tosses than my opponent, I won every time (finishing 4-0), and in matches where my opponent won more coin tosses than I did, I lost every time (finishing 0-9).
Obviously this is just a sample, and I realize that players sometimes win despite losing more coin tosses than their opponent. Your mileage may vary, especially at different parts of the ladder or if you don’t run dinosaurs with dodge. Nor do I mean to suggest that coin tosses fully determined the results of these matches; I can think of many times I misplayed or took chances that didn’t pay off, and I’d like to think I outmaneuvered my opponents a few times too. Sometimes it takes great skill just to salvage a match by making it all come down to a 50% dodge chance, whether you win or lose. And although I had a run of bad luck in this particular stretch of games (my coin toss record was 22-40, ugh), I hope it’s clear that my concern is not losing a particular RNG roll or match. Over the long term, I have no doubt I win as many coin tosses as I lose. (Except possibly against Monomimus, who is definitely cheating somehow.)
Still, keeping track of my matches has convinced me that my gut impression was right: in contests between players of roughly equal skill, with roughly equal teams, 50% coin tosses have a drastically outsized effect on the outcome. That’s an RNG problem, and it will persist unless (1) dinosaurs with dodge cease to be so dominant (Metahub rightly lists all three of them as “Apex” options), or (2) their dodge moves are reworked to make them lower-stakes (i.e., not so all-or-nothing) or involve more calculated risks that feel less arbitrary (i.e., not 50% odds).
The folks at Metahub just came out with another article insisting that there is no “REAL problem” with RNG in JW:A because no one complains about RNG at low levels, and in the “end game” (defined as having a team of 8 dinosaurs of level 27 or higher) the problem goes away because dodge dinosaurs are no longer prominent. I love the site, I’m grateful for their insights and advice, and I read their stuff every day. They do fantastic work. But I think they’re way off-base here. As to low levels: if Gallimimus and Ornithomimus are not causing 50% dodge coin-toss problems at low levels, it’s because they’re not very good for other reasons and almost no one uses them – and Metahub deserves credit for that, because their fantastic dinosaur tier list steers players away from them. Once players unlock Indominus Rex, Indoraptor, and Monomimus, they become ubiquitous in the arena, and so do coin tosses. As to the end game: if having 8 dinosaurs at level 27 is the end game, I’m not sure I’ll make it my lifetime, so it may well be true that RNG ceases to be a factor. But surely end-game folks represent a tiny fraction of the player base, and combat should be gratifying for all of us. I see the coin toss meta as a real problem for a significant swath of players, even if it’s not absolutely everyone.
A new patch will drop soon, and perhaps that will shake up the meta such that coin tosses play a lesser role. But for what it’s worth, my suggestion would be to make dodge moves more predictable and thus more strategic. One idea, for example, would be to make Evasive Stance a 75% chance to dodge, but only for two turns and with the same 3-round cooldown. The number of dodges mathematically would be the same (0.75 x 2 = 0.5 x 3), but both players would have more interesting choices about how to play around it.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the game, and I’ve sunk tons of time (and more money than I should have) into it. But I do think the RNG issues are formidable right now, and I hope this effort to share my own experiences can help to improve it.