“What does the legacy of Titanfall
mean for our characters and what do they build out of the ruins?” This was a question asked by Ashley Reed
, Senior Game Writer on Apex Legends
, during a special Legacy preview session. Respawn Entertainment
’s free-to-play Battle Royale is, after all, set in the mech-filled Titanfall universe, and the connection was raised for a number of reasons.
The arrival of new Legend Valkyrie
, who has a direct connection to characters from that series. As a means to explore how the studio approaches the rich and detailed locations found in one of the most popular multiplayer shooters out there. And as the basis for what is set to be the biggest update to the game to date.
Apex Legends has, in many ways, eclipsed the critically acclaimed series on which it draws narrative inspiration, with the developer building something both new and surprising out of the mech-sized shell of the bombastic Titanfall. It’s a question that also brings to mind Respawn’s success, where in the two years since its initial debut, Apex has passed the impressive 100 million unique player milestone. Alongside finding its way (with cross-play support) to a number of platforms including the Nintendo Switch
. There’s even a mobile release on the cards. Apex for everyone.
The team working on the game now includes multiple studios setup in a way to maximise both team health and experimentation. And now after a couple of years of new Legends, a redesigned map, seasonal events and other features -- Apex Legends is set to receive a brand-new game mode called Arenas
. One that has been in development for some time and something that will sit alongside the Battle Royale, or BR, players know.
The word arena, in the shooter space at least, carries with it some weight. A legacy that includes names like Quake
and other titles where fast movement across small maps is paired with scores and trying to rack up as many kills as you can as quickly as you can. As for Arenas, the connection to the name is merely coincidental even though the result -- in the broadest terms -- is 3v3 elimination played on smaller maps with teams looking to win the most rounds. Bread-and-butter Team DM stuff.
Prototyping for Arenas in Apex Legends goes back as far as September of 2019, where within King’s Canyon the team at Respawn experimented with a 24-player tournament that saw squads of three face off against each other in different locations.
Prototyping for Arenas in Apex Legends goes back as far as September of 2019, where within King’s Canyon the team at Respawn experimented with a 24-player tournament that saw squads of three face off against each other in different locations -- eight squads in total, with four 3v3 battles happening simultaneously. In this, the earliest form of what would become Arenas, Respawn kept many of the elements that make-up the core BR side of Apex -- players spawning in without loot, having to find weapons and gear in the early moments of each round, scouting and planning on-the-fly based on exactly what you found.
“There was one point of clarity, intense 3v3 match-ups felt amazing,” Robert West, Arenas Designer recalls these early tests. With Arenas being the culmination of two years of experimentation, the end result is anything but simply a “new mode”. Its creation was born from the team trying to find the right balance and hit several notes; make it feel different from the BR so it can stand on its own, make sure that it highlights the game’s characters, and ensure that it has enough competitive depth to keep players coming back.
Inside the Fast-Paced Arena
In the preview session where we got to experience playing Arenas over the course of an action-packed day -- that is do that thing where you spend a bunch of time playing Apex Legends -- it’s not hard to see just how well Arenas manages to hit the ground, and sky, running.
The pre-round setup moves quickly but offers up the chance to pick (and purchase) a weapon, which in turn lets you control your playstyle before you take that first slide forward. The option to upgrade weapons adds late-game opportunity, as does decking out extra grenades or going the ‘sniper’ route. The power move that is a long-range rifle. Similarly, choosing one of the game’s many Legends adds a new dimension to abilities they all feature. Offensive, Defensive, Support, and Recon all having their place in Arenas. When rounds can be over in a matter of seconds versus long protracted battles carried out over a much longer time period, character identity is something that can speak volumes to a squad’s composition.
When rounds can be over in a matter of seconds versus long protracted battles carried out over a much longer time period, character identity is something that can speak volumes to a squad’s composition.
“Arenas isn't a distraction or a little side mode,” Daniel Klein tells AusGamers. “There are now two main ways to play Apex Legends. All future Legends will have to bring something that's useful in Arenas as well in BR. A random example of a potential ability way down the line is one that takes Death Boxes into account [large crates dropped by dead players]. There aren’t Death Boxes in Arenas, so that's a challenge for us. For the character team, we're committed to making new Legends work both in the Arenas and in the BR.”
Reinforcing the mainstay that is Arenas, starting with Season 9 future updates, events, map changes, Legends, and other elements will hit both BR and the new mode.
Back to going hands-on. With looting gone, and with each round beginning with the aforementioned buying of weapons and items or even Legend abilities (limited use abilities help balance the mode), this immediately sets the strategic tone for a squad to both work together whilst choosing exactly how to engage with an opposing team. Add in the fast paced nature of Apex combat, and the fluid movement that is par for the course when it comes to anything Respawn, and the feel is very different than the BR. Yet still Apex.
Rounds can offer multiple skirmishes, cat-and-mouse chases, measured strikes, and be over in an instant. And, as expected, plans can come and go with a single misstep or wrong turn resulting in -- “oh well, maybe next round”. All of this plays into the design of the two new Arenas-specific maps, “Party Crasher” and “Phase Runner”. Two additions that will be joined by existing locations (rejigged for Arenas) as the weeks roll on -- Artillery from Kings Canyon, Thermal Station from World’s Edge and Golden Gardens from Olympus.
The first thing you notice is that the maps are much larger than the 3v3 stylings of most deathmatch play spaces -- especially ones that track scores or allow, well, respawns. With the same design sensibility seen in the larger BR maps of Apex. According to Respawn the idea to move away from lanes and smaller maps was deliberate though it took many revisions to get the new locations to where they are today.
The first thing you notice is that the maps are much larger than the 3v3 stylings of most deathmatch play spaces -- especially ones that track scores or allow, well, respawns.
Without loot players will also find supply bins to add a bit of extra buying power for the next round, plus a care package containing high-level gear will drop -- which kind of feels like Respawn throwing some chum into a pit with the express purpose of watching teams go at it. Finally the closing circle, that BR staple, can be found here too -- which complements the larger map sizes that feel less like small arenas than they do the sort of sand-box style playpens Apex fans have grown accustomed to.
Which makes even seemingly unlikely choices like Pathfinder, a great one for Arenas. The maps are large enough for a grappling hook or zipline to make sense, as does finding out where the next circle will be to set up shop.
“We’re very interested to see what the Apex player base thinks of it,” Designer at Respawn Entertainment, Carlos Pineda says of the new mode. With the considerable time spent on developing Arenas the team is relatively confident of where it sits. Will there be adjustments, say to the pricing for guns in the pre-round store? Probably. But where the mode has landed looks pretty good. And plays great too. Fast-paced Apex Legends is exciting, and in a way is reminiscent of the style of multiplayer found in Titanfall.
Especially when taking control of Valkyrie, the new Legend that comes equipped with a jetpack. Because yeah, this is still a new Season of Apex Legends with Season 9 Legacy drawing on the universe in which it is set, but also pushing the narrative forward with the mainstay BR map that is now overrun with a strange organic lifeform. Translation there are giant roots everywhere. More than an imposing obstacle to work around they even change up previous open areas to make them less of a sniper’s paradise. There are new points of interest too, like a crashed ship where you can find corpses that hold keycards to gain access to some sweet bridge-crew loot.
There’s also a new weapon class in the form of the crossbow -- which is always a bit of a controversial update for any shooter. With Arenas and a new season bringing all the season changes players expect, Apex Legends shows no signs of slowing down. Not that it could after you add in a jetpack into the mix.
Apex Legends Season 9 kicks off in May