Apex Legends is coming up to its eleventh season, as GameCentral talks to a whole host of Respawn developers about what’s coming next.
Season 11, subtitled Escape, is a major season launch for Apex Legends. While it’s always easy to get excited around a new season of content, this one feels particularly important.
For what seems like an eternity, Ash has been growing as a bigger and bigger presence in the Apex Games. The fan favourite villain from Titanfall 2 has become more and more prominent over time, with story beats peppered over the last year and her taking over the Apex Arenas. However, in Season 11, she will finally become playable for the first time.
Having spent some time with her, her kit is impressive. Her passive allows her to hack into Deathboxes to find out where the team who killed the player are currently located. Her tactical ability is a little blade that is launched forward. It won’t do too much when it hits an enemy, however, if they try to move from a small area, they will find themselves tethered and unable to escape for a small amount of time.
However, her ultimate is the most exciting. When popped, she uses her sword to create a portal to a position from her line-of-sight. It functions like Wraith’s portal but it’s a one-way ticket. The distance you can set it is huge, meaning you can surprise players from far away. However, there’s no going back if you use it. It’s a high risk, high reward ability, but it’s one of the coolest in the game.
As well as the new character, Apex Legends is also adding a new map. Storm Point is the game’s newest battleground. It’s the biggest map ever made in Apex, and certainly one of the most unique. It has a Jurassic Park meets Avatar vibe, and several distinct factors, like gravity cannons that can launch you and your team around, as well as PvE wildlife you can kill for better loot.
On top of that, a new submachinegun is coming to the game in the form of the CAR. A favourite in Titanfall 2, the gun is hitting Apex with a rather unique ability. It can use both heavy and light ammo and attachments. That makes it an extremely strong starting weapon, creating a versatile new option even before you’ve got your hands on all the best attachments.
The point is, a lot is coming this season. It’s hard to remember a previous season with so much, especially with the hotly anticipated addition of Ash. After playing the new content for a few hours in a specially organised preview we had a ton of questions, and thankfully we had a lot of access to the answers.
We spoke to a huge host of Respawn developers to get a good overview of the entire season, including technical designer Devin Weise, who worked on Ash’s design; senior designer Ashley Reed, who worked on Ash’s narrative; level designer Rodney Reece, who worked on Storm Point; and associate live balance designer John Larson, who works on the game’s balance.
Apex Legends Season 11 will go live on Tuesday, November 2 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
PD: From your team’s perspective, what do you think Ash brings to the Apex roster that might have been missing? What niche do you see her filling?
DW: I think the thing Ash tries to marry is aggressiveness with tactical or strategic thinking. We have characters like Octane and Revenant who are good at pushing into people that maybe aren’t… they’re more just like, ‘Hey, let’s, W key. Let’s run as fast as you can at them and try and kill them.’ Whereas Ash, compared to someone like Wraith… Ash has to be more specific about where she’s going to teleport in, where she’s going to attack people from.
She really wants to initiate fights. She wants to be the one that says, ‘Hey, we’re going now’. She’s less good at either protecting the team or helping to get the team away from a bad situation. She’s not as good at that. Or she could be overconfident and push in by herself and get herself killed. So, I think something we were trying to marry there with that is to have an aggressive Legend that still feels like they have to think before they act, right?
She’s not necessarily going to be the greatest at just pushing everybody and trying to face roll into them. She’s going to need to set up the battlefield in her favour to make the best of her abilities.
PD: Yeah. That’s what struck me about her. I’m generally a Revenant main, and she reminded me a lot of him. They are feast or famine Legends where their ult. will either net you a ton of kills or get you killed, which adds a nice dynamic.
DW: And I think Revenant and Ash actually can work well together. I think that’s something we talked about before with some of these sessions is, because… Revenant’s ultimate can sort of cover for Ash’s ultimate, right? You can use Revenant’s ult. first and that way, if you go in and die, you at least have that sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card there.
PD: Yeah, murderous robots make good pals. On the narrative side, what do you think Ash brings to the roster? You have Revenant who is in it just to murder everyone, but then on the other end of the spectrum, Mirage and Pathfinder who are more go-lucky and positive.
AR: She’s definitely more on the Revenant end in terms of personality. [laughs] She’s very… we have kind of a pool that we’ll call the ‘villain characters’. Obviously, they’re heroes to somebody, but they definitely have more of a villainous streak, and she definitely falls into that. I think she’s the closest we have to a true female villain in the cast because we have other women in the cast who kind of lean that way, but they’re more of a grey area, whereas Ash is, like ‘No, I’m kind of a jerk.’ So that’s pretty great.
The psychological torment aspect of it was very new for us too. There’s Revenant who is just, ‘I like murdering people’ – very straightforward. Ash is more like, ‘I want to make you think you’re gonna win and then I want to take it all away’. [laughs]
Caustic is a little like that, but he’s kind of… he’s got a different angle. So she kind of threads the needle between those two in terms of motivation and personality.
PD: Going back to the gameplay side, her ultimate is fascinating to me. It’s something that if you over-commit with, you are dead, but if used perfectly you can position to wipe entire teams. How did it come about and what was the ideation around it?
DW: Yeah, I think it was one of those things. It sort of developed along with the narrative, right? So we had this character who was established, but we had to sort of figure out where is she going to be and make sure the gameplay matched the narrative in that sense. So, Ash does like to play with her food but that can get her into trouble. It has in the past and could continue to do that.
So, that’s one thing I really wanted to focus on there, was making sure, for the ultimate, making sure that the visual and sound effects, that people know that this is happening around them. When it comes to the gameplay, we were trying to be very cautious about every piece of mobility or traversal type ability. We want to be careful that they don’t make the battleground too hard to figure out.
So for Ash’s ability, once it started to become a little bit more… it started off as more travelling on a flat plane, so it couldn’t really cross gaps. Well, you couldn’t go from building roof to building roof easily. And so, as we sort of shifted how the ability worked, and how the targeting worked, it felt really good to use, but then it was like, ‘Okay, how do we make sure that the people around know that this is happening, so that if an Ash does get over-confident, that she can be punished for it’.
That’s where we experimented with stuff like where her weapons are down for a little bit after she exits the portal, there are the visual effects and the sound effects that come out as soon as the portal comes in, so that people around have at least a couple seconds worth of time to maybe realise that, ‘Hey, an Ash just teleported over there. I need to be cautious now because I thought her team is over there, but they’re probably all now over here’.
So I’m just trying to make sure that the other players in the game, you know… it’s fun to be able to use but the other players in the game need to have something they can do to account for the fun you can have.
PD: It’s felt in the last few seasons like there has been a concerted effort to bring that Titanfall-ness back to Apex. Now we are dealing with characters linked directly to Titanfall 2. Do you think Ash is the culmination of that or do you think we will see more of that DNA added over time?
AR: I can speak a bit on the narrative side. I don’t think it was so much, there was a concerted effort at this time in as much as we finally felt comfortable with it. When Apex first came out, we wanted to make sure it had its own identity and in some sense that ‘No, no, this is something else. This is part of Titanfall but it isn’t just a cheap spin-off of Titanfall, it’s its own thing.’
So for a while, we took a step back from it. We had some Titanfall allusions, obviously, like with Blisk, but we mostly wanted to take a step back and say, ‘this has its own DNA, its own identity’.
Then we were like, ‘Okay, people get it. They understand what Apex is and how it connects and how it differs. And, ‘Okay, now we can start going back to, and really pulling more from Titanfall without being self-conscious about it’.
DW: Right. I think when it comes to designing the Legends, and it comes to actually designing a lot of the things we do, it’s all about the passion of the team and what the team is interested in doing. People were really interested in bringing Ash into the Apex Games and so it makes sense that we didn’t necessarily want her to launch with that, but it became a time of… I joined about a year and a half ago, sort of as the season five quests were coming to a head and that was revealing that Ash is now being put back together with the culmination of that quest.
So from that time, that was sort of like, ‘Okay, we really want to start having someone to prototype to get Ash into the game at some point.’ We still only release things when they’re ready. We release things when we’re happy with where they’re at, but we really felt like this could be a good time to build up to Ash’s release, where we could have these cool storyline quests and then we can start introducing her and other little bits.
We can have her become the Apex Arenas commissioner cause she had her little arenas in Titanfall 2. Then she can have these little comments, you know, comics and other mixes with the other characters and sort of lead into her and her coming out.
So I think you’ll continue to see parts big and small of Titanfall coming to Apex but I don’t think it will be as big as this season, obviously. It’s not like every season it’s going to have some new Titanfall thing. We still want Apex to be its own thing, but the passion of the team continues to be, ‘Hey, a lot of us have worked on Titanfall. We love Titanfall. Let’s bring these in when it feels ready’.
PD: The other big thing about this update is the huge new map. It has this cool Jurassic Park/Avatar kind of vibe that I really dig. You’ve said it’s the biggest map in the game. What was the impetus with going bigger, rather than smaller? What was the main driving force there?
RR: The main driving force was to address some of the negative things, which is, number one – bad third party encounters and certain times to engagement, which is what we call ‘time to kill’. We have an incredible analytics team that, once we had three maps, we could really just look at what that was. What we noticed was that World’s Edge was a little bit higher.
Now, this is in terms of milliseconds, but it was a noticeable difference. And when you have a little bit longer for ‘time to kill’, it allows more interesting engagement between your squad-mates. It allows for Legend abilities to become more of a factor, as well as repositioning. It’s just kind of a more rich gameplay experience. So giving a little more space to do that, encourages that primarily.
That’s also why certain things where for the clarity of what we call frontlines, where you can have these things… the spacing between the water is very much a gameplay element where, ‘Okay, this is a little bit of empty space, what are you going to use with your Octanes, with your Pathfinders, with your Caustics? These all are factors in terms of how you have interesting engagements.
From the third party example, the main thing we were looking at is how redeploy balloons really affected a negative third party because redeploy balloons at their core were meant for an element to outrun the ring but people were using them in combat scenarios to essentially reach advantageous locations, which was never the intention, but, you know, it’s the reality of the situation.
So that’s what got us to the idea of taking those out and putting in what we call the Gravity Cannons which are designer placed, very focused points where we can dictate where these encounters happen, and all that necessitates more space.
PD: Obviously, the other thing about this map is that, we’ve had flying monsters on maps before but there is a real concerted effort to bring in PvE through its fauna. Specifically, what is that designed to bring to the map?
RR: Every map we come up with has what we like to call map toys. For Kings Canyon, it was a supply ship, for World Edge it was the train and the loot vaults. For Olympus, it was the phase tunnel.
When you come to the core of the design of Apex, it kind of fundamentally goes into three brackets, which is combat, exploration, and looting. We very much wanted something that exists in the looting realm and that’s where the wildlife came about. They are technically PvE encounters but you’ll notice that… they’re not boss fights. Their big benefit is they give you smart loot. So from a highly competitive player, they will engage in that way of, ‘I want great attachments for my weapons so I’m going to go choose to engage with them’.
For the lower end player, they’ll think of it in the same way, but they also get the advantage of they feel like they’re having fun by being able to shoot something that can’t necessarily shoot them back. So, the wildlife very much exists in the bracket of looting versus a boss encounter.
The competitive scene nightmare scenario, of a circle closing on a Prowler location and them third-partying, that’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons.
PD: The other big addition coming in is the CAR. The ability to swap between light and heavy ammo and attachments is really interesting. That said, Apex isn’t really lacking for really powerful SMGs. What was the design philosophy, and what’s it bringing the broader weapon pool?
JL: We had to have a compelling reason to bring another SMG into a roster where there’s already a lot of very viable SMGs. In thinking about the CAR as a versatile weapon in Titanfall 2, you started turning the gears on what versatility could look like in a battle royale. That’s where we had this ‘Ah ha!’ moment of tapping into the loot game, the loot progression and inventory management. While it’s not like the sexiest axis on paper, I think it’s much more than a gimmick.
I know in my experience playtesting, I definitely felt that early game flexibility in power. So while it’s not quite as much of a laser beam from range as, say, the Volt and it doesn’t quite melt or dump out bullets as quick as an R-99, I think it does fill this unique niche where it handles very much like a hybrid between the light and heavy classes. That space was sort of freed up by the full auto Prowler. So I think it does do a good job of feeling unique amongst the roster, but, you’re going to see how players perceive it.
PD: The weapon pool can’t expand exponentially forever. What’s that conversation like for you and the team on that? There has to be some sort of scalability and focus to get weapons you like without an enormous amount of guns to wade through.
JL: Yeah. Well, I think, first of all, Legends are the lifeblood of Apex and I think you can expect to see a cadence of a new Legend on a seasonal basis. Weapons, maybe not as much, and I think there are also other sorts of areas we can look at with hop-ups and the loot game to introduce fresh content without making the loot pool kind of crazy from a weapons perspective.
Then we also have other things that we’re thinking about for, you know… as we add more guns, how can we look to control how many are accessible? Care packages are this way of vaulting a weapon from the ground loot for a season. You know, maybe there’s something like other mechanics in the game related to loot that we can tap into for just making sure we stay under control there and making sure that’s not overwhelming. So it’s something we’re definitely mindful of.
By Patrick Dane
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