It’s been quite the first year for Apex Legends, Respawn’s battle royale game. Over its first year, Apex Legends saw numerous changes and in-game adjustments–ranging from the addition of new characters and weapons to the implementation of daily/weekly challenges and limited-time events. Now, the battle royale game is going into its second year with Season 4: Assimilation, which adds new character Revenant, the Sentinel sniper rifle, map changes, a battle pass, and several other in-game adjustments.
With the start of Year 2, Respawn wants to tackle Apex Legends a little differently. Whereas Season 1: Wild Frontier, Season 2: Battle Charge, and Season 3: Meltdown were all designed to establish Apex Legends’ identity, Assimilation kicks off a year where Respawn wants to be more innovative–both in terms of what Apex Legends can offer its community as well as what the gaming industry can expect from a battle royale game. Respawn doesn’t want to abandon its style of episodic storytelling, though.
Year 2: A Year To Innovate
“If you’re getting a theme here for our second year, it really centers around innovation,” Respawn COO Dusty Welch said in an interview with GameSpot. “You think about the first year of launching something, a new IP successfully, and a team that had not engaged in live service before. And so there’s a lot of muscle memory you have to build up and you’ve got to find your stride, and you’ve got to protect the team and the team health along the way. You’ve got to find that sweet spot.”
Respawn excels at storytelling and building strong characters, something the team has managed to implement to some extent in all of its existing games. Even the original Titanfall, with its weak campaign, at least introduced characters that fans fell in love with–most notably Blisk, who’s gone on to be one of the most recognizable characters in the Titanfall/Apex Legends universe.
“There are games in the [battle royale genre] that [are] multiplayer-only,” Welch said. “We want to bring something new. And we think that storytelling–finding a reason for people to really care and latch on to the game on a meaningful and personal level, have that emotional connection to a character–is so much deeper, so much better than not having it. [Players] get invested in that story and the interplay, and they’re buddies with their characters as well, and how they play with each other in the game.”
Continuing To Surprise With Episodic Storytelling
This emphasis on storytelling can be most clearly felt in the final weeks of Meltdown, when Respawn was beginning to advertise what was coming in Assimilation. It pulled the rug under us and introduced a new playable character by relying on misdirection rather than an outright announcement. Initially promoting the seemingly melee-focused Forge, Respawn both adopted the persona of a news anchor to tease story developments on a day-by-day basis and also implemented in-game map changes to further sell the narrative–all of which built a fair amount of hype for the new character. Ultimately, however, Forge was killed by Revenant, the true new playable character.
Though other developers have done similar in-game, day-to-day marketing strategies for their multiplayer games (Epic managed to get its players invested in Fortnite every day for week-long periods with stunts like the giant purple cube and the black hole), it’s rarer to see a team adopt this strategy to tell a game’s story. It emulates the structure of an episodic game, where you’re given the narrative piece by piece every few days as opposed to one large chunk.
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