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Apex Legends Season 21's Alter Was Not An Easy Character To Add To The Battle Royale

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Apex Legends Season 21 adds Alter to the playable roster, a tiefling-looking trickster who can move through solid objects.

Apex Legends Season 21 is right around the corner, kicking off next week. The new season introduces the first major map update to Broken Moon, reintroduces Solos mode, and also adds a brand-new playable legend, Alter. The mischievous, tiefling-looking character hails from a never-before-seen reality in the Titanfall multiverse and has an ability kit centered around walking through practically any wall in the game--not an easy feat to figure out.

"Your instincts are good," Alter designer Ian Holstead told me when I asked how hard it was to put a playable hero who could walk through walls into a 20-team battle royale, all of whom could feature an Alter. "It wasn't the easiest problem to solve and we did have to develop quite a bit of tech to do it. And some of it is a little bit unconventional--it honestly was pretty cool tech development, but it was something that I was concerned about from a technical standpoint."

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They continued: "We also developed a lot of tools to help us test this--log issues, automated testing, stuff like that--because I knew that we were going to have problems all the way up until [the Season 21] launch and even after the launch because there's just so many players and our maps are huge. If we were developing [Alter] from the start of Apex, we probably would change how we design our maps. But we don't have that option when we have all these maps that are already out and so we have to make [her] ability [kit] fit to what we have. And so it was technically challenging, but I do think the results were worth it. I hope people will be really pleasantly surprised by how reliably it does work--people will find that you can go through pretty much anything and you can get really creative with how you place your portals."

Falling into the Skirmisher class, Alter is built around movement and hit-and-run tactics. Her passive ability, Gift from the Rift, allows her to loot deathboxes from a distance, while her tactical ability, Void Passage, opens two-way pathways in walls, floors, and ceilings. Her ultimate trick, Void Nexus, places a device in the environment that she and her allies, even while downed, can teleport back to through one-way portals if needed. Though that last ability draws parallels to Ash's current ultimate ability and Revenant's old ultimate ability, there's currently no one in Apex Legends who can do anything akin to what Alter can.

Alter excels at getting through enemy defenses.
Alter excels at getting through enemy defenses.

"We like to explore legends that bring something new and interesting to the match," Holstead said. "I would say with [new] legends, especially these days, we're not so much filling holes or fixing problems--I'd say the legend reworks might fit a little bit more into that category. If we're not really happy with how a legend is delivering on fantasy or gameplay or whatever. But I think that we look at new and interesting avenues we haven't explored [with new legends]. And so breaching and creating portals and stuff like this was definitely something we hadn't explored yet and it sounded super cool. And so we tried it and it was super cool."

"I can speak to that from a narrative standpoint as well," Alter narrative designer Jaclyn Seto added. "We have sort of a similar approach. When the design team comes to us with a prototype to work on, we're always looking for what is the space that this legend can occupy without treading on the others. We really wanted to make a villainous character because we hadn't had one for quite a while. And so, we were thinking, 'What villains do we have and what spaces do they occupy?' We have Revenant, we have Ash, we have Mad Maggie and they occupy very specific spaces for the villains. Alter is more of a fun-loving villain, which we didn't really have yet. And so that's kind of where we went with her and I think we definitely managed to find a space for her."

Wraith has some competition in the universe-hopping department.
Wraith has some competition in the universe-hopping department.

Though she's prescribed as Apex Legends' latest villain, Alter doesn't have as dastardly a playstyle as the baddies who've come before her. All of the villains--from Caustic and Revenant, to Ash and Mad Maggie--had abilities when they launched that could seriously mess up an opposing team (and three of them still do--the one exception is Season 4's Revenant, who got a new kit in Season 18). That's not really the case with Alter. Though trailers market her as this dastardly Nightcrawler-like character who can teleport enemies into dangerous situations, that's not how she plays in practice. First and foremost, Alter is designed to aid her teammates' ability to get around each map. She's not a trapper who can trick or force enemies through portals to pull them through the floor into an ambush. So she's a bad guy, but she's a helpful bad guy.

"If you put [Alter's portal] right below an enemy, it won't shoot them through," Holstead clarified. "You can't kidnap them. We had that in the game for quite a while and it was very funny, but not necessarily the most fair. If you put a portal under your teammate's feet, however, then it will pull them through, so you can still have a little bit of fun there."

Alter can't instantly act once she goes through a wall, either. For a brief moment after going through her portal, you enter phase--a stage of invulnerability where people can see you and you can see them, giving both sides a chance to react. If you've played on the Olympus map and used the Phase Runner, you're already familiar with how this works.

Alter idolizes Horizon, which puts her at odds with Ash.
Alter idolizes Horizon, which puts her at odds with Ash.

"It gives the Alter player a chance to understand their surroundings because teleporting into a space you cannot see can be very disorientating," Holstead said. "So when you go through Alter's portal and you're in phase, the enemies will actually be highlighted if you have line of sight. You won't see them through walls or anything, but it helps you go, 'Oh, there they are.' Because the void is very washed out, it could be hard to spot people. Likewise, when you come through, there will be lots of big sparkly effects and [another team] should know exactly where you are. And so you're not going to be able to just pop through and [party-kill] them.

They continued: "Early on, when we didn't have that, we did actually see people playing it almost like they would play a [Gibraltar] dome where they would poke through the portal, do one shot and poke back. It was interesting, but it wasn't necessarily the gameplay we really wanted to go for. And it made the fight a little chaotic. So this [grace period] also just slows down the pace at which you can portal. You can't go back through the portal when you're still in phase. And so by extension, you can only go back and forth each way, every two-ish seconds. So it slows down the pace of that whole encounter and gives the enemies an opportunity to react to you and a moment to sort of figure out where you are and where the targets are."

From the start, Alter was designed to appear otherworldly, like she's from another reality.
From the start, Alter was designed to appear otherworldly, like she's from another reality.

Even with these checks and balances in place to limit her, Alter still has a potentially very strong kit, one built around an avenue of movement previously unexplored: solid walls. Doors and open windows have always been potential sources of danger or ingress for squads but the walls, floors, and ceilings of buildings and caves have remained stalwart shields to all manner of invasion--Alter's addition makes that no longer the case.

In that way, Alter feels akin to Season 9's Valkyrie, a playable legend built around the simple concept of making a character who can fly, creating pathways over pitfalls and through the air that previously were impossible or extremely difficult to navigate and subsequently could be ignored. I distinctly remember how the Apex Legends team described one of the main catalysts for making Valkyrie was to create a legend who could fly because flying is fun. So as I spoke to Holstead and Seto and listened to them regularly reiterate how Alter's ability to walk through walls is just really fun, I felt a sense of déjà vu--I had almost the exact same conversations about Valkyrie ahead of Season 9.

Alter is yet another villain in Apex Legends' roster, joining the likes of Caustic, Revenant, Mad Maggie, and Ash.
Alter is yet another villain in Apex Legends' roster, joining the likes of Caustic, Revenant, Mad Maggie, and Ash.

And in the same way Valkyrie finally added a person of Japanese descent to Apex Legends, Alter is the first playable character of Chinese descent to be added to the game, speaking to the other legends in both English and Cantonese. Though Alter's backstory is purposely being kept ambiguous for now, her relationship to her culture shines through in her characterization.

"I was actually play-testing the other day and one of the things that made me really excited about it is because you really can't avoid the Cantonese voice lines," Seto told me. "You'll definitely hear her speak Cantonese while you are playing her, so that really comes through. With [her] skins--we definitely drew on some of her culture for some of that. You'll see that with, I think, at least one of her legendary skins."

She added: "We did consider a lot of other things, too, like animations. That was a little bit more difficult just because Alter is not the most respectful person and a lot of things that you do in Chinese culture are to show signs of respect. So it was hard to do that with the animations, but we did find more opportunities to showcase her culture with things like her holo sprays and banners. So you'll see that as well. And, like I said, her voice lines. We got a voice actor who also speaks Cantonese, so I was really excited about that. That's Crystal Yu. I truly listened to so many auditions before we found her, but I think she makes the perfect Alter."

I love that Alter looks like a sci-fi take on a tiefling.
I love that Alter looks like a sci-fi take on a tiefling.

Of course, I couldn't leave my conversation with Holstead and Seto without asking about Alter's design. Alter has a mechanical tail, wears boots that resemble cloven hooves, has eyes with black sclera, wears gloves that look like claws, and has body modifications on her forehead that emulate horns. She looks like a sci-fi take on a tiefling, which warms my D&D-loving heart.

"We definitely drew from those inspirations when designing her," Seto said. "Essentially, before the design, we had decided that we wanted to create the villainous character and so we already had the personality down pat before we even went into the visuals on that. But because the idea was that we were going to make her a sort of devious trickster and when you hear that, it kind of comes with some visual ideas already--like what you were saying, devils and tieflings and things like that. I think our concept artist, Xiao Young, drew from those inspirations when coming up with [Alter] because we knew she was going to be this villainous character. Obviously, you can't have a villainous character if she doesn't look villainous."

She continued: "One of the things we also wanted to make sure was easily seen was that she's clearly from a different dimension. And I think if you look at her, she looks so different from the other characters that you can tell that she's not from this Apex world."

We'll have to wait for the start of Season 21 to learn more about Alter and her mysterious past, as well as how much she alters (heh) Apex Legends' meta. Trailers have already teased she has an admiration for Horizon, and in my conversations with the Apex Legends team, Seto told me that puts Alter "on rocky ground" with Ash given the simulacrum's rivalry with Horizon. Alter also "really likes" Mad Maggie and "really doesn't like" Newcastle, meaning we're likely in for some spicy new narrative developments when Season 21 hits.


Jordan Ramée

Jordan Ramée has been covering video games since 2016 and tabletop games since 2020, using his unhealthy obsessions to write what he'd argue is compelling content (we won't tell him if you don't). Do not let him know that you're playing Hollow Knight--he will take that as a sign that you wish to talk about the lore for the next five hours.

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