Feature Article

Apex Legends Season 7: Horizon, Club Moderation, And Balancing Characters

In Season 7: Ascension, the gravity-controlling scientist Horizon joins Apex Legends as the newest playable character.

Apex Legends Season 7: Ascension begins on November 4 and introduces a brand-new map (Olympus) as well as a playable legend called Horizon. After getting hands-on time with both, we finally know what Horizon's abilities are.

Horizon's passive ability, Spacewalk, increases her air control and prevents her from being stunned upon falling from great heights. Her tactical ability, Gravity Lift, throws out a device that temporarily reverses gravity, allowing her to send herself, allies, enemies, or the new Trident vehicles flying into the air. Finally, Horizon's ultimate ability, Black Hole, sees her create a micro black hole that sucks in all nearby players.

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Horizon isn't the only thing mixing up Apex Legends in Season 7 either--far from it. I sat down with Apex Legends game director Chad Grenier to talk about how Horizon fits into the in-match meta, as well as the new in-game clubs, Trident vehicle, and character balancing changes coming in Season 7.

What role do you hope Horizon fulfills in Apex Legends' in-match meta?

As an assault Legend, we want her up-close and personal in the fight. But what she brings is verticality and crowd control. So with her Gravity Lift tactical she can very quickly move herself [and] her entire squad up to a higher elevation, whether it's a rooftop or a bridge, or whatever it is. So you can get that advantage over the enemy very quickly.

And then with her ultimate, Black Hole, you can use that in two ways. You can throw it in the middle of a crowd and suck them all into a single point and then just focus fire, or you can use it to deny a certain area. So if you throw it into a doorway, then you know the enemies aren't going to run through that doorway, and you can perhaps flank around through another route and pinch them.

So her abilities are really about getting an advantage with height and then controlling the enemy flow. What we found is it's a fun combination, and you can definitely do some fun and exciting things that make you laugh.

Will Horizon's abilities curve energy bullets, like the Gravity Star did in Titanfall 2?

Yeah, the Black Hole does influence objects that are near it, so grenades, projectiles, things like that do get influenced by the change in gravity. And you're right, it is like the Gravity Star. It's a little bit less punishing, I think. We need to balance for a [battle royale] game.

You can do a lot of fun things with [Horizon's abilities]. Anytime you're messing with gravity, there's a lot of unexpected things that can happen when you're playing--you have a lot of happy accidents that are just hilarious and fun.

So Horizon is the third female character added to Apex Legends in Year 2, and like the first two, she's not big enough to get the Fortified perk. Will we ever see another character either chonky or buff enough to warrant the Fortified perk, and is there any chance that one could be a woman?

I think you will, but those legends tend to be a little bit harder to balance. And so in Season 7, we're making further changes to try to address the hitbox for Pathfinder, and you'll see that in the patch notes. But the small and the large character sizes present additional challenges and so we've been trying to focus on the normal sized Legends. But we have some legends that we're working on now that are of different sizes, so you will see them eventually.

Horizon excels at crowd control and navigating vertical landmarks, making her a very powerful force in enclosed spaces.
Horizon excels at crowd control and navigating vertical landmarks, making her a very powerful force in enclosed spaces.

Will we finally see a new passive ability for Pathfinder in Season 7? My good robotic boi feels a little lacking given that both Bloodhound and Crypto can perform the same basic next ring reveal function that he can.

We're keeping that change for now. I think it's in a pretty good place to get the extra cool down benefit from using the tower. Pathfinder is always a topic of discussion because he's in a healthier place now, but he was dominating player pick rates, player encounter win rates, and game win rates. So there's multiple ways to address that. You can buff other characters, which we definitely do sometimes. But we try not to nerf, we'd rather bring everyone else up to a certain level. But if you're a good Pathfinder player, you have such an advantage with grappling. So, we're always looking at Pathfinder, but we have a lot of Pathfinder mains that respond to changes. And so I think, hopefully, that we're hitting a good balance. We're trying to do things that are fair and can be understood by the players, without taking away what makes Pathfinder fun to play.

How did the stats on the backend for legend picks for Season 6: Boosted look? Are any of the legends still dominating in regards to pick rate? And, conversely, are there any that you're looking at and thinking, "Hrm, the pick rate is still a little too low"?

They're in a pretty good place right now. Pick rate is not necessarily the best stat to look at because people get comfortable with certain legends or they like their personality, or whatever it might be. It doesn't necessarily indicate that they're OP or not. So we tend to look at encounter rate [and] win rate--if a Pathfinder goes against every other Legend, what are the encounter win rates? And we have this multidimensional grid that we look at, alongside a bunch of other metrics. But we feel like they're actually in a pretty healthy place. Each time that we modify these legends, we bring the balance slightly closer together.

I think trying to achieve perfect balance between all legends is a bit of a fool's errand, I don't think it's actually possible. What we're looking to do is constantly try to keep them as close as possible, but also buffing certain legends in certain seasons so that you get a rotating shuffle of which legends might be more effective than others. And we're talking 0.1% differences here, but I think having an evolving, changing game is important and we're never going to achieve this perfect balance. We just want to get it as close as we can, and then constantly be switching that up.

I can't believe that you actually look at how each legend stacks up to every other legend in terms of win rates and encounter rates. With a brand-new character every season, that's an increasingly more complex set of variables.

Yeah, I know. We have almost real time stats, so we can look and see just about anything we need to. So it's great to have good backend tools to see what's happening. A lot of times, player sentiment or feedback from the community will sometimes be backed up by the data, and sometimes it's the complete opposite. So obviously, the people playing the game and their thoughts come first. Just because something is factually happening doesn't mean it's perceived that way. And so we tend to lean more on what people are saying and how people are feeling more than the actual data, but it is good to see the data when we need it.

There are a lot of landmarks on Olympus--including the restaurant where Revenant killed Loba's parents.
There are a lot of landmarks on Olympus--including the restaurant where Revenant killed Loba's parents.

How will clubs be monitored to prevent the creation of harmful spaces within the community or to limit club names that may be racist, sexist, or discriminatory in some other way?

It's both automated and manual. We've got a system in place that will automatically check for certain keywords or terms being used in clan tags. And some of them are crowdsourced so it's an EA back end thing. So if somebody creates something that's offensive that's flagged on another EA game, it propagates into the same system that's checking our system. So that automated piece is in place.

We've also got a report functionality. So if you see something that you want to report that was not caught by the automated system, you can report it and then a human looks at that. We've also got some tools to just look at everything as a whole, even if it's not reported and make sure that we're in a good place. But once there's millions of clubs created, it's a bit harder to manually validate every single one, so we're going to rely on the automation and reporting tools.

When someone does a report, how does that work? Does it just go into the ether and the player has to hope that something happens? Or is there a follow-up email or message back letting them know how the situation is being handled?

So when they hit report, it goes to a person for review, but I'm not sure if they get an email or anything like that. That's a good question, I just don't have the answer because like I said, it's an EA system.

How many Tridents spawn on Olympus. Are they spawned in random spots?

The vehicles spawn around the map in fixed locations so that you can learn the location of them. They're marked on the mini map and things like that, so they're easy to find. And we want people to jump in and start using them.

Will the Trident make its way to Kings Canyon or World's Edge?

They're exclusive to [Olympus]. Now that we have vehicles in the game, I think we're going to find that some of our designers are playing with them in new ways and experimenting how to use that tech in the game. But as of right now, Olympus is the only map built with vehicles in mind--it's got highways, roads, and open areas that you can drive through. Of course, it's also got dense towns and points of interest to fight in more close quarters scenarios. But this map was built with vehicles in mind, while Kings Canyon and World's Edge were not. So as of right now, vehicles are only in Olympus.

Certain legends can attach their abilities to the Trident--for instance, Rampart can attach her Emplaced Minigun
Certain legends can attach their abilities to the Trident--for instance, Rampart can attach her Emplaced Minigun "Sheila."

With the introduction of vehicles, will the abilities of movement-based characters like Pathfinder, Wraith, and Octane be altered in any way?

Well, the vehicles, they're different. The mobility-based legends have mobility even in the densely populated areas and within the cities. So the [Trident] is really only great for traversing the open ground quickly. It's not going to help you in a gunfight.

True. It did not help me in the gunfight that I was in earlier.

You've got to pretty much just hop off the vehicle. If the vehicle takes any damage, you'll take some damage and that's by design. We didn't want the vehicle to become a weapon or a tool to help you fight, we wanted it as a means of transport. And then, once you see another squad, you quickly disembark and then go about your normal way of trying to win the fight.

What types of next-gen upgrades can we expect for Apex Legends? Will the game take advantage of any of the new hardware or accessories--PS5's DualSense controller, for example?

Yeah. A native Apex Legends game that takes advantage of next-gen tech and new controller hardware--that's in the works at Respawn. On day one, we are going to be a game that can be played via backwards compatibility, but with some upgrades. So we've optimized some of our code to take advantage of the additional hardware on the system, so you'll see better performance. We were able to do some code to take advantage of some of the hardware, but there's certainly a lot more coming. But for now, we wanted to make sure that we can at least take advantage of that extra hardware that's in there. We'll be doing that, faster loading times, better frame rates, better texture, framing and budgets, and things like that.

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Jordan Ramée

Jordan Ramée has been covering video games and anime since 2016, cultivating a skill set that allows him to transform his unhealthy obsessions into what he would 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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