Feature Article

Hot Drop: Apex Legends' Battle Passes Have Fun Narrative Implications

The battle passes in Apex Legends could be another storytelling branch.

Hot Drop is GameSpot's weekly Apex Legends column, in which Jordan Ramée takes a closer look at Respawn's battle royale to provide additional insight into the game's evolution, as well as dive deeper into its episodic storytelling and characters.

Most aspects of Apex Legends contribute to the game's story--character design, Quest chapters, in-game conversations between the legends, map changes, legendary and mythic cosmetics. Respawn has done a superb job twisting the evolutionary nature of live-service games to serve its brand of episodic storytelling. And with that in mind, I think we can even consider Apex Legends' battle passes when we talk about the game's story. Admittedly, the battle passes only contribute in a rather simple way, but it's still cool to see how the battle passes seem to reinforce how the Syndicate has had a growing corporate presence in the Apex Games in the past several seasons, as the company endeavors to sell the blood sport to the general public.

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Now Playing: Apex Legends: Hunted Gameplay Trailer

Every battle pass in Apex Legends corresponds with a theme, starting with wildlife in Season 1 and extending to the safari in Season 14, with both Wraith and Caustic going so far as to dress up as *sigh* big game hunters. But when you look back at all the themes, they notably tighten up in Season 3, and from then on are seemingly used as a means of advertising new legends and maps. The battle passes are, of course, something sold to players, but the themes seem to have an in-universe function as well--within the game, they act as corporate messaging from the Syndicate, almost as if to unify its marketing for each season of the Apex Games and make the blood sport seem more appetizing to audiences.

Season 3 was the big shift in this line of narrative thinking. Seasons 1 and 2 have arguably the weakest battle pass themes of any of the seasons. There are cool rewards in both passes (especially Season 2), but the unifying connective tissue between the cosmetics isn't really there. But then came Season 3, with a battle pass geared around the conflicting forces of ice and fire. This theme was best exemplified in the two legendary character skins--Pathfinder's Iced Out decorated his outer shell to look like ice, while Lifeline used a heavy dose of makeup to transform herself to look like a hellish succubus with her From the Ashes skin.

The battle pass matched the design of World's Edge, the new map for Season 3. Half of World's Edge is frozen over, while the other is consumed with pools of lava. The Apex Games had moved to the new map following Crypto's attack on Kings Canyon in Season 2. I think the whole thing sounds like the Syndicate trying to sell World's Edge to those who watch the Apex Games. They know folks liked Kings Canyon, but now, look, World's Edge is here! A place of fire and ice! Isn't that cool, everyone? Even the legends have dressed up for the occasion, and they've decorated their weapons with ice- and fire-themed skins too! We'll be selling toys and replicas!

Onwards from Season 3, every battle pass has a clear theme running through every unlockable cosmetic. Season 4 had a simulacrum theme, Season 5 was treasure-hunting, Season 6 was race cars and vehicle customization, Season 7 embodied the high society and class of Olympus, Season 8 was anarchy and rebellion, Season 9 was Japanese culture, Season 10 had an insect theme, Season 11 was the jungle life of Storm Point, Season 12 was (exquisite) biker fashion, Season 13 transformed the legends with medieval fantasy cosmetics, and, once again, Season 14 is safari.

The outfits worn by the legends don't evolve in cinematic trailers, implying battle pass skins are one-time costumes, not regular attire.
The outfits worn by the legends don't evolve in cinematic trailers, implying battle pass skins are one-time costumes, not regular attire.

Each battle pass notably also "sells" whatever is new for that season. For example, Season 5's treasure-hunting theme advertises the mysticism of Loba, a thief who joins the Apex Games in search of a secret treasure she plans to loot, and Season 9's Japanese theme welcomes Valkyrie and her culture to the Apex Games.

This also provides a narrative reason for why legends like Wraith and Pathfinder get more battle pass skins than say, Caustic or Loba. Since Wraith is trying to discover who she is, she'd likely be more than willing to dress up in the clothes of different cultures in an effort to discover what fits her, and Pathfinder is so happy-go-lucky that, of course, he'd dress up whenever the Syndicate asks. Meanwhile, Caustic isn't someone who'd enjoy dressing up unless he had to, and Loba is so in-tune with what looks good on her and what's in style, that she'd only participate in what would be considered cool. Most of the legends that would want to dress up or feel the need to are, coincidently, the legends who also typically get new skins in the battle pass.

To welcome Vantage to the Apex Games, the legends are dressing in safari attire or cosplaying as big game hunters.
To welcome Vantage to the Apex Games, the legends are dressing in safari attire or cosplaying as big game hunters.

Am I overthinking this? Probably. Is the focus on more cohesive themes more an effort on Respawn's part to sell these cosmetics and new legends/maps to us, the players, and less the Syndicate trying to sell the Apex Games to fans? Maybe. Do legends like Wraith and Pathfinder have more battle pass skins than folks like Caustic and Loba because Wraith and Pathfinder are among the most-played characters and so are more likely to sell a battle pass? 100%. But also, like, who's to say?

Regardless, it doesn't change that it's fun to imagine that the Apex Legends writing team has had a hand in forming why Apex Legends' battle passes went through such an abrupt transformation in Season 3 and evolved in a way that seemed like someone was trying to sell the new legends and maps (and just the Apex Games in general) to a fanbase that was, for a time, growing disillusioned with how bloody the bloodsport is. Now the whole competition is so viewer-friendly, with participants dressing up in ridiculous outfits and shooting each other with guns that oftentimes don't even look like firearms anymore. It wouldn't be the strangest thing that Respawn has tried in its effort to transform the format of a live service battle royale to support its character-driven story.

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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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