Feature Article

I Love That Respawn Takes Risks With Apex Legends' Storytelling

Respawn subverts the traditional marketing strategy for a games-as-a-service title to tell Apex Legends' story.

Unlike most other triple-A games that launch after weeks or months of preview events and trailers, Apex Legends was announced and released on the same day. It was a bold strategy on Respawn's part--a move that could have doomed the Titanfall spin-off from the beginning, especially since fans were clamoring for Titanfall 3, not another battle royale game. But the game didn't die out, and Respawn's willingness to continually advertise Apex Legends with unorthodox methods has allowed the battle royale to thrive in an industry that is, now more than ever, always battling for your time.

If anything, this willingness to take risks is what's allowed Respawn to excel when it's come to Apex Legends. In preparation for Season 4: Assimilation and the one-year anniversary of Apex Legends, Respawn utilized another risky strategy: killing off a character before he even had a chance to appear in the game. The move concludes a months-long cat-and-mouse game between Respawn and the Apex Legends' community, one that has ultimately done a stellar job at selling the story behind the game.

If you haven't been keeping up with Apex Legends over the past few months, here's a refresher. Revenant has been a name that's been circulating in the community since 2019 when dataminers discovered the name in the game's files. It's been theorized for a while that the character would be added as a playable legend--something that seemed all but confirmed when an Apex Legends developer released, seemingly on accident, an image that featured the character in an early concept of Octane's Gauntlet on Kings Canyon. When pressed by news outlets for further details or confirmation on Revenant's existence, Respawn remained coy on the matter.

Revenant's inclusion in the game seemed even more certain during Season 3: Meltdown, though, specifically during the Halloween-themed Fight or Fright event, which saw Pathfinder accidentally wandering into a different dimension, the setting of the Shadowfall mode. The announcer and host of the mode was a robotic entity whose overall shape and voice lines matched that of the datamined Revenant files. Given Respawn's track record of teasing legends ahead of their release through in-game hints, it seemed likely Revenant would be Season 4's new character.

Then Respawn dropped a bombshell during its Season 4 Reveal Devstream: the season would add ex-MMA fighter Forge to Apex Legends, not Revenant. To lend credence to the reveal, dataminers found files for Forge in Apex Legends long before the announcement--some dating back nearly as far as the ones for Revenant. For all intents and purposes, it seemed like fans had just gotten the prediction wrong. Several members of the community then assumed that Forge would come to Apex Legends first, to be followed by Revenant later--maybe within the same season or perhaps at the start of Season 5. The game itself seemed to further support this theory, with in-game assets changing to reflect the arrival of Forge and only minor details hinting at Revenant's further involvement. Respawn followed-up these map changes with the announcement that an interview featuring Forge would debut on January 27. The interview would be held in the Sorting Factory on World's Edge, and a news station set even appeared in the in-game location ahead of the video.

This was all revealed to be a smokescreen, however. During the interview, Revenant appeared and stabbed Forge in the back. In the game, the interview set was trashed and Forge's chair was replaced by a death box that contains his medallion (which is unlocked as a gun charm if you loot it). After promoting Forge for nearly a week, Respawn just killed the character off--his reveal and inclusion in Apex Legends designed for a plot twist and shocking reveal of a completely different character.

Telling their dedicated playerbase that they're going to do one thing when they actually plan on flipping the script is not a normal strategy for video game developers to take. Blizzard and Ubisoft do not announce new Overwatch Heroes or Rainbow Six Siege Operators only to then turn around and kill said characters before players even have a chance to try them. Tricking your playerbase and getting them hyped for something that never actually arrives in hopes the surprise twist will draw even greater interest can backfire if players think that you're now delivering something that's less than what you originally announced.

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But this unorthodox strategy works for the story that Respawn is telling. Even without a single-player campaign, Apex Legends does indeed have an overarching plot, and Respawn is willing to subvert the expectations of how to market a games-as-a-service title in order to stick to its narrative vision.

In a traditional single-player game, Forge's story would likely transpire over several cutscenes and in-game conversations, only for his murder to catch players by surprise. Respawn has managed to capture the shock value of this narrative by occasionally transforming its Twitter account into a news station that covers events in the Titanfall/Apex Legends universe in the day-to-day. So, of course, Forge would be announced as the new character with no tease to Revenant's involvement--reporters don't know how events will transpire ahead of time, they talk about the news as it happens. This means Respawn (which, again, is roleplaying as a news station entity) is as surprised as the rest of us when it comes to the narrative Apex Legends is building. Respawn is acting as if it's not an all-knowing overseer of its world, which allows the developer to have a bit more fun with us, its audience, by leading us in one direction before surprising us with something else entirely. It's a nice bit of meta storytelling in a genre that traditionally hasn't told stories outside of cinematic trailers.

And all that being said, it's still not a foregone conclusion that Respawn has finished tricking us yet and that Forge is definitely out for good. The gun charm in Forge's death box describes the man as "often imitated but never defeated," and the Forge in the interview has a scar on his eyebrow while all previous images have had no scar--which could imply that the Forge that Revenant killed is just a body double. There is still no definitive proof that Forge is dead and that Revenant will be the new playable legend. With the style of storytelling it's using for Apex Legends, Respawn has put its fans into a position where we'll be guessing right up until Season 4 begins to see which character actually gets added.

And ya know what? That's kind of exciting.

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jordanramee

Jordan Ramée

Associate Editor for GameSpot, Jordan grew up wanting to be an anime protagonist, then a Pokémon Master, then the Hero of Twilight, then a Spectre, then an Assassin, and then finally a Titan Pilot. But he ended up in the lousy position of writing about those amazing jobs instead.

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