It's Good That Apex Legends May Not Get A New Legend Every Season
If Respawn no longer released a new legend every season, it would solve balancing issues and narrative gaps that desperately need to be addressed.
Apex Legends senior character designer Devan McGuire's recent comments about potentially ending the tradition of introducing a new playable character to the battle royale with each new season has caused a huge stir among the game's fanbase, and many players seem convinced this move would be a terrible idea. At first, I was one of them. The negative knee-jerk reaction to my favorite game reducing how often it gets this type of significant new content was swift and intense.
However, after mulling it over, I started to consider all the problems that slowing down character debuts could solve. (The key word here being "could.") With proper implementation, increasing the customary three-month gap between legend debuts might be exactly what this game needs.
While McGuire has stated that Apex is more about movement and gunplay than individual characters' abilities, there's no denying that the "new legend every season" method generates serious hype, with fans spending the weeks leading up to a new season launch theorizing about the newest member of the legend squad. From in-game Easter eggs hinting at the next character's identity to launch trailers and episodes of Stories from the Outlands revealing their backstory, the marketing for Apex Legends has fallen into a rhythm that naturally pulls fans back into the game to see what's exciting and new--disrupting it in any way could be a dangerous gamble for Respawn.
But slowing down the pace of character debuts could also benefit the game in many ways. When Apex launched in 2019, players had some time to get to know the eight characters that were released alongside the game. When Octane debuted a month later, there was plenty of room for him in the game from both a technical and narrative perspective. The plot grew more complicated with each season, but players only had to keep up with a handful of characters' backstories, and up until Season 5, plot developments were revealed solely through in-game transition screens and videos uploaded to Apex's YouTube channel. But by Season 6, fans had more in-game lore, YouTube content, and Twitter comics to keep up with--not to mention more legends to keep track of.
Apex's story is by far my favorite part of the game. It's what piqued my interest to begin with, and it kept me interested enough to keep playing throughout the code: leaf saga (an extended period of frequent disconnects due to a bug) and various other issues that plagued some of the brilliant battle royale's earlier seasons. Each legend's story is masterfully woven into the plot, and watching characters like Bangalore and Loba, Mirage and Wraith, and Crypto and Wattson develop relationships with one another has been a treat. But recently, the legend roster has become quite bloated--as of Season 13, the initial roster of eight playable legends has nearly tripled to 21. There are so many story developments to stay on top of that I regularly find myself needing to explain vital plot points and character histories to other players, sometimes even to people who play this game just as much as I do. With Pathfinder's Quest, Apex Legends: Overtime, and Twitter comics and radio plays all joining the fray and contributing to the story with every season, the narrative has become quite complicated and confusing for players to keep up with if they're not willing to devote time to it and explore all the lore that's hidden away in mediums beyond just playing the free-to-play game.
Apex's rapid-fire character additions also negatively affect gameplay itself. Many characters have required extensive tweaking post-debut--even legends who launched with the game, like Caustic, Gibraltar, and Wraith. Respawn has said that creating legends with unique abilities and physical attributes becomes more challenging with each passing season, and in my opinion, it's really starting to show, especially with some Legendary skins creating silhouettes that make characters more difficult to recognize at a distance, and characters like Ash and Wraith having abilities that are incredibly similar. Occasionally replacing the three-month gap between legends with a six-month gap would give players more time to get to know new legends and catch up on lore, while also giving devs extra time to focus on tweaking legend abilities to reduce balance issues that have plagued the game since it launched in 2019.
But you can't just take a three-year-old tradition away and not replace it with something else. If legend releases slow down, other new additions must replace them, especially as Apex fans have grown accustomed to a regular stream of new content. When it comes to content which could potentially replace the legend hype train during seasons that don't see a new character joining the squad, three possibilities jump out at me:
New maps and weapons
The release of a new map (especially one for battle royale) could certainly help keep things feeling fresh during seasons in which a new character is not introduced, especially if we get to see a few more town takeovers mixed into as well. With every new map, Respawn adds tons of secrets that develop the story, like the heartbreaking contents of Mirage's phone on World's Edge, and fun references to find, like the giant Nessie Easter egg on Kings Canyon.
Dialogue between characters often triggers when entering a certain POI with a specific combination of legends on your squad, but because the banter between legends changes each season, it's very easy to miss these interactions--especially if you're happy maining one or two characters and tend not to branch out save for completing season challenges. Giving players more chances to stumble across environmental lore and trigger these in-game legend interactions would be fantastic and also provide fans with more time to absorb what's currently happening in the story.
In addition to new maps, the existing ones could definitely use some love as well, like more POIs that trigger in-game dialogue, more frequent Town Takeovers, and more environmental lore to discover, like the teaser that was added near the end of Season 2 which allowed players who were curious enough to kick down the blocked doors in Singh Labs to catch a glimpse of Crypto sneaking around prior to his Season 3 debut.
Seeing some new Arenas maps actually tie directly into a season's storyline would also be interesting, and perhaps easier for Respawn to pull off since getting a new battle royale map more often than the current rate (a new one every four seasons) may not be realistically feasible.
Regardless if its for battle royale for Arenas, a new map isn't enough to carry a legend-less season on its own, so adding new weapons is a must. They don't necessarily have to be firearms--new ordnance would be a welcome addition to the game, seeing as we've been using the same three grenades since Apex launched. (Titanfall 2's electric smoke grenades and explosive ticks come to mind.)
Fans have been a bit spoiled with new legends still coming out alongside the addition of new maps (Crypto and World's Edge in Season 3, Horizon and Olympus in Season 7, and Ash and Storm Point in Season 11, for example), so Respawn would need to fulfill the gap created by absent legends, and new weapons is a good way to keep fans interested. Admittedly, for the introduction of more weapons to work, those weapons would need to avoid overcrowding the loot pool. This could be solved by releasing new weapons that are unique to a specific game mode, like a gun that can only be used in Arenas.
New game modes
Seasonal LTMs like October's Shadow Royale and December's Winter Express are always a hit, so seasons released during Halloween and the holidays would be the perfect time to hold back on releasing a new legend. But those two modes are the exception--typically, temporary modes that fans have already seen before aren't strong enough to carry an entire season on their own. We have seen a permanent mode become the star of its season, however, so it stands to reason that Respawn could add new permanent game modes during seasons where we don't get a new legend.
The release of Arenas in Season 9 saw Apex's player count skyrocket past its previous record, and brought tons of new blood to the playerbase. When the mode debuted alongside the Bocek Compound Bow, I was more excited about Ash's non-playable debut to the Apex Games and her decision to add Arenas and a deadly, near-silent weapon than I was about that season's actual playable legend--and that legend can fly.
Seeing fan-favorite modes like Control and Armed & Dangerous become permanent features would be fantastic, especially if they are accompanied by a charismatic NPC announcer who can liven up the game a bit. And these announcers could eventually become playable legends in future seasons--like Revenant, Ash, and Maggie.
Respawn is definitely on the right track when it comes to giving game modes some character--Octane's grandfather and Lifeline's mother sponsoring Control adds depth to both gameplay and the game's narrative. It's hard to hear "Sponsored by Chevrex" or "Brought to you by Silva Pharmaceuticals" in trailers for new modes and then see these massages plastered everywhere in the modes themselves and not want to know more about what exactly these messages might mean. Integrating more of the story into the gameplay itself is vital when players have so many legends to keep track of. Taking a season to focus on a new mode--and the lore surrounding it--could definitely be enough exciting content to carry a season without a debut legend. But there's one type of in-game content that would undoubtedly have fans bouncing off the walls with excitement even without a new character to look forward to that season. Unfortunately, we've only seen it once.
The return of story missions
I have never been more excited about Apex Legends than I was at the end of Season 5's Broken Ghost Quest, when after weeks of battling shadow-prowlers with my friends and unlocking story chapters that left me on the edge of my seat, I finally descended into a damp, dark bunker beneath Kings Canyon and attached the freshly-reassembled head of my favorite Titanfall 2 villain to her heavily-damaged body. Watching Ash twitch and spark as she booted up for the first time in years and rattled off some brilliant foreshadowing in the form of crazy word-salad gave me goosebumps. From the heartbreaking realization that the real broken ghost has been Revenant all along--whose sole goal wasn't to kill skinsuits, but instead to end his own miserable existence--to the confirmation that Bangalore's obsession with Loba had much more to do with attraction than annoyance, I distinctly remember thinking, "This is it. This mission is the puzzle piece that Apex and its story has been missing."
Unfortunately, we never got another one, despite the developers' desire to continue creating "Broken Ghost"-style story missions. The coronavirus outbreak further complicated Respawn's plans for another big Quest, so it's still unclear if or when we will see another masterfully-crafted story mission in the future.
While I didn't expect a playable story mission every single season, I was quite disappointed when the story chapters were replaced with incredibly-short comic pages in Season 6, with no playable missions available to get me truly invested in the narrative, and Respawn hasn't gone back to a Season 5-like Quest since. Respawn has recently introduced the Apex Chronicles, a new series of short radio plays that focus on a specific legend, with each chapter unlocking after you complete in-game challenges. But neither of the Chronicles released thus far has come anywhere close to being as compelling as Season 5's brilliant Quest.
The Apex Chronicles missions have been relatively underwhelming thus far, and tend to follow a pretty repetitive "shoot stuff, then go to the firing range for a sad cutscene" pattern. The significance of some parts of these story missions are lost on players who haven't stayed up to date on lore (including lore released via external sources that sometimes requires a purchase, like Pathfinder's Quest).
Respawn has reassured fans that there are no immediate plans to slow down legend releases, but it has confirmed that such a plan may very well be on the table in the future. Overall, I think it could greatly benefit the game in many ways, resolving a number of problems with both gameplay balance and narrative structure that have plagued Apex since the beginning. But if it's going to work, it has to be done right.
While new maps, modes, and weapons would definitely help soften the blow of a legend-less season, they may not make up for the amount of hype surrounding each new legend's introduction. But events like The Broken Ghost would be the perfect replacement for a legend debut, and frankly, would have me actually looking forward to seasons where I don't get a new legend but instead get to better know the ones we already have--preferably while frantically booking it to the evac ship with 15 hungry prowlers hot on my heels.
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