Apex Legends is not afraid of change. In fact, Respawn believes change is key to keeping the battle royale alive well into the future. Because of this, the team is focusing on a new design philosophy to craft Apex Legends Season 14 Hunted, which will take the oldest map in the game, Kings Canyon, and give it a major facelift. Because of this, the team is also making big changes to the weapon pool to ensure players not only have a wide range of choices in their map rotations, but also in their loadouts.
Respawn has had several years to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and those lessons will carry over into the upcoming season. GamesRadar spoke to several members of the Apex team about the changes coming with Season 14, the new design philosophy, and their goal to make Apex Legends a “game forever.”
The skeleton of Skull Town
Respawn has learned a lot since Kings Canyon was built a few years ago – and much of what it’s learned can be summed up in one infamous point of interest: Skull Town. “Over time, we’ve developed a number of new philosophies and discovered what makes Apex unique and what makes the cards work really well,” says lead level designer Jeff Shaw. “We try not to create POIs that draw so much interest that they actually cause a problem for the map. That was a big lesson with Skull Town.”
Skull Town was a major landmark in the southwestern portion of the original map, featuring a giant leviathan skeleton for players to climb onto and a cluster of low-lying, labyrinthine buildings nestled in the beast’s shadow. It was synonymous with sniper campouts and third-partying, and quickly became the most popular drop spot in the early Apex days, even gaining one Map Madness poll conducted by the official Apex Legends Twitter account (opens in new tab). But it was to an important point for Respawn, especially as the devs want players to make informed choices, not forced ones – if everyone in Skull Town bounces, what’s the point? “Whether you have to do it or never do it isn’t a choice,” emphasizes Senior Design Director Evan Nikolich. “We want to add interesting tactical options to every map.”
That desire drives the team’s new design philosophy, which Shaw says is about “looking at the big picture.” “We first took this big-picture approach to Kings Canyon because it’s the oldest map. She has gone through most of the changes and iterations. There are a lot of things that haven’t been checked for a while…so we felt like it was a good place to start with this new philosophy and just look at the whole map holistically and look at the state of the map and figure out what sticking points and pain points we can address.”
To that end, one of the key things that Respawn looks for in a holistic approach is drop rates. “Where don’t people go, why don’t they go there? Why don’t they want to go there? What could we do to encourage them to go there?” Shaw asks. Given how popular Skull Town was and how it rendered other POIs unusable, Respawn wants to avoid creating a map where players only want to drop by one or two locations. Although players have been begging for Skull Town’s return for quite some time, they’re not getting it. However, you get something better.
Reforged King’s Gorge
Respawn has combed every inch of Kings Canyon to try and mine/max the map perfectly. Cage, a popular POI where players could post for multiple turns to snag enemies from all directions, “dominated the area,” according to Shaw. So it’s been lowered significantly and opened up more to discourage teams from crouching there and hopefully resolving fights faster. Another pain point that encouraged wild camping is Hillside, which no longer has interior spaces to quickly flare up and wind down firefights.
Broken Relay, which Respawn believes “fell short as a POI,” has been renamed Basin and now has new buildings and a new layout “to get a little more traffic up there to better balance the map.” to distribute. ‘ Shaw explains. And while the Syndicate canonically rebuilt huge chunks of Kings Canyon that were destroyed by Loba in Season 5, Skull Town isn’t coming back. But instead something else has risen from the ashes: Relic.
The medium-sized POI is an attempt to bring back the “classic gameplay of King’s Canyon” without pigeonholing players’ options. Relic sits right where Skull Town once stood, and there’s even the Leviathan skull right in the middle, complete with a new paint job. “It’s not Skull Town, but it’s definitely the spirit of it,” Shaw explains. “It’s not supposed to be Skull Town. It’s much smaller, it’s more medium-sized, and the fights there should be faster.” Relic represents everything Respawn wants to do with Apex Legends going forward: shake up existing locations to make sure things stay fresh while preserving their essence.
An eternal game
Chatting with Respawn, it’s clear that this is an incredibly detail-oriented team that isn’t afraid to throw out things that don’t work and drastically change what is already a winning formula. After all, they’re driven by a desire to ensure Apex Legends has a long lifespan, and you can’t do that by staying static. “Anytime we see a meta gravitate towards something that becomes a must, a must, that’s a non-choice that’s not interesting to us,” explains Nikolich. “So we need to go in there and tend the garden, pull some weeds, prune the trees a bit, and start making more interesting decisions again.”
When I ask him if anything worse has ever grown in its place while pulling weeds, he immediately replies, “Always. This keeps the job fun and exciting. If that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t be needed anymore.” We’re not chess – the last real change in chess was like the 19th century, right? But we’re trying to find that balance between innovation and refinement.” As the season progresses and a meta begins to form, Nikolich and the team understand that it’s their job to go in and shake things up. “It’s up to us to disrupt and drive innovation,” he says emphatically.
All of this work to build, disassemble, and rebuild aspects of Apex Legends takes a lot of effort, but it’s all part of a larger vision. “Our goal is to make Apex a game that will last forever, the game that you will teach your kids,” says Nikolich. The only way to do this for respawn is to iterate, repeat, and then iterate some more. Apex Legends Season 14 will embody Respawn’s new holistic philosophy, a philosophy that could define all future game updates for some time to come.
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