“Apex Legends” saw tremendous success when EA suddenly dropped the free-to-play battle royale spin-off of “Titanfall” earlier this year. It broke Twitch records and every top streamer was playing the game. It was a refreshing change of pace from the more cartoony “Fortnite,” and it differentiated itself with solid gunplay mechanics that studio Respawn Entertainment has been known for.
At EA Play, an offsite outdoor showcase that took place the weekend before E3 in Los Angeles, the publisher unveiled season two, titled “Battle Charge,” which brings with it a new ranked mode, a major new weapon, and a brand new legend named Wattson.
Whenever a new character or weapon drops in a game, it immediately has an effect on the metagame. For lead product manager Lee Horn, he’s hoping that the new additions will slow the pace of the game slightly.
“By slower I mean, you know, this is not from fast-paced to molasses game, right? This is just a slight slow down,” Horn said. “But I think a lot of it is that you’ll have a little bit more time to use your abilities. You’ll have a little bit more time to think about positioning, rather than ‘oh I’m getting shot at, I have to react.’
The L-Star shoots fat energy orb projectiles — as opposed to the current Spitfire LMG — that aims to create a displacement effect on the opponent and force them to move their positioning.
“We have a great shotgun and a great sniper rifle… so this was trying to fill in the middle of that trifecta of engagement,” Horn said. But the L-Star isn’t weak by any means. It’s actually a weapon so powerful that it can only be retrieved via care packages. “Apex” will have a special weekend so that players can try and become familiar with the L-Star, but after that, it’s going to be a hard weapon to come by.
And as great as it is to see a new weapon enter the “Apex” fray, the more dramatic change to the meta is the new defensive character Wattson. She can lay down electric fences that will do damage to opponents that walk by, and her ultimate ability, Interception Pylon, destroys incoming ordinances. Her passive ability, Spark of Genius, can help recharge her electric fence ability and a nearby Interception Pylon.
“She’s for thinking players,” said Horn. “‘Hey I want to be two, three, four minutes thinking ahead and then setting up my ambush.’ So what that means is when other players approach that area that she’s set up, they have to worry about where might she be. They can’t just bum rush it. So she should have the effect of slowing down the game a little bit.”
While the team is looking forward to season 2, it’s hard not to notice the fall of “Apex” on Twitch. It no longer is top-dog on the video game streaming platform, being far outdone by “Fortnite” and even “PUBG.” An analysis by The Esports Observer shows a massive drop from the game’s launch of 30M hours viewed in its initial opening weekend. It now sits at around 10M hours per weekend. This is a direct correlation to the top streamers on the site moving on to different games.
“The way we dropped the game, where it was sort of a surprise announcement. It was sort of a frenzy. There’s a lot of people that were going to try that game just to see what it is. But it was never for them in the first place,” Horn said. “So you have a lot of people in there just to see what the new thing to talk about it.”
Horn claims that its current player base is large and healthy. These are players that are logging in every day and are excited about more content drops. And for Horn, increasing viewership on Twitch isn’t a primary goal. For him, it’s to create a quality video game experience first. Any esports aspirations are being dealt with by EA’s internal competitive gaming division and outside organizations like FACEIT and ESPN.
And another thing that has plagued not just Apex, but many other free-to-play battle royale games, has been cheaters. It’s something that Horn admits the team was not ready for at the game’s launch, as they didn’t expect it to be the runaway success that the game ended up becoming.
“The dev team itself believes a lot in anti-cheat. And that sort of is a never-ending battle for us. We invest a lot into it. Okay they change, and we change, it’s a constant never-ending war,” Horn said.
Regardless of if “Apex” will become the top game on Twitch again or continues to stay in the middle of the pack weighs little on Horn. For him and Respawn, it’s about creating a content experience that the fans will continue to enjoy but also doing it in a way that’s healthy and sustainable for the development team. This is something Horn specifically pressed, which is a nice change of pace in an industry with too many stories of developers being overworked.
“The thing we’ve talked about a lot is no crunch for the team. We’re trying really hard to develop in a reliable healthy cadence where developers could be happy and creative and not feel the constant pressure.”