Apex Legends Season 9: Legacy and the brand new Legend Valkyrie are making their debut in the Apex Games on May 4, and we’ve sat down with the team at Respawn Entertainment to get some details on what we can expect to see from the new season.
Olympus is going to get a major overhaul, but possibly the biggest and most exciting addition to the new season is the Arenas mode, which will see 3v3 PVP matches where players can hone their abilities and weapons without the threat of being third-partied. If you want to know more about the team’s decisions behind new content and map changes, or want to know why Lifeline’s abilities have been redesigned, then all of those answers and more are available below.
We were joined in this interview by Robert West, senior game designer, Daniel Klein, lead game designer, Ashley Reed, senior writer, and Dave Osei, lead level designer. These four individuals may know more about Apex Legends than anyone else on the planet, so they were the perfect people to interrogate for more details on Season 9: Legacy.
You can find out more about Season 9: Legacy from our hands-on impressions right here.
The biggest addition to season nine has to be the Arenas mode, has it always been a goal for the team to introduce small scale PvP fights?
[Robert West] I’m not sure if that’s always been a goal, but we’re always experimenting with different ways to play. And we’re prototyping things and we kept iterating on things that we found fun, and liked, and pushing that further. Originally, we were thinking this might be a limited-time mode, and over time we realised it has more legs than that, so we gave it more support, pushed it further, and it got bigger and bigger. We all love the fights and PvP in the game, so different ways to experience that is cool.
[Daniel Klein] We know a lot of people really enjoy our gunplay and movement – we think it’s pretty decent – but Battle Royale just isn’t their cup of tea. We just want more people to be able to play with the toys that we’ve built over the years.
Can you share your plans for the competitive scene that will surely be faithful to Arenas?
[DK] Well, we don’t have plans quite honestly. We don’t believe in building a thing specifically for esports. I come from a company [Riot Games] that’s done things very differently. In the early days [Riot] didn’t get involved in esports for League of Legends until the community started running their own tournaments. I personally feel that’s a much better way to do it. Follow the lead of your players. Obviously we have very high hopes. We think Arenas is a very competitive, really cool mode. We’ve had these round nine games that go to Sudden Death, where we’re all shouting on Discord. So we do have very high hopes that it can be competitive mode. We haven’t made any fixed plans yet. We’ll see how players deal with it. We’ll see what the reception is and then we’ll support whatever players want to do.
So you’re saying that you’re looking to support players that will build a community around it?
[DK] Yeah. If the desire is there, we want to jump in and give you the tools for it.
Talking about the story and lore of Apex Legends, tell me, who was the old friend that Kuben Blisk took Ash away to meet and why is she now back for Arenas?
[Ashley Reed] Well, that is something I think we want you to explore in the story, so I don’t want to give any spoilers on that. Hey, it’s so much better if you experience it in the game – way better. But yeah, we’re definitely folding some existing characters, characters with connections to the legacy of Respawn the legacy of Titanfall into Apex, and we always love exploring, like: ‘okay, if we introduce this element, what does that do? How does that affect characters who are connected to it? How do they feel about it? How do they confront that?’ That’s our bread and butter. That’s the stuff we really like digging into and really like exploring, so we hope the fans feel similarly when they get to experience Arenas themselves.
What can you tell us about the weird ship that has dropped off some alien plants on Olympus?
[AR] So pretty much all I can say without going into spoilers is there is a strange unmanned spacecraft that shows up in Olympus with all these plants. Where did they come from? Why did they get sent here? We might have to find that out, and it may be connected to another Legend. Valkyrie is very big this season, but other Legends play a pretty big part too.
[Dave Osei] I can say from the design perspective, we wanted to try something different for map updates. We had a trend earlier of just destroying maps for a map update, a Harvester coming down on World’s Edge and creating a lava crack, just dropping Skull Town off the map in Kings Canyon. So for Olympus, we wanted to go outside our box and try something new, adding something to my map, rather than taking away from the map or destroying an area. So this Infestation gives us another tool in our toolbox of how to change how we do map updates in the future.
How did you decide which parts of Olympus needed to change?
[DO] Actually when we started this map update, we started before Olympus even came out. So a lot of this was a design call of confidence, asking ‘where do we think we need to improve on Olympus before this ships?’ We noticed early on that fewer people were dropping their Orbital Sannon and Solar, just because it was further away from the rest of the map. We have two Tridents over there and we had a balloon, we thought that’d be enough to get people to want to drop there and then come out to the centre of the map. But it still was not getting as much traffic as we wanted, and that actually backed up our intuition. So placing something a lot more beefy down there that can draw more attention to your eye and make you more accessible to bigger loot seemed like a good idea from our perspective. So we’re happy that we chose that location.
Valkyrie‘s abilities are very similar to those of the Northstar Titan, which is of course piloted by her father, Viper. Were there, at any point, plans to put a Titan into the game?
[DK] No, never. Apex is built from the ground up for human-scale combat. That includes weapons, abilities, maps – you would have to redesign the game from scratch to accommodate Titans.
How do you balance Legend abilities and weapons between the Battle Royale mode and Arenas mode? Is that something that’s going to be a developing thing?
[DK] I absolutely expect that there’ll be follow up balance changes, but we have simple ways to balance the cost of abilities, such as how many you get for free and how often you can use your ultimate, that are Arenas specific. We’ve had to make some small changes to some abilities to make them make sense in Arenas, like Valkyrie doesn’t go all the way up [when using her Ultimate], because the map isn’t big enough for that. But in terms of balance, we tried to achieve the same balance state between Arenas and Battle Royale. Again, we’ve got lots of plans of what to do if something is on fire, or if something else becomes a problem, but right now, I honestly don’t think anyone in the world knows what’s going to happen. We have our data collection set up and we’re ready to react to it. I hope we’ll be in a world where there’ll be a small spectrum of power that Legends can have between Battle Royale and Arenas. I’d never want to be in a world where someone says; ‘never pick Crypto in Arenas because he’s useless,’ or ‘you can only bring Rampart in Arenas because she doesn’t do anything in the Battle Royale,’ right? That I would step in and fix, but small things like, ‘Oh, this guy does a lot better in Arenas.’ And cool, that’s fine.
Do you think in that case, it’ll be potentially that some Legends have different balancing between the Arenas and the Battle Royale?
[DK] I hope not. There are small differences right now, Lifeline’s Ultimate and Valkyrie’s Ultimate are different, but that’s just to accommodate the needs of the mode, rather than balance. I hope we never have to be in a position where we have to change an ability between Arenas and Battle Royale for balance. That would be really awkward. One of the goals of Arenas is that you can use it as practice, right? You go in, you get lots of practice with your abilities, weapons and so on. And if we then say ‘hey, you’re practising one balanced state, but then you go into Battle Royale and that’s different,’ then, we’ve failed on that goal.
[RW] If we find that things aren’t as balanced as we like, we can adjust the number of starting charges you have for your abilities, and the cost, and that kind of thing. We have some room there to play with. As far as weapons go, they’re going to be the same on both, and we’re also using cost there primarily to balance. In Battle Royale you might drop and have some weapons you pick up right away that are early weapons that you might replace, you might replace your Alternator with the R301 later, keep the attachments and stuff, and those are priced accordingly. Beyond that, a lot of the times it just comes down to player preference, some players just like some weapons over others, so we’re trying to keep that open to let players gravitate towards the weapons they want, and still have enough resources left over to buy other stuff in the shop and be able to react to the other team. If you see that they’re going snipers, you need to make your choices accordingly. Keeping the weapons open for you to pick round to round was a goal too.
[DK] I will say it’s interesting that you can choose your weapons freely, particularly for characters like Rampart who have a strong binding to a weapon class, right? If you play Rampart in the Battle Royale, sometimes the RNG will just screw you and you never see an LMG. And you’re like, ‘well, I guess I don’t have a passive this game.’ In Arenas if you want to load in and buy a Spitfire every round, more power to you, have fun.
[RW] And the enemy is going to see that, and they’re going to do their best to work around that, right?
You’ve mentioned multiple times that you want Apex to be a gun-based game more than a Legend-based game. How do you approach or balance a shooter which is hero-based, but with deemphasized abilities?
[DK] The way that I always think of it is that abilities set the battlefield, set the context in which the gun game happens. So they should shape your decision making, but they should not be the end-all-be-all of your decision making – you should not die because somebody used an ability correctly, that would not be Apex. But if you die because somebody placed a Gibraltar Ultimate on a certain piece of cover you’re holding, and you were forced to run out and they gunned you down while you ran out, that feels like Apex, right? So that’s how I like to think about it. Abilities should mould the gun game, and the gun game is ultimately what decides who wins and who loses. Even to the point where maybe you placed your Gibraltar Ultimate perfectly, but they’re just ignoring it and shooting you down because you’re showing your face. That’s fine, too, right?
Are you afraid of adding too many weapons or hop-ups to the game and scaring off new players?
[DK] Yes, of course. I mean, that’s a thing we have to keep in mind. But we are taking some steps to make sure our loot pool doesn’t get too bloated. For instance, there was a limited-time mode earlier this year called Locked And Loaded where all white loot was removed from the ground, but it had some long term balancing problems that we’re not okay with. But we are taking steps toward that state. In Legacy you will see everybody starts with a starter kit, so a white armour, white knockdown shield, white helmet, two cells, two syringes. It’s really good, by the way, it just feels like you can land and you don’t immediately lose if the enemy finds a purple armour and you find nothing. This will allow us to remove white helmets etc. from the loot pool. We have further work going into future seasons where we’re hopeful that, if we can pull it off, we can remove even more. And obviously we are always rotating hop-ups out of the game as we put new ones in.
Once again one of my favourite Legends has been nerfed. Why did you do Lifeline dirty like that? You already took Pathfinder from me…
[DK] Wait until you play her! Pathfinder is back, isn’t he? We took Low Profile off him, he’s fine. Give him a try. Yeah, Lifeline was just boring, right? Here’s a Legend, literally all of her power is in reviving teammates, and her Tactical and Ultimate may as well be fart buttons, right? Doesn’t do anything. That’s not good game design, that offends me on a spiritual level. So I was very adamant that we had to go in there and fix it. Honestly, play with the new Ultimate a little bit. It feels really good. Even if you drop late, everyone on your team is gonna have some pretty nice gear.
Apex Legends Season 9: Legacy launches on May 4 on all platforms. Thank you to the Respawn Entertainment team for handling my accusatory Lifeline question like heroes.
Next: Who Is Ash In Apex Legends And Titanfall? What Is The Arena In Season 9?
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TheGamer Guides Editor.
Am I supposed to write this in the third-person? Do you know how awkward it is talking about yourself like you’re someone else? No one would ever believe someone else has this many nice things to say about me.
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