Season 5 of Apex Legends makes me worry that the game is lost at sea
I really don’t like to complain. As both a human being and a content creator, I always try to be positive and maybe even more importantly, constructive. I have been a huge Titanfall fan since the launch of the original game on Xbox One and I have been a player and streamer of Apex Legends since the day that it released. I have played the game on multiple platform for hundreds of hours and I find that no matter what comes along, Apex feels like home. I always find myself drawn back to it no matter what other games are out there, screaming for my attention. With that said, I do believe that it is the duty of creators and fans such as myself to offer feedback and insight to the developers who can hopefully utilize it to make the game better. As we move forward through this critique, please understand that it is out of passion for the game that I speak up.
Ever since the launch of the Titanfall franchise and its battle royale successor, Apex Legends, I have believed that the gameplay contained within is some of the best that the first-person shooter genre has to offer. The movement system is fast and fluid, offering depth, speed, freedom and potential for mastery. The gunplay feels tight, skill-based and combined with the game’s movement system, extremely satisfying. Apex takes things a step further than most other battle royale games by offering a cast of “legends” that allow you to craft a play style of your own or change it up on the fly. All of these elements combine to form what I believe is the best battle royale game that we have on the market.
With that in mind, I believe and have believed for several seasons now that Apex Legends is in a state of confusion. I openly criticized Season 3 of Apex Legends when Respawn launched the game’s second map, World’s Edge and a character that’s greatest asset is staying out of fights. World’s Edge as a whole gave birth to a more range-based meta that when combined with Apex’ longer time to kill, didn’t seem to make much sense. Having the level of love for the game that I do, I grew accustomed to it and played the game anyway, even if I believed Crypto to be a complete dud. Introducing a new map to the game in general can’t really be a bad thing as it adds variety and forces you to change the way that you play the game, which is always one of Respawn’s goals with each season.
Season 4 looked to rectify the luke-warm response to Crypto by introducing Revenant, a badass cyber-assassin who was introduced to the game through a major plot twist that threw the player-base and data miners for a loop after Respawn announced that Season 4’s new legend would be a character named Forge who was quickly killed off before our eyes by Revenant himself. Quite the entrance, indeed. Respawn also made changes to World’s Edge with the goal of changing the way that we drop into the map and make decisions by adding new drop locations, destroying its hottest drop zone and adding the bolt-action Sentinel sniper rifle to the mix after adding the mid to long range Charge Rifle during the previous season.
While I personally enjoy Revenant’s play-style more than Crypto’s, Revenant’s introduction to Apex Legends from a gameplay standpoint was once again underwhelming to players. Most players and analysts believed Revenant to be one of the least useful legends in the game upon release and the map changes to World’s Edge didn’t really seem to change much. The map’s hottest drop zone, Capitol City was destroyed and broken up into two separate side by side drop zones which still made the two zones combined, the hottest drop zone. The fact that it remained the hottest drop zone doesn’t bother me, it just appears that Respawn may have fallen short of their goal in shifting combat away from what was once Capitol City as players still poured into the zone.
Respawn finally decided to add King’s Canyon back into the game half way through Season 4, locking the map behind ranked mode. While King’s Canyon’s addition to the game was positive overall and probably baited more people into playing ranked which I believe is a good thing, this introduced ranked season splits, which I am not a fan of. I initially hoped that this meant Respawn would be updating the game more often, perhaps adding a new weapon to the game at each Season split but that has not been the case. Respawn has not utilized the Season split concept to update the game more frequently as I initially hoped. Instead, Respawn are simply switching the map that ranked play is hosted on at the split. This also means that players will have their rank set backward half way through each season which seems to be a mechanism introduced solely to keep players playing ranked mode. Instead of offering more incentives to play ranked, the idea is to make you lose progress, more often and keep playing to get it back. Unfortunately this is just the tip of the ice berg.
During the back half of Season 4, Respawn announced that it was extending the season which many players felt was the most dragged out season to date, to begin with. While realistically this was likely a delay caused by COVID-19 that Respawn could not have predicted or controlled, it added to the game’s woes. Late in the season, Respawn added a Bloodhound “town take over” event in which a Bloodhound inspired drop location was added to World’s Edge. While the zone itself looks really cool, it seems that the concept of the zone itself ended up being completely ignored by players. Inside of the Bloodhound town takeover is a PvE based event which involves squads unleashing several waves of dog-like “Prowlers” and fighting them for loot which gets better with each increasingly difficult wave. While this sounds like a neat idea on paper that would create a risk/reward mechanic, very few players seemed interested in it, and it essentially fell onto the deaf ears of players who flock to games like Apex Legends to play competitive multiplayer and not fight NPCs.
That brings us to Season 5, which has been eagerly anticipated by the Apex Legends community. Word of new features such as reconnect and maybe even cross-platform play which was promised by Respawn shortly after release circulated online. Data miners have referenced a new jungle map being spotted in the game files. Several weapons including new submachine guns and even grenade launchers have been found in the game files for months. It seemed that after taking their time to tinker with Season 4, we’d surely be in for some great things during Season 5, right? And then Season 5 launched in sorely standard format.
Season 5 has introduced a new legend named Loba, who in fairness, is probably the best legend to be introduced to the game since Wattson. Her teleport ability is technically useful in combat and her ultimate will surely be appreciated by teams as it helps teams loot faster. Even Loba’s passive helps herself and the team loot. A lot of people are riding the Loba hype train and its understandable but like Crypto, I personally find Loba to be focused on the wrong things. While loot is extremely important in any battle royale and having a Loba on your team is an asset, I find the loot-based focus of her abilities to be lacking in combat potential. Most fights in Apex are going to come back to how well you utilize the game’s movement, environments and gunplay. We’ve all had those times where we’ve knocked the guy in a purple shield while wearing white armor or won a seemingly impossible 1v3 fight. That happened because of game skill and circumstances of the match, not loot. While loot is indeed important, I personally feel that Loba’s addition to be a neutral addition to the game. Does she have a place on a team and in the roster? Yes, she does. But is she a game changer in a game that only gets four new characters a year or really exciting to play? Not really.
Then comes the changes to King’s Canyon. In my opinion, King’s Canyon is the best battle royale map ever designed. I know we all have different opinions but in its original form, before it was destroyed during Season 2, I truly felt that King’s Canyon was the best battle royale map ever released. It featured a ton of great drop locations with distinguishing features that made fighting at each spot, unique. I would argue that Skull Town on the original King’s Canyon is one of the best designed drop spots in any battle royale and it has historically been the place the source of a great deal of fun and excitement for many players, myself included.
The Season 5 variant of King’s Canyon has sunk both Skull Town and Thunderdome off the map completely, adding several new drop zones toward the north east side of the map instead. Respawn has explained that with each new season, their aim is to change the way that we are playing the game, which makes sense. Each new season is meant to shake up the meta to prevent the game from getting stale. In order to shake up King’s Canyon, the most effective way of doing so would be to remove its hottest and most popular drop zone, which was Skull Town. This isn’t too different from Epic blowing up Tilted Towers back in its heyday. As great as it was, I get what they’re doing. They’re trying to force players to make different decisions and experience new things.
While I don’t have any issue with any of King’s Canyons new or altered drop zones, I also haven’t found any that really excite me, either. It seems that Capacitor is meant to be the new “hot spot” of the map and has some interesting features, being in a giant valley and sporting a huge wall on one side to prevent third parties but I don’t hear players passionately talking about how much they love fighting there. Skull Town was a true Apex “legend”, much like PUBG’s “School” drop zone. New zoneszones like Rig, Salvage and a reformed Labs zone are decent but I haven’t really found any of them to be enthralling or attractive a large number of players. There seems to be very little consensus or “go to” spots that people universally like. Again, while I don’t view any of these locations or changes as bad, the issue is that this version of King’s Canyon just feels kind of flat. Some people may view the spreading of combat across the map to be a good thing and I can see benefits to that as well but it unfortunately means that we don’t really have any high risk, high reward, adrenaline pumping drops anymore.
To make matters worse, despite a wealth of new weapons being found in the game files and having a large backlog of weapons from the Titanfall series to pull from, we did not get a new weapon this season. Instead, Respawn moved the fan-favorite Peacekeeper into care package loot drops, “nerfed” the Mastiff and put it on the ground as a common drop. At face value this doesn’t sound like a bad change. It takes a weapon that many have used for over a year as their go to weapon of choice at close range and takes it out of the equation unless you get lucky enough to find and loot a care package containing one.
The result has been quite different than intended and I’m not sure how it got through quality assurance. The Mastiff is literally everywhere you look. This thing is so common that you can usually find one within seconds of landing at every location. While it technically had its damage nerfed, it is still insanely strong and most players believe it to be more consistent than the Peacekeeper. Oddly, when the Mastiff was in a crate, it had only 4 rounds in the chamber. This made it a high-risk, high reward weapon. If you hit your shots with it, you’d output damage extremely fast and stop opponents in their tracks. If you missed, you’d have to reload after only four shorts and be vulnerable. The new Mastiff that is available in Season 5 on the ground now holds 6 rounds in the chamber. If you land anywhere near another player and he finds a Mastiff while you don’t, the chances of you dying a quick death without being able to react are very high. Many of my drops in Season 5 have turned into multi-team Mastiff-fests where everyone is just sprinting around and blowing Mastiff shots left and right, because it is currently one of the most potent weapons in the game. And it’s available literally everywhere you look. This has, in my opinion, severely hurt the game’s meta and gunplay. In close quarters, there is almost no point in using a gun that isn’t the Mastiff because the Mastiff is so easy to hit shots with.
While nerfing the Mastiff may be the action that many will call for, I would instead recommend that it just be made less available. The Peacekeeper was a very strong weapon but when you found one, you got excited because you knew of its potential. The Mastiff is just far too common and too strong to be putting in the hands of all 60 players who drop into the game, 3 seconds after landing. Respawn should drastically reduce how often the Mastiff spawns in the world to quickly fix the issues its causing but I’ve now gone on a tangent that isn’t the base problem; no new weapon in Season 5.
Since day one, Respawn has reiterated that they choose the quality of their employees lives over insanely fast content updates for their games, which I not only understand, but agree with. Games like Fornite churn out weekly updates and introduce new things so fast that you can hardly keep up. Many of the weapons that get introduced into Fortnite end up being removed from the game because they aren’t fun to use, don’t fit the game design, are overpowered, underpowered, etc. While this approach to game updates gives you reasons to constantly log in and see what’s new, I see this mindset as “quantity over quality.” I can appreciate a developer taking a bit more time to ensure that everything they introduce to the game works, is balanced and useful, which means that we can count on four new legends and weapons, a year. Or at least we thought.
While I understand the constraints that COVID-19 has caused, it has been a very disappointing experience to be starting a new season of Apex Legends without a new and exciting weapon to use. Even though the Sentinel’s addition in Season 4 didn’t rock the socks of many players, it was at least a new weapon to tinker with and master. It seems that the development team figured that making the Mastiff more available would be just as good as introducing a new weapon and I understand their thought process but the state of the Mastiff’s balance and the reality that it’s a gun that we have had since day one has left me feeling deflated.
One of the new features that Respawn has introduced in Season 5 is the new season long “Quest.” This feature tasks players with collecting treasure packs in-game by opening loot bins to unlock a weekly “hunt” activity on King’s Canyon at night. Players need to collect 5 treasure packs a week to unlock each new hunt and phase of the quest with a maximum collection of one treasure pack a day. This premise bothered me right from the beginning. While the process of finding a treasure pack is very simple as they pop out of almost every common loot container that you open in the game, this quest forces you login and play the game on an almost daily basis, even if you don’t want to. While I love Apex Legends more than most games, I do not enjoy mechanics that force you to play. You end up making yourself play against your own will, you don’t enjoy it as much and half of the time, you’re playing for the wrong reason. At the end of the day, the reason that you should play any game is because you enjoy it. But if you want to complete this seasonal quest in Apex, you need to login on an almost daily basis, pretty much all season long. This approach generally leads to burn out, which drives players away from the game in the long run.
Now lets talk about the Hunts themselves. During these PvE hunts which you can do solo or with a team, players fight the Prowler enemies introduced during the Bloodhound Town Takeover to progress through a story that Respawn is telling over the course of the season. As someone who has fallen in love with the lore of many games and universes, I would never deplore a developer for working to tell more story and flesh out their universe but these Hunts really seem half baked. The gameplay is for the lack of a better term, woefully boring and both the in-game rewards and lore that has been explored has been pretty pointless so far. Loba is working to extract something from King’s Canyon which will likely introduce us to the next new legend by season’s end. Surprise! While I give Respawn credit for conceiving a new means of storytelling in Apex Legends and putting together something unique which was probably an exciting process for the development team, I just don’t think anyone is playing Apex for the lore, story or to shoot some oversized dog NPCs. People play Apex for its satisfying movement, gunplay, flair and the battle royale premise.
If you can’t tell by now, I am beginning to get concerned for the future of Apex Legends from a design and content perspective. Not because I think that the game is “dying” (I hate that over-used sentiment) but because after setting the world on fire with its surprise launch, Respawn and EA haven’t pushed to capitalize or elevate the game beyond the basics. Apex has incredible gameplay which will carry it far and help it contend well into the future but there is so much unfulfilled potential that can be tapped into, much of which lies on EA’s shoulders, in my opinion.
Within the first several weeks that Apex Legends was available to the world, Respawn confirmed that it planned to implement cross-platform play. That was well over a year ago. Games like Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone and even PUBG now have this feature which is quickly becoming a gaming industry standard. We have heard from Respawn developers who have expressed just how difficult it is to implement cross-platform play and I understand that but this is where EA comes in. If Apex Legends is a brand and franchise that they believe in and are making money from (which I believe they are. Respawn is honestly carrying EA at this point) then EA needs to invest in building Apex Legends. Cross-platform play is a feature that has proven to make players happy, reduce queue times and cultivate an active community. The days of arguing about mouse and keyboard versus controller are over as there are several ways of dealing with it in 2020 including the option to just turn cross-platform play off if you don’t wish to partake. The fact that Apex Legends doesn’t yet have cross-platform play is strikingly odd for a game with 75-million players and a constant stream of cosmetic based revenue.
Equally as confusing is the game’s lack of expansion to the Nintendo Switch and probably more importantly, mobile audiences. EA has promised to bring Apex to mobile devices for quite some time now but we’ve heard little to nothing about the mobile version of the game. While many bemoaned the thought of PUBG Mobile, it turned out that the mobile version of the game quickly became the most played, polished and most financially lucrative version of the game. And let’s not forget that the revenue stream from the mobile version of the game can then be reinvested into the franchise to achieve things such as…Cross-platform play and maybe a new gun every season! So even if you’re a player that isn’t into mobile games, launching Apex Legends on mobile should boost the standing of the franchise and benefit all of its players. In all seriousness, the more money that Apex Legends makes, the more EA can invest in the game.
Given the size of the game’s player base and the rapidly growing competitive gaming scene, you would think that EA would be investing more in Apex esports as well. Games like Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, League of Legends, Overwatch and even PUBG have taken different approaches to professional gaming and achieved varying levels of success. Even smaller games are developing professional gaming scenes these days. While EA has been involved in cultivating a few Apex tournaments and a competitive scene at some level, it hasn’t taken off at the rate that one would expect. I don’t believe this to be the fault of the gameplay or player base, but rather a lack of activity and effort on behalf of EA. There is absolutely no reason for a game as polished and popular as Apex Legends to have such a small professional gaming scene but for some reason, it does. We get a few professional tournaments a year that haven’t been run particularly well or promoted. While Activision has been busy signing multi-million dollar broadcasting agreements for its competitive franchises, EA seems to be unwilling to do what it takes, to make the same happen for them. EA really needs to put in more effort here or they’re going to cut the life and revenue of Apex short, by extension.
Speaking of professional gaming, did you know that the number one thing that professional gamers and coaches recommend to get better and play more competitively at any game is to watch your own replays and gameplay? Surely, Apex must have a saved games or replay feature, right? Nope, we don’t. Creator codes for games like Fortnite have proven to bolster the streaming community and give streamers a reason to dedicate themselves to a given game since they can make revenue off it. Surely EA would give Respawn the resources to implement creator codes and help push it up the streaming charts right? Nope, we don’t have that seemingly simple feature. So what will some creators do? Focus on games that they can make revenue from.
While I know that this sounds like a massive list of complaints and it technically is, I am pointing out the missed opportunities here because there is so much of it to go around. I love Apex Legends and I want to see it continue to grow, improve and succeed just like anyone reading this probably does. I fear however that EA and by extension, the team at Respawn may not be taking the necessary steps to secure the long-term future of the game and are instead accepting an easier path forward. My fear is that easier path is also a shorter one that will end sooner than it should. Instead of trying to raise the bar, they OK with what they have and I mean that in the nicest way. They have what is the best gameplay of any battle royale game out in my opinion and that is good for something. The game’s legend system guarantees that the game will continue to evolve with each new season one way or another and that’s worth writing home about. But Apex Legends can be so much more and as a long time Titanfall fan who already watched one incredible series fail to live up to its adoption potential, I really worry that Apex may be on a similar (albeit one with 75 million players) path.
Recent business decisions by EA haven’t helped ease my concerns, either. After announcing a deal with Valve to bring Apex and other EA games to Steam, they have gone radio silent, dooming us to continue to deal with the glitchy and unstable Origin-launcher that they have also never invested in. Respawn recently confirmed that no new Titanfall game is in development despite now having a player-base of 75 million players to easily share with a potential Titanfall 3 or even some type of small-scale spin-off. Instead, Respawn will likely be stuck developing sequels to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order for the next decade. And while I understand that EA probably made a boat load of money from Fallen Order, I hate to see Respawn’s talent bogged down. Furthermore, EA recently put Respawn’s head honcho and gaming legend Vince Zampella in charge or a second game developer, rebranding the Los Angeles based DICE team and placing him in charge of it.
All of this really confuses the hell out of me and makes me question what Electronic Arts is doing. They clearly understand the talent that they have at Respawn. They have a truly generational talented developer that created the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Titanfall, Apex Legends and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order on their hands. At this point in time, Respawn is basically the only developer that EA has that is printing them money, especially after the massive failure of Anthem from Bioware, which was in development for 7-years. EA apparently has so much confidence in Respawn that they felt comfortable putting Respawn’s boss in charge of a second studio. Yet they are slow to invest in the hit game that they have from that studio.
All of this fits into the narrative that has been painted about EA being chosen as America’s Worst Company for several years in a row. I have never actually believed that nor do I want to be a pessimistic. I hope that somewhere, someone at EA or Respawn reads this article and something suddenly clicks. I love Apex Legends which is why I have streamed it on a weekly basis since its launch and why I take so much time to create content for it. It’s truly a game worth being excited about and investing in, which is what many players have done. I just hope that the folks making behind Apex Legends realize the same thing, before its too late.