But Apex Legends differs from Fortnite in a crucial way. Unlike the blank canvas of Fortnite, Apex Legends offers a universe brimming with characters and history.
“I think [our team] got more permission from our fans over the last year to lean even heavier into what they love, which is the storytelling and the lore,” Respawn COO Dusty Welch tells The Post. “Our team continues to try to one up themselves and dig in with it. It’s always been part of the plan to tell more story, but we’re definitely doubling down on it.”
This renewed focus on storytelling will gradually bring Apex Legends closer and closer to Titanfall, Respawn’s first franchise. Although the Titanfall series saw effusive critical praise and sold millions, it didn’t reach the commercial heights of Call of Duty, or even its successor, Apex Legends, which takes place in the Titanfall universe. Now, Apex Legends is set to strengthen its ties to the beloved franchise.
“We understand there’s a desire for us to reference and go back to things we introduced in Titanfall, and we love doing that when it makes sense,” said Apex Legends game director Chad Grenier. “But I don’t want to give out too much information. But there are quite a few surprises, and Titanfall fans will be delighted.”
Fans definitely want more. A viral Reddit post with three images from Apex Legends trailers posed the question, “Anyone else hoping for an Apex Legends Animated Series?” The post got more than 11,000 upvotes. Indeed, the game’s trailers include high-quality animations mixing cel shading with 3-D models, producing clips that recall the Academy Award-winning scenes from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
The Post asked Respawn if there was any chance of a jump to other media formats. They were not opposed to the idea.
Welch says they do look to Marvel and the way it introduces and reinforces characters and their emotions as one recent inspiration.
“I would love it if someday, if it’s the right time, we can add something like cinematics or episodes into the franchise,” Welch said. “I think the characters Chad and the team have built and what’s in the pipeline really would delight people to see it in multimedia ways. But today the focus is delighting the fans inside the game. I personally would be very excited to get to that point.”
Today, a gigantic drill called the Planet Harvester will appear in Apex Legends, emblazoned with the logo of Hammond Robotics, the shady military contractor that created the Titanfall franchise’s titular Titans. (The Titans are massive, player-controlled mechs. They have not made an appearance in Apex Legends — yet). Now, the connection between the two series is front and center, boldly on display in game. The connections run even deeper in the game’s new update: according to a new trailer released earlier this month, Revenant, a new cyborg character, is out for revenge after its life was ruined from Hammond’s experiments
While Revenant was teased earlier in the game, his entire character (including abilities) leaked onto the Internet before the studio was ready to announce all of the details around his inclusion. This happens a lot in game development, and developers have a choice to ignore or address such leaks head on. Respawn decided to have some fun with it: To throw players off, they introduced Forge, a dopey MMA fighter sponsored by Hammond Robotics, as the new character, supposedly sidelining Revenant. In a “live” TV interview revealing his character, he was assassinated by Revenant.
This was a deeper integration of gameplay and multimedia storytelling.
“We’ve got a bunch of devs who are passionate and excited to run with things,” Grenier said. “People talked about Revenant and things leak, it’s fun to just lean in.”
That Apex Legends was a learning experience for Respawn is obvious to any fan of the game. Grenier admits that the game’s meteoric immediate success caught them off guard, and suddenly, a studio of storytellers found themselves supporting a “live service” game. Live service games, like Fortnite, are meant to be persistent online worlds that update quickly on a schedule to address issues and keep the game interesting, and for several weeks, Apex Legends got no updates. Eventually the game landed on “seasons” as a system of demarcating the biggest changes.
“We had some growing pains but we worked through it and hit our stride,” Grenier said. “To release the game with no prior marketing, watching the counter tick up to a million on that first day, we were jumping and cheering. And when we got to 10, 20 and 30 million, I think we went from excitement to ‘Oh no we created something really, really big.' And it’s been really exciting for the team. We knew we had a good game, but we reached over 70 million players at this point and I don’t think anyone expected that."
Respawn doesn’t regret releasing the game unannounced. And although a surprise announcement isn’t likely going to happen again soon, there was “more power and strength” in the quiet launch, said Welch.
“Why let people spin and speculate and we’ll maybe disappoint, when we can just come out and surprise and delight?” Welch said. “I think ultimately as game makers and creators, we live to surprise and delight. What better way to do this then to take the risk, place the onus on ourselves and say, ‘We believe in this and we’re going to give it a shot.'”