In the years since Respawn and EA launched Apex Legends, the shooter has carved out its place among a crowded field of contenders. Other games have tried to enter the market and failed to make much impact alongside the other battle royale titans like Call of Duty: Warzone, PUBG, and Fortnite. Still, despite a healthy player base and competitive scene, a new update, dubbed Escape, arrives following one of the roughest seasons since the debut, and it might be exactly what the game needs.
Last season’s new character, Seer, drew criticism from many players until Respawn nerfed his special abilities. Then that change led to its own controversy, as players accused the developers of intentionally releasing heroes with overpowered abilities to coax more money out of participants in this “free” game.
And all of that happened before the servers started to act up. While disconnections have always been an issue with Apex, recently, it’s felt like more rounds of the game started with one or more of my teammates disconnected than not. Frequently, I was the one dropped at the beginning of a game, restarting it only to find we’d dropped into a raging firefight or that my teammates had already died or left. Speaking to the developers, they addressed the issues upfront, saying they’re doubling down on efforts to deal with connection problems and lag, as well as ways to make the game use less bandwidth.
This all brings us to the Escape update, which adds a new island map and a new character on November 2nd, albeit one that players are familiar with. Ash is the game’s first playable character to make the jump directly from Titanfall 2, although she has made appearances in the game’s associated lore of comics and special events for several seasons and even served as an announcer for the game’s Arenas mode.
Ash is a simulacrum with a background that splits the difference between the game’s other mechanical characters, Revenant and Pathfinder. A look at her character trailer, as well as that of a previously added legend, Horizon, will explain her backstory, but the most interesting thing about her is the abilities she adds to the battlefield.
While her teleportation ability is similar to what players have seen since season one with Wraith, it operates on a line of sight, and in some hands-on time, I found it a lot easier to use as a shortcut into or out of a firefight.
She’s also the first character who can take advantage of the death boxes fallen enemies leave laying around full of any stuff players have collected. She shoves a data knife into the box and pings the location of any living teammates. Her tactical ability is the one I had the hardest time getting used to, as she fires an arc tether that shocks enemies and pins them to the ground temporarily, limiting their movement. It’s a versatile bundle of tracking, stun / crowd control, and movement that is fun to play when you get it right and didn’t feel overpowered.
Versatility is a theme in the new season, as the new map Storm Point is the biggest one we’ve seen so far, with so many areas I didn’t get a chance to visit all of them. Like Ash, the C.A.R. SMG is a weapon adding another Titanfall transfer to the game, but with the unique ability to switch between light and heavy ammunition.
In my time playing with some creators and media members, it felt like the map was designed to deal with some of the issues players have complained about, like constant third-partying, by adding more area combined with structures that keep sounds from echoing across open space.
One of the things the team has been thinking about is how to balance the game across experienced players who have been dropping in for years and new players trying to adjust. In a conversation with The Verge, developers said they’re looking at ways to improve the new player experience and give them a better experience for their first few times playing the game.
The new map is intended to both reset players’ experience and expectations and allow room for evolution going forward. The first two Apex Legends maps, World’s Edge and King’s Canyon, were created before the game launched, and while they’ve changed over time, this one is built knowing changes will come, so they don’t need to destroy familiar locations just to fit new places in.
Is all of that enough to satisfy a player base that stretches from complete casuals to pro-level streamers to the esports elite? I think it has a good shot at restoring some of the joy to this game — the first time being I fought off an attack by spiders just before a late ring was more amazing than infuriating — but none of the new additions will matter if the servers don’t work. Apex Legends: Escape will go live across the game’s various platforms on November 2nd.