It wasn't just new games at E3 2019 this year. In the changing tide of live service games, we were bound to hear more about all the online games that have percolated on our PCs and consoles too. Respawn Entertainment's Apex Legends, still in the midst of its lackluster debut season, was one of them. But it wasn't playing around this E3, with Respawn Entertainment pledging to have a more rewarding second season, introducing a new defense hero to the roster, and more.
The new character is named Wattson, and she's the first new character to join Apex Legends since Octane's introduction with season one. She is the daughter of the Apex Games' lead electrical engineer. She, too, became an engineer, and she even built the map's ring (and coined the name for it too, as it was originally set to be called The Forcefield). It's a lot of lore, which seems abnormal for the characters we currently know from Apex Legends.
According to leads on the ongoing project at Respawn though, this sort of narrative flourish has been present all along. You just had to dig for it before. "Interesting part about her is actually she doesn't have a heavier backstory," executive producer Drew McCoy tells me at EA Play about her big reveal, "we're just doing a better job of exposing it. That amount of effort goes into all the characters."
Wattson seems more chipper than the other Legends on the roster. When she builds electrical fences, she does so with exuberance; when she drops her shield-charging Ultimate ability, likewise. "She's a very different personality type than any of the other ones; she's not a soldier," says McCoy. "She's not, you know, traditionally trained in combat, but she grew up around the arena and even all the other legends know of her. Like they've seen her grow up, they are very fond of her, so she also occupies a really interesting space in the whole roster."
The new season won't just introduce Wattson though: it will introduce a new battle pass too. I ask McCoy and lead product manager Lee Horn a series of rapid fire questions regarding Apex's immediate future.
Such as, will more characters besides just Wraith finally get ultra-rare heirloom melee gear? "We're not talking about specifics but definitely that's not intended to be the only heirloom ever," says Horn. What's the progress on the alleged mobile version of Apex that surfaced in an investors call? "We're not talking about it right now but it is just a thing being explored, figuring out what's possible," says McCoy. Switch? "Not currently that we're talking about," says McCoy.
Will there be more events like the recent Legendary Hunt? "We definitely expect to do more events like that in the future," says Horn. Has the proposed loot box bill impacted how Respawn sees future microtransactions? "I don't think we have any strong opinions or views on that either way," says Horn. "I think we just try to keep a variety of things in the game, so battle pass and store stuff like that." (I can almost hear the exhaustion at this point.)
And finally: is cross-save or cross-play in the works at all? "We would love to," says McCoy. "It's a huge amount of work to get it there. We're a smaller team so we're always prioritizing features and work. It's one of those things that I would love to get to but stuff like ranked for season two and more content immediately is where we've put our focus."
Before Wattson and season two's official unveiling, Apex Legends ushered in the limited-time event called the Legendary Hunt, which offered up two character skins and a few other goodies too. One skin in particular, Wraith's Night Terror skin, which shows her adorned with bones, received some criticism on social media. When I ask if they've seen the criticism, they say they haven't.
"That'd be disheartening for me to see because we care a lot about making sure that we are being a very inclusive game, like we go to great lengths to make sure we've got characters of different gender and orientation and background and everything," says McCoy. "But, just for example, like Gibraltar early on in development, an artist was Googling for Pacific Islander stuff to get inspired, and had put some imagery on his shield. It was not consistent with his actual background. And when we caught it was like, no no. Like, that might not mean anything to you, but that's very important to a group of people; we have to make sure that these things are accurate, or just don't do it all. We don't want to step into that arena and mess it up."
The shape of Apex Legends is changing. Soon, not even the laughing stock of the Mozambique will be memeable anymore; it's getting two new hop-ups (gun attachments) for season two to make it viable in the "right" situations. The season's content roll out will also be different from last season, with even more bundled at the start of the battle pass, rather than a slower trickle out. The new Ranked mode will give long term players something to work toward, too.
When Apex Legends launched, it climbed to 50 million players just a month after its release. Since then, it's been marred by a 74% revenue drop, and its Twitch popularity took a nosedive. Some ascribed a premature and melodramatic death sentence to Apex Legends, but still, it's persevered. The upcoming second season of Apex Legends, and all that comes with it, is now vying to put the battle royale hero shooter back on top. As for McCoy and the rest of the Respawn team, season two is really just the beginning of Apex Legends.
"I mean, most people don't realize how long it takes to make anything, and so a character for us takes about a year and a half to make," says McCoy. "So we've been playing Wattson since early last year, but we have so much stuff in the pipe right now coming that people are always like, 'So what are you guys gonna do for this or that?' Like dude, we're thinking years ahead at this point. We do believe in this game as a live game. We're never gonna make an Apex 2; hoping next Season 72 is awesome. That's kind of where our head is at: how are we setting this up for the long term."