Apex Legends isn't afraid of change. In fact, Respawn believes that change is key to keeping the battle royale alive far into the future. That's why the team is focusing on a new design philosophy to shape Apex Legends Season 14 Hunted, which will take the oldest map in the game, Kings Canyon, and give it a major facelift. It's also why the team is making major changes to the weapon pool to ensure that players have an abundance of choice not only in their map rotations, but in their loadouts.
Respawn has had several years to figure out what works and what doesn't, and those lessons learned will translate to the upcoming season. GamesRadar spoke with several members of the Apex team about the changes coming with Season 14, the new design philosophy, and their goal of making Apex Legends a "forever game."
The skeleton of Skull Town
Respawn has learned a lot since building Kings Canyon several years ago – and much of what it's learned can be summed up by one infamous point of interest: Skull Town. "As things have gone on we've created a bunch of new philosophies and found out what makes Apex tick and what makes the maps function really well," lead level designer Jeff Shaw says. "We're trying not to make POIs that create so much interest that they actually cause a problem for the map. That was a big lesson with Skull Town."
Skull Town was a large point of interest in the southwest part of the original map featuring the hulking skeleton of a Leviathan that players could climb up on, as well as a collection of low-lying, labyrinthine buildings nestled in the beast's shadow. It was synonymous with sniper campouts and third-partying, and quickly became the most popular drop spot in the early Apex days, even winning a "Map Madness" poll conducted by the official Apex Legends Twitter account. But it became too much of a focal point for Respawn, especially since the devs want players to make informed decisions, not forced ones – if everyone is dropping at Skull Town, what's the point? "If you have to do it or never do it, that's a non-choice," senior design director Evan Nikolich insists. "We want to provide every map with interesting tactical choices."
That desire fuels the team's new design philosophy, which is all about "looking at the bigger picture," according to Shaw. "We first did this bigger picture approach on Kings Canyon because it's the oldest map. It's gone through the most changes and the most iterations. There are a lot of things that have been left unchecked for a little while… so we felt like it was a good place to start with this new philosophy and just look holistically across the entire map and look at the health of the map and figure out what are some of the sticking points and pain points that we can address."
To this end, one of the main things Respawn looks at when taking a holistic approach is drop rates. "Where are people not going, why don't they go there? Why don't they want to go there? What are some things we could do to incentivize them to go there?" Shaw asks. When considering how popular Skull Town was and how it rendered other POIs unviable, Respawn wants to avoid creating a map where players only like to drop in one or two places. So, even though players have been begging for the return of Skull Town for quite some time, you're not getting it. You are, however, getting something better.
Reforged King's Canyon
Respawn has combed over every inch of Kings Canyon to try and min/max the map to perfection. Cage, a popular POI that players could post up in for multiple rounds, sniping enemies coming in from every direction, was "dominating the area" according to Shaw. So it's been lowered down significantly and opened up more to dissuade teams from hunkering down in there and hopefully resolve fights quicker. Another pain point that promoted rampant camping is Hillside, which no longer has interior spaces to help firefights flare up and fade out fast.
Broken Relay, which Respawn believes was "falling short as a POI," has been renamed Basin, and now has new buildings and a new layout in "an effort to get a bit more traffic up there to spread the balance across the map better," Shaw explains. And even though, canonically, the Syndicate has rebuilt massive parts of Kings Canyon that were destroyed by Loba in Season 5, Skull Town isn't coming back. But in its place, however, something else has risen from the ashes: Relic.
The mid-sized POI is an attempt to bring back "classic King's Canyon gameplay" without pigeonholing players' options. Relic sits exactly where Skull Town once did, and there's even the Leviathan skull smack in the middle of it, complete with a new paint job. "It's not Skull Town, but it's definitely the spirit of it," Shaw explains. "It's not intended to be Skull Town. It's much smaller, it's more mid-sized and the fights there should be quicker." Relic represents everything Respawn wants to do with Apex Legends in the future: shake up existing locations to ensure things stay fresh while still maintaining their essence.
A forever game
When chatting with Respawn, it's clear that this is an incredibly detail-oriented team that isn't afraid to throw out stuff that doesn't work and drastically shake up what is already a winning formula. After all, they're driven by a desire to ensure Apex Legends has longevity, and you can't do that by remaining static. "Anytime we see a meta gravitating towards something that becomes a must pick, a must do, that's a non-choice that's not interesting to us," Nikolich explains. "So we have to go in there and tend to the garden, pull out a few weeds, trim the trees a bit, and get more interesting choices back in there."
When I ask if ripping out weeds has ever resulted in something more nefarious growing in its place, he responds immediately: "Always. That's what keeps the job fun and exciting. If that didn't happen then we wouldn't be needed anymore. We're not chess – the last real change in chess was like the 1800s, right? But we try to find this balance between innovation and honing." As the season progresses and a meta starts to form, Nikolich and the team understand that it's their job to go in and shake things up. "It's on us to disrupt and drive innovation," he says emphatically.
All of this work to build, break down, and rebuild aspects of Apex Legends takes a lot of effort, but it's all part of a larger vision. "Our goal is to make Apex a forever game, the game you will teach your kids how to play," Nikolich says. The only way to do that, for Respawn, is to iterate, reiterate, then iterate some more. Apex Legends Season 14 will embody Respawn's new, holism-focused philosophy, one that could define all future game updates for quite some time.