There are a lot of places you could start an interview with Respawn Entertainment. What's going on with Titanfall? Can we expect a sequel to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order? When is Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond coming out? But, in conversation with Apex Legends game director Chad Grenier and design director Jason McCord, I know exactly what to open with: Is Forge, the season 4 hero brutally killed off by Revenant before he even entered the arena, really dead?
"He's dead," says Grenier, "but writers like to write, so we'll see what if anything happens someday. I'm not saying anything... I'm just saying that writers like to write!"
Forge may be gone, then, but Apex Legends is very much alive and well, the battle royale shooter now in its fifth season following a hugely successful stealth launch in February of last year. The free-to-play battle royale has changed immeasurably since then, now buffeted by one new map, five new playable heroes, several additional weapons, and countless balance updates and hotfixes to improve Respawn's already superb first-person gunplay.
But year one was just the beginning for The Apex Games, with last month's EA Play Live event confirming a Nintendo Switch port is on the way, as is full cross-play between all the different platforms the battle royale is now available on. For Respawn, McCord tells me, the last 18 months have been a case of the studio catching up with its own ambition to reach this point where it can start to think about new platforms and quality-of-life improvements.
"For seasons one through three, we were writing new stories and content really close to the end, right before they launched," he tells me. "In season four and five, you started to see that we had a little more time to plan out something and we're just getting better and better at it."
"We always have a ton of exciting stuff in the works," concurs Grenier. "We do internal play tests every day, and we're testing new legends, map changes, and content all the way up through to season 12 now. So you know, there's a lot of really cool stuff in the works, but I obviously can't talk about the details!"
Legends of tomorrow
But let's get back to that Nintendo Switch port. First-person shooters, especially those of the competitive variety, are notoriously difficult to transpose to the handheld system, as Blizzard can understandably attest to with last year's troublesome Overwatch port. Respawn is more than aware of these challenges, and Grenier stresses that the team is working hard to make sure that Apex Legends' Switch edition "feels as close to the other versions of the game as possible."
"We've got a similar stick and button layout as some of the other consoles, so it inherently feels pretty good. We're also supporting the gyroscopic control scheme; you see that supported in some other shooters, and some people prefer that method of control. So it is the same version of the game, and we want it to feel as good as possible, and we hope to get it to a point where players are just competitive on Switch as they are on PlayStation or Xbox."
As for platforms beyond the Nintendo Switch, a recent job listing discovered on Respawn's website suggested the studio was working on a next-gen edition of Apex Legends for PS5 and Xbox Series X. Grenier diplomatically tiptoes around the possibility of launching on those platforms when I bring it up.
"We're excited about it," he says. "We watched the PS5 reveal and got super excited, so while we don't have anything to announce yet, we want to bring the game to where all the players are... we'll see what happens in the future."
Regardless of whether Apex Legends lands on those platforms or not, players can now look forward to seamless crossplay between the platforms that are currently supported, with Respawn finally confirming the long-requested feature at EA Play Live last month. There's no expected date of arrival just yet, but McCord explains why it's taken so long for cross-play to make it to The Apex Games.
"I wouldn't say it's difficult, it's just time consuming," he admits. "When game invites happen, they go through Xbox's friend system or PlayStation's friend system, and so, if you have a friend on Xbox and you're on PlayStation, you can't send them an invite without Apex creating a friend system itself. So I think that's the most time consuming part really is we have to do a lot of UI work. So it's not the most difficult work, it's just that there's a lot of pieces that have to get done to make it work."
Thankfully, Respawn now has the capacity to delegate that work across a much larger team, with the studio recently establishing a new branch in Vancouver, Canada – one that's dedicated entirely to supporting Apex Legends.
If you recently got a chance to try out the mobile respawn beacons in the game's Lost Treasures Collection Event, according to Grenier, you've already benefited from Respawn Vancouver's "first big feature into Apex". He reveals how the new studio will allow Respawn to deliver higher quality, more substantial content at a much faster rate, while also protecting "the work life balance of our developers."
"What I'm excited about is having more time to do more innovative and compelling content," says McCord. "Because each studio affords the other to have more time to work on stuff. So I would be hesitant to promise that you're just gonna get double the content at once. But I think what you'll see is better content on each patch."
Given how accomplished Respawn has already proven itself in juggling several balls at once - releasing both a brilliant live service battle royale and a triple-A singleplayer Star Wars game in 2019 - it's not hard to imagine what the studio can achieve for Apex now that it has a dedicated office to keeping the game alive and well far into the future. It's true what they say, you know; heroes come and go, but legends live forever.
For more, check out all the biggest new games of 2020 to keep an eye on, or watch our latest episode of Dialogue Options below.