Respawn is bringing out the big guns for Apex Legends season 6. A single big gun, in fact, called Sheila. She's the weapon of choice for the battle royale's new playable hero, Rampart, whose Ultimate Ability deploys a mannable turret (the aforementioned BFG) that can lay waste to entire teams, especially when paired with her Tactical Ability, an energy shield that boosts outgoing projectiles while protecting those behind it.
It's easy to see Rampart becoming a new fan favourite in the Apex Games, especially with her dark sense of humour (brought to life by Anjali Bhimani, best known as Overwatch's Symettra) and interesting connections to the wider Titanfall universe.
She's a British-Indian weapon modder with a reputation in The Outlands' underground gauntlet circuits, and entering the Apex Games with a personal endorsement from Kuben Blisk (a.k.a. Titanfall 2's main villain). Lead game designer Carlos Pineda explains how Respawn built Rampart as the latest new addition to the Apex Legends roster.
"We start from what we call a gameplay fantasy," he tells me. "With each character we try to serve different play styles. So with Rampart, we wanted to acknowledge the type of player that likes to study the map and then try to predict where the enemies are going to come out and take advantage of that."
"So that's where we usually start, and then the mechanics are built around, iterated on, and then tossed into a narrative and they go back and forth until we come up with a final character."
As for why Blisk is returning to the spotlight for the first time since his appearance in the Apex Legends reveal trailer, Pineda remains coy about the team's ongoing story plans following Rampart's arrival to the games under his mentorship.
"We love the Titanfall universe, so we are always excited to find ways to tie that stuff in when it makes sense. Blisk is the Commissioner of the games, so he's already part of that universe. It's nice to bring him back, and basically remind people that he exists!"
The best defence…
Rampart's combat style is likely going to shake up combat in a big way, but Pineda has some insider tips for squads who suddenly find themselves looking at the wrong end of Sheila's barrels, starting with the obvious: "Don't take her head-on."
"With Sheila, Rampart will be hyper-focused on a single direction, because the minigun can't turn that well, so they're usually up against a wall. That makes it easier to come around the Rampart, and take them from the side. Alternatively, a good Wraith can set up a portal to flank, and grenades always work, right? The shield wall, in particular, two grenades will just blow it up."
Beyond Rampart, another major new addition to Apex Legends season 6 is weapon crafting, an in-match system that allows players to build firearms from materials scavenged around the map (a newly revamped King's Canyon, complete with a rocket ship in the middle that's definitely not going to take off sometime in the near future).
A crafting system might seem like an odd choice for a battle royale, which often tries to keep players out of the menu as much as possible, but Pineda explains that the idea stems from Respawn looking closely at user data, and accommodating the player types that are too often overlooked with each new update.
"The team was starting to feel that players who enjoy a slower-paced, more exploratory Apex, weren't getting enough love," he says. "The best way to get a good kit is to go in, kill a bunch of dudes, and then you get their stuff and then you go fight a stronger squad, you get killed, then you get their stuff, and so on."
"But for the guys who aren't always 100% ready to engage, you know, they just get left with whatever they find. So crafting is a way for those people to be able to fill in the gaps in their kits through exploration, through moving around the map and planning their rotations properly, letting them prepare for that final fight."
Season 6 and beyond
With a newly established studio now opened in Vancouver, one that's devoted entirely to supporting Apex Legends, it should be obvious to anyone that Respawn's battle royale is here to stay, and season 6 is just the next step of several for its ambitious roadmap, one which also includes upcoming ports to mobile, Nintendo Switch, and potentially even PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Game director Chad Grenier remains curiously coy when asked about those platforms, but when I bring up the concept of an Apex Legends Netflix show, given the studio's eagerness to keep expanding the game's lore via new digital comics for season 6, the excitement is much more palpable.
"Yeah, I would love to do that. That sounds awesome. A Netflix animated series of Apex? Sign me up! I think right now we're focused on making the game but heck, if someone wants to pitch me something I'll listen."
Of course, if Apex Legends was ever adapted into a story outside of its own PvP firefights, the challenge of balancing the screen time between its ever-growing roster of characters would be no easy feat.
Whatever it would look like, you'd imagine the holographic trickster Mirage, a fan favourite amongst the Apex community, would play a pretty big role. Grenier reveals his take on why the charismatic chameleon has taken on a life of his own outside of the Apex Games.
"It's funny. Mirage is exactly modelled after one of our developers who has the exact same personality and even kind of looks a little like him... I mean, it's definitely him. We all love that person, so I'm not totally surprised the community loves Mirages too! It's a little bit funny to us though, because we all know this person in real life!"
I guess it turns out that not all mirages are fake, after all.
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