It's hard to believe it's been four years since Titanfall 2 was released, but that's the milestone Respawn's beloved sci-fi shooter hit on Wednesday this week. Since 2016 things have been pretty quiet on the mainline Titanfall front, with much of Respawn's efforts channeled into spin-off Apex Legends: a game that emerged from tests for a battle royale mode in Titanfall 3, and which has since achieved a huge amount of success in its own right. But it seems the Titanfall sequel is continuing to influence the development of Apex Legends, as it turns out upcoming map Olympus was initially conceived for Titanfall 3.
Season 7 of Apex Legends is bringing a raft of major changes to the game - most notably new astrophysicist legend Horizon, community clubs, the game's first-ever vehicles and floating city-in-the-clouds Olympus. The new map really is the main draw here, designed with verticality and vehicles in mind, and stuffed with the sort of opulent architecture you'd expect to find in one of the richest cities in the Titanfall universe. And although work on creating Olympus for Apex Legends began in Spring 2019, the idea itself is far older.
"At one point, there was a Titanfall 3 in the works after we launched Titanfall 2," game director Chad Grenier told me in an interview. "And Olympus wasn't called Olympus at the time, but that style of map was something that we were exploring for the next Titanfall game.
"While we were building Titanfall, we sort of discovered this battle royale game mode within that, our Titanfall universe. And we were just so excited about it that we ended up making Apex instead. So we have all of these maps... this very large map that looks very similar to Olympus. It's the same style, sort of on the cutting room floor. And so we went back to that for sure. I think what we ended up with now with Olympus is better, since we've had more time to improve it."
If you're wondering just how much of the original Titanfall 3 idea was carried over to Apex, however, it seems the concept went through a fair bit of change.
"We didn't really bring any of the old layout over, it was more of just an art style of that clean, futuristic city kind-of-look, the floating city in the air concept," Grenier added. "The map is completely redesigned, the original concept was for a single-player level. And so it was designed very differently. But you know, a lot of that architectural style and the colour palette and the concept of this floating city did carry over."
Interestingly enough, it seems the Titanfall 3 version of Olympus got fairly far through the development process - or at least enough it could someday be released to the public. Grenier suggested that at some point in future we might get to see it ourselves, in the form of a "'from the cutting room floor' pack" that "sheds some light on some of our hard work that we ended up cutting". That's just a maybe, however, so don't go holding your breath on this one.
As for the current status of Titanfall 3, nothing seems to have changed from what we heard in May earlier this year, as there are "no Titanfall titles in the works" - with no mention of what happened to the Titanfall universe premium title that was supposed to release in 2019. And although I'm sure Respawn is sick of this question, "nobody is currently working on Titanfall 3". It had to be asked.
Respawn co-founder Vince Zampella previously said he'd like to see a Titanfall resurrection at some point, but if you're looking for more Titanfall in the immediate future, Respawn has made significant efforts to bring the lore and even mechanics of the older Titanfall games into Apex Legends: and it sounds like that's set to continue. "Right now our focus is on Apex," Grenier said. "But Apex is in the Titanfall universe. So we're always bringing things from Titanfall into Apex - you know, we brought Ash into the quest. And Blisk is a part of the lore and shows up in a lot of our trailers. Even looking at one of Horizon's new abilities, it's a lot like the gravity grenade from Titanfall. So we get to bring a lot of the stuff that we enjoy in Titanfall into Apex.
"Looking at future seasons and animated shorts, and things that are coming out next year, I think any Titanfall fan is gonna be super excited."
Grenier couldn't share any specific details on future seasons, of course, but he did tell me Respawn is currently working on content all the way up to Season 12. Not everything in the future seasons is "fully fleshed out", but the legends and "very high level things that we're trying to do up through Season 12" are in progress. "Once we get to next year and we're shipping Season 8, we'll be having ideas for Seasons 13 and 14," Grenier explained. "But things really come together... probably within the last three months, that's when you really put the finishing touches on things, start working on the trailers and animated content - things like that."
When I asked Grenier about the team's immediate goals and long-term aims, however, I got a particularly interesting answer: while the short-term focus is to "maintain a quality game", it seems Apex could eventually evolve into something beyond a battle royale. "The other [focus] is: how do we expand it?", Grenier said. "So that means new players, new platforms, and it also means new ways to play Apex."
"Right now we're a battle royale game. I think if you look into the future, we have a lot of conversations of, you know, should we expand beyond battle royale? We have this roster of legends that people love - how else can we use them? I think looking into the future, you're probably going to see the game becoming more than just a battle royale game. You see we have all these LTMs (limited time modes) and other ways to play. I think that's a great starting point."
The idea of Apex branching out into other game modes is particularly interesting in light of recent clues discovered by dataminers hinting that Apex could be getting an arena mode - something that would certainly fit the development goals described by Grenier, but remains speculative at this point.
On the subject of datamining, it's no secret that Respawn has had a rather dramatic relationship with dataminers, warning players they were "not a source of truth" and even creating a fake legend to throw leakers off the scent. With some seemingly big additions to Apex on the horizon (no pun intended), and in light of some of the leaks before Season 7, I asked Grenier if he considered the dataminers a problem - and if Respawn had any further plans to bamboozle them.
"Well, we definitely get bummed out when we see it - but that said, I think it's fair game, right? If it's something that we're shipping in the game, we're happy that we have really passionate and excited fans that are just scouring for that information. I'd prefer that over having a game that no one cared about.
"We actually do a lot of things to mitigate data mining, like I told you we're working five, six seasons out. And so if we didn't do anything, the amount of leaks and datamining would be crazy, there'd be a year's worth of content leaked out. So we actually take a lot of hours to strip out all stuff that is still in progress. But it's millions of files of lines of code and things. And so kind of what people are data mining are like, point one per cent of that."
Right, so we've discussed Apex Legends' past and future, but what about its present? Olympus has been designed with vehicles in mind, and as such includes a variety of ramps and roads to encourage driving. To aid with this some areas of the map have been made more open, but there is "pocketed density" in areas like Bonsai Plaza to support short-range gunfights. "There's definitely some longer-range fights that you can get into because of those spaces - I'm not usually a player that picks up a sniper rifle, but when I'm playing Olympus, I definitely find myself using one more often than not," Grenier said. "[It's] actually a fun change because I'm getting a new experience, the map is a little better set up for it."
And as for my concerns about increased third-partying on the map, Grenier said it turns out the opposite is true.
"In our internal playtests, it hasn't been a major problem because you can spot those third parties coming - if you look at King's Canyon, you don't necessarily know that you're being third-partied until they're on you," Grenier explained. "And now you're going to notice that squad running into a more open area, and you're going to use that to mitigate."
The addition of vehicles is another exciting change arriving in Season 7, and the Trident hovercraft are certainly fun to mess around with: I spent a fair bit of time in our preview session drifting around the map, and getting to grips with the white-knuckle experience of using the boost. Hilariously, you can also place other abilities such as Caustic's traps on the Tridents, turning them into moving gas mines. As any close followers of battle royale games will know, however, vehicles can often be used by competitive players as a means of hiding until the final circles - so I was curious to see if Respawn anticipates the same meta in Apex.
"We anticipate that might happen, especially in a competitive scene you'll have a small ring with five vehicles in it, and it could be kind of nuts, but we're going to monitor it," said Grenier. "And we can always put in some changes to address any issues. I will say that it's a bit dangerous to drive around in the vehicle - if the vehicle gets shot, everybody on the vehicle takes damage, even if the shot hit the vehicle and not the individual person." Duly noted.
New legend Horizon, meanwhile, is so far quite amusing to play: as an astrophysicist her abilities are all themed around gravity, meaning you'll be spending a fair amount of time launching yourself into the sky. Her tactical ability, gravity lift, can be used to throw enemies into the air - but I found it more useful for maneuvering between levels or even using it as a sniper tower, a strategy I picked up from a particularly terrifying encounter with a QA dev. It combines nicely with her soft landing passive, which prevents the sort of shuddering you'd normally get from flinging yourself down onto the ground. I've so far struggled to get to grips with her black hole ultimate, however, which seems a little slow to use, and seems quite easy to avoid (especially for movement-focused legends like Pathfinder).
Along with some nice improvements to how the battle pass works - streamlining challenges and making it easier to see what you need to complete - Apex Season 7 also introduces a new social feature called clubs. You can either create or join a club of 30 people, and customise them with logos, certain level requirements, and search tags to help people find a group that's right for them. Respawn designer Chad Armstrong explained this is all about encouraging communities and creating close friendships, which is why the clubs have a fairly low ceiling for member numbers - and you can only join one at a time. "[With Titanfall] we found that if the networks got too large, they got kind of noisy and people started tuning them out, which kind of defeats the purpose," Armstrong added. "So we decided on launching clubs with a maximum number of 30 users."
Of course, we're also getting extremely close to the launch of next-gen consoles, and in the QA session Grenier confirmed Apex Legends would be coming to PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X on day one via backwards compatibility. Account progression will roll over, and it will also have full cross-play with all other platforms. As for native next-gen versions of Apex Legends, we're going to have to wait for more news on that in future. "You can look forward to some improvements in loading times and visual fidelity even with backwards compatibility because of the power of the new consoles," Grenier added.
So, that's a hell of a lot of Apex news - and you'll be able to take all the new features for a test drive yourself when Season 7 launches on 4th November. As for the future of the game, that certainly looks bright - and particularly so if you're a Titanfall fan.
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