Respawn would "love to deliver" more single-player PvE content for Apex Legends
But dev team health takes priority.
If you somehow missed it, earlier this week Respawn unveiled some massive changes coming to Apex Legends in its upcoming Legacy season - the biggest being a new permanent game mode called Arenas. Set to run alongside Apex's standard battle royale matches, Arenas has been described as the "first step" in moving Apex Legends beyond battle royale. And as it turns out, the first pitch document for Arenas was inspired by Auto Chess: a pretty surprising choice given that battle royales and auto chess, erm, aren't particularly alike.
It all made me wonder what sort of wacky experiments Respawn is carrying out behind the scenes, and what we could potentially see next. Could it be single-player modes, co-op, gauntlet runs? So I decided to put this question to Respawn in an interview with chief operating manager and Apex Legends general manager Dusty Welch, and game director Chad Grenier. It seems that the Apex Legends team is keen to venture further into areas such as PvE - and pointed to previous Apex experiments as an example.
"We dipped our toes in a PvE mode a few seasons back with quests," Grenier said. "And the team certainly loves to make that kind of content. A lot of our team comes from a single-player background... we made the single-player campaign in Titanfall 2.
"And so with all of the awesome legends and all the lore and storytelling that we're doing, the team naturally I think would love to deliver some sort of content that's like that, like single-player PvE content," Grenier added.
It could be some time before we see more PvE elements in Apex, however, as Grenier said the team had chosen to focus on PvP in order to protect team health while working from home during the pandemic.
"...We're always balancing team health, and making sure we're not crunching," Grenier said. "Because our focus is on PvP, we had to move away from that type of content for the time being. That's not to say in the future that we might not see some kind of PvE or campaign or something like that. But right now, we're not really focused on it - we're thinking about how to continue with a PvP game and continue storytelling. They're making awesome shorts like Northstar that was just released. But the desire is certainly there."
On the topic of avoiding burnout during the pandemic, Grenier noted it had been challenging due to the loss of the "insight you get working together in a studio", such as reading body language or visibly seeing people work late. "We've done a lot of learning over the last year for sure, in how to streamline the content we're making and build it more efficiently, but also a lot of learning as to how to take care of the team and make sure we're enforcing our strict no-crunch policy," Grenier said.
"Now we just tend to give the team time off even if it's not asked for, we'll ship a big season and we'll take a rest - we gave extended time during the holidays to the Apex team. It's more about being a marathon than a sprint - you really have to pace yourself."
Grenier added that a lot more developers had been brought in to help manage the workload, including studio Respawn Vancouver, and dates had been pushed back to make sure there was "less on everybody's plates". The Bocek Bow that's being introduced with the Legacy update, for instance, was initially supposed to ship in Season 7. "We're now in Season 9 and finally releasing the bow, partly because of making sure nobody has to crunch for, or work long hours on, getting that bow ready," Grenier said.
The prospect of new modes for Apex immediately got some asking, of course, about whether titans could be brought into Apex Legends. Respawn has been very open about the fact Titanfall 3 is not currently in development - but could titans ever be brought in through a separate game mode for Apex? The answer, it seems, is no. For now at least.
"Probably not - we feel like the game is in a really good place, it's well balanced, the combat is predictable... we're just in such a healthy place that thinking about bringing titans into the game, it throws such a big wrench into the game," Grenier said. "And other than titans being cool, I don't see a huge need for them to be in the game from a gameplay point of view.
"But I'm never going to say never, because we're constantly doing things that we never thought we would do. In general, I think when we launched the game we wouldn't think we would have Arenas or a legend with a jetpack, or get 100m players. So I'll never say never - but right now, we're not planning to do anything with titans."
Welch chimed in to highlight that "isn't to say the team hasn't experimented or tried or tested" with titans, so it seems some titan experimentation might have happened behind the scenes - but it's unlikely we'll see the mechs roaming the fields of Olympus anytime soon. Beyond the hacked-up titan now being used as Valkyrie's jetpack, that is.
The good news for Titanfall fans is they can expect to see further Titanfall lore brought into Apex in future. The Legacy update uses a significant amount of Titanfall 2 lore - Valkyrie's background and the return of Ash being two examples - and Grenier noted this was "probably more than a typical season". He added that Titanfall lore is brought in naturally as Apex Legends is set in the same universe, but you can still expect to see some familiar faces pop up in future.
"This is not the end of it, we're going to continue to push some of the favourite Titanfall characters that people know and love and bring them into Apex one way or another, whether it's playable content or lore," Grenier said.
Apex Legends has seen plenty of success this year, and earlier this month reached an impressive 100m players milestone, something Welch said had been a "really humbling experience" for the team. There have been some difficulties, of course: the Switch port released with some frame-rate and resolution issues, for instance, while DDoS attacks in Ranked mode have become a problem of late. Grenier said that the team of engineers and developers working on the Switch version had made a lot of optimisations to get the game on the platform, and "there's no end in sight" to improving the port. "I think we'll be optimising and trying to push it as far as we can, continually, so we are definitely working on that. But I think it's at a pretty good place where it's at now."
And as for the DDoS attacks, Grenier said that a "big effort" was being made to tackle the cheating problems, with other teams within EA being brought on to help Respawn's anti-cheat team. "...It's a lot like antivirus software, you're always playing catchup," Grenier said. "So it's never going to be something we can completely get rid of - but we can certainly continue with a big push on minimising it as much as possible."
It's an exciting time for Apex Legends, and after a busy year full of major updates, the battle royale shows no sign of slowing down. Along with the new season there's a mobile version of Apex on the horizon, and beta tests for this have just begun. Despite the seemingly hectic schedule, it's good to hear that Respawn is still placing emphasis on team health, and is prepared to delay some features for the good of its developers. And who knows, maybe we'll see a single-player PvE mode come to Apex at some point in future - just don't expect to be hopping in a titan for it.