The weird time dilation effect of the last few years has struck once again, as Respawn’s battle royale Apex Legends has just celebrated its fifth anniversary last week – we’re also coming to the tenth anniversary of the original Titanfall in March, which will no doubt pain gamers who just want Titanfall 3 to be announced. So how are Respawn Entertainment marking the occasion? Well, naturally with the launch of a brand new season and some big changes to the in-match progression.
Season 20: Breakout will start next week on 12th February, and it’s got a handful of new and interesting ideas. Heroes are getting mid-game upgrades, the crafting system is being streamlined, maps have been spruced up with new look banners and elements, there’s new quickfire limited time modes and changes to ranked… oh, and we’re finally getting 120Hz support for Xbox Series X|S and PS5, with the latter also finally getting proper haptics and adaptive trigger support.
Let’s start with the Legends, because while there isn’t a new addition to the roster or a singular character revamp, as we saw last summer with Revenant, there’s a big change coming that will affect hero play across the board: Legend upgrades.
Legend upgrades add a little bit of extra flexibility to each character, aiming to augment the existing core abilities instead of completely upending their playstyle – importantly, you should still know what to expect in general if you see a Gibby or Maggie coming at you, but might have to handle them slightly differently. So you can soup up Maggie’s Wrecking Ball ability so that it’s on fire and deals more damage, healers could revive allies with more HP, or you get a buff to shotgun damage.
The key thing is that this taps into the existing match progression, alongside the Evo armour. As you go through white, blue, purple and red armour tiers by dealing damage, using abilities and more to earn Evo, the blue and purple tiers will also present you with a pair of Legend upgrades, with you getting to choose one at each step. That’s the limit here, with Respawn giving two upgrade points as opposed to three or four to try and let them feel more impactful, while still retaining a little balance.
Speaking of armour and Evo, there’s changes to how this is upgraded. Armour is no longer something that you pick up, so there’s no quick leap up to better armour without going through the Evo progression system. You will have new ways to earn Evo, from new harvesters and caches which boost your whole squad, and there is still a way to grab shield cores from death boxes, though this will simply recharge you up to your maximum shield, with any higher tier shields you grab giving you an overcharge instead of a permanent swap.
Crafting has also been streamlined, so they no longer rely on crafting materials, and they only give you a smaller pool of items like health, shields, banners. They’re more predictable and dish things out quicker.
Much of this is in an effort to simplify Apex Legends a little bit, hopefully to be more welcoming to newcomers, and remove some of the cruft built up over the past few years, and you can see that effort elsewhere in the game as well.
Season 20 is bringing a new Straight Shot limited time mode that ramps up the pace of a battle royale match. This will come with a 30-player lobby size, spawning everyone automatically at points of interest – you’ll always have one other team for “company” – and with the end ring rolling in after around 10 minutes instead of 20. Even looting has been slimmed down so weapons you grab have set attachment loadouts (though you can still swap out the scopes).
It’s going to be much more rapid, and Respawn want you to roll from one match right into the next, to the extent that you can go straight back into matchmaking from the spectator view after you’ve been knocked out.
For those hooked on the ranked mode grind, Respawn are hitting the reset button here with a new and simplified ranking system. There’s no more behind the scenes hidden MMR going into matchmaking, it will just use your Ranked Points (RP) and level derived from that to match you to similarly ranked players.
All players will be starting at 1 RP, so the first days will be pretty chaotic here, but after that should settle down into relative skill levels. Good players will race up the early ranks thanks to the scoring model now rewarding more for kills, with increasing value as you place higher. You’ll also have a bonus for knocking off anyone of a higher rank than you, and there’s a bonus for a streak of top 5 placements. All of this will be more transparently outlined in a post-match summary, so you know what points came from kills, skills, placement and so on.
All in all, it actually feels a little subdued for a fifth anniversary update, outside of having blimps floating around the maps, but that’s probably for the betterment of the game in the long run. There’s no big new story arc after last year’s Kill Code narrative, and there’s no new character, but Respawn are resetting the foundations with Legend Upgrades and tweaks to armour, giving more bitesized matches in Straight Shot, and demystifying ranked matchmaking in ways that can only be good for the game.