“We didn’t bring Skull Town back,” Jeff Shaw, Respawn’s lead level designer, explains to me when I incorrectly call the new POI Relic ‘Skull Town 2.0.’ “It’s heavily inspired by Skull Town, but it’s not Skull Town, and we want to be clear about that.”
Apex Legends Season 14 feels like a blast from the past. Back in Kings Canyon, a smaller iteration of Skull Town has returned, and players who hit the 500 level cap can start over to start the grind all over again with the second, third, and fourth prestige. However, Season 14 has a lot of new changes, so I sat down with Shaw and his colleagues to get the lowdown on third-party management, why Skull Town is gone, and if auto-resolve will return in the future.
Skull Town was removed nine seasons ago because it was “unhealthy” for the game, Shaw explains. Respawn’s data backed up what we all saw, that pretty much the entire lobby was landing on the iconic drop point, meaning something had to change. “The decision was made to just say, ‘Okay, let’s make the map a little smaller, remove this POI that’s causing a lot of trouble, and start rebuilding parts of the map from there,’” he says. “And we found after that was done, that the dispersal of where people landed was much healthier.” When asked if Respawn would similarly remove Fragment, Shaw said, “no comment.”
It seems unlikely that Relic’s smaller size will turn off most players, especially early in the season when the excitement is highest. So why bring it back? “In addition to bringing it back for nostalgia, this is the kind of game that people really love and miss from the map,” says Shaw. “But another big point of that was finding a creative solution to a problem that we saw. One of the issues we saw was how do you rotate from Octane to Market to Caustic Treatment and Salvage and all that area. We feel like it got too funneled and you funneled yourself into commitments, even if you wanted to avoid them.”
To combat the POI density in southern Kings Canyon, Broken Relay has also had a shine, adding more buildings and better loot. The revitalized location, now called the Basin, is still home to mid-tier loot, but loot balance has been altered across the map to encourage players to more varied landing spots.
Even though Relic expanded Kings Canyon to the south and Crash Site previously did the same to the north, the original Apex map is still the smallest. With a small map comes more 3rds, which are incredibly annoying to deal with after an intense fight, which is probably why many choose to fall back on Caustic and Wattson for a safe restart. Shaw acknowledges this problem, but is wary of completely removing third parties from the game.
“We see third parties as a healthy part of the game, but when third parties are happening too much in certain areas, we see it as a bit of an issue,” he says. He explains that removing buildings from Hillside Outpost should prevent teams from becoming entrenched, and removing Redeploy Balloons from the center of the map will remove the quickest way to rotate to charge an injured team after the fight. The “choke center,” as Shaw describes it, between the Bunker, The Cage, and the Hillside Outpost, has also been partially filled in, leaving teams with longer routes if they want to engage in a fight they hear on the other side of the Kings. Canyon. central mountain range. Unless they have a Valkyrie, that is.
Hardcore gamers will know that the Apex level system is capped at 500, after which you can’t progress any further. I asked system designer Aaron Rutledge why it took so long to increase the level cap, especially since the first increase, from 100 to 500, came so quickly after the game’s release.
“I think it’s the percentage of the player base that is close to that limit,” he explains. “500 takes a while. And yes, there are people who play this as a career and get to 500 real quick, but that’s not true for the entire player base. We want to be cautious when we expand that. And I think going from 500 to essentially 2000 [the prestige system sees players regress to a new level 1 after hitting 500] It’s OK now. That’s why we’re making this change now.
“Also, as we increase the Apex pack drop rate, that should be proportional to the amount of content we have. So in the first nine months, we had a very limited pool of skins that were even available for people to get; you don’t want everyone to run out of things to open. So as the content pool grows, we can let more Apex packs out into the economy.”
Reaching level 2000 (or more accurately, 500 for the fourth time) will earn you 544 Apex Packs in total. This is crucial above the threshold for receiving a ‘Pity Relic’, the ultra-rare collectible cosmetics that have an obscenely low drop rate, but are guaranteed in your 500 pack if you haven’t already received one. “At launch, inheritances weren’t even really a thing,” explains Rutledge. “And now they’re such a sought-after item that we wanted to give everyone a chance to have that feeling of the red Apex pack opening experience.” However, it will take you a while to get there.
The biggest changes in Season 14, like every season, are the weapons. The Rampage LMG and Bocek Bow will go into the Care Package (despite my protests), instead of the G7 Scout and Volt SMG. Game designer Eric Canavese assured me that the Bocek heading into the pack wasn’t a personal grudge, and that his buff will be “much more like the bow we released during the first week and then fixed.”
He also told me that the Rampage won’t fully charge when found in the Care Package, despite Respawn testing it as an option. “In fact, we tried it early in our experimentation,” he says. “We even tried to make it free to load, so it still had to go through the window to load, but not only was it constant, we found that it just kind of interrupts things a little bit and then you get into this situation where ‘You always do. Ultimately, it was a bit unhealthy, so what we ended up doing was spawning it on the box with a free Thermite.”
The other big news when it comes to weapons is Wingman taking Sniper Ammo and Spitfire switching from Heavy to Light. Both weapons haven’t changed apart from their ammo, so you’ll still be able to shred with those Wingman headshots, you just won’t be able to carry as much ammo for it, as Cavanese says, “it was too easy to run with the heavy ammo and the ability to expand with two stacks for the entire game.”
The Devotion and RE-45 (complete with Hammerpoints) are in the Replicator for Season 14, the latter as “a little experiment” to try and funnel players into crafting an early game weapon. The final big change when it comes to loot is gold gear. Gold backpacks now allow you to stack three large meds instead of two, and their old mechanic allowing you to revive teammates at half health instead of a chunk has been moved to the gold shield. That means auto-resurrection is out, something pro gamers have been complaining about for a long time, but is it gone for good?
“We listen to our community and it’s important that we show that we’re listening, but we’re not going to do everything the community wants,” says Cavanese. “And this isn’t just something to appease the community, it’s something we think will benefit the health of the game, ranked integrity, and professional play across the board. When we see that there is a bit of negative sentiment around something, we analyze it and come to our own conclusions about health and things like that.
“We did it with our own resolve and we came to the conclusion that we can think of something else and try it. If it doesn’t work, maybe we’ll go back to auto-resolving, who knows? But we’re always open to trying new things and we don’t want to be afraid to respond to that and give new things in the game a chance.”
Next: Inside The Burger Brigade: Apex Legends Esports Loudest Fanbase