It’s fair to say that Apex Legends has done okay for itself. Recently surpassing one hundred million unique players around the same time as it was celebrating its second anniversary, things are looking bright for the future of what I easily consider the best Battle Royale on the market right now.

GameCritics was recently invited to a virtual press event, and I was happy to attend.

One of the first things I learned was that Valkyrie is the new Legend introduced this season, and she happens to be the daughter of Viper from Titanfall 2. Her unique selling point is that she has a VTOL Jump Jet of her very own and can fly around the sky as long as her fuel reserves hold out. It sounds like a pretty big advantage, but her fuel supply is limited and takes a while to recharge, she can’t fire her primary weapons while using the thrusters, and that jetpack is seriously, seriously loud. Don’t expect to silently swoop in from above while using this thing.

Even though Valkyrie’s unable to use her guns whilst zooming through the air, she can use her tactical ability to fire off a swarm of missiles towards anyone unfortunate to be caught in her path. Like most offensive tactical abilities, these don’t do incredible damage by themselves, but they do have a decent area-of-effect and will briefly stun anyone caught in the blast radius, making it harder for them to move or aim until the effect is shaken off.

Finally, her Ultimate involves blasting off into space (with or without her companions) and redeploying somewhere else on the map. I didn’t notice any offensive capabilities attached to this get out-of-jail-free card, but it could be a useful option when under heavy fire or at risk of being surrounded by opposing teams.

I’m not really sure where she’ll land in the overall character strength rankings, whether she’s a Wraith or a Rampart, but she looks like an enjoyable addition to the game and provides players with some new options, which are always welcome.

As is customary during seasonal updates, there’s also a new weapon which will make Rambo: First Blood fans happy – especially if they also happen to have the Pathfinder Edition skin equipped. That’s right, the Bochek Bow makes its way to the Apex games, alongside a new type of ammunition and two new hop-ups which can both be equipped simultaneously. Shatter Caps allow it to be used in a more shotgun-style capacity, while Deadeye Tempo allows faster shooting for players who can time their release well.

The Bochek Bow looks like a strong weapon from the short time I spent testing it out. Dealing 70 damage on a body shot and 123 from a headshot against a standard Legend, it’s a hard-hitting ranged weapon that allows for a slightly more stealthy approach and is heavily dependent on player skill to use successfully. Needless to say, I was nearly useless with it, but the common consensus was that it might be a bit too strong at present for anyone with half-decent aim.

Olympus itself is undergoing some fairly drastic changes for Season Nine. While King’s Canyon and World Edge have been destroyed and broken apart in various ways since their release, Respawn have taken a different approach for Olympus and instead brought in construction equipment to create gleaming new skyscrapers and… oh, I’m just kidding. Olympus is being attacked by a giant parasitic organism that crashed into the landing bay area aboard a starship and is trying to consume everything in sight. A bunch of dead scientists are littered around the crash zone, and some of them are carrying keycards to the bridge where they kept all the best goodies…

I can’t talk in more detail about the changes to the map though — not because of any restrictions that Respawn have set in place, but because during the one match where we all declared a ceasefire so that we could explore, I was gunned down from behind by some filthy Revenant who apparently couldn’t distinguish between a real match and one where more than half the lobby landed in one place and immediately began performing emotes. I hope that looks great on your highlight reel, random creator.

Anyway, for me the biggest news this season is that there’s a new permanent mode called Arenas that the devs have clearly been putting a ton of work into. Masterminded by another character who’ll be very familiar to Titanfall 2 players, it’s a round-based 3v3 battleground that allows players to purchase their loadout between rounds and go to war with another team across a variety of smaller, custom-built maps. That’s right, there’s no looting for weapons in this mode — just shooting. And Legend abilities. But mainly shooting. Win at least three matches with a two-point lead and victory awaits, though any drawn-out conflicts may reach sudden death on round nine.

There are three maps provided in Arenas at launch. Artillery has been lifted wholesale out of King’s Canyon, but Phase Runner and Party Crasher have been tweaked extensively so that while their architecture is familiar, the overall layout is set for smaller, more intense rounds.  For those craving more immediate action, this may well be the mode to opt for.

Honestly, I enjoyed this new addition a hell of a lot. Apex has always had exquisite gunplay, and It’s nice to not drop into a match and find another team swallowing up purple armor and Spitfires while all that’s left is a Mozambique and two absent squadmates running in the other direction.

I’m sure there will be some imbalances at first — Loba’s usefulness drops like a stone when there’s almost nothing on each map to loot, for example — but it’s looking like a fresh and exciting alternative to the main Battle Royale mode, and a microcosm of the things that make Apex what it is. Even better, there’s no chance of third parties showing up halfway through a battle.

There are still a ton of minor details I could go into, from the Peacekeeper becoming ground loot once again to the Triple Take being shunted into care packages to replace it, but come May 4th everyone will be able to see these changes for themselves once the new season launches. And hell, these changes and new modes have got me excited all over again for a game I’ve been playing for two years now, so it’s clear that they’re on the right track.

Darren Forman
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