After an extended opening season, Respawn Entertainment has finally dropped the second season of content for Apex Legends, the studio's battle royale shooter, and so we've been checking out the new character and map changes that came with the update.
Perhaps due to its length, perhaps due to the lack of shiny new things to unlock, the last season of content didn't go down as well as Respawn would have liked, and we've seen a steady drift of players away from the game. It's still popular to the extent that we never had to wait long for a new match, but the cadence at which Epic puts out updates for Fortnite and the ongoing popularity of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, means that the studio has had its work cut out when it comes to not only attracting new players but then retaining them in the face of such stiff competition.
This season is, to an extent, just more of the same, and the baseline experience doesn't differ all that much from what we were playing at launch, nor does it stray too far from what other studios are offering via their own versions of the popular battle royale formula. That said, there was plenty of room for more subtle changes to freshen up Kings Canyon, and there's another new so-called legend here to throw a proverbial spanner in the current meta.
In fact, that's probably the best place to start. We spent the majority of our time this week working out how best to use Wattson, the game's new defensively-minded character. It's up for debate just how effective this new combatant actually is, as the new fighter is a brains-before-brawn addition to the game. We've come to the conclusion that Wattson isn't at her most useful during the earliest phases of a match, but as the circle shrinks and teams of players are funnelled into ever-shrinking arenas, the newcomer comes into her own.
One of her main abilities is a shield-boosting pylon that she can drop to charge her team's shields and destroy incoming ordinance, which can be particularly useful if you're taking fire and have been cornered. The other trick up Wattson's sleeve is a series of electric fence posts that she can position around an area. These posts then form an electrically-charged barrier that stuns and slows enemies as they pass through it. At the start of a round, when the arena is open and you're still searching for decent gear, it's not a hugely useful ability, but towards the end of a tense battle, when the playing area has shrunk down and those remaining are all close by, the new legend can set up a web of electricity that can really hinder and restrict enemy movement.
That's not to say that her perimeter security won't come in handy at the start of the game. We had one moment at the beginning of a match where we ended up trapped in a room with an armed enemy. Lucky for us they only had a pistol and as they fired we stepped this way and that, dropping posts to create a web of electricity that kept stunning them as we tried to land melee attacks. We weren't able to kill off our opponent in this manner, but it did keep us alive long enough for an ally to turn up and do the deed for us.
Then there are the numerous map changes that we've seen arrive with this second season, many of them caused by giant creatures stomping across Kings Canyon in slow motion. These leviathans were let loose after some sort of EMP charge went off, but they don't seem to mind players scurrying around underfoot. As a result of being unleashed, these lumbering mega-beasts have caused a fair bit of destruction and thus there are a few structural changes to take note of. For example, some of the buildings that rested on the river have now been completely destroyed, and where there once was shacks filled with weapons to collect, now there's just a dangerous river crossing with little in the way of cover.
There are also a few new additions, such as buildings like The Cage, which sounds ominous and sits in the middle of a small canyon. It offers multiple floors filled with loot and we can see a lot of teams landing here in the months ahead. It's not the only new building that has been added, and there are also flying monsters that are clutching decent loot to shoot out of the sky and hot zones that rock upgraded gear, but while there is a lot that's different once you really dig into things, the whole thing still feels reassuringly familiar.
Of course, beyond the map changes and the new playable character, there's a bunch of small tweaks relating to the legends and their abilities, plus a bunch of weapons have been rebalanced to suit the new status quo. Our focus has almost entirely been on learning the ropes with Wattson, so we can't really comment on how some of the adjustments made to other characters will be received, but the breadth of the changes does point to a studio that's listening to its community and trying to improve things. More obvious is the new ranking system, which ranges from Bronze to Apex Predator.
One thing that makes little difference to the gameplay experience, but will keep players coming back for more, is the updated 'premium' battle pass. This season's offering includes a lot of items for players to unlock, and with there already being plenty of quirky outfits and banners to choose from, the range of options is now borderline overwhelming. If unlocking cosmetics is what drives you to push forward and has you completing daily and weekly tasks so you can earn the resources you need to craft the gear you want, then you will probably find the new season of content an improvement over the last one. That's the plan, at least.
Apex Legends launched to universal acclaim earlier this year, and for our money, it's still up there with the very best in the genre (those being Fortnite and Blackout). The only thing we didn't enjoy during our time with Wattson was the lack of server stability that saw us kicked from a couple of matches and, later on, unable to complete a daily challenge before we signed off at the end of the night. Other than that, we had a blast returning to Kings Canyon for the launch of season two, and we think Wattson brings a new tactical approach to the endgame and close-quarters combat that should give the meta a healthy shot in the arm.