Apex Legends’ Story Is Brilliant, But It’s Getting Messy
One of the many things that sets Apex Legends apart from its competitors is the fact that Respawn Entertainment doesn’t just dabble in world-building—they’ve mastered it, and their massively successful free-to-play battle royale has an actual, linear story to tell.
The Legends all have complicated relationships with their pasts and each other, and the universe in which the game takes place is as complex, nuanced, and detailed as it is vast. Part of this is due to the fact that this legendary story is unfolding in a ready-made universe that was pre-established in Respawn’s previous games, Titanfall and Titanfall 2.
As Apex enters its tenth season and expands its roster of playable Legends to a whopping 18, its evolving story naturally grows ever more complex. Each Legend has a story that is inextricably intertwined with the stories of their fellow Legends, as we’ve seen with some of the shocking family-related revelations and recent romances that popped up in Season 9. It stands to reason that this trend will continue in coming months as more characters join in on the fun. There’s only one problem: if you don’t spend a significant amount of your time on Reddit and Twitter, you’re missing out on half of each season’s story.
Until somewhat recently, many players weren’t even aware canon plot elements were being released anywhere other than trailers, the official EA website, and the game itself. In Respawn’s defense, they began leaving references to their @PlayApex Twitter account in the game sometime around Season 6, though it wasn’t until Season 9 that the battle pass comics tab explicitly directed players to seek out more weekly story content on Twitter.
But if you’re old enough to be able to read this sentence, you are likely also wise enough to know that, generally speaking, when a company tells you to hit them up on Twitter for “exciting new content”, that exciting new content is usually advertising. Generally, skipping over a game’s official social media accounts might mean you miss some retweeted fanart, don’t see the results of the latest esports face-off, or aren’t notified the exact second the newest patch notes go up – but it usually doesn’t mean you’ll be missing out on the plot itself. Apex, however, is another story.
I’m the resident Apex expert (Apexpert?) in my little band of gamer friends. After there’s been an update, I’m the one listing off the patch notes when said friends wonder aloud mid-match why their favorite weapon isn’t working like it used to, or why our friendly neighborhood murderbot (and the current bane of Octanes everywhere) can now scale the entire height of the concrete parking structures on World’s Edge. With the constantly-expanding list of Legends, locales, and lethal weapons, Apex can be a lot to keep up with from a gameplay standpoint alone. But, by far, the question I am asked the most (besides “What is wrong with these servers?”) is some variation of “What the hell is going on?” regarding the plot. For example:
“This loading screen says Mirage and Wraith got in a fight. Did I miss that part?”
“When did Crypto confess his true identity to Wattson? I thought she was mad at him!”
“Why does Mirage’s mom call him her ‘little inchworm’?”
“Why is Wraith saying she ‘used to go by the name Hope’? The Voidwalker short clearly shows us her name is Renée…”
Each of these questions has a definitive, fascinating answer, because the best part of Apex Legends is its story. Unfortunately, the worst part of Apex Legends is also its story.
Don’t get me wrong: there is some seriously masterful, big-brained plot design going on here, from the individual characters and their relationships with one another to the overarching story itself and how its major events are implemented via gameplay. Respawn has created and assembled a league of relatable, interesting badasses with addictively fun-to-use combat skills that force players to rely on creativity, adaptability, and teamwork to win, instead of only relying on their skills with a gun (truly, there is no greater joy than watching enemy teams scatter like ants, frantically spinning as they try to identify the source of the silent murder-arrows currently raining down on them like hellfire from above).
Through its characters and their collective story, Apex has engendered a player community that’s highly-focused on inclusivity as opposed to toxicity. It has led to countless hours of fun that helped my friends and I escape, however briefly, from the misery and loneliness of the pandemic. It’s a fantastic game, and it probably goes without saying that I love it.
But even with its brilliant story, it suffers one glaring, obvious misstep: that story is broken into a thousand little pieces that are scattered so far apart that piecing said story back together requires an enormous amount of time and effort on the player’s part. When following the plot is more complicated than reassembling a Simulacrum’s head, something is wrong.
The main problem is how the storytelling has been implemented over the years. Initially, plot developments and canon lore came from the following places:
1. In-game loading screens, earned mainly via completion of each season’s premium battle pass. 2. Launch trailers, gameplay trailers, and episodes of Stories from the Outlands, all available instantly for free on the official Apex Legends YouTube channel. 3. The character profiles on EA’s official Apex Legends website. 4. In-game easter eggs and banter between Legends.
Occasionally, there would be a surprise lore drop, usually in the form of a single image, shared via the official Apex Legends Twitter account. While interesting, the contents of these posts were usually nothing pivotal to understanding the plot. Take, for instance, this transcript between Hammond Legal rep Cheryl Amacci and Syndicate PR rep Jacob Young in the wake of Revenant’s unexpected, messy arrival in Season 4. That little tidbit of lore was the cherry atop the (very bloody) sundae—a nice narrative touch, but not absolutely vital to understanding major plot points. Cheryl and Jacob are more formally introduced via in-game loading screen lore later on, so those players who missed the tweet aren’t completely lost.
Season 5 introduced the coolest lore-delivery system yet: weekly playable story missions that saw players transported to the Shadow-infested version of Kings Canyon located in the dark alternate dimension players initially discovered during the previous year’s Halloween event. Each of Season 5’s weekly missions saw players fighting through hordes of Shadows, Prowlers, and Shadow-Prowlers, all while trying to stay alive long enough to recover and escape with a piece of a very familiar face. Upon success, the mission was followed by a scene told from the perspective of one of the Legends. Each scene contained dialogue and sound effects that made reading them a treat—even without any visuals to accompany them.
Season 6 brought with it the in-game comics, and this is, in my opinion, where the Octrain went off the rails.
Grinding out those treasure packs felt worth it in Season 5, because doing so rewarded players with exciting playable content that genuinely paid off in the end (if descending into that secret bunker and attaching Ash’s head to what was left of her mangled robotic body didn’t give you goosebumps, nothing will). But Season 6 marked the beginning of the “What Am I Missing?” era. The previous season’s playable missions undoubtedly took a great deal of time and effort to create, so I didn’t expect to see them every season. I did, however, expect them to take the daily treasure pack mechanic with them when they left. Silly me.
But when it became clear that comics would be replacing the playable missions and short Legend-POV stories that came with them, I was fairly optimistic. Once these comics came to fruition, however, things started going downhill. The daily loot-based rewards that accompanied each treasure pack weren’t particularly unique or interesting, and the lack of playable missions made them feel like nothing more than a weak attempt to keep the daily player count up. But surely the comics would make up for this, right?
Well, yes and no.
The comics themselves are unbelievably short considering the amount of time Apex requires of its players to complete each battle pass and comic arc every season, with some “chapters” containing only seven illustrated panels. Not seven pages, seven individual panels. The second anything even the slightest bit interesting starts to happen, suddenly it’s all, “…find out, on next week’s episode of What Is Even Going On Anymore?”
Except you don’t find out on next week’s episode. Next week’s episode features some other neat-but-seemingly-unrelated stuff that will probably be relevant down the line, but is not something I care about when I’m only getting seven panels of plot at a time.
A far bigger problem, however, is not how much Respawn chooses to show via in-game comics – it’s what specific events they choose to relegate to the comics they release on Twitter. For those who have been keeping up solely via the in-game content plus the videos on the official Youtube channel, the plot of the comics is completely disjointed and utterly nonsensical. Worse, it’s boring.
Season 9’s in-game comics were arguably the most exciting ones to date, yet they paled in comparison to the weekly Twitter comics and animated shorts. To give you an idea of what I mean, here are just a few examples of what you missed in Season 9 if you didn’t keep your eyes firmly focused on Apex’s Twitter feed:
– Octane’s father put him up to filing the serial numbers off the Icarus fleet, but still rejected Octane even after he did the dirty work, leading to Octane developing a drinking habit in addition to his Stim addiction. He’s terrified Lifeline will find out his secret.
– Bangalore witnessed a part of the Voidwalker incident and mistook Voidwalker for our Wraith.
– Ash went out of her way to save Horizon’s life (we’ll come back to this in a moment).
The issue with the comics is two-fold. The first problem is that there’s nowhere to read them after the season ends. Early on in Season 9, devs mentioned that they were working on a way to implement past comics so players can read them, but we’ve yet to see this happen, and it’s unclear how it would even work. Would the pages only be accessible to players who unlocked them all during the previous seasons? If so, what are new players supposed to do? The launch of Arenas mode brought with it an influx of new players who have no clue what’s going on, and they have no way to find out.
The main problem is the amount of vital lore being diverted to Twitter. On one hand, it gives the writers a little more wiggle room in terms of mature content, as Twitter comics don’t have to be rated T for Teen. On the other hand, it causes the coolest parts of every season’s story to be inadvertently overlooked by a great deal of players, meaning the events that do happen in-game seem more confusing than cool. I find it incredibly strange that important animated shorts and comics are uploaded solely to Twitter, especially after training players to expect visual lore to be distributed via YouTube and loading screens.
While it makes perfect sense to want to drive more traffic to the Apex Twitter account, Respawn are doing so at the cost of the plot, and as a result, many avid players like myself have fallen behind on the story despite being up-to-date on our battle passes.
During the height of 2020’s chaos, a 233-page lore book, Pathfinder’s Quest, was quietly released via Dark Horse Comics, though the book itself is not a comic. It’s stuffed full of details about what happened between the end of the Frontier War and the present day, while also filling in many information gaps regarding each Legend and their past (anyone wondering who this “Boone” person is who Bloodhound keeps mentioning will find their answers here). At the end of the book, the reader can scan a QR code, which will take them to an incredibly-important lore video that I genuinely cannot believe was relegated to Twitter, titled ‘The Truth’. If you’ve spent the last few seasons wondering why Pathfinder has a statue for “saving the Outlands,” there’s your answer. If you look closely, you’ll notice the villain’s weapon of choice matches that of a certain Simulacrum, and that we’ve met them before, “dearie.”
Remember that thing I mentioned about Ash saving Horizon’s life? It’s a perfect example of what happens when the plot is spread too thin. The significance of this video – another one of the many fascinating animated shorts currently buried under a mountain of tweets – is meaningless if you haven’t seen The Truth.
I genuinely cannot believe something this important was relegated to Twitter, where players already have to sift through dozens of tweets about fanart, pro gaming tournaments nobody’s watching, and gameplay clips just to get to the plot. But, unfortunately, it appears that things are only going to get more confusing from here.
Many players have noticed that as of this season, the in-game comics tab is missing entirely, and no lore other than a three-part series of videos detailing the origin of Seer’s curse have been posted since the season began. The newest legend’s cryptic references to “change” have resulted in a lot of speculation among fans, but I suspect the reason for the disappearing comics is quite simple: in June, Dark Horse published the first issue of the official Apex Legends comic series.
I’ve got mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’m thrilled for more lore, and am more than happy to shell out $4 for it, though how a physical comic can cost less to manufacture and distribute than a legendary cosmetic skin still eludes me. On the other hand, I’m bummed to see the plot drift further away from the game itself.
Part of the fun of Apex is hearing the characters interact. With the plot now planted firmly on a page and locked behind a paywall, there’s a question of how this will change the way characters speak to each other in-game. Are we going to see dialogue reflect events from the comics, or are the Legends going to go about things as if nothing ever happened? Will there be any more free comics or playable missions in the game itself? Only time will tell, so you’re probably better off asking Horizon (or begging Wraith for a ride to a dimension where we’re still getting playable missions every week).
The only thing I can say for certain is that it’s hard to hype your fanbase up for comics they have to pay for when the free comics that interested them in the first place are disjointed, confusing, and/or sandwiched between tons of tweets about tournaments, fan art, and a bizarre collaboration with Monster Energy (though I imagine Octane is quite pleased with the latter).
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