It doesn't take much snooping around YouTube or Reddit to realise Apex Legends isn't in a great state. The game's current season, Emergence, has been plagued by problems—from Seer's tremendously overpowering toolkit at launch to servers being outright unplayable mid-way through the season, and a general sense that Apex hasn't had much to offer over the past 3 months.
Arriving as a tropical getaway (opens in new tab) for our butt-sliding murderbuds next week, there's a lot riding on Season 11: Escape to put some wind back in Respawn's sails. Last week I spent a week hurtling around the new season, and I'm excited to say it's a strong return to form for Respawn's battle royale.
Ashes to ashes
A new season means a new Legend, and this time around sees the return of Titanfall 2 baddie Ash (opens in new tab). Admittedly, her announcement gave me pause. I've long been wary of Respawn pulling so directly from the Titanfall stable when Apex did such a strong job expanding that universe—and while Valkyrie paid homage to the previous games while doing something new, Ash is by and large the same mean robot lass she was in TF2.
That said, Respawn has done a decent job phasing her into the Apex games over the past year—giving her strong ties to Horizon and Pathfinder, even letting her run her own spin-off Arenas mode for a bit. But mechanically, she's also yet another fully Offense character in a game stacked full of them, and I can't help but wish we'd gotten a long-overdue new Support or Defensive hero.
Ash arrives as a terrifying hunter-killer. Death boxes will show on her map as they appear, fading over time but giving Ash an insight as to where and when fights have happened. She can also use a data knife on boxes to ping where their killers are. Her Q is a thrown snare inspired, curiously enough, by Titanfall 2's Northstar Titan—dealing damage and slowing foes if they try to escape its grasp.
But Ash piloted a Ronin in Titanfall 2, and her ult pointedly echoes that sword-swinging mech's phase dash ability. On activation, Ash can teleport a substantial distance in a straight line, leaving a one-way portal for her team to follow through. It's a far more direct take on Wraith's portal—trading utility for the immediacy of your entire team bursting out of the void to ruin someone's day.
At a glance, you'd expect Ash to play similarly to Apex's resident ghost girl. But Ash is aggressive in a way even Wraith can't manage, able to track down and initiate fights with terrifying precision while using her Q to pin down foes who try to break for it. She doesn't play like Wraith so much as she plays like how Wraith mains want to play Wraith, a character seemingly built for streamers who exclusively land Fragment.
I can already see where players will absolutely dominate with Ash. Her loadout excels at initiating fights, letting her team become the ultimate third party—but it's equally easy for her to doom her squad in poorly chosen fights. Between her hyper-aggressive playstyle and an "I studied the blade" aesthetic that perfectly overlaps Wraith and Revenant, expect Ash to be extremely popular on launch. Hell, I can't even complain when her interactions with Horizon (opens in new tab) are so utterly gut-wrenching.
Ultimately, I quickly discovered my playstyle doesn't map to Ash's moveset, getting squashed before I could capture any good footage of her abilities (sorry). But a murderous simulacrum isn't the only thing arriving in Escape, with Season 11 adding a sprawling new map in the form of Storm Point.
I can't undersell how absolutely colossal Storm Point is. Respawn told us the map is roughly 15% bigger than World's Edge in sheer footprint, but that doesn't convey how dense and vertical the arena truly is. Storm Point is a tropical island built around a colossal mountain, whose highest locations extend above what would traditionally have been the sky limit of previous maps. Going from the Fish Farm at the coast all the way up to the Lightning Rod at the summit legitimately feels like climbing a mountain.
These locations are also layered in fascinating ways. My first drop saw us land at Checkpoint, which at first appeared to be a small cluster of buildings suspended in a crater. It wasn't until the dust of the first fight cleared that I realised there was an entire forest beneath these structures, complete with its own streams and caves and houses to scramble over. In lieu of redeploy balloons, Storm Point also features Halo 3-style gravity cannons that punt you in a single direction. Complete freedom to rotate is traded for a faster, more direct jump that lets you retain control of your weapons and abilities.
That scale also allows the map to portray a fascinating range of biomes, believably transitioning from white sandy coastlines through sweltering jungle to rocky windswept mountain valleys. But Storm Point might, in fact, be a bit too big. Granted, preview games never met the full 60 player cap (often starting with only 30), but it was legitimately hard to pin down other teams, spending long stretches of the match wandering aimlessly.
The island is also thriving with life, all of which craves a Legend-sized snack. Apex has had dragons and reptiles tucked away in maps before, but Storm Point is absolutely rotten with Prowler nests—vicious wolf-lizards emerging to chomp at you if you stray too close. Spider nests line the deeper, darker corners of the map, with swarms of slimy critters bursting from the walls should a stray shot hit their eggs.
They're dangerous, but there's good reason to hunt the local wildlife. Beasties will drop attachments, items and crafting material when killed, and shooting them will even count as damage dealt towards boosting Evo Shields (though to a lesser extent than shooting players). I've a sneaking suspicion that adding so many aggressive beasts is also meant to make gunfire more frequent, helping isolated teams track each other through the jungle.
While less exciting than a new hero or map, I quickly found myself adoring Escape's new CAR SMG. Another Titanfall throwback and a capable close-range shredder in its own right, the CAR's twist is that it can take both heavy and light ammo, with extended mags for one applying to both. Unfortunately, ammo type doesn't change how it handles or deals damage, but you're effectively free of ammo concerns.
Respawn also had good news for the Wattson mains out there (yes, all three of you). After months of clamouring, our French lightning lass is finally getting a buff—and while specifics will be shared in upcoming patch notes, Respawn wants to make placing her fences faster and easier, halving cooldown and increasing placement range by 50%. Crossing fences will also be much more punishing than it is currently.
Escape will also make slight but significant adjustments to Ranked play, notably changing the points structure to put less emphasis on match placement and more on how many kills/assists you land. Then there are small, welcome changes like bringing narrative back into the game with weekly chapters. Hardly a huge addition, but their omission in season 10 felt pointed in robbing Seer of a chance to become a part of the ongoing story.
Finally, Respawn did note that it was aware of the server issues that have been plaguing the game this year, and is "doubling down" on resolving these by expanding its dedicated server team and finding new ways to make a "technically massive live game" require less bandwidth.
I'm still having fun with Apex, but I can't say Emergence felt anything other than serviceable. A bit of downtime wouldn't even have been that bad after Season 9 added an entirely new gamemode (opens in new tab), but despite some welcome map changes and the Rampart's well-earned place in my loadout, technical issues and underwhelming events have made this current season feel like one of the weakest yet.
Escape feels like Respawn once again firing on all cylinders, and after just one night I'm hankering to get back into that version of the game. Like Olympus, Storm Point feels like an exciting, meaningful change to what an Apex map can be—and while Ash might not be my cuppa tea, she's a solid addition to the roster whose presence escalates so much of what I love about Apex's ongoing soap opera.
We'll just have to see if Respawn can keep up that momentum following Apex Legends: Escape's launch on November 2.