Last week I spent a night with Escape, Apex Legends's sun-soaked next season arriving on November 2. As noted in my preview, it's an exciting return to form for the game that brings us a sprawling new tropical map, a spicy new SMG, and the return of a fan-favourite Titanfall 2 character in new legend Ash.
There's a lot to be excited for—so why is it that, after a few dozen games, I cannae stop thinking about a character who's been in the game for almost a year?
Okay, so anyone who's even remotely aware of my broader online presence knows, this isn't exactly a new thing. As a charmingly eccentric red-haired Scottish lass myself, I've joked that Respawn basically put me in the game with the addition of Horizon back in Season 7. It's ultimately not a great shock that I spent much of the preview period playing as my gravity-defying doppelganger (especially considering the demand to play new girl Ash who I, admittedly, wasn't very good at).
That said, there was another reason to experience Escape from the familiar eyes of Dr Mary Somers. From a run of comics to her own Stories from the Outlands trailer, Ash's introduction has been heavily framed by her, well, "tense" relationship with Horizon. But while I was expecting a few lines to recognise the beef between these two, I wasn't prepared for that feud to be the highlight of the new season.
Cards on the table, I wasn't super enamoured by the Apex characters at launch. Oh, the game was a blast, and there's a lot to love with what the launch roster has become, but ultimately I saw them as just another set of hero shooter characters. These games might have cool characters with fun designs and neat backstories, but when you hit the game proper, all that really matters is their toolkit.
But while I've already written on how Respawn brought the community on board to further explore the possibility space of this sci-fi universe, less has been said on what it's done to tell that story in-game. Apex sits in a very strange position, a battle royale with Overwatch-style hero characters—and it's thanks to the format of the former that it really gets to dig into the personality of the latter.
Fortnite might have pioneered the idea of an ever-changing story in battle royale, but Apex gives that story personality. New faces trickle in, and while the major plot beats may shift from season to season as Respawn introduces new maps and modes, there's an almost soap opera appeal to just sitting down with a comfortable cast and listening to them banter night after night.
See, as fast-paced as Apex may be, there's a lot of downtime in any battle royale. Apex wisely fills that silence with constant chatter. On one level, this means you have a constant audio stream keeping you updated on the state of the game (ring timers, care package drops, friendly pings and such). But it's also a powerful vessel for storytelling, each line a vessel for the writers to deliver a little nugget of characterisation.
When characters have ties in Apex, it usually plays out through player-driven voice cues. Pinging "thank you" or "your welcome" may spur Rampart to talk about how Mirage is slacking on the cleaning, or push Valk into getting a wee bit flirty with Loba. But when Horizon is on a team with Ash, she becomes a different person entirely—the cheery, absent-minded astronaut fading into a snarling, wounded, grieving mother.
This isn't the first time two characters have been at each other's throats. Revenant and Loba have some serious beef, after the spooky skeleton-man butchered her family. But it's so heightened as to be basically cartoonish, and at this point in the story Loba even has the upper hand after making it impossible for her skeleton nemesis to ever truly die (the one thing he wants). While they're hardly the best of friends, their feud plays out as more of a rivalry than outright hatred.
But even if the situation is just as ridiculous (the inciting incident did, after all, see Dr Ashleigh Reid punt Horizon into a black hole and subject her to the time-dilation plot of Interstellar), voice actor Elle Newlands plays Dr Somers' lines with such a raw, venomous pain that I spent much of the preview audibly screaming. It doesn't matter that Ash and Reid are technically separate personalities—one a perfectionist android trying to transcend humanity, the other the ghost of the woman she once was screaming inside her head. Horizon hates, and I mean truly hates, them both just the same. A seething resentment the game has previously hinted at but rarely plunged into this deeply.
It's also, admittedly, a wonderfully Scottish form of antagonism—a defence system wrapped in layers of pettiness and passive aggression. When there are three squads left, she'll feign shock at Ash being such a team player, or retort that it was nice of Ash to "let them keep your seat warm" when a Kill Leader falls. I've not historically been a fan of thank you lines being delivered with spite (what's up, Revenant), but I'll forgive it when Horizon spits at Ash for being a backstabbing blender.
It's the small moments that hit the hardest. The way even Horizon's snarling passive-aggression fades into a depressed fugue when doing something as simple as confirming a teammate's ping—our once-adventurous space mom barely managing to let out a defeated "aye". The most painful note of all is that this animosity isn't felt both ways. Ash is a cold, calculating simulacrum, and she really couldn't care less about this stroppy astronaut's feelings.
Let it out
Like most hero shooters, the Apex cast comprise a range of heightened archetypes. The mad scientist, the self-obsessed goofball, the relentlessly-optimistic robot, a literal skeleton. But with each season, Respawn finds ways to ground these larger-than-life characters, building them out and exploring different sides of their personalities. Horizon arriving as a motherly figure gave Mirage room to let his cock-sure mask slip; now, Ash offers an opportunity for Horizon to explore a trauma that's been left to simmer since she arrived in the games last year.
What excites me the most, though, is that this relationship isn't set in stone. Apex Legends is a live game, and that constant flux isn't just restricted to maps and mechanics. Characters and relationships are active, constant concerns in a way that's absolutely fascinating to follow. Caustic and Wattson have gone from deep feuds to wary reconciliation. Mirage, Wraith and Rampart have stumbled into some kind of sitcom-like flirty roommate situation, while Bangalore, Loba and Valk are caught in a bittersweet queer love triangle.
These plot points often begin in seasonal comics or animated shorts, but they persist through the game itself. That persistence and constant development also makes the game's queer representation feel meaningful. It's easy to miss that Overwatch's Tracer or Soldier 76 are gay when that fact is locked in tertiary comics, because it's never made present in game. But if you're teamed up with Loba and Valk, it's impossible to ignore that these gals are absolutely hooking up after the game.
Now, I don't imagine there's a world where Dr Somers and Dr Reid ride off merrily into the sunset together. But their antagonism adds another layer to the intricate web of relationships playing out across any given match. And hey, considering the twists and turns of the Apex story so far, who's to say there isn't even the slimmest possibility of reconciliation?
That's a long-shot I wouldn't imagine seeing for seasons to come, of course, and for now I'm just bracing to see how this relationship pans out over the coming months. Needless to say, I'm firmly on Team Space Mom all the way to the end.