Protocol Three abandoned? What “Apex Legends” means for the future

Mon Feb 11, 2019

American video game developer Respawn Entertainment has always had an interesting history as a company. After the creation and release of the critically acclaimed first-person shooter (FPS) “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” in 2009, developer Infinity Ward suddenly found itself gutted by a series of internal events culminating in the dismissal of President Jason West and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Vince Zampella in 2010. Two of the leaders behind one of the biggest FPS games in history suddenly found themselves on their own, with no studio and no team.

This was, until the summer of 2010 saw the pair announce that they would be returning to life in the FPS genre with the creation of a new independent gaming studio called Respawn Entertainment, formed between West, Zampella, and 46 other prior Infinity Ward employees who followed shortly after the pair’s firings. Respawn Entertainment would go on to create the highly underrated games “Titanfall” (released in 2013) and its sequel “Titanfall 2” (released in 2016). While both were exceedingly polished and solid games, bringing a lot of innovative elements to the FPS genre, systematic circumstances worked against their favor (leaving them both to be relegated to an outlier status in the FPS field.

The original “Titanfall” was exclusive to Microsoft Windows and the Xbox One console, while the sequel was released right smack dab between the two other largest FPS games of the year, “Battlefield 1” and “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.” Thus, despite being some of the most well-polished and lovingly created FPS games ever released, both games fell far short of their expected successes, leaving the future of the “Titanfall” series and Respawn Entertainment in question. However, what made these games stand out is the subject of another article, for another time.

Having been acquired by publisher Electronic Arts (EA) in 2017, talks and rumors of a “Titanfall 3” continued to brew among the series’ small cadre of dedicated supporters. As questionable leaks and fake announcements continued to flow through the end of 2018, an announcement from Respawn Entertainment had to be on the horizon. Surely, our giant robots would be falling from the sky and indulging our mecha fantasies once again, right?

Suddenly, and with no warning whatsoever, Respawn Entertainment fired up its social media accounts and livestream to bring us…definitely not “Titanfall 3.” Instead, enter “Apex Legends.” A free-to-play (F2P), battle royale game borrowing concepts of the hero shooter (perhaps best exemplified by Blizzard Entertainment’s “Overwatch"), “Apex Legends” was simultaneously announced and released for play on February 4, 2019. Set in the same “Titanfall” universe, “Apex Legends” has players pick from one of eight unique characters and fight to be the last team standing in an ever-decreasing map of limited resources and even more limited life expectancy, showing Respawn Entertainment’s willingness to catch on to the overarching trends of the time, as the battle royale genre continues to maintain its iron grip over the FPS market.

Of course, it’s easy to fall into the pitfall of skepticism the more one learns about “Apex Legends.” Look at it this way: one of your favorite studios, already having a history of being shafted by corporate politics and being unable to catch a break in the unforgiving market, is suddenly acquired by an infamous publisher and releases a trend chaser instead of the sequel you’ve been waiting years for?

However, once the disappointment of the game not being “Titanfall 3” clears away, hopefully you can also see that “Apex Legends” will be a good thing for the future of Respawn Entertainment. Initial receptions of the game show that it’s stellar. In just three days, “Apex Legends” has managed to total 10 million players (a milestone that took the kingfish “Fortnite” two weeks to reach). While Respawn Entertainment may appear to just be jumping onto the battle royale craze train, the studio has also made it clear that after more than a decade in the FPS market, it knows how to make a game that feels distinctively unique and polished. “Apex Legends” has solid gunplay, intuitive team mechanics, and that addictive, high octane, feeling of rush that will keep you coming back.

“Apex Legends” is not “Titanfall 3,” but perhaps that is exactly the right move for Respawn Entertainment. Results for the first two games were disappointing, to say the least. The developer was in desperate need of a break, something to get it back on its feet and demonstrate that it could still earn its slice of the FPS pie like it had almost a decade ago. Zampella has already gone on to Tweet that we “are also working on more ‘Titanfall’ for later this year,” and “being able to experiment in this crazy universe” may have been just the interlude it needed.

Stand by, pilots. “Titanfall 3” will be dropping in soon enough.



Image courtesy of Respawn Entertainment



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Appears in
2019 - Spring - Issue 3