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Apex Legends’ lack of lore gives ownership of the characters to the fans

Sometimes, one dimensional characters work

Apex Legends - Wraith in a forest Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

The characters in Apex Legends are simple. Mirage is a cocky trickster. Bangalore is a dedicated soldier. You can describe them all with just a few words.

The cast is more like a collection of action figures than actual characters, and that strategy that could give Apex Legends legs. So many other developers load up characters with cliffhangers, mysteries and lore that rarely impact the game that Respawn’s decision to keep things light and barely defined is refreshing.

Apex Legends’ cinematic trailer even ends with the majority of the roster dead, including not one, but two Caustics. Compare this approach to how Blizzard handles lore: Can you imagine a new animated Overwatch short that ends with Winston dying?

Each character has a clever introduction animation, a few in-game voice lines and a brief biography. But everything else about these people, so far, has been left blank. What you think or feel about each character based on what little information you’re given may say more about you than it does the game, which makes the marketing materials almost like Rorschach tests.

For instance, what’s going on in this image? What do you feel about the character and what he’s doing? You may think he looks like an arrogant asshole, or he’s a charming guy who is cleaning up while also pouring drinks and trying to make a friend. He’s the life of his own party! Both takes are equally correct, especially since there is so little supplemental character material to prove anyone wrong.

Apex Legends - artwork of Mirage charming a lady with his decoy ability Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts

Respawn’s decision to go light on the lore makes it a bit of an oddball compared to the current crop of ever-evolving games. Rainbow Six Siege has an elaborate web of relationships between its operators. Riot is collaborating with Marvel on a series of comics about League of Legends characters, selected from their cast of 143 characters. Blizzard releases CGI animations and stories about its Overwatch heroes.

This lore comes with baggage. Riot has continually retconned League of Legends’ universe, including a full reboot of the basic premise of the game. Characters exist in lore limbos, sometimes to the point that stories or champions become non-canon for months or even years. The look and backstory of these characters may be reworked completely.

Blizzard limits Overwatch lore to just a few releases a year as its enormous, complicated story inches forward. I have been waiting for years to find out how Gabriel Reyes became Reaper, and it’s hard to stay invested. Each new Overwatch lore dump also reveals things about the characters that contradict popular fan theories or characterizations, to the point where players’ relationships to their favorite players may be harmed. And this is all done in the service of a story that has barely moved forward since the game’s 2016 release.

Apex Legends has none of this, at least so far, and the game is richer for it. Respawn may be cribbing from Fortnite by making the map itself and the visual language of the game their own meta-characters, which means anyone can make up any story for anything, and they don’t have to worry about an upcoming short story or animated short canonically proving they’re wrong.

The Titanfall universe is more serious and established than Fortnite, but having events where players can trigger monsters emerging suggests we should focus on Kings’ Canyon itself over the cast. The characters look interesting, sure, and suggest varied pasts, but that’s just set dressing. The real story of the game may be in the setting. It’s an approach that gives the imagination of the players much more respect, and trusts them to enjoy the game while telling their own stories.

I focus on the fun of sliding and shooting. I’m less invested in Wraith than Overwatch’s Pharah, but I don’t need to know the secrets Wraith searches for in order to have fun sliding her down a hill to grab a speedy zipline.

You could create any kind of fan fiction or fan art with any combination of characters in any kind of relationship, and Respawn doesn’t seem to mind. There’s nothing wrong with lore, but there’s something freeing about the very idea being almost completely ignored.

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