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Why Respawn made a Titanfall game without Titans — and not Titanfall 3

Developer Respawn had a big rethink after PUBG success

Apex Legends was born out of a previous plan to make Titanfall 3, a game that is (for now) not in development. Respawn’s new battle royale game is set in the Titanfall universe, but does not include Titans, which are giant combat mechs — and a major part of the franchise. We spoke to Respawn execs about the decisions that led to Apex Legends, which was released today.

Respawn had been working on a version of Titanfall 3 at some point, but the success of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and the company’s acquisition by Electronic Arts, caused a rethink. According to executive producer Drew McCoy, Respawn had been playing with various player-versus-player modes using assets from Titanfall 2.

“We knew we were onto something,” McCoy said. “When PUBG started blowing up in 2017, we recognized that it wasn’t just establishing a new mode, it was a new genre. It was its own thing.”

The team decided to focus on these experiments, with an emphasis on characters, rather than mechs. In the stand-alone Titanfall games, players occasionally jump into Titans, which cause huge damage, but are slower.

“We wanted characters that aren’t just about mechanical differences, but that are deep and rich,” McCoy said. “We wanted to zoom out [from the core Titanfall series] and find another part of the world.”

He said that the move was “part of a bigger culture change” that had been taking place when Electronic Arts fully acquired Respawn in 2017. He added that the change was “kind of harrowing,” and that Apex Legends was “a very different game for us.”

I asked game designer Mackey McCandlish why Respawn is working on a Titanfall game without Titans.

“The Titan, as a mechanic tends to fulfill the fantasy of a giant robot,” he said. “It has to be able to almost trivially destroy other players. It’s like playing poker and holding four aces. We could have made the Titan a limited time mode that allowed people to briefly live out that power fantasy, but that’s not a sustainable way to play in battle royale. And if we’d gone with just Titans, you’d be asking me why there are no pilots in the game.”

“We started with everything we’d ever made up to that point,” McCandlish added. “Our guiding light was, is this going to lend itself to thousands of hours of play? We’d been experimenting on survival modes since 2015, and we loved playing games like battle royale. So as the genre blew up, we saw that there was a lot of opportunity.”

On the saturation of battle royale games, he said, “It’s less iterated upon than team deathmatch or similar modes. We saw that three-man squads was a way for us to differentiate from all the other games.”

You can read our impressions of Apex Legends, including gameplay footage. The game is out now for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

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