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Ash, the newest character in Apex Legends, in front of the Barometer station at the center of the Storm Point map.

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Apex Legends’ newest map and hero were made for each other — literally

Storm Point’s features complement the deadly Ash’s abilities, and vice versa

Image: Respawn Entertainment/Electronic Arts
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Apex Legends’ newest map, Storm Point, coming Nov. 2 with Season 11: Escape, is about as old as the game itself, Respawn Entertainment developers say. It’s showing up now because they’ve spent two years fine tuning an environment to all the emergent ways that millions have played the game since its 2019 launch. In a way, this will be the first battle royale map to have grown up alongside the players, even if they haven’t yet stepped foot in it.

That approach is seen most within Storm Point’s most noteworthy feature, the new Gravity Cannon flinging players practically from one end of the game’s largest map to another. The cannon, level designer Rodney Reece told Polygon, adapts to the ways players had been using Apex Legends’ redeploy balloons to get the drop on their opponents. Not necessarily to nerf or squelch a meta tactic, he said, but to enhance developer intentions going all the way back to Apex Legends’ original design.

“We always intended these to be methods to outrun the ring,” Reece said, “but players started using them as a tactical advantage. And so, we’re like, how can we get this original design intent through a different method?”

Thus the Gravity Cannon, which is a point-A-to-B traversal, as opposed to the balloon, in which players zip up to a floating platform and then glide down to an area of their choosing. To incentivize the Gravity Cannon, Reece said, developers allowed players to use all of their weapons and tactical abilities should their flight path take them over their opponents. On another map, a redeploy balloon may let players pick a landing spot, roughly speaking, but they can’t do anything else as they glide down.

“It needed to be more than just a binary thing,” Reece explained. “Early on, we knew that we wanted to give you your abilities when you’re going through the air. We started realizing that we can place these to help you outrun the ring, but we can actually put them over areas where you can’t land — but you can interact with it.”

Reece gave the example of Bangalore spotting a skirmish and dropping her Rolling Thunder ultimate — literally an air strike — as she passes overhead. “What that does is, one, it’s a cool feeling that you did; but it also allows [Respawn designers] to create an approach which helps the other team understand where their enemy is coming from, as opposed to a redeploy balloon where you have complete control, and you can land on any rooftop you want.”

Building a battle royale map with no redeploy balloons “was a sensitive subject,” Reece admitted. But Respawn designers grew confident that they could do this without upsetting the game’s balance as newer Legends were introduced, with skills more suited to a map with a lot of verticality but no glide points. One of those is Valkyrie, who joined the game in Season 9, which wrapped up Aug. 3. And the other, of course, is Ash, the Legend joining the game on Nov. 2.

“We knew both of those Legends could introduce this,” he said. “You can sometimes see in the trailers where, like, [Ash is] below an area and she can use her [Phase Breach] ultimate to get up to that — those were made in concert with each other. It’s like, OK, we’re gonna make sure everybody can get to these locations, but we can be a little bit more bold to get into, essentially, the Legend meta.”

Ash, a character from Titanfall 2 who was revealed as a playable Legend last week, is also well suited to Storm Point with her Marked for Death passive skill. With it, her map will spotlight locations where Legends were recently killed, highlighting where the action is, basically. Marked For Death can send out a useful ping as Ash flies over on the Gravity Cannon, alerting the player to a fight which they might otherwise miss underneath the jungle canopy.

For as much as her skills complement Storm Point, bringing Ash into Apex Legends in a way that honors both her narrative history and makes her appealing at the selection screen was a bit of a challenge, said lead writer Ashley Reed (and the character’s namesake, actually). In Titanfall 2, “you don’t really get a sense of her, internally, as a character,” Reed said. “Everything you see is from the outside looking in. People will know she’s very cruel and very manipulative, she likes to play with her victims.”

“But we also had to look at, OK, if we brought her into Apex, as a Legend, we need to have her look inward, we need to see who she is as a character,” Reed said, “and being an empathetic person, someone you’d actually want to play, while not being so fundamentally different from who she is now.” Ash is a simulacrum pilot, with warring personalities inside her cybernetic mind. Reed said lorehounds who pay attention to every piece of dialogue should be satisfied with what they hear during battles with Ash.

In preview trailers, Ash is shown as very powerful, able to toy with her victims before dispatching them. Balancing out a character with that kind of physical expression was also a delicate job, especially after last season’s new Legend, Seer, came out of the oven rather overpowered.

“We generally do try to launch characters on the strong side,” said Legend designer Devin Weise, “because we know we can always come back and balance them later on. But I think we realized [Seer] was a bit too heavy handed there.” Launching Ash along with a new map, Weise said, means developers are trying to balance against two big variables that haven’t been tested out by the community. But it also means that both a map and the character, could be developed in concert with each other, for the first time. And Ash and Storm Point were developed that way.

“[Ash is] very confident, but sort of her weakness can be overconfidence, right?” Weise reasoned. “If you do try to use her ultimate to teleport into an enemy, or teleport and push enemies, you might realize, ‘Oh, crap, the whole team is right here, now I’m going to get shot in the face.’” Ash’s tactical ability, Arc Tether, can also present problems if used overconfidently or indiscriminately; sure, it restrains an enemy by lashing them to a spot, but they can still use their weapons, and their aiming isn’t slowed down, either. “That’s what we tried to go for, making sure that Ash felt like her abilities were powerful and interesting, but also, the enemies had some opportunity to counter them,” Weise said.

Apex Legends: Escape launches Nov. 2 on all platforms — Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Playstation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and iOS and Android. The new season will see a new Battle Pass as well, with new skins for Mirage, Gibraltar, and Wraith among the 100 levels of tiered unlocks. Ranked play will take place on Storm Point from Nov. 2 to Dec. 21, and World’s Edge from Dec. 21 to Feb. 8, 2022.