A lush city in the sky, a time-travelling Scottish scientist and vehicles you can turn into gassy death machines. These headline the cool new additions coming to Apex Legends' seventh season, Ascension, and I got to play it ahead of Wednesday's launch.
There's a lot I like about this season. The new map, Olympus, is gorgeous and interesting to traverse. This is largely thanks to the vehicle, the Trident, which isn't particularly deadly but is certainly versatile. Then there's Horizon - the brand new Legend who is my new favourite mum (sorry real mum).
So, Olympus is beautiful. It'd be unfortunate if it wasn't, being named after a mountain where gods live and all. Cherry blossom trees and futuristic suburban flats are the foreground to a vast skyline. The developers at Respawn have made it very obvious that this map is in the sky - rather than being separated by large rock formations like Kings Canyon and World's Edge, there's a lot of wide open space where you can clearly see how high you are. It's described frequently as this "city in the clouds", which immediately made me think of Cloud City from Star Wars. As it turns out, that was its nickname during development.
"Our universe has this sci-fi setting that lets us do a lot of unique things," design director, Jason McCord tells me. "The universe is challenging in a good way where, like Star Wars, it's a place where you feel like it could be real, if you stretched far enough."
And you can see that from how lived-in it all looks. Some areas are separated by long winding roads between pockets of flats, although others by big gaping holes in the ground. These are fairly easy not to throw yourself in (though, uh, from my experience, I do recommend double checking any ledges you're trying to jump off in your first few matches).
My main gripe with the map is actually that it felt a little too big to navigate. It's very clear it's designed with vehicles in mind, and when you're running around on foot it seems like everything is just so spread out. This would be OK if there were more Tridents dotted around, but I didn't come face to face with that many during my time with it.
The devs say that this will be the only map the Trident is available on, because it's designed to help players feel more confident in exploring the open space on Olympus. Unlike the jump towers on Kings Canyon and World's Edge, having a vehicle allows you to more quickly traverse the area. It's a lot more interesting to use, too.
You can have three players on it at any one time (a driver, and two people hanging off the sides), but you can't have enemy squads hop on at the same time as you. This is nice. It means there's no grappling for control, though it does kinda take away some of the pressure. The only way for an enemy to get you off your Trident is to shoot you down, which is effective, usually, unless you just drive away.
Driving away isn't that fun, though. What is, however, is placing various characters' abilities on the top of it. Rampart's turret partnered with Gibraltar's dome shield makes for a pretty deadly combo, but it's not quite as amusing as covering the thing in Caustic's gas traps. Now, it's not that effective, but by god is it funny. I've never known fear like seeing a small tank spewing putrid gas while hurtling towards me with reckless abandon.
"I think at first glance, players will get in there and drive around, and do the sort of first obvious things, like loot a place longer because they know they can get to the ring quickly," McCord says. "But then they'll find cool routes to dodge other teams, and then they'll find the jumps, and all the combos you can have with Legends' abilities. It'll be like being in an action movie."
Unfortunately, this is as weaponised as the Trident gets, because you can't actually run people over with it (sad face). If you do hit someone, you just kinda bounce off them and carry on your merry way. There's no way to blow up the vehicle, either, you can only get rid of one by driving it off the map (which is best avoided, really). If you do this, you won't go down with it, however, you instead get flung back up to continue your match. Tridents can be stalled, though, if they go through a Wattson fence or get hit by an arc star.
Triumphantly charging into battle on these machines will be Horizon, the upcoming Legend. She's a delightful Scottish scientist looking for a way to travel back in time to see her son (just watch the heart-wrenching lore vid for yourself), and for some reason that means she's getting involved in the Apex games.
She's well kitted out for it, though. Her passive ability gives her better control over her movements while in the air, and she has boots that give her soft landings, so she doesn't need to recover for a moment after hitting the ground. Her tactical ability chucks out a gravity lift that gives an instant boost up, which is extremely useful for getting a high-ground advantage. Then her ultimate creates a mini black hole, not unlike Zarya's from Overwatch, that sucks enemies in. I initially thought this would be a little overpowered, but that doesn't seem to be the case, as it can be countered by defensive characters like Gibraltar with his giant dome shield.
"She's one of our nicest, probably most wholesome, lovable characters," McCord tells me. And yes, I 100% agree. It wasn't always that way, though. I'm told that initially she was written as some sort of evil Lex Luthor-esque character, with fire-based abilities to boot. As Apex's story changed, however, she was shifted into the lovable altruistic lady we see here.
All this good stuff, and I haven't even gotten around to mentioning the new Club system. It works similarly to Destiny or GTA V's clans, letting players create their own communities within the game itself. Then, updates to the battle pass challenges mean we'll finally be able to see our daily challenges during matches. And best of all: the R99 is being freed from its care package jail, and being left on the ground once again for all to find.
I fell out of love with Apex for a little while, partially because it all just felt a bit stale - the maps are all brown and samey. While I have some reservations about the new map, I can't deny how refreshing it was to explore and woosh around in a makeshift tank. It actually feels a little weird how excited I am for just another update to a battle royale game. But this one is big and new and different - I think we're in for a real treat.
Apex Legends Season 7, Ascension, launches on Wednesday the 4th of November. Keep an eye on the website for more details.