Apex Legends celebrates its first birthday with the start of Season 4: Assimilation on February 4. It’s been quite the year for Respawn’s battle royale–if you haven’t played the game since it launched, you’re in for quite the surprise if you decide to jump in now. So, as Apex Legends goes into its second year, let’s look back at the year that was to see how the game has evolved.

On February 4, 2019, Respawn revealed its new Titanfall game was not actually Titanfall 3 as many expected. Instead, we were getting a free-to-play battle royale that takes place within the Titanfall universe. It was called Apex Legends, a fun little nod to Titanfall’s Blisk and his Apex Predators.

And then Respawn did something rather bold–it said the game was now out. Just immediately ready to download on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. No fanfare. No year-long campaign of trailers and conference appearances. Just an announcement and release.

The Beginning Of Year 1

And that somehow worked. Apex Legends got one million players within eight hours and then skyrocketed to 2.5 million within the first day–very impressive for a game with almost zero marketing behind it at launch. On February 11, Respawn announced that Apex Legends had seen 25 million players within its first week with two million peak concurrent users.

Like Titanfall 2, the shooting and movement mechanics were solid and the map was well-designed. Fans fell in love with the diverse cast of characters, as well as the welcome improvements Respawn made to the battle royale formula with a ping system and hero abilities. Like most games-as-a-service titles at launch, there were bugs to fix and balancing changes to implement, but Apex Legends offered enough content in those first few weeks to keep players coming back.

Initially, Apex Legends’ narrative was rather simple–the game told the stories surrounding the Apex Games, a blood sport created by a mysterious corporation called the Syndicate in the aftermath of the war between the Frontier Militia and the IMC. Those who participate in the games and regularly win are known as legends. Each legend joined in the Apex Games for their own reasons. IMC soldier Anita “Bangalore” Williams is hoping to earn enough cash to book passage out of Frontier space so she can see her family again, for example, while Ajay “Lifeline” Che is trying to right the wrongs of her war profiteering parents by raising money and awareness for humanitarian groups.

On February 13, Respawn released an update that included limited-time Valentine’s Day-themed cosmetics–our first hint that Apex Legends would hold in-game celebrations for certain holidays. A week later, on February 20, Apex Legends got its first new weapon: the HAVOC assaultrifle. These early content drops suggested Respawn would regularly update the game with new content, and fans began eagerly waiting for something more.

A month after Apex Legends released, Respawn announced that the game had 50 million players and the developer released a video thanking its community. The video also jokingly poked fun at the Mozambique shotgun, which was the worst gun in Apex Legends at launch (by far, by like a noticeable margin). If anything, it seemed to imply that Respawn was hearing what its community had to say about Apex Legends’ shortcomings and was working on the problems that fans were bringing up.

But the novelty of the game began to wane around this time. Apex Legends still had no challenges or battle pass to speak of. There wasn’t really anything to strive for, other than just getting better.

Season 1: Wild Frontier

Apex Legends would finally get its first battle pass on March 19 with the start of Season 1: Wild Frontier. The first season added a new character too: Octavio “Octane” Silva. The backstory of the adrenaline junkie provided a nostalgic tie to Titanfall 2, when players would break the Gauntlet record by propelling themselves with grenades. His abilities weren’t exactly game-changing, but Octane’s playfully reckless (and full of wrecks) attitude towards life still makes him one of the most enjoyable add-ons to Apex Legends.

Apex Legends still didn’t have challenges though, and without them, it was very difficult to level up in the battle pass. In the following weeks, Respawn would go on to implement gameplay adjustments, like a new Fortified passive perk for Makoa Gibraltar and Alexander “Caustic” Nox, as well as bug fixes, but nothing substantial. Unless you were on PC, of course–Respawn used this time to put a serious dent in the efforts of cheaters that had been dominating the PC version of the game. Months would go by without additional content. This long dry spell would see some players drop the game (including me for a short time if I’m being honest).

11 weeks after the start of Wild Frontier, Apex Legends finally got a major content update. June 4 saw the start of Wild Frontier’s first and only limited-time event, Legendary Hunt. The event made it easier to level up in Wild Frontier’s battle pass. Better yet, it provided a good reason to even buy the pass in the first place–battle pass owners could nab some sweet-looking legendary rewards during Legendary Hunt. It was the shot in the arm that Apex Legends needed, especially with Season 2 around the corner.

But before Season 2 started, Respawn also began fleshing out Apex Legends’ story. On June 8, Respawn released the first of its Stories from the Outlands, a collection of animated shorts. On June 12, the Apex Legends Twitter account made its first story-focused tweet, marking the point when the account would occasionally adopt the persona of a news anchor that existed within the Titanfall/Apex Legends universe. Small in-game map changes (like a misplaced laptop and the arrival of flyers) also started popping up, hinting at upcoming content that the community could discuss and theorize about.

Season 2: Battle Charge

On June 27, Respawn released the cinematic trailer for Apex Legends Season 2: Battle Charge, which confirmed a lot of the story and lore that fans had been speculating about–a mysterious hacker going by the callsign Crypto was taking an interest in the Apex Games and the flyers and Leviathans that had previously existed on the outskirts of the map were now invading the arena. Battle Charge began on July 2, implementing map changes and adding both new character Natalie “Wattson” Paquette and new light machine gun the L-STAR. Wattson was a game-changing addition to Apex Legends. The game’s true first defender, Wattson possesses little in the way of offense when it comes to her abilities, but she can lock down a zone in a matter of seconds and outright negate the abilities of certain opponents.

Battle Charge was a turning point for Apex Legends after the disappointing Wild Frontier. Not only did it finally deliver on daily and weekly challenges, it introduced a battle pass with worthwhile rewards. Ranked was also added as a permanent mode, and both in-game events and cinematic trailers further fleshed out Apex Legends’ lore. August 13 saw the beginning of the Iron Crown Collection event (which included the long-requested Solo mode), Stories from the Outlands “Voidwalker” premiered on September 2, the Voidwalker event began on September 3 (which included a map change and the Armed and Dangerous mode), Stories from the Outlands “Forever Family” released on September 19, and the cinematic launch trailer for Season 3 came out on September 27. There was just more to do during Battle Charge in comparison to Wold Frontier, whether that was a new limited-time event to play, new story details to discuss, challenges to complete, or battle pass levels to earn.

That said, Battle Charge wasn’t all positive (heh, get it?). Iron Crown Collection marks one of the few times that Respawn encountered controversy over microtransactions. Like Legendary Hunt, Iron Crown Collection introduced new cosmetic skins, but these could only be unlocked through the purchase of special Apex Pack loot boxes, not challenges. Apex Packs offer randomized rewards, leading to fan outrage over there being no surefire way to get the couple of skins you wanted other than buying enough loot boxes to guarantee good luck (about $150 USD).

Respawn admitted it had made a mistake by solely tying the Iron Crown Collection rewards to loot boxes and changed the event so that individual skins could be purchased. To balance this change against the risk vs. reward system of loot boxes, Respawn made the prices of individual items more expensive than individual Apex Packs–allowing players to spend a little more to get specific items or spend less and rely on luck. This seemed to satiate the playerbase, because the outrage mostly settled down after the change. Respawn would implement this system in every subsequent event that featured loot box rewards.

Season 3: Meltdown

Battle Charge was followed by Season 3: Meltdown, which introduced the long-teased Tae Joon “Crypto” Park as a playable character, added the Charge Rifle, and once again implemented challenges and a battle pass. However, instead of map changes, Apex Legends got a whole new map, World’s Edge, that fundamentally altered how teams had to work together to win.

The new World’s Edge map emphasized movement more so than the original Kings Canyon. The most sure-fire way to find high-tier loot was to chase down the moving train or shoot down one of the flying cargo bots to find a key to a vault. Because of the map’s larger size, you also had to typically account for traveling a longer distance when the ring began to shrink. It suddenly became much more important to have a character on your team who could quickly get your squad from one spot to another.

Not every player liked the change, but World’s Edge–and to a greater sense, all of Season 3–was an example of how Respawn was willing to experiment with Apex Legends’ formula. For example, the Halloween-themed Fight or Fright showcased how Apex Legends might look with two maps at once. The Christmas-themed Holo-Day Bash introduced Apex Legends’ first game mode that wasn’t focused around the mechanics of a battle royale. And the roaring 20s-themed Grand Soirée Arcade saw seven modes rotated into the game, some of which offered very unique ways to play.

During Season 3, Respawn also implemented changes that the community had been asking about for a while, such as a vastly higher level cap, new firing range, much needed nerfs for the Peacekeeper and Charge Rifle, and improved colorblind settings. Apex Legends’ popularity continued to grow, reaching 70 million players.

The End Of Year 1

In the final weeks of Meltdown, Respawn subverted its audience’s expectations in order to market Season 4: Assimilation. The developer didn’t just reveal the new legend as it had in the first three seasons. Instead, Respawn announced one legend, used another to kill the first, and then teased a few more. The developer doubled-down on fleshing out Apex Legends’ narrative and lore too, revealing it had actually been setting up several intriguing storylines for Year 2.

Which brings us to the start of Season 4: Assimilation and the beginning of Year 2. A lot sure has changed with the battle royale, but what makes Apex Legends so fun–that chase to be number one–is still the same. It still remains to be seen what Respawn has in store for Apex Legends’ second year, but if Year 1 is any indication, it’s sure to be an eventful one.

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