Season 20 of Apex Legends, Breakout, offers Respawn an opportunity to redefine the game moving forward. To that end, the legends themselves will get a brand new system of mid-match upgrades when it drops on Feb. 13, which the developer marks as the single biggest evolution since launch.
This evolution—dubbed the legend upgrade system—will tie directly in with players’ Evo shield levels, which are now no longer a lootable item and have, instead become a permanent piece of your loadout from the very start of a match. When players level up their shield in season 20, not only will it improve the shield’s strength, but it will allow them to select between one of two augmentations unique to their equipped legend.
As design director Evan Nikolich said at a recent press event, it’s the “largest change since launch” to Apex‘s gameplay and represents a bold new direction for the legend sandbox.
“To give some context on how we arrived here, every match in a battle royale format is different,” explained game designer John Larson. “Each decision you make from the moment you exit the dropship influences the outcome of your match.” However, up until Breakout, this was only true for components such as looting and your drop spot. “Selecting a legend was a decision you committed to before the match even started,” he said. “When you did, you opted into a fixed set of abilities.”
Those core abilities are going to stay the same with this new legend upgrade system, but the augmentations that will become available over the course of a match will allow players to empower their legend with new passive bonuses or small tweaks to their kit. “Ultimately, the goal of the upgrade system is to allow players to go deeper with legend mastery and flexibility,” Larson said. Respawn wants to create “a more intimate and dynamic gameplay experience” over each match for legends.
We were shown a few examples of what this looked like. In one, a Gibraltar player could select between one upgrade that would make his Dome of Protection smaller but with a faster cooldown and a second upgrade that gave the bubble a flat lifetime increase. In another example, the upgrades the player could choose between were less legend-specific—one increased the amount of health the player revived allies with, and the other gave shotguns an auto-reload feature when you knocked an enemy.
Players will only get two of these opportunities each match, meaning that every legend on the cast gets a total of four upgrades to select from. This allows Respawn to add some depth to each legend, but the limited scope of the system means players won’t have to learn hundreds of potential new ways an enemy player might have upgraded themself prior to a fight.
“The two decision-making points will happen from early to mid-game, generally speaking,” he said. “The sooner you get into the action or support your team or tap into your class perks, the faster you’ll gain Evo and climb the upgrade curve.”
The addition of legend upgrades isn’t just about evolution and flexibility, though. As Larson put it, upgrades add “another lever” with which Respawn can tinker with legend balancing. “We now have the ability to modify or swap out upgrades altogether to shift metas quickly in a way that doesn’t compromise the core gameplay patterns from specific abilities.”
It’s a lot to take in. Even for players that have been playing Apex since 2019, Breakout is going to require a lot of re-learning to get to grips with the new tools on offer and counteract enemy attacks. But for a battle royale heading into its fifth year, it’s a much-needed suite of fresh changes that will undoubtedly revitalize the match-to-match experience.
Season 20 of Apex Legends, Breakout, launches across all platforms on Tuesday, Feb. 13.