Apex Legends’ fourth season kicked off with a killer simulacrum on the loose, enacting revenge on the devious robotics company that created him. People died, files were hacked, and factories were broken into all in an effort to create a suspenseful and thrilling start to Assimilation.
But to create a legend with what Respawn design director Jason McCord called a “unique personality” and “interesting story,” it took the team over a year.
Revenant’s creation began with just an idea. Designer Griffin Dean pitched the legend as a “Synthetic Shinobi” around the same time that Apex first launched in February of last year, according to McCord. This eventually led to a ninja-like design for the simulacrum, complete with a hood that wraps around the neck, as well as wide, spiked shoulders.
And the new legend’s development followed a similar process to every other character that the team has created. A designer tries to invigorate the Apex meta by creating a new playstyle. Then the writers, animators, and artists jump in to give the legend a backstory, personality, and style.
But the rogue android went through several iterations before his abilities were cemented for season four’s launch. Respawn devs had to find a good mix of terror and game balance to find the “right gameplay kit.” And this led to several intriguing experiments during the development process.
“The one I remember most was his tactical called ‘Marked for Death,’” McCord said. “It was delivered the same way [as his current tactical] (a skill shot from an off-hand), but if it connected, you had an icon applied to you for the rest of the match that the Revenant and his squad could see at all times.”
Judging by how easily Revenant was able to break into Hammond Robotics and kill Forge, hunting players in the Apex Games would be second nature to him. Despite how horrifyingly cool it would be to be “hunted across the map by an angry Revenant,” Respawn devs ultimately decided that the mark was “very overpowered” and “unfair.”
The Synthetic Nightmare also had a terrifying “scurrying spider” animation when crouching.
“When he crouched, he dislocated his shoulders and walked on all fours,” McCord said. “It was very disturbing and so amazingly creepy.”
But this animation interfered with his Stalker Passive, which allows Revenant to crouch-walk faster than other legends. Considering the difficulty devs had with Pathfinder’s hitbox in the earlier seasons, a creepy-crawly robotic spider speeding away on all fours would be even harder to shoot.
Respawn often releases teasers and Easter eggs leading to a new legend’s launch. Crypto was seen hacking the Repulsor in the season two trailer, even though he wasn’t released until season three. And the Surveillance Expert was later found hacking a computer in Kings Canyon in an in-game teaser before running off.
The developers took it to a whole other level with Revenant. The Apex Twitter’s name was briefly changed to Outlands TV, reporting and investigating several odd occurrences happening within Hammond Robotics. And the teasers eventually crescendoed when Revenant killed Forge on “live” television during an in-universe segment of “Up Close and Personal with Lisa Stone.”
And while the Apex community latched on to the excellent storytelling, part of the reason why the teasers were created was to misdirect data miners. Several dedicated fans sift through the battle royale’s files to see what unreleased information Respawn is planning for the future. But this often comes to the dismay of developers like McCord, who feels data miners are “stealing” their right to decide how they announce the content that they’ve put their “hearts and souls” into.
So designer Rayme Vinson pitched an idea to rebuild surprise for season four.
“Honestly, it started as a fun way to misdirect data miners who, at the time, felt like they had solved our next legend and had ruined our surprise,” McCord said. “We actually purposefully leaked fake concept art and details of Forge's kit in patches, so there would be a bread crumb trail by the time we announced him. It's pretty insane, really. I can't think of any other game that has gone through such hijinks.”
The Forge “leaks” definitely threw data miners and fans off Respawn’s trail. McCord claims that developers never even developed a model or kit for the legend. But some theory-crafters didn’t buy Forge’s death, believing the legend would return to enact revenge on the killer robot. McCord, however, shut that idea down—“Forge is super dead.”
All in all, Revenant’s creation set the precedent for a promising Apex trend. The stellar character creation, storytelling, world-building, and community interaction that went into the simulacrum’s release reinvigorated a battle royale that grew stale toward the end of season three. And with upcoming legend Loba potentially teased in the season four trailer, Respawn appears to be setting up the future of its battle royale nicely.