Unshackled isn’t a perfect Apex Legends event, but it’s a step in the right direction

After months of complaints about thematic events, Unshackled improves on the formula.

Screengrab via Respawn Entertainment

It’s easy for thematic events in Apex Legends to feel like a glorified shop window. Compared to collection events, thematic events bring relatively little new content to the game, often only featuring cosmetics to purchase as well as a prize tracker or two to complete. 

The reputation of thematic events being devoid of content came to a head with the “Dark Depths” event of season 11. The update brought precious few changes outside a new map to the game’s stale Arenas mode and cosmetics that couldn’t be purchased directly from the event tab and were only available for individual purchase in-store. That meant many of the items available in the event could only be acquired by purchasing event packs or hoping the gear would show up in regular Apex Packs, where the chance of getting a cosmetic were diluted by the entire pool.

Collection events, on the other hand, are almost always accompanied by a limited-time mode, usually feature a new legend heirloom, routinely introduce map changes in the form of town takeovers, and allow players to directly unlock any of their cosmetic offerings. In short, collection events feel like events, and lately, thematic events haven’t.

In many ways, the newly released Unshackled event is a breath of fresh air, improving significantly on the pattern of thematic events as of late. And while it may not be perfect, it does show an encouraging course correction for future thematic events.

Let’s start with the obvious: Events without some sort of LTM simply don’t feel like events. Call them flash sales, call them “Themed Stores,” or whatever else you want. But without something fresh and new in the actual gameplay itself, there’s not much to entice players to actually spend any extra time in the game, which means there’s less chance they’ll actually spend money on cosmetics.

Unshackled fills that void with the Flashpoint LTM and does a little bit of extra work by combining the old Flashpoint mode with another former LTM, Always Be Closing. The combination of the two LTMs (along with the fantastic decision to put the mode on Olympus, with the widely celebrated map changes Respawn introduced to the flying city in season 12) makes for a different and enjoyable experience that I find myself actually wanting to play. I don’t begrudgingly open a game of Arenas because I can squeeze a few extra rewards out of the experience. The gameplay itself is attractive, and knowing that it will only be here during the event makes me want to play it more.

Unshackled also brings a more transparent system for acquiring event cosmetics. All of the cosmetics in the event tab are available for direct purchase with either Apex Coins or Crafting Metals. Locking the majority of event cosmetics behind event packs feels infinitely worse than a collection event, where all the possible cosmetics you can unlock via event pack are Legendary or Epic rarity. Dark Depths featured 12 separate stat trackers as unlockables, cosmetics that are much less desirable than skins, poses, or emotes. It all made the event packs feel like a cynical cash grab. And that’s before you even talk about some of the Dark Depths cosmetics, like the nearly-identical poses offered for Fuse, Lifeline, and Horizon.

Unshackled is by no means a perfect event. The LTM is a welcome addition to the thematic event, and it’s legitimately fun to play. But it’s still a revamp of previous LTMs and not really a completely new mode. The cosmetics on offer in the event are fine, but the prison jumpsuit theme of the skins means there aren’t really any standout offerings here. The issue with Unshackled is not a lack of content, but rather how worthwhile that content actually is and how much players want to pursue unlocking that content.

The prize trackers don’t feel quite as rewarding as normal either, with so many of the tiers rewarding players with stars toward completing a battle pass, in a season where Respawn already gave players 20 free battle pass levels after frame rate issues plagued a large portion of the player base in this season. Obviously, this is more of an isolated issue than some of the others, given the unique situation introduced by Respawn trying to entice players back to the game. 

It’s also possible thematic events could see more content added if Respawn continues to offer players their evolving prestige skins. The first skin in this new line of cosmetics, Bloodhound’s Apex Hunter, was offered as a reward for unlocking all the skins in the 3rd Anniversary, similar to how heirlooms are released. If more prestige skins are introduced to the game, Respawn will need to start using thematic events as places to introduce heirlooms or prestige skins, as most seasons only run with one collection event. If that is the plan for thematic events, however, Respawn will also have to address serious player pushback on the prestige skins, as many players were vocally displeased with such an expensive cosmetic bundle.

As always, the line between monetization and keeping players happy in a free-to-play game is razor thin. If thematic events continue to present players mostly with cosmetics to purchase, the least Respawn can do is give the trackers a few more actual rewards, as opposed to battle pass progress. They can also make sure the cosmetics offered all truly feel unique, and not just slightly altered from character to character as the Dark Depths epic poses were, or the current Unshackled event’s epic banner frames. And, as always, the best way to get players engaged in any event is by offering new LTMs or map changes for them to explore.

On the other hand, Unshackled does actually feel like an event and not just a slightly bigger store rotation. Overall, that’s a positive direction for the thematic events of the future to move in, even if it’s just a small step.

After a long year of player discontent with thematic events and their lack of content, that small step could lead to big dividends, both for Apex and its player base.