Kairi Imahara’s story has quite the trajectory. As the daughter of Viper, a member of an elite mercenary group called Apex Predators, she’s always had a lot to live up to. That narrative grew darker when her father died to Titanfall 2 protagonist Jack Cooper during the Frontier War.
The brash legend sought revenge on Kuben Blisk, the leader of the Apex Predators, whom she blamed for her father's death. "Maybe he left because of me, but he died because of you," she told Blisk in the recent Stories from the Outlands short cinematic. The former mercenary offered her the chance to take vengeance. Instead, she settled on competing in the Apex Games under the call sign "Valkyrie"—a name that Blisk (and presumably the other legends) will "live to remember."
Now, the missile-slinging, jetpack-wielding legend seeks to forge her own legacy. And as a daughter orphaned because of war, she has plenty of motivation.
Valk enters Apex Legends with a tragic story, a chip on her shoulder, and the unique ability to jetpack and reach heights that most characters can only dream of. When designing her, Respawn devs wanted to capture the fun of flying and wreaking havoc. But they couldn't do that with Viper because he's "pretty dead, like really dead," according to senior writer Ashley Reed. That led way to a "spicy thought."
"What if he had a kid that you just orphaned?" Reed told Dot Esports. "What if that kid was actually very spicy herself? So we had a lot of fun thinking about how do you take that inspiration and translate it into something innovative and new."
And that inspiration definitely shows in Valk's abilities. She uses part of her father's Titan to shoot missiles and own the skies, gaining excellent vantage points and intel on opposing squads. Though her narrative is complex and deep, her gameplay was "always set in stone," lead game designer Daniel Klein told Dot Esports. Valk would fly on a jetpack and have an ultimate that lets her go on a "long journey."
Selling that concept to fans shouldn't be difficult, especially with "jetpacks" being the perfect "single-word elevator pitch," according to Klein. The tougher part of Valk's kit was making it fair to play against a flying menace that hails missiles down at you from the skies. And, just like any legend in development, her early iterations tested those boundaries.
"There were definitely iterations where her jetpack was crazy fast and no one could shoot her out of the sky," Klein said. "She has this very subtle thing now where if you let go of the jetpack in the air and then reengage, she gets a little burst of speed. And that's pretty good so that you can move a little unpredictably and dodge people. That used to be tuned 10 times as strong and it was just impossible to hit any Valkyrie player ever."
Aside from slowing down her travel speed, Respawn added a few balancing limitations to make sure playing against Valkyrie feels fair. The new legend can't use guns or grenades while her jetpack is active, for example. Instead, players will have to toggle the VTOL Jets off and wait for a brief delay before whipping a weapon out (though you can use your tactical while jetpacking).
Valk's early design also made her jetpack a tactical ability, something that the devs thought would be a "natural way" to limit its power, according to lead game designer Carlos Pineda. But using all of her abilities in concert didn't quite work right. Making the jetpack a passive allows players to deliver more fluid combinations.
As for who in the Apex Games might counter Valkyrie, Klein doesn't "think it makes a lot of sense to talk about" that.
"Characters have a very small part of the power budget in Apex, where it's all about guns," he said. "There are interactions that are interesting, like [Revenant's] silence will turn off the jetpack... but really what it comes down to is where is she good."
Klein cited Fragment on World's Edge as the ideal location for Valk, letting her gain great vantage points on any of its tall buildings. And countering her simply comes down to how good of a shot you have and what weapon you're using. Players who can track a moving target with an R-301 Carbine, for example, might find great success in picking her off mid-air.
Valkyrie should introduce even more variety to the Apex meta, forcing players to game plan and strategize differently than ever before. Each rooftop is now a potential risk and enemies will have to look to the ground and to the skies when approaching gunfire. While there are plenty of tools in place to ensure Valk supports fair gameplay, the diversity she brings to the battle royale should be fun and exciting.