Hot Drop is GameSpot’s weekly Apex Legends column, in which Jordan Ramée takes a closer look at Respawn’s battle royale to provide additional insight into the game’s evolution, as well as dive deeper into its episodic storytelling and characters.
I really like Apex Legends’ newest playable character, Newcastle. I don’t like him so much that he’s my new main–it’s going to take a lot to get me to move on from my girl Valkyrie, especially now that she’s getting her heirloom in the Awakening Collection Event–but Newcastle represents the type of character that Apex Legends is sorely lacking and could use a bit more of: someone who’s selfless.
There are very few completely selfless characters–playable characters with abilities that strictly benefit others and not themselves–in Apex Legends. Really, the only other character who’s anywhere close to being as selfless as Newcastle is Wattson, and the Apex Legends team specifically buffed her with a “selfish” passive to address the perceived lack of power in her kit.
So Newcastle is pretty much the only selfless character in Apex Legends’ roster. His passive ability allows him to sacrifice his own knockdown shield to protect downed allies as he’s dragging them to safety, for example, and his ultimate ability–which sees him jump forward and put up a massive wall–is best used for leaping to a squadmate pinned down by enemy fire, making him the louder and more obvious target to go after. Even his tactical ability isn’t all that selfish. Though it throws out a shield that he can use while cornered, its ability to move and be redirected actually makes it far more useful for leading the charge around a blind corner or shielding an ally long enough for them to safely move past a coverless opening.
Even Newcastle’s character design and voice lines depict his role on the team. For his armor and abilities, the Apex Legends team took inspiration from chess’ rook piece–a piece often sacrificed to protect more important pieces–and the way he poses and talks is reminiscent of Marvel’s Captain America (the dude even has a banner pose called “Apex Assemble”). When selecting to play as him, Newcastle says lines like, “I’ll make sure everyone makes it home,” or “Just make sure your bullets hit them, and I’ll make sure theirs don’t hit you.” His intro and kill quips include lines like, “It’s an honor to be your protector,” and “This wouldn’t have happened if you had me watching your back.”
My favorite line of his is what I think describes him best: When Newcastle is champion, you can have him say, as an intro quote, “I’ll be your shield if you don’t mind being my sword.” And, yeah, that’s what this dude is all about. None of his abilities are primarily intended to help him win a fight, but they are all exceptionally good for keeping his allies alive long enough so that they can win a fight. Going with Newcastle is basically saying to your teammates that you trust them to get you the victory, and you’re just going to do all you can to keep them alive until they succeed. Respawn has made this message plain in his design, his ability kit, and even in how he talks.
This, admittedly, is probably why Newcastle’s pick rate has plummeted in the higher tiers of play in the weeks following the launch of Season 13. Apex Legends is a fast-paced battle royale all about rewarding teamwork and kills, and the former is, unfortunately, harder to reward than the latter. It’s very fulfilling to kill all the members of an enemy squad–the uptick in your kill count is concrete proof that you’re doing well at the game. It’s harder to recognize the worth in reviving a downed teammate or tanking some hits so that an ally can finish healing. There’s not much in the way of in-game rewards for doing things like that. Of course, if you’re playing with a good squad, they’ll thank you for your efforts, but the actual game doesn’t reward anything substantial for being a supportive teammate even though that’s such a core concept of Apex Legends. But that’s another opinion piece for another day.
The main takeaway is that this has resulted in a team-based game where strength is entirely measured by combat potential. Ash and Revenant make a strong power couple when you combine their ultimate abilities, for example, but Ash can’t support her fellow murderbot outside of pressuring an enemy team.
Almost every playable legend has at least one ability that makes their life a little bit easier. Very few have at least one that only makes an ally’s life easier.
I don’t think this is inherently bad. Apex Legends is a battle royale all about combat, so having a bunch of hero characters who can complement their firearm and grenade attacks with powerful offensive abilities makes sense. But it’s also true that Apex Legends’ roster is beginning to feel a bit oversaturated when it comes to characters geared toward offense. The game has encouraged and curated a very aggressive meta, one that rewards players who are good at first-person shooters and punishes those who aren’t.
Only serving this meta alienates part of Apex Legends’ audience: the folks who like to play first-person shooters but maybe don’t possess the level of skill necessary for something as highly competitive as Apex Legends. By angling most legends to serve the very specific subset of the playerbase that wants to win firefights, Respawn is willingly ignoring a huge part of the shooter audience–the people who play supportive roles.
It’s not like this group of so-so players is small either. In Ranked play, the middle tier (Gold) is consistently the largest pool of players, and the entire bottom half (Bronze through Gold) is always a bigger pool of players than the top half (Platinum through Masters/Apex Predator). That’s just how shooters work. There are always more average players than there are highly skilled players. I’m not saying Respawn has to ignore the audience that wants high-skill play, but the developer could stand to add a few more legends to make the experience better for those who are less skilled at the shooting part of the game.
Characters like Newcastle (as well as other more supportive legends like Lifeline, Wattson, and Crypto) create room for those players–they allow players to help their squad achieve victory without also necessarily needing to be on par with their peers when it comes to the actual shooting. And if you don’t support that kind of player, they’ll fall off of the game. And suddenly you only have a bunch of players who are aiming to be the kill leader, not be a good teammate (which, you could argue, is what Apex Legends has already become).
Where are all the legends that can appeal to players who only want to play a supportive role?
So it’s great that Newcastle is so overtly focused on support-style gameplay, but the clear issue is that he’s really the only one. No other character is designed so selflessly. Even actual support legends Lifeline and Loba possess “I’m here to win by killing everyone” attitudes and have abilities they can use to better themselves–Lifeline can use her tactical ability to heal herself, for instance, and Loba can rely on her passive ability to track down a purple or gold body shield for herself.
Admittedly, abilities like these contribute to a character feeling powerful, which is arguably just as important as a character’s actual power level. People enjoy picking hero characters that seem strong. But as Newcastle demonstrates, you can design a supportive role to feel powerful–being the only one on a team that can leap into the fray and safely drag a downed ally away from a heated firefight feels so cool. You feel like a superhero, a sensation that’s reinforced by how Newcastle assures his allies in his voice lines that that’s the job he’s here to do.
This goes back to an article I wrote during Season 11 about how Apex Legends needs more support characters (a problem that still persists by the way). I think at least one person on the Apex Legends team somewhat agrees with me given how Season 13 changed how Ranked worked, so that it now better rewards teamwork and survival rate, not just kills.
It’s a line of thinking that Apex Legends could use more of. So many people play Apex Legends with the goal of being the star of their team, which usually entails getting the most kills. And getting kills is important–it is a battle royale, after all–but so is working with your squadmates to stay alive until that final ring. And having more characters whose role it is to ensure that happens allows players to actually play that way without their teammates badgering them to pull their weight in firefights. If participating in a direct attack is the only way you can be supportive in a firefight in Apex Legends, then the game is limiting its definition of teamwork. There just needs to be more characters that are most supportive while in the midst of combat without actually having to participate in the combat.
We just don’t need any more legends that can win a fight all on their own–Apex Legends has plenty of those. Now is the time for more characters with selfless abilities, ones who can be the best teammate possible for reasons that most of the current roster just aren’t capable of.