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.
We are now two years out from the best thing to happen to Apex Legends: the introduction of Quest. The new story-focused mode kicked off in May 2020 with Season 5: Fortune's Favor. Its first storyline was called The Broken Ghost, and it was fantastic. Even two years later, no questline has been quite as compelling, and Respawn hasn't found a suitable successor for it in the seasons since.
That is, until Season 13: Saviors. This new season adds IMC Armories to Storm Point--these armories provide a way for squads to engage in PvE combat against Spectres in order to earn better loot. For now, they are strictly a way of finally adding PvE combat to a PvP battle royale without it feeling unnecessary or annoying, but I think they can be a lot more than that. The IMC Armories present the potential for reintroducing something like The Broken Ghost to Apex Legends.
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For those not in the know, The Broken Ghost was a weekly optional side quest in Apex Legends. When you played a battle royale match, you could find Treasure Packs. Finding five packs netted you a ticket to access the next chapter of Quest, which released on a weekly basis. These chapters saw you play as your favorite legends as they explored an alternate universe in search of artifacts for Loba, engaging in PvE combat against that world's shadowy prowlers and then getting text-based interactions between the legends, furthering Apex Legends' storyline in leaps and bounds.
Season 5 was the moment that the community learned we had actually been fed mere morsels in Seasons 1-4. Respawn piled lore and narrative development into our starving gullets in Season 5--for the first time, the Apex Legends community was feasting.
It felt like being a part of an interactive TV show, with fans excitedly taking to Twitter and Reddit every week to discuss the latest developments of The Broken Ghost and theorize what would happen the following week. And that story went places--it ultimately saw the return of Titanfall 2's Ash, the exciting first steps of a queer relationship between two women of color, the formation and dissolution of Wattson and Crypto's adorable friendship, the early signs of Wraith's big-sister mentality when it came to Wattson, and the tiniest of hints that Caustic may care about people beyond their use as subjects for his experiments.
And on top of that, The Broken Ghost influenced the week-to-week of Apex Legends' battle royale side as well. Season 5 saw the introduction of reactive character quips, coloring the way that certain legends interacted with one another. Loba and Revenant were antagonistic towards one another, for instance, while Caustic was fatherly to Wattson. And how these interactions played out evolved as The Broken Ghost progressed: When Wattson lost faith in Crypto and Caustic, for example, her voice lines with the two legends transformed from friendly and jovial to distrusting and curt. It was an incredible season.
Nearly every storyline in Seasons 6-12 can be traced back to The Broken Ghost. It's widely regarded by the fanbase as the most influential arc in Apex Legends' narrative. It was a lot. As it happens, it was too much.
Apex Legends' writers tried to do more PvE-focused Quests, but couldn't. "We've got many developers here that would have loved to continue doing something like [Season 5's Quest]," then-Apex Legends game director Chad Grenier told me as we discussed the battle royale's transformative second year back in February 2021. "The problem is, well, we did the Quest, and then we had a lockdown."
"Believe me, we attempted this a few times in the last year with stuff that ended up on Twitter," then-Apex Legends writer Tom Casiello wrote on Twitter in October 2021. "We could never get it right by launch. It's a manpower issue, it's a memory issue, it's a time issue. We all wish it were different. But it's the reality of the situation."
Respawn has attempted to fill the void left behind by The Broken Ghost with Quests that solely played out as comics, radio plays (referred to in-game as Chronicles), and text-based conversations. Some have managed to deliver rewarding storylines, but none have captured the interactive element of The Broken Ghost.
The Broken Ghost worked because it told its story through PvE missions--like campaign levels in Titanfall 2--that were totally separate from the PvP battle royale, where scripted conversations would be understandably difficult to enjoy. And though Respawn has since tried to implement PvE in its battle royale since then, it hasn't worked as well because the PvP nature of the game can't be escaped, creating frustrating moments where your squad is attacked by other players while engaging with the PvE side of things.
IMC Armories fixes that. These armories are quickly proving to be one of the best additions included in Season 13--they present a way for anyone to opt into PvE combat if they want and net some genuinely good rewards for the trouble. The armories close upon activation, so you don't have to worry about another squad moving in on you and ruining your match. Frankly, the IMC Armories are a brilliant way of adding PvE to a primarily PvP-focused battle royale. Plus, they're just a whole lot of fun--I love them.
And because those armories are enclosed and other squads can't get into them until your squad decides to open them up, they present the potential of implementing narrative-driven PvE combat back into Apex Legends. Respawn is technically already toying with this concept--you'll notice that when legends hack into the IMC Armories, they use a version of Crypto's hacking software, implying the legend trusts his fellow competitors enough to give them some of his tech. It's a small detail, but one that's easier to notice when you can take a moment to stop worrying about other players because you're locked inside an impenetrable bunker.
I think this is how Respawn can get back to the PvE missions of The Broken Ghost. Instead of trying to make PvE and PvP entirely separate, it can find ways of putting snippets of PvE into the existing PvP experience and then enclose them so that squads can participate in short, story-driven missions.
Imagine that Wraith needs to access an IMC database to dig up some dirt on Newcastle, who she's already suspicious of. Respawn can task players with needing to reach an IMC Armory and hack into the database. Like usual, this activates the Spectres, which players have to defeat, netting them some valuable loot for their efforts. But that's a 60-second process--a whole minute of time to add some uninterrupted storytelling. So while all that's going on, Wraith could comment on the details she's learning from the hack you're performing--either in person if she's a member of the squad or over the radio if she isn't--with a final note that she'll discuss her findings after the match.
That follow-up conversation can then be a more detailed cutscene/comic/radio play/etc. that unlocks after the match. And maybe the lead Wraith uncovers convinces her that she needs more information but from a different source, compelling the player to land at one of the other IMC Armories on Storm Point and repeat the process. I think fighting in IMC Armories over and over again would get dull eventually, but it's a great starting point for introducing the concept of narrative-driven PvE combat into a PvP setting, and Respawn could certainly expand on this idea in subsequent seasons.
For example, a future point-of-interest could be a massive IMC Armory that hides still-working Titans that are controlled by a rogue artificial intelligence, encouraging a squad to work together to take down one of the towering behemoths. Plus, it would allow Respawn to finally add Titans to Apex Legends without disrupting the PvP component. Or Respawn could add additional armories that hide the remains of old IMC experiments that implement interesting gameplay considerations on top of dealing with Spectres, similar to the town takeover points-of-interest that add mechanics like jump pads and rising pools of poison.
In an ideal world, we'd somehow get more Quests like The Broken Ghost, but as we get further from Season 5, that feels increasingly like a dream we'll never quite get to experience again. The IMC Armories are a feasible solution to this problem, presenting a way to bring The Broken Ghost's bite-sized PvE experience to Apex Legends' already superb PvP gameplay.