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The untold truth of Apex Legends

A surprise, almost mistake-free launch. An unheard-of amount of polish. Ten million players in its first three days. Apex Legends is proving to be one of 2019's most shocking stories, not because anyone doubted the talent at the game's studio, Respawn Entertainment, but because of every rule the game seemingly breaks. Who would've thought that EA would get behind a free-to-play first-person shooter, for instance? Or who predicted that EA would greenlight such a game when Battlefield 5's own battle royale mode hasn't released yet?

And who thought Respawn could skip out on releasing Titanfall 3, yet still produce a game that has fans flocking to it in droves?

It's been an unbelievable time for Apex Legends, and — dare we say — there hasn't been a game that's come out of nowhere to dominate the conversation like this since Fortnite: Battle Royale. But it wasn't a straightforward journey to get here, either for Respawn Entertainment or for EA. A series of events led to the release of Apex Legends, and there may be some things you don't know about how exactly this game came to be.

So let's dive into the untold truth of Apex Legends right now.

Titanfall 2 was sent out to die

It's difficult to separate Apex Legends from Titanfall 2, because — truth be told — it was likely the performance of that latter title that made Apex Legends possible in the first place. The harsh reality is, Titanfall 2 didn't sell very well. That's not a knock on the game itself, which was well-liked by pretty much everyone who played it. The game just didn't move very many copies, and that has less to do with the way Titanfall 2 played and more to do with when it was released.

Basically, Titanfall 2 got sent out to die.

Despite all of the confident talk from EA CEO Andrew Wilson — who believed it was a great idea to sandwich Titanfall 2 in between new Battlefield and Call of Duty titles — the game never really got the chance to separate itself. The fall season is a typically crowded release window as it is, but Titanfall 2 had the additional challenge of being surrounded by two of the largest first-person shooter franchises in existence. That's not exactly a recipe for success, and the game performed about as well as most keyboard pundits predicted.

Which likely paved the way for EA to make a very large purchase.

EA acquired Respawn Entertainment

A year after Titanfall 2's release, there was no shortage of work happening at Respawn Entertainment. The studio had just wrapped up its post-release content for Titanfall 2, and was also hard at work on a few other projects — namely a Star Wars title, which had yet to be officially announced. But there was also a sense in the gaming community that Respawn couldn't afford another disappointment. And it's possible Respawn felt that way, too. The company was apparently approached about a potential acquisition by a South Korean company called Nexon, and reporting suggests that Respawn was definitely listening to offers.

And then EA came along and dropped $455 million on the table.

EA's acquisition of Respawn Entertainment basically turned the engagement between the two companies into a marriage. Respawn was already developing a few titles for EA, and in that sense, EA's purchase of Respawn made sense. With the company's future no longer uncertain, many Titanfall fans felt that the franchise could still see a third entry. But if anything, what EA's acquisition allowed Respawn to do was experiment. Sure, Respawn would still develop big retail titles, like the aforementioned Star Wars game. But with a permanent roof over its head, the studio could now take a few more risks.

And with Apex Legends, Respawn did just that.

Respawn was supposedly hiring for Titanfall 3's development

It's safe to say that something like Apex Legends wasn't exactly expected by the community after the Respawn acquisition, though. If anything, having the resources of a company like EA meant that Respawn could actually go bigger with a Titanfall 3, having learned the lessons provided by Titanfall 2 and its untimely launch window.

When job openings for Respawn Entertainment popped up online in late 2018, Titanfall 3 almost felt like a shoe-in.

According to Windows Central, Respawn started advertising several roles related to "a Titanfall project," which at the time, almost certainly seemed to reference a third game in the mainline series. And given the amount of time it takes to develop a game, it was widely assumed that we wouldn't catch a glimpse of Respawn's newest Titanfall game for at least a few years.

As it turns out, Respawn was, indeed, working on a new Titanfall game. It just wasn't doing so in a way anyone expected. The game would come less than two months later, and it was one without titans, but set in the Titanfall universe. And it wasn't just any kind of game, either. It was a free-to-play battle royale game.

Who'd want to play that? A lot of people, apparently.

Apex Legends got a surprise launch on Feb. 4, 2019

"We're doing a free-to-play game, with essentially loot boxes, after we were bought by EA, and it's not Titanfall 3. It's the perfect recipe for a marketing plan to go awry. So why have that? Let's just ship the game and let players play."

The above explanation — provided by producer Drew McCoy — shows that some serious thought went into how Respawn Entertainment would launch Apex Legends, a free-to-play battle royale shooter based in the Titanfall universe. The company very wisely took note of a past EA loot box controversy (with Star Wars: Battlefront 2), and factored in the disappointment many Titanfall fans would feel at the lack of a third mainline title in the series.

And then Respawn took a calculated risk. Instead of announcing Apex Legends early, doing a whole bunch of press to promote it ahead of time, and giving everyone a chance to hate it before it ever came out, the studio would instead reveal the game and launch it on the same day.

It worked.

On Feb. 4, 2019, Respawn Entertainment started a Twitch stream that eventually ended with the reveal of Apex Legends. Just eight hours later, the game had already pulled in a million players. And just three days later, 10 million people had played Respawn's new game. Few people were speculating about what Apex Legends wasn't. Instead, they were jumping in to see what it was.

Though Respawn denies it, there's a good chance Titanfall 3 evolved into Apex Legends

Don't get it twisted — the successful launch of Apex Legends doesn't negate the fact that Respawn Entertainment didn't release Titanfall 3. And while many seem pretty happy with what Respawn released instead, there's still a healthy contingent of players who'd prefer that third Titanfall game over yet another battle royale shooter. To its credit, Respawn has tried to quell that anger, with Apex Legends producer Drew McCoy saying, "The world thinks we're making Titanfall 3 and we're not — this is what we're making."

But Kotaku's Jason Schreier has it on pretty good authority that Respawn was, indeed, working on Titanfall 3 — at least initially.

"[A] source told me that the third Titanfall was underway and that the studio was looking to get it out as quickly as possible, for fear of it looking and feeling dated if it came out too much later than 2018," Schreier wrote. "I speculated that either A) [Apex] was a stopgap en route to a proper Titanfall 3 or B) whatever work was done on Titanfall 3 has become Apex Legends."

It's looking like Schreier's second prediction was the right one, and that's certainly not going to be welcome news to those who were hoping for a proper Titanfall 2 follow-up. But the lack of a third mainline game doesn't mean the Titanfall universe is dead and gone.

Respawn says that more Titanfall is on the way (probably in Apex Legends)

It's not immediately apparent (thanks to the lack of gigantic mechs), but Apex Legends is actually set in the Titanfall universe, decades after the events in Titanfall 2's campaign. In that regard, Titanfall still lives on, though one could argue that the threads connecting Apex Legends to those earlier Titanfall titles are few.

But that may not be the reality for very long.

"We are also working on more Titanfall for later in the year (yes, I said the T word)," tweeted Vince Zampella, the head of Respawn Entertainment. "We love being able to experiment in this crazy universe!"

Zampella's tweet got Titanfall fans extremely riled up, as it once again raised the possibility of a third game coming to the series. But think about it — if Respawn has claimed that it was never working on Titanfall 3, or if the company actually was, but instead pivoted to Apex Legends, how would they have time to complete a whole new Titanfall game by later this year? It seems more likely that the bit of Titanfall Zampella is referring to will be content for Apex Legends. And while that's not optimal for series diehards, it'll have to do for now.