Apex Legends devs on aim assist, Digi Threat & difficulties of weapon balance

Apex Legends devs on aim assist, Digi Threat & difficulties of weapon balance
Images via Respawn Entertainment

Written by 

Alex Garton


8th Sep 2023 16:40

While Apex Legends’ big content drops will always get the most attention from the community, balancing is without a doubt one of the toughest challenges for the dev team.

This is especially true when it comes to weapons in the game, as the guns are core to Apex’s gameplay and are the foundation of the battle royale experience - meaning that it’s always interesting to get insight from the developers who oversee these aspects.

At the Year 3 ALGS Champs, GGRecon was able to sit down with Lead Weapon and loot Designer Eric Canavese and Lead Battle Royale Designer John Mohan to talk about aim assist, weapon balancing, and the power of the Digital Threat optic.

The challenges of weapon balancing

Apex Legends Wraith Caustic
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Both pro players and the overall Apex Legends community are extremely vocal when it comes to buffs, nerfs, and the direction of the meta. Unfortunately, both groups don’t always agree on the changes the devs should implement, as competitive Apex and standard matches are immensely different.

As a result, we asked the devs how much weight the competitive scene has when it comes to weapon balance, and how hard it is to find a middle ground between both sides of the player base.

Probably one of the hardest parts of the job is to make healthy, meaningful, and impactful changes that both hits the competitive scene and, like you said, the Ranked and more casual scene,” explained Canavese.

When we try to make these meta shifts and stuff, we grab as much information as we can from the pro scene and the competitive scene - we also grab used data from the general population, we grab anecdotal evidence from Reddit, and Twitter, and just stories and forum boards.

We try to accumulate as much information as possible, then it all kinda gets piled up into this big vat and we all sit around and talk for hours and try to figure out from all of this, weighing it all as we have to - what is the most healthy change, and what gives everybody sort of what they’re looking for?

We can’t just be like, 'well we’ll make a change for the pros', it very rarely happens where we target a specific player demographic… that’s just because our player base is so wide, varied, and differently skilled. We want to make sure the game is feeling healthy, fun, and exciting for everyone.

Were the Season 18 SMG nerfs targeted at aim assist?

R99 Weapon Apex
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Aim assist continues to be a controversial topic in Apex Legends, with Respawn acknowledging that the controller feature needs adjustments. However, they've also made it clear that they're cautious to rush out changes, given how it may negatively impact the way the game feels to play.

As a result, no direct aim assist alterations have been implemented just yet, but Respawn did hit all SMGs with a headshot multiplier and strafe speed nerf in Season 18, which many assumed was related to aim assist. As a result, we asked the devs whether balancing around aim assist was a strategy they were adopting, rather than making direct changes to the feature itself.

"We’re not gonna just tank SMGs because they are a hyper-competitive controller category of weapon, but overall SMGs, regardless of aim assist, SMGs are a dominating force in the meta, so that is the impetus for the change that we made recently," explained Canavese.

"It's sort of an added benefit that it also kinda hits the controller player's most favoured weapon type, but it's not a specific nerf just to hit controller players.

"We are in the background also still working on aim assist. We are making strides and improvements ourselves as we develop, we just have to do it in a measured way.

"It would be so easy to flip a few numbers and then the game just doesn’t feel right anymore - so we have to take a very nuanced approach and really analyse all the parts of aim assist and make micro-adjustments so we’re hitting the competitive viability of it, but retaining as much of the good feeling."

Is the Digital Threat optic too powerful in Season 18?

Bangalore Apex Legends
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The Digital Threat optic has been under the microscope of players recently, with a lot of discussion around the scope potentially being too powerful. As the attachment unlocks the ability to see enemies through smokes, it's been argued that there's not enough counterplay.

Some players have suggested adding a laser to the Digital Threat, so it's possible to gain a rough idea where of an enemy using the optic is located. To get an idea of where the devs stand on this, we asked whether they believe the Digital Threat needs a nerf.

"I can't talk about like any specific changes or things like that, but it's definitely on our radar and very recently it has been kind of rising up in the meta and you know, that's pretty easy to say because Bangalore is a very strong character right now," said Canavese.

"One thing that is worth reminding is that the Digital Threat is incredibly strong on Bangalore herself, because you know she can create that battlefield disruption with the smoke and cut through it herself to capitalise on that.

"Whether or not we're going to make any changes to it, I can't really say, but it's certainly on our radar, and it's more on our radar than it has been in the past."

Scrapped Apex Legends weapon that never made it into the game

Wattson skin in Apex Legends
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Everyone is familiar with Apex's huge arsenal of guns that are currently available in the Outlands, but it's brilliant to hear about ideas that didn't quite make the cut. Thinking about what could have been is always interesting, especially when it comes to wacky and outlandish weapon ideas.

As such, we asked the devs if they could share any guns that were brainstormed by the Respawn team, that were just too absurd to make it into the Apex Games.

"There's been a lot. We spend a lot of our time prototyping as much as we can, coming up with as many wacky ideas, I don't want to talk about too many of them because there's always a chance we revisit them and bring something cuckoo to the game again," revealed Canavese.

"An early prototype that we played that probably will never make it into the game was kinda like a ricochet shotgun, where you'd fire a lot of pellets, and each of these pellets would bounce around off of walls and stuff.

"So, the gameplay became you know, look in a window, start blasting your shotgun through a window, and it just fills up the room with all these pellets... ultimately, we sort of came to the conclusion that it's not very fun to take damage from people that you can't see.

"That was an early prototype that we played. It was fun, but it wasn't healthy, so we did end up scrapping that completely."

It's always a pleasure to get a chance to speak to the team that makes Apex Legends such a fun game to play, and to gain an insight into their thought process when it comes to weapon balance.

There's plenty to look forward to as we head towards Season 19 - let's just hope there's a new weapon on the cards in the near future.

Alex is a Senior Writer at GGRecon. With a BA (Hons) in English, he has previously written for Dexerto & Gfinity. Specialising in Call of Duty & Apex Legends, he loves (attempting) to improve his aim in competitive shooters and will always make time for a single-player RPG.

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