Apex Legends’ Olympus is a Beautiful Sci-Fi Utopia
Respawn‘s clever art design is both aesthetically pleasing and practically useful
Iwant to preface this article by saying that I feel the art and design of multiplayer spaces is something that’s actually very underappreciated. Folks regularly write lengthy essays about the design of single player titles; even a middling single player platformer will recieve multiple long-form analysis, but unless it poses a major problem to players, the design of multiplayer spaces tends to be taken for granted.
I think this is a shame, as designing the aesthetics of these multiplayer spaces comes with a unique set of challenges for the developers to tackle. This makes good aesthetic design in this space particularly remarkable. Most notably balancing aesthetic and function can be quite difficult. Even small details that look pleasant conceptually, can end up being a significant frustration for players.
Also, when you create a single player game, you have a lot of control of what happens to the player and the experience they have. In multiplayer, you’re only able to influence it, with the behaviour determined by the interactions between players. So designing creative spaces with this in mind, can be a challenge, particularly when you’re balancing the aforementioned aesthetic and function.
With all of this in mind, I wanted to take a moment to focus on the aesthetic design of Apex Legends’ newest map. In this season, Apex Legends has a new mode that lets you walk around the map freely. It’s a great opportunity to explore, and I used it to grab some screenshots of various areas of the new map. I’m really blown away by it.
This giant artificial mountain really is the centerpiece of the new Olympus map, and you’ll see it in several of the screenshots below. Wherever you are on Olympus you can often orientate yourself against this massive landmark.
Although Apex often features fairly complex, industrial style designs to its areas, the use of colour helps each element stand out from one another. This distinctness likely helps players learn the map more quickly, and identify key features like the yellow railing which could be climbed, or used as cover.
It wouldn’t be sci-fi without some blackhole threatening to swallow everything up. This location is simply called rift, and I’ve seen players speculating that this will consume a larger and larger space as the map changes over time.
Olympus is a pretty large map too, and as such this portal helps players get around quickly. Again, the artificial mountain at the middle of the map provides a consistent landmark, which helps players orientate themselves.
Interiors are equally pleasant and detailed, with fictional branding and artwork dotted around the walls. Details like these often feed into player communication. I might shout ‘they’re on the second floor of the Oasis building’ for instance.
The Skybox featured in Olympus really is stunning, and because this is a city that’s sitting high in the sky, you’ll find clouds sit both above, and below. Though, I will say that my team mates seem to jump over these railings a little too eagerly at times — perhaps the hazardous fall could be more clearly communicated.
While the map is packed with unique spaces, these are usually built with fairly simplistic building blocks so as to not overwhelm players with details that they need to learn in order to play. That orange supply bin in the screenshot above stands out as a place that I can grab loot, and I also know I can use it for cover in a pinch.
Similar to the Oasis building above, these unique aspects of each point of interest provide memorable landmarks with which for players to both orientate themselves, and communicate with their team.
There’s some Interstellar or Halo style gravity manipulation stuff going in the aesthetic design too. Though I must admit I found it a little disappointing that players can’t run on these surfaces — the curvature of the wall almost invites players to climb up.
The bright colours of the outdoor areas are occasionally offset by these bleak, darker interiors. The oranges and yellows really pop in these areas, sitting against the deeper blues. The use of darker colours in these spaces is offset by fairly bright lighting, which helps ensures enemies stay highly-visible.
As for gameplay, these spaces often create interesting choke points in matches, as players are forced through them to make it into the zone.
As well as being aesthetically pleasing, the smooth surfaced roads depicted in this shot reflect a change in the gameplay design through the inclusion of a new 3-passenger vehicle.
Olympus features quite a bit of fictional designer branding, like this ‘embrace’ advert above. These signs add aesthetic charm to the place, and the use of bright colours helps enemy players stand out against their backdrop which helps ensure they don’t distract from the action.
When we compare this to earlier maps featured in Apex Legends like the original version of Kings Canyon, we can see a marked improvement in Respawn’s aesthetic design mindset for the game. The original Kings Canyon featured many repeated structures, points of interest that often lacked a unique landmark that would make it harder to orientate and communicate. In addition to visual issues such as very dark interiors that would often make it difficult to distinguish an enemy from the environment.
With this in mind I think Olympus is both map that’s both aesthetically pleasant, but also one where you can see the designers are leveraging the aesthetic to bring the best out of Apex’s gameplay. The use of distinct landmarks help players orientate themselves both on a small, and large scale, while also provides avenues for effective communication between team mates. Meanwhile the bright colours and clean presentation provide a pleasant appearance without distracting from visibility of enemies, helping to ensure that players aren’t likely to get frustrated in a fight.
I’m excited to see the evolution of the map, and how Respawn iterate on its design in the future.