Apex Legends’ Skull Town Returns In Season 14 In Effort To Improve Kings Canyon’s Map Health

Apex Legends Season 14 sees newcomer Vantage join the playable roster (though I’d rather see more of her mom), and the Apex Games returning to Kings Canyon. After suffering destruction at the hands of leviathans, Loba, and Mad Maggie, Apex Legends‘ original map is finally getting partially rebuilt in the new season, as the Syndicate constructs a new landmark in the southwestern portion. In the place where Skull Town once stood, you’ll now find a familiar-looking town covered by a massive leviathan skull. It’s called Relic.

Relic isn’t a one-to-one replication of Skull Town. For one, it’s a lot smaller and not nearly as tall–more of an outpost or settlement located in the middle of a small desert canyon, with plenty of sightlines for snipers to ambush squads trying to enter or leave the point-of-interest (POI). Don’t expect it to house enough loot for almost a dozen squads like Skull Town did either; instead, Relic will only feature enough loot and space for two or three squads (maybe four).

Relic isn't Skull Town exactly but it is a town overshadowed by a massive skull.Relic isn’t Skull Town exactly but it is a town overshadowed by a massive skull.

The new addition to Kings Canyon represents a narrative conclusion to Kings Canyon’s journey since Season 5, when Loba inadvertently blew up Skull Town and Thunderdome in her quest to kill Revenant.

“There’s been sort of this ongoing salvage operation, salvaging the bones from the ocean, and this new update is sort of the end point of that story,” Apex Legends lead level designer Jeff Shaw told me. “This has been the Salvage [POI] operation, which is now complete.”

Relic will be replacing Salvage–the POI that replaced Skull Town–but that’s it. It does not extend far enough to make up for the ground lost when Thunderdome was also destroyed. “We want every map to have its own area, its own statement, and its own sort of niche,” Shaw said. “Kings Canyon is one of our smaller, more frantic maps. We definitely wanted to keep that. We didn’t want to disrupt that because we think that’s part of what makes it special and part of what makes it stand out.”

The goal is for Relic to act as a bridge between Gauntlet and Caustic Treatment, in the same vein that Skull Town once connected Gauntlet and Water Treatment. It’s a job that, theoretically, any sort of POI could have done, but the level design team chose to make something akin to Skull Town in order to bank on the former POI’s popularity. They know that veteran players will be drawn towards the landmark, like moths to the flame, which satisfies several aspects of Kings Canyon that the team wants to see fixed.

“We really wanted to bring that sort of gameplay that people loved with Skull Town and missed, but not bring back a lot of the problems that Skull Town had and brought to the map,” Shaw said. [Relic] is an answer to a problem that we saw with the flow and the path through that area in rotations–like rotating between [Gauntlet] and Market, and Caustic Treatment and Salvage. That whole area generally always forced encounters and forced combat scenarios, especially if you had a good team providing overwatch in the middle of Market. You were sort of almost always put into an engagement.”

As seen from the inside, Relic isn't nearly as big as Skull Town.As seen from the inside, Relic isn’t nearly as big as Skull Town.

In theory, Salvage should have done the job of drawing players away from Market, or at least act as a place to retreat to and redeploy from in order to avoid an unwanted engagement. The big problem with this is that, as many an Apex Legends player will tell you, is that not many folks like Salvage all that much. It’s difficult to fight in and the loot there is decent but not nearly as good as locations around it. When I play Apex Legends, I tend to avoid it at all costs, only visiting the POI when the ring is closing in that direction and I’m being forced to go there.

“On more of a gameplay side, we wanted to introduce a POI that was definitely a bit more enticing than Salvage,” Shaw said. “And we wanted to bring back some of that frantic [close-quarters combat], building-to-building action that Skull Town had, but do that at a much smaller and more controlled scale. We’re hoping that Relic will mainly support two to three squads comfortably.”

Though the addition of Relic is the big change for Kings Canyon, the map will also see major adjustments to Cage and Broken Relay. Cage is losing its top floor, and all the walls save for the ones around the bottom floor are coming down. This means that the once easily-defendable tower has been drastically opened up, making it far more difficult to hold, as now Pathfinder, Octane, Revenant, Loba, Horizon, Valkyrie, Ash, and Vantage can all easily climb or jump up to any floor with the use of their abilities, and there’s not much in the way of cover unless you bring a defense legend up into the tower with you.

The cage is now open, giving snipers lots of sightlines into it.The cage is now open, giving snipers lots of sightlines into it.

Broken Relay, meanwhile, is no longer broken, having been renamed Basin. The POI has been further extended northward over the precipice below, replicating the precarious nature of the area prior to the start of Season 8. So, yes, you once again need to do a very good job of watching your step or you may accidentally jump to your death.

There are several smaller adjustments scattered throughout the map too, which should help players better deal with chokepoints and rough loot lanes. “We have touched so many aspects and facets of the map,” Shaw said. “We did a lot of really nuanced changes, like changing the way in the Labs POI that the loop is actually positioned and laid out. …We changed some central pathing, some central macro-pathing, and closed up a few access points. We looked at the foliage, the trees and stuff, in Swamps. We looked at the explosive holds across the map, the loot balance across the map.”

In our conversation, my favorite small change that Shaw talked about was the giant walls that prominently enclose Artillery and Repulsor. Since the beginning, the only way to get to the top of these walls was to redeploy onto them or use a mobility legend like Pathfinder or Valkyrie. That will no longer be the case, as Shaw said the level design team added “a few extra paths” so that now all legends can reach the top of these walls, removing them as a relatively safe camping spot for snipers–perfect timing too, considering how Vantage’s abilities make her a long-range specialist and the G7-Scout is returning to ground loot.

With the addition of Relic, Kings Canyon is a bigger map--however, it's still much smaller than World's Edge and Storm Point.With the addition of Relic, Kings Canyon is a bigger map–however, it’s still much smaller than World’s Edge and Storm Point.

All these changes are aimed at improving the map quality and health of the entirety of Kings Canyon, not just a part of it like we’ve seen in past map updates. “[Season 14] is a new way of looking at Kings Canyon updates–we took a much bigger bird’s eye view of the map and looked holistically across the entire map,” Shaw said. “And that was a challenge: trying to find all the spots that were pain points and getting feedback from the community and getting feedback from the design team and the rest of the team and looking at the data, and trying to really analyze the map and figure out what are the things that we can do to just improve the quality of the map and improve the health of the map. That was kind of the philosophy behind this entire update.”

Apex Legends Season 14 kicks off on August 9. Alongside Vantage and a new Kings Canyon, the new season introduces a brand-new safari-themed battle pass, with legendary character skins for Caustic and Wraith, as well as reactive legendary weapon skins for the Triple-Take. Season 14’s battle royale map rotation will feature Kings Canyon, World’s Edge, and Storm Point. Kings Canyon will be the featured map for the first half of the Ranked split, and Storm Point will be used for the second half.

Season 14's battle pass features legendary skins for Wraith and Caustic that make the legends look like big game hunters.Season 14’s battle pass features legendary skins for Wraith and Caustic that make the legends look like big game hunters.