A few weeks ago, Apex Legends released Mad Maggie, its latest playable character, alongside season 12. Like with all new characters, Maggie has been extremely popular since her launch, with her pick rate sitting at 7.8% across all players as of this writing. While I haven’t tried playing as this hard-talking Salvonian quite yet, I have had several Maggies on my squads, which has given me a chance to listen to her banter and lines with other characters. (I was particularly excited to hear her lines with Fuse, whom she’s old “friends” with.)
Even in a game where great writing is the norm, Mad Maggie’s lines stand out as exceptional. Rather than sounding like simple reskins of phrases like “I need light ammo” or “I found a knockdown shield over here,” Maggie’s lines feel organic and natural, like these are words she would actually say. As a narrative designer, listening to her litany of lines and one-liners has been a lesson in snappy, sharp AAA writing. Here’s why writing is important in games like Apex Legends, even when it doesn’t seem obvious.
Apex Legends has quite a bit of story that isn’t told in the game itself. In fact, I’d say that most of the lore is told outside the game in short animations, trailers, comics, short stories, and more. I’d also wager that most fans don’t pay attention to this lore. There might be some real Titanfall extended universe loreheads out there, as well as a couple people who have their copy of Pathfinder’s Quest sitting on a display shelf (of course I’m not speaking from experience), but generally speaking, most players are more interested in how a character plays in the game rather than their story or connections with other characters.
Good in-game lines are a way to bring character to those who choose not to engage with outside lore. It’s also something that I think sets Apex Legends apart from other battle royales. Apex characters always have a lot of flavor in their barks, or short phrases and lines that are used as callouts and informative dialogue in games. For example, the way that Maggie says “I need light ammo” and “I found a knockdown shield over here” are barks. Maggie’s barks don’t even sound like they’re derivatives of these basic instructions, but somehow I still always know what she’s referring to. All of her lines sound like they’re something she’d really say, which is a testament to both the strength of the barks and how clear her character is, even to someone who only knows her from her introduction trailer.
Unless you’re making a masterpiece like Disco Elysium or writing a visual novel, most games don’t need a lot of text or dialogue. Bogging the player down in too much lore or making them tab through 15 text boxes to get to the next gameplay segment isn’t a great idea. That’s why Apex constrains a lot of its text to optional comics and short stories that are unlocked over time during the course of a season: the developers know that if everyone was required to read those comics before jumping into matches, most players would simply mash through it. Also, studio time with voice actors is extremely expensive, so you can’t simply record a ton of lines and expect people to listen to them.
Maggie’s lines are notable in that they convey a lot of information and personality in a very short space. After watching her intro trailer and listening to her lines several times in-game, I’ve already learned more about her than I probably would if I tried to do an external lore deep-dive. There’s something to be said for hearing about a character through their own mouth, and Maggie is no exception. Learning to pack that much information into just a few lines and make it entertaining and fun to listen to is a very difficult task, which makes it all the more impressive.
Maggie’s lines with other characters are where she really shines. In Apex, characters are often at least partly defined by their relationships to other characters, making the whole cast feel much more interconnected and organic. Maggie’s principal connection in the Apex Games is with Fuse, an equally loudmouth and bombastic legend. I’m a Fuse main, so listening to the lines between the two of them when my teammates resurrected me or thanked me for finding them a shield was really entertaining.
Instead of simply telling players that a character had a relationship with someone, sometimes those plot points are better inferred through in-game dialogue. (This is where the whole idea of shipping comes from.) The way that Maggie addresses and responds to other characters tells us a lot about her and what she values. A lot of people might not even notice in the heat of battle, but for those who care and are paying attention, it’s a neat way to give each match flavor based on the character composition of your squad and the potential lore ramifications of different matchups. Plus, it’s just plain fun to hear Maggie and Fuse yell at each other.
Even in genres where it seems as though writing and lore are less important, like battle royales, it doesn’t mean that the potential for meaningful lore within those genre and mechanic structures doesn’t exist. Once you start looking for the ways that lore and other narrative bits have been scattered throughout Apex, you start seeing them everywhere – and that’s not a bad thing! The rabbit hole goes as deep as you want it to: some people may not be all that interested in the lore of Apex and comparable games, while others might want to devour every side story and comic they can get their hands on. (Again, I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything.) No matter which way you slice it, Mad Maggie is an excellent example of how interesting, meaningful narrative can be included within the structures of the battle royale FPS genre.