To celebrate Olympus, the pinnacle of Battle Royale maps
When you think of the great FPS maps of all time, what names come to mind? The 2Fort from Team Fortress 2? The unreal Facing the worlds (opens in a new tab)? Halo’s Blood Gulch? Counter-Strike Dust2 (opens in a new tab)? Iconic one-piece cards, defining the sensibility of their respective games, layouts etched in the mind of any self-respecting shooter enthusiast.
But these are maps from an older era, and with exceptions like Overwatch and Halo Infinite, today’s shooters measure their arenas in miles, not square meters. Entire islands whose very scale demands repeating structures and empty hills – and while we fondly remember individual locations such as Tilted Towers and Skulltown, can any of these bloated maps stand up to those Titans of level design?
We can. And all you have to do is look up to the sky.
I love Olympus. I love Olympus so much that I am wear the t-shirt (opens in a new tab). Released in November 2020, Apex Legends’ third map was a radical departure from not only previous maps in this game, but battle royale as a whole.
Because of that aforementioned scale, BR maps tend to feel a bit shapeless, requiring a lot of empty space to accommodate 100 or more players. Whether it’s Erangel from PUBG or whatever Fortnite’s ever-changing island is called, these battlegrounds feature a whole host of treks through indistinct hills to reach the good bits.
Apex’s first two maps, King’s Canyon and World’s Edge, condensed this dead space considerably – part of Apex’s intention to be a much faster BR with far less downtime spent digging and to wander. But they are also messy, unnatural spaces, the illusion of being a believable landscape broken by sharp mountains that form perfect 90-degree angles and sudden cliffs falling into oblivion. They’re mechanically proficient, sometimes even visually stunning, but rarely come together as complete, believable locations.
Olympus, meanwhile, is utterly singular, cohesive in design and visual construction in a way that few BR cards manage to be. A utopian city in the clouds, the absurd artifice works perfectly to thematically ground the mechanical variety demanded of the genre. A swanky hotel plaza gives way to the hydroponic farm necessary for its operation; massive power plants hidden from vacation homes by a false mountain frontage.
Each of them offers a different style of combat encounter and visual backdrop, made cohesive through sleek yet functional architectural design. Even the spaces in between feel full of intent, hills formed from Portal 2-style panels that direct you through key areas, that man-made peak ever-present on the horizon to orient you. Each of these slots is also mechanically distinct; large open spaces at the edge of the map spilling into a central park, giving way to more claustrophobic urban environments around Turbine and the docks.
Olympus is gorgeous in a way that elevates the best parts of Apex’s aesthetic. Its deliberate artifice works perfectly within the limitations of the source engine, which struggles to paint natural landscapes even after Respawn’s heavy engine tweaks. It’s the game that comes closest to having its own animated, bright and colorful trailers.
During the downtime between fights, you can imagine what it would be like to live in this gravity-defying utopia. To open a laptop at a garden table in Estates, to ride an e-bike through Hammond Field. You get a sense of the society that would have lived here, hiding the mechanisms that keep their tall house afloat just out of sight (and out of mind) behind false spikes and under artificially colored grass.
It’s almost a shame that the sole purpose of this space is to facilitate bloody gunfights between charming Apex murderers. The best maps are exciting spaces to explore on their own merits, spaces that invoke the imagination and make you wonder about every nook and cranny. Olympus is all of that – it also happens to be a damn good 60-player bloodsport arena.
Given the live-service nature of modern multiplayer games, maps aren’t one-size-fits-all anymore. Even venerable classics like Dust2 received several facelifts (opens in a new tab)but BR tends to be more spectacular in its changes.
If I had to ask directly what the most well-known BR card is, you would probably say “Fortnite’s”. But this island explodes and flips several times a year – and who’s to say which version was the most popular? Do people think fondly of Tomato Town, or is the current iteration’s war-stricken multiverse the best we’ve ever had?
Apex also had this issue. King’s Canyon is filthy with new locations abandoned over old ones, whole chunks of the map blown away in the name of balance. World’s Edge, meanwhile, has committed the unpardonable sin of get rid of the train (opens in a new tab). However, Olympus’ changes seem more carefully considered – replacing slots that already felt crowded with more characteristic and mechanically dynamic places. Who misses Crossroads when there’s now a terrifying, vine-infested spaceship docked in its place?
Olympus’ updates feel less like change for change’s sake and more like additive solutions to the (very few) pain points of the map. The biggest addition added two new locations and an extended field between Bonsai and the Phase Runner, a change that served more to draw traffic away from the labs center field and pull the concourse further south.
The live service demands new content, and map updates tend to come in to add something new and exciting to a known space. But while Olympus is firmly caught up in this cycle and has a whole team behind its development, its updates are more like watching an amateur mapper hone and perfect their darling. Each change fixes a previous pain point, while keeping the card’s overall personality largely intact even 20 months later.
Now the folks at Apex will probably tell me that World’s Edge is the most competitive map, that there’s a reason this year’s Apex Legends Global Series chose Storm Point over Olympus as the second map. And that might be true – after all, it wouldn’t make for great esports viewing if teams kept falling through holes in the clouds below.
But the best cards are rarely the “best” cards. If you want a good game of TF2, you don’t play on 2Fort, where matches will last over an hour with zero points scored. But we remember these cards because of their insoluble social impasses. We remember Dust2 because it’s comfortable in its prime. We remember Facing Worlds because of its absurd orbital asteroid fortresses. They are, in their own way, perfect summaries of what their respective games are.
Even though I think Olympus is a great ranked card, that’s not why I like it. I love Olympus because it’s a shining example of everything I love about Apex Legends: the older shooter sensibilities introduced into modern battle royale. From its fantastical sci-fi thematics to its deliberate layout (including a massive map gimmick in the form of the city-spanning Phase Runner), it’s classic FPS level design through and through. .
Respawn has already brought some of that ideology to its latest BR map, Storm Point, which despite returning to a more natural environment manages to feel more like one place – lush forests and beaches sloping to a peak. of Mountain. Storm Point’s transition fields more deliberately direct lobbies towards good fights, even though the map is probably 30% larger than necessary.
But even beyond its Apex map contemporaries, Olympus is proof that battle royale maps don’t have to be limited to endless expanses of plains, forests, and desert landscapes. They can be just as deliberate, absurd, and dripping with personality as any traditional FPS map. At a time when it feels like BR has calcified itself around a few games and their handful of islands, Olympus is screaming that there’s still so, so much more room to explore in the types of fields of battle in which we could fall.
Or maybe I’m just being fancy. After all, I feel like my head is firmly stuck in the clouds, right?