Respawn is absolutely spoiling me, releasing two incredible defender legends within the span of half a year. I’ve already spoken at length as to why I love Season 13’s Newcastle for how his ability kit supports players who aren’t that good at first-person shooters still enjoy a fast-paced game like Apex Legends by helping their more able teammates survive. Apex Legends Season 15 gives us another character like that, Catalyst, who excels at reacting to incoming threats and staving off attacks long enough to give her teammates time to heal up, reposition, and re-engage.
Like the rest of Year 4’s legends–Mad Maggie, Newcastle, and Vantage–I don’t foresee Catalyst breaking the mold of Apex Legends‘ competitive meta, even if she’s an anti-scan legend, a type of playable character I figured only Apex Legends Mobile would be lucky enough to have. As powerful as the scan meta is in Apex Legends, the movement meta is stronger, and Catalyst’s abilities can be easily countered by legends with excellent mobility like Valkyrie or Horizon. She’s still a valuable character, however, as her kit is designed to reward supportive and defensive plays.
“She plays into a familiar playstyle that I think players will know how to just pick up and play and start using her abilities,” Apex Legends game engineer Chris Winder told me.
Catalyst is the type of character that I like to call a reactive defender, making her more like Gibraltar or Newcastle–her abilities are geared toward instant response. Caustic, Rampart, and Wattson can use their abilities at any moment’s notice, of course–like any playable legend–but they notably are at their strongest when they’ve had ample time to fortify a position or a very specific situation calls for their skillset. That’s why I call them situational defenders. The problem with situational defenders is that you may repeatedly prepare for a situation that never actually occurs, so the euphoric high of your abilities paying off in a big way doesn’t happen every match.
That’s not usually the case for reactive defenders. In a battle royale, firefights are a regular occurrence. Even if you aim to hide for the entire match, you’re bound to have at least one or two skirmishes at some point. And during a fight, Gibraltar’s ability to throw up a dome shield and protect his teammates from every direction feels powerful, as does Newcastle’s ability to leap to a downed alley and drag them to safety. As these legends, you feel like you’ve made a difference and helped your team with the push of a button. Granted, in the grand scheme of things, situational defenders are usually more valuable for the situations they’re geared for–there’s a reason Wattson and Caustic are some of the most competitively viable picks in the roster–but you have to know when and how to use their abilities or you may end up hindering your team more than helping. There’s always that situational asterisk assigned to their kit, which usually entails having enough Apex Legends experience to play them well.
As she fits into the more reactive side of defenders, Catalyst is potentially easier to use and thus far more enjoyable to play for newcomers or players who just aren’t as good at shooters in comparison to their peers. Just look at her kit, which is fairly straightforward to understand and see the value in:
- Passive Ability: Barricade – Reinforce doors, strengthening them and locking them to enemies. Spaces where doors have been destroyed can also be reinforced.
- Tactical Ability: Piercing Spikes – Throw out a patch of ferrofluid which turns into spikes when enemies are near. Catalyst remains immune to enemy spikes.
- Ultimate Ability: Dark Veil – Raise a permeable wall of ferrofluid. Enemies who walk through will be slowed and partially blinded for a brief time.
The one aspect of Catalyst’s kit that may cause her to become a competitively viable pick is her ultimate ability, Dark Veil. Alongside slowing and partially blinding enemies that pass through it–making it a great deterrent for blocking off certain areas–it can also block scans. This is a hard counter to characters like Bloodhound and Seer, which is a wild sentence to type out. Not only has Respawn never introduced anything to Apex Legends to specifically counter the scan legends’ ability to regularly wall-hack, but the developer also has never implemented a hard counter to an existing meta via a character before. We’ve had characters shift certain metas in the game before–Horizon and Valkyrie have shifted the vertical potential of certain strategies, for example–but Catalyst is the first to have an ability aimed at stopping one outright.
Dark Veil is a powerful ultimate ability, allowing Catalyst to cut off whole sightlines.
Importantly, though, Catalyst is not a full anti-scan legend. While Catalyst can block some of the strongest scanning abilities in the game with Dark Veil, she cannot block all forms of scans. And I think this limitation is what will keep her from substantially shaking up the meta and transforming Apex Legends forever. “This is something that we had to play with a lot, because obviously not all of the scan abilities work in this singular directional way from you to the target, but can be triggered through other actions,” Winder said. “So Crypto, for example, if you fly the Crypto drone over the top of the wall to scan characters, then you’ll be able to scan them and share that information with the team. What we tried to lean on was particularly the source of the scan, rather than the communication of whether you can see the scan or not. If they are scanned, then you’ll be able to see that, but you’ll need to navigate the wall in some way to try to get that scan. But if you’re looking through the wall, then you’re not going to be able to.”
Stopping directional scans is still a pretty substantial play–that alone is enough to make Catalyst feel like a powerful pick even for players who aren’t as good with the shooting part of Apex Legends. But I’m most intrigued by how Dark Veil will allow players to reshape the battlefield in a substantial way, especially when paired with Catalyst’s ability to deter enemies with Piercing Spikes and Barricade. Characters like Bangalore and Caustic can block line of sight but only within a small space. Catalyst is the first of her kind for Apex Legends, able to erect a huge wall that can block pretty much any of the battle royale’s major sightlines. As seen with characters like Sens in Rainbow Six Siege or Mei in Overwatch, there’s a great feeling of power that comes with the ability to make substantial changes to sightlines in a fast-paced first-person shooter. Creating uncertainty in your opponent, even if just for a moment, feels good. If such a play happens to pay off with your team successfully escaping or flanking an enemy, even better.
“Her ultimate, counter to Caustic and Wattson, has this other vector that she can use it for because it has this length to it, and it blocks vision and scans–she can use it in a way to push on a team, to flank on a team, to escape in a certain direction,” Winder said. “So there’s a lot of creative aspects or creative ways that she can use the ultimate that expand her play style more than some of the other characters. [Dark Veil] can also be used to enhance that playstyle if you are trying to lock down the space; you could use the ultimate to potentially block off the back half if you know you’re facing a team in one particular way or another.”
As Winder explains, Dark Veil is only limited by geography and the space you’re working with. “A mental model of the wall is that it grows forwards,” Winder said. “So it walks forwards from your position, from the place that you deploy it. It will do its best to navigate the slope or stairs of a particular area and give you something intuitive. If you’re just outside on a flat section of ground, then it has a fixed length and fixed maximum height. But those things are limited by geometry. So if you do deploy it inside, then it won’t go as far potentially. As soon as it hits the wall, it won’t just walk through the wall, it’ll hit the wall and stop.”
A lot of Catalyst’s abilities allow her to slow down pursuers.
This may sound like Dark Veil loses usefulness within enclosed spaces, but it’s actually the opposite. “It can be more useful in those cases because there is no way to navigate over or around in those situations,” Winder said, citing how legends like Horizon and Valkyrie can otherwise easily get over Dark Veil. “If it hits [a wall], it goes directly against the wall. Again, [Dark Veil] just has a lot of room for players to express it in different ways, depending on when they’re going to use it.”
In a gameplay sense, Catalyst’s character model isn’t anything special. Winder likens the build of her hitbox to someone like Bangalore and her height to someone like Horizon. So she’s not small enough to avoid certain shots like Wraith or Wattson, nor is she big enough to get the Fortified perk like Gibraltar or Newcastle. She’s average.
Aesthetic, however, is a different story. Catalyst’s character model is oozing with personality, having a goth-style look that conveys witch-like vibes. Even the manner in which Catalyst speaks and uses her abilities reflects her Wiccan past. Like the 22 playable legends that came before her, however, Catalyst’s abilities can all be explained with science. Respawn wanted the character to remain grounded within the science fiction of the Apex Legends universe without crossing into mythical fantasy.
“That was a really interesting challenge for us, but it was something we really wanted to pursue because it was really interesting,” Apex Legends lead writer Ashley Reed told me. “Our big thing was, ‘Okay, how do we communicate this is what she is trying to affect with this witchy aesthetic, but she is not actually doing magic?’ And we actually referenced–I referenced Witch Talk a lot. This is something that they–I don’t want to say aesthetic; I don’t want to reduce it to something like that. They are trying to create this environment of all this mysticism around them, but they’re also using an app to do this. So as we went forward, we said, ‘Okay, there has to be a scientific explanation for how she’s able to do what she does, but she makes it look like this on purpose.'”
Catalyst is the first transgender woman to join the Apex Games.
Catalyst uses a souped-up variation of the work uniform she was given when initially working on the Hope settlement–which is now the new Broken Moon battle royale map. The uniform is designed with a bunch of high-tech magnets, allowing the user to control ferrofluid. “[Catalyst’s suit] is slightly different [from her peers],” Reed said. “If you compare them, like what her old uniform used to look like and what her current uniform looks like, [you can see that] some of her friends–who you might have seen in [Stories from the Outlands: Last Hope]–as they grew up, they developed a certain set of skills. Two became scientists themselves and they actually helped her update the outfit to be more suited to combat.”
Amusingly, Catalyst’s past in the occult and dedication to using science to further support her witch-like vibe creates a cute connection between her and Revenant, which will undoubtedly be a totally one-sided fascination given the murderous simulacrum’s distaste for every living thing. But much like Catalyst, Revenant’s abilities look an awful lot like demonic magic, even if it’s just very advanced science.
“She has a couple of jokes about Revenant,” Reed said, chuckling. “She’s very appreciative of his abilities, like his [Death Totem]. She’s like, ‘Ooh, where’s he keep the smoke machines?'”
Catalyst will have choice words with some of the other legends–notably Seer–as well as comments concerning the sights you can find on Broken Moon, which was her home after leaving Boreas. “She’s from [Boreas] originally,” Reed said. “There’s definitely that Afrofuturism sense of Boreas, which we want to maintain as we talk about Catalyst. We wanted to make that really visible in the trailer; like her friends’ hideout, we have aspects of that Afrofuturism as well. And within the map itself, the actual Broken Moon map, it’s in there as well.”
She continued: “[Catalyst] definitely has unique dialogue when she’s around [Broken Moon]. We focused a lot on just how she feels about the place that she used to call home–she still calls home–but has been pulled away from. So that’s going to be the focus of most of her dialogue. …She definitely has wistful thoughts about her Hope [colony] when she’s there.”