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(Pocket-lint) - Fresh from the achievement of crossing the 100 million player mark, Apex Legends is about to debut its ninth season of content, and it's set to change things up in entirely new ways.

For the first time, there's a new permanent game mode for players to enjoy that's entirely distinct from a battle royale experience - Arenas. We got the down-low at a recent preview event. 

Arenas changes the game

So, first up - that big new addition. Arenas is a new 3v3 game mode that pits squads against each other over a series of short, quick matches. These take place on bespoke maps, some of them lifted from familiar areas of the larger battle royale maps.

To take a victory home, your squad needs to win three rounds and be ahead by at least two rounds - but if things get to four rounds all there'll be a ninth tiebkreaker round. 

Before each round there's a short buy phase (familiar to Valorant or Counter Strike veterans) during which players can purchase loot using crafting materials they're allocated. Those allocations increase between rounds and based on performance, so in later rounds you might end up packing plenty of heat. 

Once you're loaded out, the action begins in simple maps that get you straight into the action. There's still a closing ring to force combat at a certain point, and loot scattered around the map to get you more healing or shields, but it's a totally new feeling compared to Apex's battle royale heartland.

Respawn Entertainment / EAWith the addition of Arenas, Season 9 changes everything for Apex Legends photo 5

As the team at Respawn explained, this makes it a brilliant, faster way for new players to get to grips with mechanics and guns in competitive scenarios, without having to spend 15 minutes in a round just trekking across the map to their first and last big fight. 

It's a brilliant addition from our experience, letting you get fights under your belt and presenting a totally fresh set of tactical challenges, but Respawn also knows that the community will need to embrace it for it to really endure, and it has content updates planned for the mode for a good while to ensure it has an attractive lustre for experience players.

Moreover, it had an interesting journey - development on the mode started back in late 2019, according to the team, and went through a host of iterations. From a more chaotic mode featuring up to eight squads, it eventually got condensed down into the tight 3v3 that's about to drop. Similarly, the buy system was developed to counter the RNG nature of loot-based gameplay, and the same aim also led the team to limit the number of uses for heros' tactical and ultimate abilities (you can buy more uses before rounds if you like).

It's a fascinating example of how a talented team can break a game out of its apparent genre and gameplay restrictions, and a testament to Respawn's ability to think outside the box.   

Respawn Entertainment / EAWith the addition of Arenas, Season 9 changes everything for Apex Legends photo 3

Valkyrie's flight

Returning to the more expected side of a new Apex season, there's also a new legend joining the fight - one with a little more of a backstory than has sometimes been the case. 

Valkyrie is the daughter of one of the bosses Respawn fans might have fought back in Titanfall 2, Viper. His airborne antics were hard to counter, and Valkryie's looking to keep flying that flag. 

She's packing a jetpack that's simply great fun to use, a passive that recharges slowly but lets you relocate quickly and easily (while holstering your weapons). A tactical missile barrage gives her offensive chops, and her Ultimate lets her and her squadmates take to the skies for a quick skydive away or into a fight, making her a great movement-based new option. 

Aside from being an immediately attractive option given the innate fun of pretty much any in-game jetpack, Valkyrie is the most tangible in-game tie to the Titanfall games yet, and hopefully signals Respawn's intent to carry on exploring the relationship between the events depicted in these universe-sharing games. 

Respawn Entertainment / EAWith the addition of Arenas, Season 9 changes everything for Apex Legends photo 4

Map changes and new gear

Of course, a new season also brings map changes, and the focus this time round has been on Olympus, which Respawn hasn't changed since its introduction. 

The big addition is a newly docked ship, the Icarus, and the rampant parasitic plant that it's brought with it, stretching its giant vines around part of the map.

It's a visually impactful change, and breaks up an area that was a little too bare of cover, and looks a great new place to drop, perhaps in search of a keycard to access top-tier loot in the ship's bridge.

Respawn Entertainment / EAWith the addition of Arenas, Season 9 changes everything for Apex Legends photo 2

A new weapon means that Apex is also finally part of the modern gaming bow club. The Bocek bow is a versatile new mid-range option that boasts the stealth and silence you'd expect.

The longer you hold your shot the more powerful it'll be, and while it might take a while to master, it's going to be absolutely deadly in the right hands. hop-up slots can also turn it into a shotgun-like spray-fire phenom, and massively increase its fire rate, so we're looking forward to finding it around the map. 

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There's a new battle pass to progress through as well, of course, with skins and emotes to earn, so Season 9 is shaping up to usher in a busy time in Apex's life-cycle. 

Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Originally published on 24 April 2021.