When Apex Legends first came out, many agreed Pathfinder was one of the worst characters. While hit box issues were part of the problem, there was also a sense that his abilities didn’t match up to damage-dealing ultimates like Bangalore’s or enhanced health and shield protection like Lifeline.
But Pathfinder has become to Apex Legends what the M6D Pistol was to Halo: Combat Evolved. Serious players who want kills and wins are essentially facing a handicap by choosing to play without a Pathfinder in the squad.
The Pathfinder Problem: An Overview
On a recent day, a quick check on ten random popular Apex Legends Twitch streamers playing with different squad formations showed all but one playing on teams that had Pathfinders. Half were playing as Pathfinders themselves. Additionally, during the X Games Apex Legends Invitational, which featured the best teams from around the world, almost every team in every game included a Pathfinder.
The game's objective is to get wins, so it’s impossible to fault anyone for choosing to learn and play this character. The major problem is that Respawn Entertainment has developed a universe of interesting characters with unique abilities, but none of them can effectively counter a Pathfinder’s speed and height advantages.
Character balancing is extremely difficult, and it’s really only possible to get it right after significant feedback. For example, when Respawn looked at gameplay data from the first few months of the game, it became clear that Caustic and Gibraltar were being underutilized. And, it was also apparent that Wraith, Lifeline and Pathfinder were either over-utilized or had a higher proportion of kills and wins than other characters. So, Respawn introduced its fortified damage reduction buff and its Low Profile damage increase nerf for these respective groups of characters.
But Pathfinder remains a struggle. While most would agree that the character’s survey beacon passive is balanced within the meta of the game, the grapple and zip line abilities are problematic.
High-Speed, High-Ground Strategies are Causing Unfair Advantages
For starters, there are several areas of the map that are impossible to reach without the help of a Pathfinder. Additionally, there are other areas of land that are accessible to non-Pathfinders only by using a redeploy balloon. And finally, there are also elevated areas that become impossible to reach without a Pathfinder in a small circle.
The solution isn’t to nerf Pathfinder. It would seem unfair to negatively adjust a longtime character’s core abilities, especially when these abilities are so simple. Doing so would certainly cause backlash within the community.
That means a fix must be something external to the character itself.
Solving the Pathfinder Problem
Within the game's meta, with some major exceptions, there are few character abilities that can’t be replicated by some other means. For example, Gibraltar’s and Bangalore’s ultimates function similar to a supersized grenade barrage. Digital Threats give guns the same red highlights visible in Bloodhound’s ultimate ability. All characters can heal and regain shields, and Wattson and Lifeline simply have means to help players do it more quickly and efficiently.
But Pathfinders can not only get to places faster than others; they can also get to places that are simply unreachable by others. High ground has a major advantage in this game, not only allowing for a larger field of view and making it harder for enemies to spot the high-ground player, but also increasing the potential for headshots.
With no way to counter the zip line, a person who has low ground has to take a low-ground, long distance fight or wait for the Pathfinder to come down. The latter becomes unlikely, though, when the character is in an advantageous position.
Additionally, the grapple offers both speed and elevation at the same time. Octane’s jump pad can do this, too, but the grapple resets much more frequently than the jump pad. Additionally, the jump pads don’t offer nearly as much height or distance or Pathfinder’s grapple, plus the grapple offers far more control.
Resolving the Issue
Whether it’s through a new character with special abilities that counter Pathfinder, or the availability of grapple guns as loot items, there needs to be some way to give other characters the chance to be on effective footing with Pathfinder.
Character ideas might include an addition with something similar to Wraith’s portal. This could include height, and allow the player to reach places that they don’t have to travel to physically before setting the end of the teleport. To balance it against Pathfinder, it could be more limited in distance but allow height that rivals the zip line’s maximum verticality.
Another option could be a character that can temporarily stun others’ tactical abilities. This would make it impossible for Pathfinders to use their grapples to rapidly reposition in any situation.
As far as in-game loot options, a grapple gun with only three or four uses or a single-use zip line loot drop could be strong opportunity to counter. As a random Epic or Legendary loot drop, item rarity could make it so that people would still have to work to obtain these items.
Why Shouldn’t We Just Let Every Squad to Have a Pathfinder?
Some people say that a team's reliance on the Pathfinder character is fine because every team can choose to have a Pathfinder on it, which makes it fair to all. This isn’t inherently wrong, but it's still problematic. The game is designed to allow different team compositions to have different tactical advantages when playing together. The fact that teams so frequently rely on Pathfinder signifies an imbalance in the meta at a fundamental level.
At present, playing as Pathfinder signifies an easier way to rack up kills and wins. Unfortunately, players will continue to do this until there’s some way for other characters to effectively compete with advantages.