Respawn Entertainment finally gets their revenge for Titanfall 2 in more ways than one. Not only did they manage to get their latest game, Apex Legends, out before some of the year’s biggest releases (Anthem, Metro: Exodus, Crackdown 3) but it is also a game people can’t wait to play, with over 25 million players since its release on February 4th. But what makes Apex Legends special? The Battle Royale genre already has two juggernauts sitting at the top (PUBG and Fortnite, with Blackout in the ballpark) and it is rare that a genre can properly support more than that. With Apex, EA and Respawn are showing that the young Battle Royale genre still has room for growth and that players will flock to something new and exciting.
Apex Legends wisely avoids trying to re-invent the wheel, sticking with the tried and true gameplay loop of loot, shoot, repeat. There are a few noteworthy differences though, such as the decision to only support three-player teams, character abilities, and a maximum player count of 60 players rather than the traditional goal of 100. Despite the lower than average player count it never feels like you’re far away from another team. The sound of gunfire is always present thanks to a condensed map size that feels just right. The design is excellent with diverse locations and a nice blend of urban environments and open spaces. The high speed of the gameplay ensures you can cover ground as needed to get into a combat range you are comfortable with.
The map is littered with zip lines and tall redeployment points that will allow you to quickly fly to another location or engage a distant enemy. It is easy to climb to higher locations for vantage points or to get out of the line of fire. Sliding downhill will keep you moving at a blistering pace and can also be useful for avoiding incoming fire. While there is no wall running, a Respawn staple, there is no shortage of other mobility options. It feels like a fair compromise and avoids adding another skill gap to give high-tier players an advantage.
The team format will be an adjustment for those who are more accustomed to solo play in other Battle Royale games, but it makes sense in the context of Apex. Each of the game’s eight launch characters has their own set of abilities tailored to their intended play style. It is designed in such a way that if you decide close quarters combat isn’t your style, you can change to a defensive class to better support your more aggressive teammates. In this way, it is similar to hero shooters like Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch. Understanding and synergizing your individual abilities as a team will make you stronger as a whole and can make the difference for a team that may not be as comfortable in direct combat but knows how to properly utilize their characters.
Those characters aren’t lifeless husks either. Each has a unique personality to go along with their skill set. Mirage quips about how victory smells like pork chops while Pathfinder just loves riding on zip lines. They’ll comment on the goings on of the match such as when there is a new kill leader, a supply drop is nearby, or how many teams remain. They’re also quick to comment on the status of a fight. They’ll announce to the team they’re taking fire or that they’re firing on an enemy all without the player needing to do a thing. More often than not the characters are faster to comment on it than the players themselves which makes reacting to a sudden firefight easier.
To further simplify communication, Apex implements an intuitive ping system. Someone on your team still needs a gun? Ping the one you just found so they know exactly where to find it. Enemies in the distance? Double tap the ping to mark that location and send a verbal warning to your team. You can even hold the button down for an even wider array of ping options good for just about any situation. While the game supports VoIP, it hardly feels necessary in most matches. I’ve won matchmade games with nothing more than pings so the system clearly works. It also removes another barrier for players who might be intimidated by the more “hardcore” Battle Royale audience.
Coming from the team that created Titanfall and being set in the Titanfall universe, it should come as no surprise that the shooting in Apex Legends feels great. Unlike many other shooters, let alone Battle Royale games, it feels like the servers run at a solid tick rate (the number of times the server refreshes per second, the higher the better), likely a side effect of the lower player count. It is important to note that many automatic weapons have much lower than average magazine capacity. Assault rifles and SMGs usually start with 16-18 rounds per mag, a substantial decrease that can be rectified with attachments. It makes these guns weaker in the early game, but more powerful in the mid to late game as you get extended magazines. This feels like a response to the constant struggle of balancing these weapons in other Battle Royale games, an odd response, but one that works.
Possibly the biggest change to the formula is the addition of respawn beacons on the map. Being that the game is focused entirely on teamplay, losing a teammate is a critical blow. If one of your teammates is eliminated while down you can simply grab their tag and bring it to a nearby beacon. Your teammate will be brought back with no gear though so a little bit of babysitting will be required as they get re-equipped. Respawn locations generally have supply crates nearby which, if not already looted, can help them get back up to speed faster, but can also attract nearby teams to your location. Players that notice the respawn ship can quickly converge on the weakened team and secure a few (potentially) easy kills. Despite their purpose being to bring players back into the game, respawn beacons provide another means of bringing players into combat and avoiding the lulls that can sometimes fill the mid-game.
While I feel like I’ve played more than enough of the game (a little over 70 hours) to be able to put together a Final Say, I’m going to wait until March to see the launch of season one and the new characters they introduce with the Battle Pass. I’ve seen enough, however, to know that I would recommend this game to anyone. The cost of entry comes in lower than that likes of PUBG and Blackout (Apex is free to play) and the game is more approachable than even Fortnite thanks to the ping system and not having to worry about building. Character abilities can compensate for players who are not quite as good at the shooting and coordinating with your friends can make even a game that you ultimately lose a memorable one. Apex Legends still has plenty of room to grow, but the game is already the most polished BR on the market and should only get better with time. Respawn finally gets their payback for Titanfall 2, and now it might be the other games that suffer as a result.