Sound the alarms, there's another hot battle royale game on the scene. And by god, I reckon this one actually has staying power. Like actual staying power, not another flavor of the week hotness like what's befallen the likes of Fear the Wolves, Islands of Nyne, and others. Respawn's Apex Legends is here to stay.
That's partly because unlike most battle royale games that have burst onto the scene in the past couple years, Apex Legends has a layer of polish absent from most of its competitors. Frame rate is rock steady on both PC and PS4 (I have not tried the Xbox One version); the map feels complete; the gunfeel is great. The general bugginess that was prominent in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG), Fortnite Battle Royale, and even Ring of Elysium at the start is nowhere to be seen here—unless you count the occasional texture loading on PS4.
Apex Legends is maybe the most pristine launch for a battle royale game, ever. And that's made doubly impressive when you count the fact that it had 2.5 million players within its first day on the market.
That's part of the beauty: Apex Legends just works. It's not in early access either, it's just out. Despite its relatively small player count of 60 (which feels like eventually it can support more, judging from some quiet early goings on the map), it's held up in my many hours of play so far, and that includes a lack of server problems encountered. Loads into matches are breezy, as they should be. I've never encountered a glitch. It's the opposite of what I usually anticipate with this genre.
An Emphasis on Teamwork
One of the things that's really clicked with me, and I imagine is clicking with the millions of players who have already logged in, is Apex Legends' teamwork emphasis. Unlike other battle royale games, Apex Legends is also a hero shooter—its defining "it" factor. At the start of each match, each player on a team chooses their particular character (the player selection order is randomized, which is appreciated). Each hero harbors unique abilities. The plague doctor with a bird buddy named Bloodhound, for instance, is a tracker who can passively see the traces of footprints (akin to the footprints perk in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4), and with their tactical ability can scan the area for enemies. Their ultimate move enables them to move fast and highlight foes in the vicinity.
If this sounds like Overwatch, that's because it is very much like Overwatch—albeit, with only two special active abilities (including an "ultimate"), and one passive one. It's a clever twist on the battle royale genre, to make it not just about scrounging up guns and attachments, but about managing abilities and strategizing their use with your teammates. Ring of Elysium has similarly assignable classes, which net you with handy traversal tools like snowboards. Apex Legends is fully a hero shooter though, retrofitted into a fresh new genre: battle royale.
While I wish groups extended to the normal four-person squads, its three-person count still leaves plenty of room for creative team builds. So far in my time, a lot of my teams' chosen builds are unique. Sometimes we run with the two supports—Lifeline for clutch healing, Pathfinder for ziplining out of danger. Sometimes we don't have supports at all, brute-forcing our way through encounters with sheer strength (and Gibraltar's handy orb shield). Shockingly, every character feels viable and useful in their own unique way, and I haven't even built up enough credits to unlock the two additional characters yet. So if my favorite is selected by another person, I don't mind jumping into a different character for a change. (The tank-y Gibraltar is my "main," for the record.)
It's the moment to moment of Apex Legends where it stands apart. You see the DNA of other games across a lot of it—from Fortnite's lively aura to gameplay nods at the likes of Titanfall, Overwatch, and Call of Duty. Just as Call of Duty's own battle royale mode Blackout was made successful by leaning on its best asset (the Black Ops series' storied history and Specialist tools), Apex Legends mashes its hero shooterness and battle royale staples together in a distinct Hunger Games-esque landscape. Even the banners across the world show off what team is in the lead for the match, in a nice bonus touch.
Long Live Pings
Most battle royale games are playable solo, in duos, or in four-person squads, but Apex Legends defies that. It's three-person squads only, but the big difference is it gives players all the tools they need to make the transition as painless as possible. It all comes down to its most revelatory system: pinging.
In Apex Legends, with the tap of a button (or key), you can call out things to your comrades. If you're being shot at, you can quickly tap the prompt that pops up where your character says aloud that you're under fire, warning the others. You might see foes in the distance, and aiming with your reticle you can mark them as a signal to your team (similar to Far Cry's marking system). You can even call out supply containers, drop ships, and more. Pretty much everything you interact with, you can call it out to your teammates with the press of a button.
In a lot of multiplayer games, I get nervous about the idea of hopping on chat with strangers. Sometimes it's been fine—often Overwatch and PUBG were my best experiences with it—but the bad times still linger in my mind. The chat can get hostile based on our group's performance, usually singling either me or someone else out and making the atmosphere uncomfortable.
In Apex Legends, that's not even an issue. When I'm not playing with friends, I'm fine chilling off microphone, and it doesn't seem to hinder my team's performance. Thanks to pinging, we're always all on the same page, and I've very rarely dealt with players who go off and do their own thing or quit the match if they get knocked down before getting revived at a beacon. (Yet another unique functionality in Apex Legends.) Everyone seems to be in it together.
And it works too: in the two matches I've won so far, it's been off mic with only pings guiding our togetherness. Perhaps as The Verge's Andrew Webster wrote it best in a headline, "Apex Legends is great because you don't have to talk to anyone." That's the key to what makes its teamwork focus work. Maybe we'll see more games implementing similar features in the future, and as a result we'll see less cringey on-stage demos at E3 with scripted chatter.
The Future of Apex Legends
While sound seems to matter a bit less in this battle royale (as you can see below in the sloppy play I captured), sight is made more key than its genre brethren. What I love about PUBG and Blackout are how the places I drop and the loot I happen upon determines how a match unfolds. In Apex Legends, that unpredictability is quadrupled thanks to hero classes, what's in your peripheral, and the telegraphed great loot drop points and supply ships across the map, which are also randomized every time. The long storied "hot spots" of battle royales in Apex Legends are instead made known to all players, no longer left to Reddit threads about map meta.
wish i had the audio of me and my friend yelling " AHHHHHHHHH" during this sloppiness pic.twitter.com/n71iXiDnIk— Caty McCarthy (@yumecaty) February 6, 2019
And I've found that depending on who's the Jumpmaster (the person guiding the team to a drop point in a group, negating that pesky problem of being separated by accident), each match feels like an adventure. We could play it safe, and drop off the beaten path. We could get spicy, and drop onto a supply ship with our fingers crossed that no other team gets the same idea in pursuit of fully-kitted guns. The element of surprise is aplenty in Apex Legends, because there's a lot more systems to reckon with. I may miss the stealthy shrubbery of PUBG, but for Apex Legends, I'm willing to trade it in for a more clever battle royale experience.
Even with a super MOBA-ass sounding name, I predict that Apex Legends has a long future ahead. It's already a smash hit, and I imagine soon we'll see crazy (and sad) figures about how it's already eclipsed the excellent Titanfall 2 in sales and player numbers, the last game from this particular Respawn team.
Respawn has noted that a seasonal structure will follow for Apex Legends, with season one kicking off in March. Season passes, which sound like Fortnite's Battle Pass, will include new characters, weapons, themed gear, and more. As a free-to-play game, the lack of a barrier to entry is easily enticing for people looking to move on from Fortnite and other battle royale games. With something new on the market that feels as fresh as Apex Legends, I wouldn't be surprised if it zips to being a huge mainstream success in the longterm, like Wraith teleporting across a field to flank an enemy team.
If Respawn had gone and just made "Titanfall but with way more players," I doubt we'd be talking about it in this fashion. If it were just that, it would have its fans for sure, but its reach wouldn't be so strong, and it wouldn't be sticking out in the crowded landscape as much as it does now. Instead, Apex Legends is spinning the genre in a relatively new direction, and I can't wait to see where it goes next.