Earlier this week, Respawn Entertainment pushed a new patch for Apex Legends that unexpectedly shifted the entire meta. Now, sniper rifles that aren't named Kraber are suddenly viable; Caustic and Gibraltar take 10% less damage now, accounting for their larger hitboxes; those gold Havocs have the best hop-up—the Turbocharger—actually equipped now. Oh, and the drop ship zips across the map at a 50% faster clip.
I've sunk a lot of hours into Apex Legends; I'm nearing level 50 now. It's become a reprieve from work-game obligations, serving as my almost-nightly wind down game I play with a nice cold IPA at my side. A lot of friends of mine play it too, which helps when I'm in a social mood but don't want to leave the comfort of sweatpants. In my many hours, my strategy has remained the same: I usually stick with an automatic weapon of some sort (like a R-301 or R-99), and then a Peacekeeper or Wingman for close encounters. Long-range weapons have always felt unfortunately disadvantaged, making middle-range scoped weapons far more enticing.
And the best weapons have always been obvious. In houses to loot, you'll always see the ammo sapped away from Triple Takes and G7 Scouts, while the weapons lay bare. In an opening match scramble, they're okay, but in the long run, the weapons that will do best by you in the final circles are what should stick by your side.
Hopping into Apex Legends last night, I immediately felt how different the atmosphere was. I was bummed at the nerf of weapons like Spitfire, but in action, most other guns are suddenly a tad stronger, and more worthwhile to pick up for your two-gun slot. So I tried a new thing: I picked up a sniper rifle (a Longbow DMR) to see if I could sense any difference.
From the first squad I spotted from a distance, I popped out the scope, and zeroed in. After downing one person, I realized that at last, long distance combat is actually viable with a long-range gun that isn't the ultra-rare, gold-tier Kraber. I popped shots at another, as an Octane on my squad took the opportunity to run in with aplomb to finish them off. A few short seconds later, we emerged victorious in the scramble.
Usually, if I see enemies a distance away, I won't engage unless I am really confident (or a squadmate made the decision for me). But now armed with something considerably more capable, it feels like less of a dumb risk to snipe away and scare away people. Where before it was like shooting peas, now it's like the actual weirdo-space energy ammo that arms the weapons.
And just like that, Apex Legends feels almost new again, even while the lackluster Battle Pass has been doing little to excite me. (I'm sorry, I don't care about my banner.) With the patch, I'm already trying out weapons I usually ignore that I know got tweaked, to see how it performs now that weapon sway is lesser, and leg shot damage is greater. What I'm seeing and experiencing is something that isn't just shaking up my personal experience of playing Apex Legends, but anecdotally from an evening spent playing, everyone else's too. Everyone's changing things up now. I don't know what to expect in encounters anymore.
The other big change with the patch that increases the drop ship speed I'm not as high about. The ship zips across the map a touch too fast now, and while squads are maybe a bit more spread out than they once were, gone is the strategy of dropping late in a relatively quiet area; supply ships are even harder to land on now. In its patch notes, Respawn says, "We felt that the ship was moving a bit too slow after watching player behavior so we’re speeding it up so players that like to drop later in the flight path don't have to wait so long." The problem is that now it's too fast.
It's that malleable quality that I love and hate about online games. How much Overwatch has changed, for instance, which I once loved and have later loathed. My mains, D. Va and Mercy, are unrecognizable as to what they were at launch. But shifting how heroes play to make every character main-worthy essentially, has kept some people playing it. For others, like me, it's alienated them.
It's the risk and reward of an online game, wherein developers must watch player activity, and shift the game accordingly to make more playstyles viable, accepted, celebrated. Patch 1.1.1 is Apex Legends' first major shift to try and do that, with previous weapon balancing just knocking down the once-OP Peacekeeper shotgun and Wingman pistol and other small-scale changes. (Both are still strong and worth grabbing, only less so; in the latest patch, the Wingman was even nerfed again in terms of its clip size.)
It's refreshing to see Apex Legends try to encourage new playstyles, rather than buffing and nerfing the usual suspects. While I see it as a great mindless game to play right now—such is the stress of life, we all need an escape. But for those who take their Apex Legends time more seriously, the variety will no doubt help in its longevity.
It's still in a rough place right now though, in terms of content. The Battle Pass levels go up slowly (even with this week's two day Bonus XP event), and largely only rewards you with negligible goodies like intro lines and weapon skins. Before Octane, the latest legend to join the roster, was announced, the map curiously was littered with jump pads—his ultimate ability. Players (correctly) theorized it had something to do with the new character, and considering he accidentally leaked prior, their guesses wound up being correct.
It would be cool to see Apex Legends take that sort of secret-baiting forward on the map, even if it just took the theme for its season, and sprinkled it beyond just a Battle Pass. It's part of what's made Fortnite a centerpiece for conversation, where throughout its seasons, it usually maintains some big physical presence on the map, with maybe a new gimmick mechanic or two. It's what keeps Fortnite fresh; rather than emphasize polish, there's always a surprise in store for returning to its battle royale. Apex Legends, unfortunately, is severely lacking on keeping its world exciting. Its "Wild Frontier"-themed season has not felt very wild at all, considering it amounts to some stray Battle Pass swag, and not much else.
Still, this patch almost feels like a step in that direction. For me, in what once kept me coming back to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, the gameplay is really the most important thing. To this day, it's what Apex Legends excels at when squared against its competitors. There's no other battle royale game that feels quite like Apex Legends: in speed, in abilities, in teamwork, in the game-feel of its weapons. Now with Patch 1.1.1, that last part just got a lot better.