This will maybe be my strangest op-ed I've written, because 12 hours ago it looked totally different. Apex Legends' massive launch earlier this week saw over one million unique players dive in within the first eight hours and, according to a Vince Zampella tweet, another million overnight into Tuesday. It's clear the game has become the biggest trend online. Be it on Twitch where it overtook Fortnite for the top spot, or on Twitter where everyone seems to be talking about it, Apex Legends is officially the new hotness. And yet, when I woke up this morning, I sat down to write an op-ed about how it was missing one key element: a lack of team size options.
Apex Legends currently only allows teams of three, and immediately that left a sour taste in my mouth. I'm a passionate battle royale fan, so I was eager to dive into Apex as soon as it launched. After a few rounds with randoms, the forced teams of three just weren't doing it for me. It felt like a massive obstacle to the camaraderie and intense tactical elements battle royale is known for. I felt a disconnect between me and my partners and I simply didn't want to be stuck in trios. "Apex Legends Is Great, But It Has One Huge Problem" was the working title sitting in this very document just hours ago — I had even written up quite a bit of it. Then I decided to play it a bit more with my usual battle royale partner — my brother — along with various randomly matched third wheels. I'm so glad I gave it another try because it turns out Apex Legends is awesome, and it knowingly accounts for a lot of the would-be issues with mandatory teams of three.
If you haven't played it yet, a subtle but ultimately massively important mechanic in the game is the "ping" feature. Whether you're in a group with friends or randoms, with or without voice chat, all players can ping the location of items, destinations and enemies with the simple press of a shoulder button. Does your ally need armor but isn't using a mic? Ping at the vest and their HUD will reveal it to them. Do you lack the chemistry of a tried-and-true battle royale squad? Now you can call out approaching foes with a simple button press, which acts as a seamless proxy for the voice chat you may be missing. This slight change to the battle royale format makes a huge difference, and the implementation reassures me that Respawn deserves our utmost trust going forward.
I assume and still hope that the rigid option of trios-only is temporary. Without the ping system this hero shooter/battle royale hybrid would've been dead on arrival. They'd have been asking millions of players to jump into forced co-op, often with strangers, lacking any simple means of communication in a genre that grants victories to the most strategic first and foremost. It would've left triplets of ragtag randoms at the mercy of the seasoned battle royale teams that have migrated victoriously from PUBG to Fortnite to Blackout, and so on. Instead, it's the number one trending game in the world — and deservedly so.
What can we learn from this? For me, it means giving a game more time before I throw in the towel. Had I not replayed Apex Legends for more time today I would've bowed out before I got to see just how effective the ping feature can be, even while playing with my usual battle royale partner. It saved us several times and helped us to our first win today. I would've watched social media and the gaming community dive head first into this excellent new attempt at the genre, all the while thinking I had seen enough to decide it wasn't for me.
The ping feature isn't the headline of Apex Legends. However, rather subtly, it brings yet another tactical layer to a genre still in its infancy. Moving forward it's obvious that all existing and future genre titles will want to seriously think about copying Respawn's genius innovation. We will see more studios big and small trying their hand at this burgeoning genre over the next several years. Excitingly, the best examples have put their personal touch on this kind of game, and now Apex Legends has birthed the most important new feature since the genre was created.
This game was featured in our Best Xbox One Battle Royale Games article. Why not check it out to see what else made the cut?
Get the biggest Xbox news delivered straight to your inbox every week.