If this generation was defined by a video game genre then you’d find few who would disagree that it is Battle Royale. Respawn’s entry to the genre is something quite different. Based in the Titanfall universe and using its core gameplay, Apex Legends came out of nowhere and took the industry by storm earlier this year and the player base has consistently been high. It is hard to write a review for this game without considering the competition. Apex Legends offers something very different to the other three Battle Royale juggernauts PUBG, Fortnite and Call of Duty’s Blackout mode - and makes this genre far more accessible to players of different abilities with its team play focused nature, and innovative ping communication system.
Apex’s player count of 60 makes it a smaller Royale than PUBG and Fortnite but the number makes team play all the more important. Unlike its competitors, there is no solo mode in the game and every match is in squads of 3. When you start a game, you and your 2 teammates are able to select one of growing number of Legends, all with unique abilities that complement one another to make a well-balanced, but never over powered squad. Working with your team is essential, and trying to take down a squad of 3 alone really is a tough task, as whilst they may not all be better equipped with gear, their communication and pings will normally be your downfall. The need to play as a team also makes the Battle Royale genre a far less intimidating experience to those put off by PUBG and Blackout’s hardcore feel, and what made me give up on Fortnite – the building.
The fact that the game doesn’t allow players to select the same character twice in the squad makes combat feel more engaging. For example calling out or pinging a Bloodhound flanking to your squads left, whilst your team mates fight a Pathfinder to the right enables them to know exactly who is coming.
What’s really unique about Apex Legends is that your team mates can locate your ‘death box’ and take it to a respawn station to get you back in to the action - but be warned, you’ll be dropping back in with no loot. Given the team based nature of Apex, you can be sure that if you’ve lone wolfed at the start of the game that your team mates won’t be coming to save the day! Despite some LTM's offering squads of <3, I firmly believe the game has benefited from sticking with its core design tight squads of 3.
if any of you have played other Battle Royale games online where your squad do not have a mic, or you simply don’t enjoy talking on a headset to strangers, the ping system has been designed for players like you. Apex’s innovative and truly refined ping system is already well documented and praised, and it is this feature that got my attention. Having played PUBG for well over a hundred hours, and repeatedly dying due to the inability to locate enemies or find quality loot, this is a wonderfully simple solution that works so well. The ping system enables players to highlight spots on their map with the click of the right bumper, or where enemies are with two clicks. The ping system also builds on the games team play and the Battle Royale essential of looting, as by looking at a weapon/armour/etc. you can ping the items for your team mates to run over and collect. If you want to succeed in that final circle, then you will want your team mates geared up.
The characters have been designed in an Overwatch style in that there are Legends for all play styles and abilities. The four character types: Recon, Support, Defensive and Offensive, all make you feel like you’re contributing to your team. For those who aren’t so good at shooting as others, you can jump in as Lifeline to deploy supply drops or Bangalore to call in rolling air strikes and feel like you’re equally contributing. The Legends are also similar to Overwatch in that they have unique personalities and dialogue, some of which is useful to gameplay and some which is quite entertaining. Whilst the 9 Legends are exciting for now, it’s likely they will get dull quickly. Respawn have already promised that further Legends will be released semi-regularly. There are some issues with hitbox detection which are being worked on by Respawn already. Character balancing at launch is really well done but it’s important to see how balanced they remain when new Legends are introduced.
Apex’s Kings Canyon map has donned Fortnite style seasonal changes, but in my opinion it visually and functionally stands out from other Battle Royale maps, and houses a diverse range of drop points. The early game busy-spots including Skull Town and Bunker provide an exciting start to proceedings. The map itself isn’t that large, and in nearly 50 hours of game time I’m yet to be killed by being out of bounds, but still offers some quieter early game looting spots for those who prefer to gear up for some final circle madness. From the dropship, the map itself looks a total aesthetic mismatch but once you have deployed, the on-ground transition from setting to setting is seamless. What Apex’s map does better than its competitors is verticality and traversal – you will find yourself moving, climbing and zip-lining constantly. Combined with absolutely no fall damage, Apex’s smooth vaulting and climbing manoeuvres make getting around a delight, especially when you need to swiftly find a better spot in a gunfight.
The game builds on the satisfying twitch gunplay of the Titanfall series with a diverse range of weapons that all feel smooth and respondent to use and attachments that you find for your guns make a noticeable difference to battles. Aside from the meme-worthy Mozambique shotgun, the weapons are mostly balanced.
All weapons have low ammo capacity unless you find an (essential!) extended magazine, whereas stocks and barrel stabilisers really help your aim. What’s satisfying about Apex’s attachement management system - which is notoriously bad in console Battle Royale games - is that if you have an attachment in your inventory, upon finding a suitable weapon for it it’ll automatically attach saving you vital extra looting seconds.
My main grudge with Apex’s weapons is that they feel very safe. There are the expected assault rifles, DMRs, snipers, etc., but nothing out of the ordinary which is a little disappointing given Respawn’s famous creativity and the games fictional setting. Respawn have so far added one weapon since launch and more should be expected.
The game itself is not a graphics showcase and very much wears its Titanfall aesthetic on its sleeve, with characters, the map and guns all looking of a good standard. When played on a One X the crisp 4K resolution helps spotting enemies the other side of Kings Canyon that little bit easier. The game renders distance areas of the map well and when tracking an enemy who is 300m away, their animations run smooth enabling you to line up that nice dipping shot to remove enemy armour.
Essential to any Battle Royale game is sound design and the games’ sound is very well tuned. Each of the Legends’ dialogue which narrates their on-field actions, so you’ll know exactly when your team mates have engaged their special abilities to call in a supply drop or setup a zip line to give you the high ground advantage. You will be able to clearly hear foes lurking in nearby buildings and drop ships who are respawning enemies without a weapon for a potential easy kill. There are small issues with the sound of supply drops from the sky which can sound far closer than the distance to them would suggest, but I expect this will be tackled in patches over time.
I hear the elephant in the room. Yes, this is a F2P game and yes there are micro transactions in Apex Legends. The game offers you 6 Legends to begin with, with the opportunity to unlock the other 3 without spending any money at all. For EA Access members, you will receive free in-game currency that will enable you to unlock 1 of the extra Legends instantly.
There are some skins which are only unlockable with real money but that’s all they are, skins. Similarly, there are skins that can only be unlocked with in-game currency that can only be obtained via gameplay. Respawn faced some backlash during a previous Season for some awful pricing of aesthetic content, yet that was quickly addressed and microtransactions have been better since. Ultimately, you do not need to spend a penny on this game.
Is Apex Legends the best Battle Royale to date? That is for you to decide. Is Apex Legends to most accessible Battle Royale to date? Yes, absolutely - It feels that Respawn has designed the game with non-Battle Royale players in. The game itself released in a very solid state, with a very small number of bugs reported and the servers managing to survive the incredible quantity of players connected. It has since continued to be a polished game.
The real test for Apex Legends – as with all Games as a Service – is that Respawn need to ensure the updates remain quality and regular to keep the game alive. Fortnite’s sheer volume of free updates and totally random modes (eg. the Avengers tie-in) have kept players coming back for over 18 months, and left PUBG in second place. Respawn clearly have invested hard in this game and so far it is great, but the game’s legs will continue to be tested. The steady release of new Legends and weapons has worked well so far, but as with all GaaS the content needs to coming to keep the community coming back. Season 1’s content was not well received and seems bare bones, with Respawn upped their game in Seasons 2 and 3 so fingers crossed this will continue as the game grows.
For our Achievement hungry community, there is relatively easy completion here with the only real grind being to reach Level 50 which will take most average skill gamers around 60 hours, but playing together with friends can slightly boost your XP rate. There is an achievement for equipping high-tier armour which certainly has some RNG involved and caused me a headache. But overall, the achievements are enjoyable and encourage you to spend time with 8 Legends by which time you will likely find your ‘main’.
Who is it for? Battle Royale fans; Battle Royale fans looking for an arguably more accessible experience; Titanfall / general FPS fans.