Apex Legends plays like a direct response to criticisms of the battle royale genre. While still similar to the likes of Fortnite and PUBG in its concept — you and 59 other players plummet to the map via dropship, remaining enclosed in an ever-decreasing circle while fighting to be the last squad standing — its execution is wholly different. You’ll rarely get one-shot killed by an aggressor you didn’t see coming, firefights aren’t blink-and-you’ll-miss-them, and there are actual respawns. It’s not a reinvention of the wheel, but it is a significantly improved version of the same wheel; its tires are well-pumped and its trims shiny. It’s the best battle royale yet, basically.
Titanfall creator Respawn Entertainment has taken the reins of the battle royale bandwagon rather than jumping on it as a bemused passenger. Unlike many of its peers, Apex Legends has been built from the ground up as a battle royale game. This isn’t just Titanfall with more players and one map — Respawn has carefully introduced features that work well with the BR formula, from its character-specific abilities through to its pinging system,
And what a pinging system it is. Battle royale games typically suffer when it comes to player communication, as playing alongside complete strangers often means you’ll get split up as everyone decides they know what’s best for your squad. However, all communication in Apex can be handled by the press of a button. This can point teammates towards the direction you’re heading in, mark enemies on their HUDs, highlight valuable loot, or inform them that you’re investigating a particular area. For those who don’t want to hop into voice chat with strangers, being able to competently communicate with your team is incredibly refreshing. This is a system that I hope is replicated in future online shooters.
Apex Legends Review | Leaping over the competition
Though some prefer the more methodical pacing of games like PUBG and Fortnite, Apex Legends is more in line with Titanfall with its high-paced, frenetic action. Confronting opponents with close-range weaponry is often preferable to sitting in a bush and trying to pick them off with a sniper rifle, and mastering your maneuverability will give you the leg-up over the other competitors. You won’t be wall-running between buildings and jumping across the map like a grasshopper, but you can still nimbly clamber over steep walls, cling and peek over obstacles, and swiftly slide down steep hills.
However, if you’re looking for Titanfall 3, then this isn’t it. There are no Titans to speak of, and the characters you can choose from are more in line with Overwatch‘s cast of heroes than the nameless Pilots. Each of the game’s eight unique characters, referred to as Legends, is armed with a tactical, passive, and ultimate ability. The tactical ability offers a brief advantage, such as Lifeline’s healing drone or Gibraltar’s dome shield, while ultimates can turn the tide of a firefight if used correctly.
Apex Legends Review | Tastier than a Chicken Dinner
These abilities as game-changing as Overwatch‘s ultimates, but being able to create a zipline for your team as Pathfinder or laying down an artillery strike as Bangalore can prove useful. Some abilities directly counter others, such as Bloodhound being able to see through smoke, though no ability is so significant that its corresponding character is an essential pick. Additionally, aside from these abilities, all characters play exactly the same; their run speed is identical, they have the same HP, and weapons handle no differently when in the hands of certain Legends.
This prevents many of the balancing issues faced by other class-based shooters, though it does make the abilities feel like an afterthought. I found it easy to overlook my characters’ abilities when firing my gun was routinely the easier option, and some of the ultimates are largely forgettable, such as Mirage’s ability to have five holograms of himself idly stand around in a circle. But their underwhelming abilities aside, the Legends themselves are a memorable and diverse bunch, offering a little something for everyone including the presence of two LGBTQ+ characters.
It’s a shame, then, that decking out these characters in fancy new outfits costs so damn much. With this being a free-to-play game, there are inevitably microtransactions. Fortunately, they’re cosmetic-only, with most being obtainable through randomized Apex Packs. However, the pricing is absurdly high. It can set you back $18 to purchase an individually listed item on the game’s store, and the in-game currency you can obtain without real-world cash is dealt out sparingly. Though it’s a free game that has to make its money from somewhere, a skin costing just under $20 is still highly questionable.
For the average player, other battle royale games can often be an exercise in finding an advantageous area of the map and sticking to it. In Apex, exploration is key. Aside from the games in which I died almost immediately, most of the time I was afforded the ability to duck and weave across its map rather than remaining glued to a location. Though you can — and will — find yourself running out of resources, it’s rare to reach the final remaining squads without a bullet to your name. Apex regularly builds towards a thrilling, action-packed showdown between two squads, rather than a handful of terrified players desperately trying to win a Chicken Dinner.
Apex Legends Review | Battle royalty
Respawn has helped accomplish this by way of (aptly) introducing respawns, allowing players to bring a downed teammate back into the fight. By picking up a squad member’s banner and taking it to a Respawn Beacon, you can call the dropship back in and have them rejoin you. This completely removes the most laborious element of the battle royale genre, which is having to wait around for your friends to finish a match after you’ve been eliminated. Now, as long as they’ve picked up your banner, there’s a good chance you’ll reenter the battle.
Not having to wait around and stare at my phone for 15 minutes after dying is a revelation. I want my teammates to emerge victorious in their firefights because I know that doing so increases the chances of me being able to join the game again. As respawned players reenter the fight with no weaponry and no armor, there’s still an element of risk/reward to this system; do you call in the dropship and alert other teams to your position, or hope that you can win the game without the help of your fallen comrade? Death isn’t final in Apex, and this makes it infinitely more interesting for the friends who are forced to sit on the sidelines.
Apex Legends has raised the bar for battle royale games. It minimizes downtime, places an emphasis on intense gunfights, and replaces nameless characters with a memorable bunch of heroes. Though there aren’t any dance emotes and you can’t transform into a skyscraper during the middle of a shootout a la Fortnite, it instead offers something for those who have yet to be truly caught by the BR bug. It fixes a plethora of issues that have been inherent to the genre up until this point, while adding new features that should rightfully be replicated elsewhere for years to come. If you’ve been a battle royale naysayer up until this point, Apex Legends might just make a believer out of you.