Fans of the battle royale genre, rejoice! Or despair, I suppose, depending on how you feel about the sudden launch of the EA-published, Respawn Entertainment-developed, Apex Legends.
Respawn surprised everyone this past Monday with the game’s rather unexpected release. For quite some time, there’s been a whirlwind of speculation surrounding the developers, and which project of theirs we might see next. Titanfall 3? Jedi: Fallen Order? Well, it turns out the joke’s on us because it’s neither. Instead, Respawn chose to shift away from a sequel to Titanfall 2 and brought us Apex, a free-to-play battle royale set in the Titanfall Universe.
Apex Legends is a battle royale that, keeping to the current formula, has gamers dive into a large, open map with a total of 60 players – broken up into teams of three. Those squads then scramble to find weapons and other materials scattered throughout the map so they can murder each other. All in good fun, of course.
However, Apex has a few key differences that set it apart from the other battle royale giants like Fortnite or PUBG. First and foremost, Apex Legends is class-based and requires players to select a hero or “Legend,” each with their own unique abilities. Because of the class-based gameplay, Apex is also played exclusively in squads of three, and at launch, has no option for four player, solo or duo matches typically seen in other battle royale games. Initially I thought, “Why not allow players to choose whatever size squad they prefer?” But after spending time in the game both matchmaking on my own and with friends, I believe that it truly is the best way to experience the fun.
The class-based structure adds an incredible amount of depth to the gameplay and encourages players to experiment with team compositions and work together in unexpected ways. In one encounter, my squad and I were able to eliminate an entire enemy team who had much better equipment than us, thanks to clever positioning and use of the Caustic’s (one of the eight classes) ability to gain the upper hand. Moments like these are really what make this game shine. The possibility for grand, cooperative plays foster a sense of camaraderie that’s unusual for these types of games, and I don’t think that feeling would come through quite as well in squads of more or less than three.
Another feature unique to Apex – when compared to other battle royale titles – is the ability to revive your teammates even after they’re killed, which even further encourages cooperation and communication among teams. For a brief window after a player is killed, it’s possible for their squad to pick up the eliminated person’s banner and take it to a nearby respawn point. This mechanic can be wildly engaging for both the downed player and the one reviving.
As the downed player, this means that not all hope is lost as long as your squad still stands, making the few moments after going down extremely intense while your team’s still in a firefight. Things can get a bit spicy for the reviving player as well, because while actually attempting to revive your fallen teammate, you’re vulnerable to enemy fire for a few precious seconds. If you manage to revive your squad, you can sometimes turn the tide of a sour match back into your favor.
In my favorite moment with the game so far, I was eliminated early in the match just as I picked up my first weapon. My team was able to recover my banner, carry it to the respawn point and bring me back into the action. The biggest drawback to respawning mid-game though is that you come back into things with a clean inventory: no weapons or supplies.
One of my teammates – who I can only assume had been through this a time or two – threw down their secondary weapon, some spare ammo and pinged some nearby armor. Instead of a pre-teen doing the backpack kid dance on my corpse while shouting about his relationship with my mother, we worked together as a team. What a good lad. We didn’t win that match, but it absolutely could have gone a lot worse, and I had a great time despite the loss. All of this while playing a playing a competitive shooter online with two complete strangers in a situation where cooperation is key. Who knew that was possible?
Aside from class synergies and the ability to revive fallen allies, Apex also has a simple, but extremely effective pinging system, which can be used to highlight weapons, materials, enemies and nearly anything you might need to bring to the attention of your team. This is especially useful when playing alone and grouped up with players that aren’t using a mic, but comes in handy with pre-made teams as well. Instead of shouting, “Hey, I have someone over here!” — which means almost nothing unless you both happen to be looking the same direction — you can ping the enemy player and their location will briefly show on your team’s mini-map. All of these different mechanics mesh beautifully for a truly unique and engaging experience.
The arena in Apex also lends itself well to the game’s systems, too. There are plenty of buildings, caves, and other miscellaneous structures throughout the map that can be used as cover or for creative plays with your squad, depending on team composition. Navigation feels great despite the lack of vehicles due to clever placement of zip lines, the lack of fall damage and the ability to quickly crouch-slide down hills and slopes. The only place the arena suffers a bit is the appearance. While there is some variation with areas like Thunderdome, I’d like to see more with the industrial-themed structures in particular. Areas like Hydro Dam, Repulsor and Water Treatment – to name a few – all have an extremely similar factory-style appearance and blend together when moving from one to another.
The only place Apex starts to lose me (other than a minor gripe with the presentation of the map) is the in-game rewards. As you level up your account in Apex Legends, you earn Apex Packs through the in-game store, which can be opened to reward three random items of varying rarities. Packs also reward crafting materials that can be used to unlock individual items of the player’s choice, rather than relying on RNG from packs or the store rotation. Levels 1-20 reward one pack each, 20-50 a pack every other level, and 50-100 a pack every five levels.
After taking a closer look at the skins across the weapons and characters, all but the legendaries are pretty homogenized. It seems like players are just earning the same color variants many times over for different characters and guns, which takes away from the excitement of seeing that blue or purple beam while opening packs. While there technically are no duplicates, there’s a good chance I’ve seen the same (or very similar) skin before on a different gun or character. There’s more variation in the banners and quips that can be unlocked, but I would like to see more unique skins across the different weapons and Legends.
In terms of the store itself, players have the option to purchase Apex Coins, that can be used to purchase packs or individual items from a rotating selection. In my experience so far, the random drops from the packs are great. The store actually tells you the exact chances of getting rarer items and even guarantees zero duplicates as well as a legendary drop after 30 packs without one. I have yet to see a legendary, but I’ve never felt like a pack was wasted. With that being said, the game has only been live for less than a week, and the battle pass system is set to debut in March.
All things considered, Apex Legends is a wildly refreshing take on the battle royale genre, and I can’t wait to see what Respawn has in store for us in the future.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A Founder’s Pack code was provided by Electronic Arts.
Apex Legends is an innovative breath of fresh air for the battle royale genre. The class-based gameplay and focus on teamwork make for a unique and memorable experience, that will quickly earn it the right to stand toe-to-toe with other battle royale mainstays.
Apex Legends Review