Out of the blue at the beginning of February, Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment announced that they had made a battle royale game and that it was launching the same day. This came completely out of left-field, and caught everyone by surprise. There had been no marketing, no fanfare, not even a teaser trailer. The reason, says Respawn’s lead producer Drew McCoy, is that it felt like the right move given that they had recently been acquired by EA, and it was a free-to-play game with loot boxes. They - probably rightly - thought that no good would come from letting the community speculate beforehand, and they wanted people to make their minds up after playing. A fair enough approach, and having played many hours, I’m ready to give my verdict.
With Apex, Respawn are refining the wheel rather than reinventing it, and the core components will feel instantly familiar to anyone aware of the genre. You still have to decide where to land, scrabble to try and find weapons, and be ever mindful that the circle is always closing in - and being outside the playzone could spell death.
The refinements Respawn have introduced though, on the whole, have worked exceptionally well. It’s not a solo experience, instead putting you in squads of three, and each takes a turn choosing a ‘Legends’. These characters each have different abilities and playstyles, which can dramatically change how you play together. It’s very similar to Overwatch in this respect, and it’s done in an accessible way here.
Unlike Overwatch though, these characters aren’t steeped in lore, and are quite one-dimensional. This, in my opinion, reduces the barrier to entry and allows you to focus more on the playstyle of each character. You have your standard array of support, offensive and defensive characters, and each character is picked on a first come, first served basis, meaning if you want to do well at Apex you may have to learn multiple characters. Respawn have stated though that this takes place in the same universe as Titanfall, and that does make sense.
Many of Titanfall’s weapons make a reappearance, including the RE-45 Auto, the R-301 Carbine Auto, and the Longbow DMR. The shooting mechanics have always been satisfying on Respawn games, and it is good to see that this continue in Apex Legends. All the guns feel substantial and pack a solid punch, and the audio is equally satisfying. When you fire the Eva shotgun you really know it.
There are six weapon types - shotguns, LMGs, submachine guns, snipers, assault rifles and pistols - and five types of ammo. These can be found all over the map, but ammo seems to be a bit sparse. This is one area I suspect will be rebalanced over the coming months, which is good as I’ve struggled a number of times with running low. On the other hand, it is quite exhilarating to be one of the last squads alive, short on ammo and desperately trying to make each shot count.
Another element that has been successfully brought over from Titanfall is traversal, which is exceptionally satisfying. Although I was sad to discover that the double jump and wallrunning from previous games have not made the cut, the sliding is still there and is crucial efficient movement. Respawn have confirmed that all characters move at the same speed, but running is slower than sliding while travelling downhill, and you can also look at your map or crucially heal while sliding as well. Even on flat ground, if you jump when coming out of a slide can give you a small boost. The loss of the double jump is mitigated somewhat by being able to climb up most surfaces by holding ‘jump’.
Because the game is squad based, there is a lot more cooperative play, and this is really where Apex shines. Respawn have created a new ping system, that allows you to quickly and easily communicate with your team-mates, without having to use a microphone. It is contextually aware, so through the push of a single button you are able to alert your team to nearby enemies, valuable loot or ammo, or tell them to keep a lookout as a door is open. For those who hate online play specifically because it requires voice chat, this is revolutionary. I’d even argue that it makes for a better team experience as it’s more specific than someone shouting ‘look, over there!’
The squad system also offers a further deviation from other battle royales - revivals. If you are knocked down, your teammates will have a certain amount of time to revive you. If they can’t reach you before the team finish you of, you’ll die, and leave behind a crate of your items. This then triggers a second countdown for them to retrieve your banner. If they’re successful in doing that, they can take it to a respawn beacon, and providing they don’t get killed, they can bring you back from the dead. It’s a great system that isn’t too overpowered, as you’ll respawn with no weapons or armour, meaning the mad scrabble starts again if your teammates don’t share.
A disappointing but understandable economy
There is microtransactions and loot boxes in the game, and they are exceptionally grindy. There is a myriad of skins for both characters and weapons that you can unlock, but the core experience of the game is not changed if you don’t buy them. However, two characters are locked from the off and require a significant grind to get them if you intend to play without making purchases. It’s a shame, for sure, but the level of polish on this game probably deserves a purchase or two - especially when you think of the state that PUBG launched in on console.
Apex Legends is a solid battle royale with enough changes, polish and refinement to make it a serious contender. As someone who never got on with Fortnight and hated PUBG, I’ve been surprised with how quickly I took to Apex. The controls are intuitive, the combat feels solid and the legend based system makes for some really interesting tactics. Respawn have shown themselves to be very responsive to fans concerns as well, which will hopefully mean Apex Legends will be around for a long while.