I haven’t enjoyed any title in the Battle Royale genre before Apex Legends. Not one. To date, my firmly held opinion has been that BR is a multiplayer mode that has risen well above its station, lacking the substance required to be a genre unto itself.
Apex Legends not only changed my opinion on Battle Royale, but it also accomplished this turnaround in a single day of play.
Developed by Respawn Entertainment, creators of the Titanfall franchise and comprised of numerous Infinity Ward veterans, it is no surprise that Apex Legends is an excellent shooter. Respawn are an FPS developer par excellence. I am a vocal fan of Titanfall 2‘s single-player campaign, wildly inventive and criminally overlooked.
In Apex Legends, Respawn bring the same dynamism and willingness to experiment to Battle Royale. It’s a bit of a melting pot of popular tropes, borrowing from BR titans Fortnite and PUBG while taking cues from Overwatch to inject a sense of character. Rather than having a single skillset for every player, Apex Legends employs hero characters with specific abilities. Lifeline runs support, doling out vital heals with a flying robot and calling in a drop pod full of supplies. Caustic can deploy a series of traps that, when set off, cover the surrounding area in poisonous gas.
Each hero has an ultimate ability that charges over time and a cooldown skill. This is great because it evens the playing field a bit. Technical and highly skilled players will find a lot to like about Apex Legends, but they aren’t immune to a well-timed ult either. I’m sure there are some BR purists (and I shudder to think who they are) that won’t like this idea at all, but the result is the genre feeling more accessible than ever. That’s a good thing no matter how you slice it.
At the time of writing, the only way to play Apex Legends is as part of a three-person squad. There is no solo or duo queue at the moment, though there is every indication that they’re on the way. This hasn’t bothered me at all so far. The three-person squad works well with the limited number of heroes available, making it relatively simple to squad up with friends. If you don’t have friends available to play with, the game will match you with other squads looking for a single rider.
Further, you don’t have to get on the mic with randoms if that isn’t your thing. In-game chat is a source of a lot of stress for certain players, especially for those who prefer to avoid the spectre of online toxicity. Apex Legends removes the need to get on the mic by including a smart, simple and context-sensitive Ping system. Clicking the middle mouse button lets you place a marker on the map. This marker can be seen by your teammates and lets you call out weapons and loot, incoming enemies, points of interest or even agree with another player’s suggestions. It’s a revelation and something I hope a lot of other developers in the shooter space are looking at.
The start of every BR game is a mad dash to gear up and find a weapon. Respawn understand that there must be a weapons economy — gear that is good, average and poor quality — to encourage a bit of risk vs. reward. Dropping into areas with high-quality loot is attractive but they’re going to be very crowded at the top of the round. Dropping into a low-quality gear area is quieter but means you start with a trash pistol. I’m not telling BR veterans anything they don’t already know but for genre newcomers, it’s a quirk that takes some getting used to.
Apex Legends is a big, bold entry in an increasingly crowded field. That it’s made such an impression is a testament to its quality and willingness to play with the established tropes. It’s a top-quality shooter from a developer who understands the genre inside and out. If anyone was going to bring me around on Battle Royale, I’m so glad it was Respawn.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Satisfying shooting; Smart character design; Ping system is a masterpiece
Lowlights: Still a high skill ceiling for inexperienced players
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Review conducted on Windows PC with a Founder’s Pack code provided by the publisher.