The Battle Royale genre has grown from the territory of mods and individual game modes to a global phenomenon in just a few short years. While much of this can be attributed to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, it was Fortnite that catapulted the concept to the meteoric status it has now. With those, Blackout, and numerous other titles that have fallen away or cling to a market share, is there room for another Battle Royale?
Apex Legends is the latest addition to the fight, and comes from Respawn Entertainment. While Titanfall and Titanfall 2 were well received, Apex Legends eschews much of what won that franchise so much acclaim – despite being set in the same universe. There are no Titans, characters can’t run on walls, and they can’t double jump. What does remain is tight, responsive controls, easily distinguishable weapons, and satisfying combat.
Focused on a sixty-person Battle Royale, Apex Legends separates itself from both its forebears and its contemporaries with an equal focus on characterization and teamwork. Twenty squads of three players drop onto a sizable map and duke it out for supremacy, using foraged weapons to kill their way to victory. Simple enough, right?
While many similar titles offer both solo and squad queues, Apex Legends is exclusively playable as a three-person team. If the sound of forced co-operation sounds a deal-breaker, in execution Apex Legends’ gameplay mechanics are infinitely more conducive to teamwork than the competition.
It all starts with the menu prior to a match. Each player has a short window to pick one of eight heroes. Six are unlocked from the start, while two require some grinding (or paying money – but more on that later). All eight have unique abilities that are easy to learn – there’s a healer, a character able to use a shield, and one that is able to track nearby foes. None feel overpowered, and each’s unique skill-set is useful in certain situations. Each class is easily identifiable from a distance, and while gunplay is the predominant factor in determining who lives or dies, abilities are a great way to add variety.
While they’re easy enough to learn, high-level players will find plenty of opportunities to flex their tactical muscles. Using Wraith’s portal to create an exit for a teammate that’s pinned down, for example, or using Bangalore’s smoke grenade to cover a retreat or tactical repositioning always feels rewarding, but never cheap.
Because there are so many considerations, a balanced and communicative squad is a must. Realizing that many players may feel uncomfortable with its dependence on speaking to strangers, Respawn has added a “Ping” system. This allows each player to identify an enemy, loot, or a location and have it revealed to their comrades. It alleviates a lot of the confusion that can occur when players can’t pinpoint the origin of incoming fire, something which has long been a tough hurdle for new players to the genre.
There are plenty of other smart additions besides the ping system. The player that chooses their class last is assigned the “Jumpmaster”, able to land their squad where they see fit. While teammates can break off, landing as a squad and coordinating using the “ping” system feels just as rewarding as discussing tactics using a mic.
Of course, even the best laid plans can go awry. If a teammate can’t be revived or are executed by a flashy finishing move, their “banner” can be deposited at a respawn station to allow them to be dropped back into the map (sans loot). This can allow for one player to turn the tables on an enemy team by sneaking around to call in reinforcements, particularly if the team can gain access to decent weaponry.
The best weapons can be found on a drop ship floating above the map, or in designated “hotspots”. This allows each squad to adjust the intensity of their landing, and with varying rewards. That said, landing too far from the next circle isn’t the death sentence that those familiar with the genre will appreciate – players can grapple to red “balloons” to redeploy onto the map.
Using weaponry feels satisfying, although many of the guns fall close to traditional archetypes. What differentiates the combat in Apex Legends from its closest competitor (Blackout) is that its movement feels positively supersonic, even compared to Blackout’s buttery smooth mantling and sprinting. Getting around is easy, but combining zip-lines, knee-slides, and firing your weapons will certainly separate the best from the rest.
As with any successful Battle Royale, loot is a huge part of Apex Legends. While attachments are essentially automatically fitted to any weapon that is compatible, armor comes in various rarities that display different colored damage numbers when shot. The highest level armor still feels a little TOO tough, but at least it’s easier to identify why an enemy has taken two clips to the torso and haven’t been scratched.
At the time of writing, Apex Legends’ micro-transactions are surprisingly diverse but also seemingly innocuous. While currency and crafting materials are earned from each match, purchasing items through the store is (as you’d imagine) a lot easier. Character and weapon skins, finishing moves, voice lines and more can be unlocked, as well as “Apex Packs” – you didn’t expect an EA game to not include loot boxes did you? Thankfully, these are doled out regularly for leveling up, and therefore don’t feel as egregious as in some of the publisher’s other titles.
Taken as a finished product, Apex Legends feels like the Battle Royale craze growing up. The possibility of new modes and options to be added is an enticing prospect, but what is here is well worth the asking price. That asking price, of course, is free – and Respawn should be commended for its risky approach to a rapidly oversaturated market. Apex Legends is an excellent shooter, and an excellent Battle Royale title.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.