Apex Legends is the Battle Royale I never knew I wanted.
Respawn Entertainment are known as the purveyors of giant robots, double jumping, and wall running, from their TitanFall series. So it surprised all of us this week when they released a game with none of those things! Instead of the rumored Titanfall 3, Apex Legends is a battle royale where 20 teams of 3 duke it out in the Titanfall world. It’s battle royale with the added twist of pilot abilities and all of the cool weapons from the previous Titanfall games. Now, I can literally hear you saying right now, “that’s stupid, I don’t want more battle royale games” but stick with me here, because Apex Legends is everything battle royale should be and more, oh and its free-to-play so everyone can try it.
Battle Royales are here to stay
Battle royale, love it or hate it, has become a dominate force in gaming over the last two years. Everyone from established franchises to starts-ups are throwing these games together. You can battle royale in almost every genre, from magic-slinging, to melee-focused, and of course in tons of shooters. Needless to say, Apex Legends has a lot of competition in its genre. It seems that this one time, that’s a great thing, because that crowded field has forced developer Respawn Entertainment to innovate instead of imitating. The results of which have paid off, in the form of a battle royale that chooses innovation over stagnation and breathes much needed new life in to the genre.
Apex Legends is not the type of game I expected Respawn entertainment to make. It’s fast, team focused, asymmetric, and solves a lot of the biggest problems in the battle royale genre. Most important of all, it’s fun. The kind of fun where even when you die after getting outplayed, you say ‘just one more game’ after every game. It’s the first game in over a year that’s kept me up at night and has me just dreaming of playing again.
Respawn is changing up the formula without reinventing the wheel
Respawn has done more than just pop out a game in a genre that’s currently red hot, and it really shows. There are some things that at first glance may look not as appealing as others in genre. Yes, it has a smaller lobby, at just 60 players, and yes, it still has some bugs to work out, but, taken as a whole, Apex Legends is exactly what battle royale games need right now. It’s polished, feels great, and is innovative.
All of the tweaks, changes, and small quality of life improvements come together to make this game stellar, and that’s before we ever get to the legends. The titular legends are what takes this game from a standard battle royale to something that is so much more. Each legend has a unique personality, conveyed through voice lines, quips, and their kit. Each legend has three abilities, a passive, an active and an ultimate. This Overwatch like formula works surprisingly well in battle royale. Each of the current heroes has a unique ultimate, though there is some overlap, two of them have artillery, two have movement abilities, one has a call down airdrop, and one has a decoy. All of their ultimate abilities feel useful, even the teleporting ultimate of Wraith and the many decoys of Mirage. Passives tend to be less useful, but compliment a player’s style.
None of the abilities feel overpowered, which is important because one thing that makes Apex Legends feel so refreshing is that you almost never die to someone you didn’t see. All of those are changes that come even before the game starts.
So let’s start at the beginning. That oh so battle royale feature the drop. Even in this the most basic part of battle any royale, Apex Legends innovates. With teams of 3 rather than 4, the game is already changing the drop dynamic, added to that is a single ‘jump master’ who designates where all three team mates are going to land. Players can break off from the group, but where’s the fun in that? This mechanic solves one of my bigger complaints with PUBG and its ilk, team mates who separate right away while playing squads.
Also gone is the limited range of free fall and then a parachute, replaced with a sort of gliding rocket belt. No matter the line your drop ship goes on, you can hit your favorite spot most of the time. This makes a huge difference on the relatively small map, with a smaller number of players, because where you land is key. Like most battle royale the first two minutes of this game often determines if you’re going to have a great game or a terrible game.
Dropping feels fresh and new, maybe it’s the new map, or the way that you can direct everyone else with a single button press, or how you can land on roving drop ship that’s a treasure trove, it’s just fun. Small things make a huge difference. Each of the three player teams trail colored smoke, making it easy to spot where they are headed. If you don’t like the jumpmasters chosen location you can break off, and landing in tight formation means your almost never without your team. There isn’t anything here that’s radically different, but the small tweaks make a big difference.
You might see some familiar guns
Loot works the same way as in most games, and players of other Titanfall games will be pleased to know that the weapons from the previous two titles return. It may not seem like much but not having to learn a whole new set weapons makes a huge difference. Weapons feel good, and the trademark Respawn speed and time to kill are present here in force. Weapons aren’t divided in to tiers like some other games, but attachments, armor and helmets are. There is a pretty massive set of weapons, from sniper rifles, to shotguns, to SMG’s and pistols. All of the guns feel good, and shooting feels natural.
Beyond the loot, its battle royale, but done so much better than Fortnite, or PUBG, or even Call of Duty did it. Dropping together makes team play easier, and the seamless nature of dropping makes the game feel faster. The whole game has no fall damage, so if you clip a mountain on the way down instead of dying you just land on the ground. The absence of fear from falling means you can try climbing on that high area, and you can try to make that jump and not have to worry about it. It also presents great options for escaping. Perhaps even more important the game heavily rewards vertical play, giving players tons of opportunities to get up on top of things and shoot down. This is exemplified by a legend who can shoot ziplines, giving his team immense positional advantage. Almost nothing in the game feels better than ambushing a squad from above wiping them out and then grabbing their loot, leaving them wondering what hit them. There are several weapons in game with these attachments that modify what they do.
Loot is also handled better than in previous battle royale games. Gone are weapon tiers (expect for some very special gold weapon drops) but weapons are still many and varied, and weather you prefer close in work or ranged engagements Apex Legends has a weapon for you. Weapons blend wonderfully with the games many attachments, which divide out in to rarities and can make a huge difference in a fire fight. From a bevy of scopes, to barrel stabilizers, to expanded magazines, there is no shortage of glue on accessories to make your gun better. Some guns need attachments to be good, and some are fine at their base level. The Hemlock heavy rifle for example is normally three shot, but has an attachment that makes it full auto, morphing it from a mid-range-hi-damage-slow-shooting machine to a fire spitting killing machine.
Smart looting should be in every Battle Royale
One of my favorite quality of life features that Respawn have included is that if you have a better attachment than the one you are trying to loot; the game will stop you from looting that attachment. Attachments also auto equip if you have the right gun. The same goes for armor, which is also tiered. This is such a tiny little thing but makes such a huge difference. Another small change is automatic attachment swapping. Picking up a new pistol? All your attachments from the first one that can transfer will. Little changes like this make the game feel faster and easier to navigate than most other Battle Royale’s.
Loot is everywhere, but here again Respawn have tweaked the formula to improve it. Each area of the map has a loot score, which some containing more and better loot than others. But also dropped around the map are a ton of loot bins which often have random guns and loot in them. Almost nowhere is devoid of loot. It’s on the ground in buildings, in the loot bins, coming from the sky in drops, and sometimes just lying on the floor.
Added to plethora of loot are two wildcards, a roving “hot zone” that will always have super rare loot in it, and a flying drop ship, on which players can find a slew of rare items. Both are almost always major battle sites from the moment the game starts. But, if you can clear out the dropship or the hot zone, your team is going to be leaving looted to the gills. The variety of weapons and grenades and armor and healing items may seem confusing at first, but after a few games, even the most amateur player can get the hang of it.
Gunplay in Apex Legends feels amazing. The game is built on the same engine as Titanfall (the source engine) so it’s gun physics feel familiar. Most weapons are projectile, and those projectiles have weight, so shooting a long distance takes skill and a lot of practice. I haven’t been able to test all of the games guns of course, but what I have tested feels slightly floaty, but not Arcady. Somewhere between PUBG and Call of Duty. Some guns feel weightier than others, and overall it’s nice to see that Respawn put in the effort to make everything feel different and not bland and homogenous.
Shotguns feel like a shotgun should, shooting slowly and heavily, pistols feel light and SMG’s and assault rifles fall in between. The game offers four types of ammo Light, Heavy, Shotgun, and Energy. Here I will offer one small criticism, ammo is scarce early and midgame. Several times I found myself without ammo forced to melee enemies or throw a grenade to finish a fight. By end game you have so much loot from dead enemies you won’t be worried about it, but early on it can be a pain. Marksmanship is heavily rewarded as most weapons do nearly double damage with a headshot vs a body shot. It’s still a bit early for weapon analysis, but I personally love heavy ammo using guns, they absolutely shred shields and flesh alike. Add a few attachments to them and you have a seriously deadly machine.
Attachments take weapons to the next level, with various rarities and functions, I was particularly surprised to find that each class of weapon has one unique add on that is essentially its “ultimate” turning it up to 11. In some cases, this is more damage, in some its more rate of fire, but it’s always a massive improvement. Attachments cover the basics, magazines, sights, barrels, etc. It’s nothing super new, but the rarities do at least make it interesting. The one exception to this the games ultra-rare golden guns.
Apex Legends has two super rare golden guns that only show up in drops, and are serious game changers. These guns always have a limited ammo supply, but if you can get your hands on one, it can make the game. The powerful and slow shooting Kraber, a massive sniper rifle that does huge damage, and the Mastiff a slow shooting shot gun with a huge spread. During one of my many runs I picked up a Kaber from one of those drops, and this overpowered sniper was basically a one shot kill on most enemies. I was able to scope in from across the map and hit enemies that my team mates couldn’t even see.
Streamlined loot means less time in menus more time in fights
Interacting with items is a joy, in a world where PUBG makes you check items, and COD makes you carefully manage inventory in every way, Apex Legends just let’s go full bore picking up loot as you run. If an item is worse than what you have already, it won’t be picked up. The one exception to this rule is guns, which you have to hold E to swap. This also applies to armor (Which the game calls shields) which come in two forms, chest armor and a helmet. There is one more defensive item in game, a down shield, that you can deploy when your downed to try and block some incoming damage. This is a nice mechanic that means that most of the time you’re not going to die as soon as you get downed. Just like with weapons there are always a few gold pieces of armor on the map, usually with a special ability attached. In the cases of the ones I have found this is often a self-revive. It’s just one more small tweak that makes this entry in the crowded battle royale field feel more unique.
Death in Apex Legends feels different that most other modern shooters. I almost never get frustrated like in PUBG, because of how the bullet physics work, and the longer time to kill, you almost always see, and get to shoot at your enemies. Engagements can still be one sided, especially since movement is so fluid and a good team will spread out and flank in most engagements. This goes double for your own team, who if you coordinate well with (using the games built in VOIP) you can do some pretty cool maneuvers to get kills. The game features the standard battle royale revive system where if you are downed, for some time your team can pick you up, but again here Apex Legends innovates. After your down timer is up, a teammate can still pick up your banner, and go to a respawn station so you can get back in to the game. This feature rewards running away, as after you lose or kill your enemies, you can always come back for your teammates. It’s an innovative and fun system that no other game currently has going for it, and one that extends playability so you don’t just drop out after you get killed.
Taken as a whole Apex Legends is everything I never knew I wanted from a battle royale game. Its polished, runs well, is balanced, and innovative, and when I do lose I know it’s because I got outplayed. It’s been a long time since a game has eaten my entire life, but Apex Legends is going in to those hallowed halls of time sinks like Fall Out New Vegas, and PUBG. I give Apex Legends a 9/10. But, don’t take it from me, its available right now for free on all major platforms.