My relationship with battle royale games has been turbulent. I adored Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds because it created adrenaline fueled feelings of anxiety and dread unlike any multiplayer game I’ve ever played. There was nothing like looting the second floor of a house, only to hear a door swing open downstairs, followed by the careless stomps of another player’s boots. It’d cause me to freeze, hold my breath, and prepare for confrontation.
But I began to sour on battle royale after Fortnite’s release. The game does a number of things right, don’t get me wrong. I think the developers do an amazing job of keeping their product relevant. What kills the experience for me is the building mechanic. Not because I suck at it (which I do), but because allowing people to throw defensive walls up removes that oh, so vital element of fear. I know that Fortnite is actively aiming for a more laid back approach, but that just doesn’t feel like battle royale to me.
Call of Duty’s Blackout mode is alright, but it basically feels like a first-person PUBG with small pockets of zombies here and there. Battlefield… well, we’re still waiting for its offering to drop, despite the game being released in November.
And then reporters caught wind that a battle royale experience from the Titanfall universe was about to drop, and boy, was I excited. The Titanfall games are some of the finest FPS titles this generation has seen, but I scratched my head when that rumor was followed by, “… but there isn’t going to be any titans in it.” Just… why? Why would Respawn Entertainment make a Titanfall battle royale without titans? I couldn’t fathom a feasible explanation. But, you know… the game was free so the only thing I had to waste in trying it was my time.
To my surprise though, Apex Legends was good. Like, really good, and right from the first in-game drop.
The bane of my existence, at least when it comes to battle royal games, is the initial approach. You’re freefalling and feeling pretty good about yourself… until that damn parachute/hang glider comes out. What comes next is the groan inducing process of circling your desired landing spot and then shitting your pants when other people, who were behind you in the sky, land before you do.
Apex Legends, on the other hand, begins each match by getting straight to business. You fly towards the ground with rocket thrusters and don’t stop until you land. Why couldn’t some developer have thought of this before? Was everyone so concerned with stealing PUBG’s formula that they couldn’t fix the worst part of each match? I am eternally grateful to Respawn Entertainment for this ‘fix’ alone.
I’m not a fan of how certain battle royale games bog you down with inventory management, but Apex Legends does a great job of mitigating this. The system in this game falls somewhere between PUBG and Fortnite. The amount of items you can carry can increase by finding backpacks, but you really won’t have to manage it unless you’re picking up things you’ll never use. You’re allowed to carry a primary and secondary weapon, so as long as you stick with hoarding the ammo they’ll use, all you really need to focus on collecting are items that refill your health and shield. There are projectiles, but movement is lightning fast in this game, so you’re better off either engaging directly or taking cover (although I know everyone plays differently, but this is what works best for me). If your inventory is full, all it takes to swap something out is click on the item you no longer want/need. It’s that simple.
The game is just full of otherwise smart decisions. Using a cast of characters, similar to what Blizzard did in Overwatch, goes a long way. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s up to you to decide which one fits your playstyle. One helps to keep threats identified in your immediate vicinity, another one can call a painful strike down from the sky, a character can create a portal for their team to escape immediate danger, and more. You’ll play in squads of three, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with each character to ensure your team remains balanced. If someone on your team goes down quickly, you’ll get a chance to revive them… as long as you survive long enough.
The ping system is a revelation. The ability to point to something and click to set a waypoint for your squad, tell your teammates where enemies are, and advertise where useful items are, is the handiest tool a team based FPS game has ever seen. In fact, it’s so effective, that Fortnite has quickly stolen the idea for implementation in the latest season of its battle royale mode.
But while that stuff is great, I think this game’s biggest strength is its sense of speed. As mentioned before, you begin each match by hitting the ground running. You can slide down hills, cross large gaps by using ziplines, and even use ropes that go up in the sky to fly to new parts of the map when the ‘death circle’ is closing in.
It also helps that the FPS mechanics are top-notch.
Of course, the real question is if this game has legs. People are adoring it now, but Fortnite changes the look of its map and offers new character skins every ten weeks, and they’re knocking it out of the park. I’m not a fan of Fortnite, but even I’m tempted by their seasonal offerings. I mean, one update added a desert, another a winter wonderland, and the latest season has pirate stuff. Still, I hope Apex Legends doesn’t go down such a fantastical path, but it will need to give players more incentive to hang in there for the long haul.
Coincidentally, Apex Legends launched its first season just yesterday, March 19th. For $10, you’ll have access to a bunch of cosmetics and a new character. You can level up to 100 by gaining XP in-game (unlocking even more cosmetics), but if you spend $30 on a battle pass, you’ll start at level 25. I’m not the ‘battle pass’ type, but a lot of people are underwhelmed by what it offers. It’s seemingly and inherently bogged down by its character selection, because in order to ensure they remain recognizable, the cosmetics that can be applied to them can only go so far. I’m fine with that, honestly, because I think it’s a bit silly that Fortnite has a dancing banana skin and someone that has a fish for a head, but I can also see why people wouldn’t feel comfortable ponying up $10 (or $30) in Apex just yet.
My only real complaint is gating characters behind a pay wall. Stop that shit. Fortnite doesn’t do it, and they’re the wiser for it.
But it’s worth keeping in mind that this is only the beginning for Apex Legends, and I imagine they’ll find more creative ways to make the battle pass seem worth it later down the road. As long as they can either tweak their current map or provide new ones, I’d say this game is here to stay for quite some time.