Apex Legends Impressions

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.

Advertisements

Electronic Arts, Clueless Again

Electronic Arts have been floundering these last few years. I have appreciated some of their output – PvZ: Garden Warfare, Star Wars Battlefront, and Battlefield 1 come to mind – but there’s no denying that they are completely oblivious to how they should be conducting business. Their tactics have proven to be some of the most aggressive in the industry, and no matter how many times gamers have told them they aren’t interested in being fleeced, the publisher has flat out refused to listen.

Madden continually wrecks its brand with heavier implementation of ultimate cards. Star Wars: Battlefront required a season pass to feel like a complete game. In response, the sequel didn’t have a season pass, but planned to feature a heavy enough grind to entice you to spend money via microtransactions. Battlefield V followed the same path, but had a lot of missing content at the time of launch.

More than that, they take third party development companies under their wing until they’re smothered to the point of closure. They’re also really poor at planning in general, as they’ve set some pretty horrendous and damning launch windows for notable titles (Titanfall 2 was wedged smack dab in the middle of two monstrous releases, for example).

So it’s been no surprise to standers by that EA’s stock has dropped substantially on a year-to-date basis. At the time of writing, the company’s stock is heading towards the largest single-day percentage decline since December of 1999 (information from MarketWatch), and how do they respond?

By blaming the prioritization of Battlefield V’s single-player campaign as opposed to the as-yet unreleased battle royale mode.

That’s right, they believe this game sold one million copies below expectation because they didn’t have battle royale available at launch.

As usual, EA just don’t get it. I mean, they SAY they do, but it’s all lip-service to satisfy their investors:

“A combination of a poor start in our marketing campaign together with what I think was a longer development cycle that put us into a more competitive window and the amplification that competitive window against of those underperformance factors is how we resulted in ‘Battlefield’,” said EA president Andrew Wilson during their most recent conference call.

Come on, Andrew. It’s not like this is coming out of left field. Your company has been on a downward slope for a while. This ‘oh, we know what we did wrong and will change in the future’ shtick clearly isn’t fooling your backers.

Now personally, I do believe there’s a little room for a battle royale experience gated behind a $60 price tag… as long as other content is included to justify it, but Call of Duty had already scratched that itch. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is still a thing and costs substantially less, but free-to-play is unquestionably where it’s at… you know, because it’s free. Fortnite has become a real monster in this industry as result (credit is also due for being genuinely fun and nice to look at), and better yet, all the items you’d unlock with real world money are cosmetic.

‘Free’ and ‘no pay-to-win’ is music to the ears of gamers everywhere.

But do you know what’s really confusing in the grand scheme of things?

Despite hedging so much on Battlefield V’s last-man-standing mode, EA were planning to launch their own free-to-play battle royale all along, as evidenced by the surprise release of Apex Legends (developed by the Titanfall crew).

How would DICE’s game have ever competed?

It was never going to, is the short and thick of it.

Sure, maybe including battle royale on day one would have sold a few more copies, but it wouldn’t have come close to filling the million copy deficit EA are scratching their heads over.

Why they’re scratching their heads anyway, I have no idea. The gaming community at large knows EXACTLY what happened, so why don’t they?

What really affected sales was poor marketing, PR, and their release strategy.

The early trailers didn’t capture the essence of Battlefield in any way, shape, or form.

Electronic Arts also alienated prospective buyers by telling them if they were upset with the inclusion of female soldiers to ‘just not buy the game.’ Personally, I’m fine with that message, but from a business perspective, if you tell irrational idiots to not buy your product, you can’t look for a scapegoat when they decide to, you know, actually listen to you.

Also, Electronic Arts should really move competitive shooters out of that October-to-November window anyway. Call of Duty dominates it each and every year, and that’s not going to change. So basically, stop trying to beat them at their own game. I know the holidays are a prime sales period and they want as much of that pie as possible, but asking people to commit to two major FPS franchises in a short time frame is a lot.

And most of important of all:

Maybe, just maybe, they should treat their customers with respect. Don’t say ‘we hear you’ and then blatantly continue to screw people over (this isn’t unique to EA, but they’re definitely one of the worst offenders). Thanks to Electronic Arts, governments across the globe are evaluating their business models to see if they’re even legal… and spoiler alert, it hasn’t been going particularly well for them, as they’ve been forced to remove loot boxes from FIFA in Belgium.

EA aren’t in danger of going extinct or anything, but they clearly need to listen to feedback the gaming community has been providing them if they want to be on an upswing again. That means stopping the lip service and actually showing people – consumers and investors alike – that they’ll use a combination of good games AND good will to create a loyal fan base. I doubt it’ll happen, but only time will tell.