Game: Apex Legends
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Game provided by developer: No
As if plucked from the murky depths of every battle royale fans imagination, Respawn Entertainment and EA graced us with the stealth release of the free-to-play Apex Legends.
Battle royale personified
We are living in an age where developers are feeling pressured to include battle royale in their titles, in one way or another. With games like Tetris 99, Call of Duty Blackout and the impending release of Firestorm, Battlefield V’s battle royale mode the space is beginning to feel a little cramped.
Games as a service are competing not only for our money but our time and as we continue to see the industries’ infatuation with live services increase and with free to play games like Warframe, Fortnite and Path of Exile sustaining a core, loyal playerbase, it is becoming increasingly difficult to break in to this space. BioWare and Anthem are having this realisation right now after a mediocre launch – when free to play games are offering a service, and offering it better than full price AAA games, developers will continue to have difficulty sustaining playerbases for live games.
Apex Legends stealth launched on Origin, Playstation 4 and Xbox One this past month as a free to play battle royale title. Respawn have continued to boast about player numbers with Apex Legends seeing massive growth to the tune of one million players only eight hours after release with 2.5 million within 24 hours. As of this week, Apex Legends has hit 50 million individual players – something that took Epic Games’ Fortnite several months.
I did not want to rush out a review and aimed to hold off for several weeks after launch to see if that new game feel would wear off as I expected to find something gnarly, annoying or upsetting in the gameplay loop, mechanics or even monetization, which was perhaps an unfair assumption brought on by previous free to play game experiences. To give the game a fair shake, I deemed it necessary to play as many games as possible with friends, solo with randoms and to understand the mechanics. According to Origin I have clocked in 66 hours of gameplay from the games release on February 4th and I now feel confident in offering my opinion.
As a battle royale fanatic I have spent thousands of hours in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Ring of Elysium and Call of Duty Blackout. Whether it was crawling through the snow-layered Vikendi in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or frantically surviving a tense build battle in Fortnite I have enjoyed my time with the genre and I did not anticipate jumping head first in to a new game during the busy February period.
To me, Apex Legends takes everything that is good about battle royale and builds on it with new systems and perfecting mechanics. The game sees teams of three battle it out to become champion, with each team composing of three different legends. You can think of legends like Overwatch heroes as they all feature their own interesting and situationally viable abilities. For example, Gibraltar can drop a giant dome shield to protect the team in a firefight, Mirage has the ability to conjure a replica hologram of himself that will run out of cover to bamboozle enemies, Wraith can create portals to quickly transport your team around King’s Canyon while Lifeline has the ability to deploy a healing drone and Bangalore can launch tactical smoke grenades which are especially useful for reviving teammates in the midst of a frenetic battle. The legends add a more tactical approach compared to your typical battle royale experience and utilizing the skillset of each one to its maximum potential will benefit your team greatly and can make the difference between winning a firefight or bowing out of the match early.
If you had the chance to play Respawn’s Titanfall series you will be familiar with the incredible gunplay, something that has not gone amiss here. Apex Legends features a variety of interesting guns that can be equipped with differing rarity levels of attachments that can truly enhance the weapon. For example finding and equipping a tier 3 light magazine on a R301 transforms it from a Nerf gun to a three second unpleasant death experience for your opponent. With a good mix of machine guns, LMG’s, shotgun’s, DMR’s, sniper rifles and pistols you will not go without a weapon for long as loot is generously scattered throughout the map – going weaponless was one of my biggest gripes surrounding PlayerUnknowns’s Battlegrounds.
The actual act of shooting feels great with each gun handling differently, I could truly feel the power behind every wingman shot and I was able to anticipate the speed of SMG’s like the R99. Respawn have absolutely nailed the gunplay and it makes Apex Legends a joy to play.
I found it insanely quick to jump in to a game, with waiting times no longer than 20-30 seconds without the need to wait in a lobby for a minute or so, like other games in the genre. This was incredibly refreshing as I was constantly hit with that one more game feeling that is usually reserved for overly difficult titles like Super Meat Boy or Dark Souls. From the gameplay to the menus, everything is fluid and just works – something I have a particularly hard time saying about a lot of modern titles.
Speaking of jumping, a concept introduced in Apex Legends is that one of the three players on the team will be assigned the role of jumpmaster and will effectively decide where the team will jump at the start of the match. Players do have the ability to go solo, but far more often than not I noticed my team and I would stick together, moving from area to area in our quest for domination. From the outset, teamwork is ingrained in to each and every player and it seems to be having a positive effect throughout the community as I was noticing more teamwork here compared to other battle royale titles.
Moving around the map is a joy as player movement feels fluid with smaller legends like Bangalore and Bloodhound passively moving faster than larger ones like Gibraltar or Caustic. With a well-sized map, Apex Legends makes it easy to quickly maneuver from one location to another with the inclusion of an air balloon zipline which allows for gliding and the ability to outrun the zone 99% of the time.
Let’s not forget the inclusion of the respawn system, which has not been included in any other battle royale title that I can think of. When a teammate has been wiped out, I had the chance to frantically grab their banner from their death box and take it to a respawn point where my fallen friends would rejoin me in battle without any of their previously collected loot. This not only encourages players to stay in the game, it created friendly bonds between myself and random teammates and led to some seriously intense situations as opponents guarded death boxes in anticipation of that third teammate coming to the rescue.
Communication in team based games is key, from Overwatch to League of Legends and Call of Duty, if you are able to effectively communicate with your team you inherently have a better chance for success. Apex Legends is no different and has managed to reinvent how we communicate in games with the ping system – it is something so simple yet effective that it could be the new no health bars in FPS games.
By introducing a one button command that ping’s everything, and knows exactly what you are pinging is nothing short of genius, in the realms of video game communication. Looking at a gun? MOZABIQUE HERE!, Looking at an enemy? ENEMY HERE!, Hovering over your gun? NEED HEAVY AMMO!, Aiming at an opponent Wraith’s portal? ENEMY PORTAL HERE! The list is endless – anything I was able to look at or interact with in some way would have its own corresponding ping voiceovers and icons. This system allows for a constant flow of communication between the team with literally no need for text chat or voice chat, both of which are also included in the game.
The simplicity of the ping system allowed for teammates that generally don’t like jumping on voice chat, or those with accessibility issues to be an integral part of the communication process, highlighting guns, ammo, armour or enemies to the team, all with one single press of a button.
The industries favourite monetization scheme is here
As a free to play game, there is of course some sort of monetization. This is only fair as the developers have put a lot of time and resources in to creating a game – they need to be paid and recoup the development costs somehow.
I vehemently dislike loot crates as it offers a random chance at getting items in exchange for real world currency, like in Overwatch, it is impossible to just straight up purchase a skin for money and instead you would need to obtain currency via loot crates. For one, the game is free to play and two, the apex packs, as they are called here are not egregious in any way and do not take away from the game. In fact, by the time I had reached the early 20’s level-wise, I was able to unlock one of the two locked legends with the currency I had earned via free apex packs. On top of this, it is also possible to straight up purchase in-game currency and buy the exact legend skins, badges, quips, banners, etc that I wanted. In my previous review of Trials Rising, I had a particular problem with the gear crate system as it was built-in to the game as a means to transport the player to the in-game store and as a result, the core gameplay of unlocking tracks was hidden behind a previously non-existent leveling system.
In an act of extreme, yet welcomed transparency from Respawn and EA, the odds of each item rarity are displayed directly on the store page, in the centre of the screen and are not hidden away. Whether this was done out of the good of their hearts or for legal reasons in certain regions, it is a welcome addition that is very rarely seen.
Apex Legends is a breath of fresh air in a fast growing genre with its innovations in communication, interesting legends, map variety and outstanding gunplay.
Playing the game has reminded just how much fun I can have in multiplayer games and with over 30 wins, I feel like the tactical nature and the quick gunplay was built for me.