When everyone received word of this hot new game from Respawn Entertainment, the excitement was palpable. Could it be Titanfall 3, sequel to the wondrous campaign gifted to the world in the second installment? Could it be news about a brand new IP? Could it be, at the very least, additional content for Titanfall 2?
Then, the announcement came: Respawn was in the process of releasing Apex Legends, a free to play battle-royale squad shooter, and it would contain everything the gaming community has collectively pilloried. It would contain lootboxes, premium currencies, battle-passes, and seasonal featured items. Hell, it would contain purchase-able characters, each providing vast gameplay differences, with the promise of more to come in the future. But the biggest news, the ball that dropped loudest, was that it would be coming out two days after their announcement.
This appeared to be a recipe for disaster. There was no way for this game to make waves, and that this would be the death knell for Respawn. Would it play out that way, though?
Apex Legends handles battle-royal in a very specialized way. While PUBG and Fortnite have their charms (Fortnite has the unique art style, building mechanics, and generally good game feel; PUBG has…), Apex Legends nails down squad-based gameplay while maintaining a level of gunplay quality we’ve come to expect.
The whole unique selling point is that players are in a squad of three hero-style characters, each with unique special passive and active abilities, along with a game-changing Ultimate Ability. Players can’t overlap heroes in a squad, and the order of choosing characters leads to a very interesting dynamic: the first player to pick their hero will get their preferred hero automatically, but the last player to pick gets to control the drop to the map.
Meanwhile, you’ve got the typical battle-royale flair, with airdropping, care packages, and an ever-decreasing playzone. However, death doesn’t stop your squadmates, which is arguably the best innovation to the formula. After being downed, if your squadmate perishes to the timer or to gunfire, you can loot their body for a beacon. This beacon gives you the ability to respawn them at any dropship revive point. While this very ostentatious drop will attract anyone in the vicinity to obtain a quick kill, those prepared for the fight may have the chance to not only gain back their teammate, but turn the tide of battle.
All of this adds up to a surprisingly winning formula. I don’t particularly care for hero shooters, squad shooters, or battle-royale games; Apex Legends is a game I plan to follow until it’s well-aged. I don’t understand how Respawn pulled it off, but if I’d hazard a guess, I’d say it’s because they took several ideas from their own experiences, and made a game that wasn’t afraid to alienate people. Well, then there’s the final gameplay aspect I need to address:
The Ping System
Everyone’s been talking about this system like it’s the coming of Christ. Well, I’d be lying if I said it isn’t the best system I’ve seen in gaming for non-verbal comms. Everything feels absolutely intuitive, to where I hadn’t realized I’d been using it the whole time I was playing. I learned the button to ping stuff, and I was pinging stuff organically throughout the game. It was only after I finished the first match did I realize that every single ping gave different information. You can ping your inventory to request loot types, or ping an enemy to give a verbal callout. You can ping death boxes, loot chests, beacons, and more. Everything feels so tight because I don’t have to say a word to my squad.
The two times I’ve placed first have been in situations where none of us were properly mic’ed, and we won because this system provides the necessary information. I’m absolutely blown away by this, but that’s not even the best part. You’ve got voice transcription, so players with hearing problems can read the voice chat. You’ve got a chat system built-in, so you can type more specific messages if necessary. It all comes together to give us a wonderful method of communication that doesn’t feel too obtuse. This should be the example given for communication accessibility.
I’m relatively impressed by the graphics of Apex. While it wouldn’t win any awards in any kid of innovation, it manages to secure an aesthetic really well. While Radical Heights tried a gameshow setup and failed, Apex manages to capture a no-holds-barred deathmatch arena. Banners are up everywhere, with quips and champions being displayed at any point. Some players complain about the random repetition of announcers/characters, but it makes perfect sense in-world: this feels like a televised event, where people from every corner of the universe is watching out of cameras nearby.
I remember walking by a huge screen one time. Our squad had just managed to take down two others that were in the midst of a firefight. One lucky grenade, and suddenly I’d been named as the kill leader. Lo and behold, this screen updated before my eyes to show my own banner. I felt like I was a part of this world, no matter how unrealistic it could be. I was on top of the world, for the briefest of moments before getting wiped out. This aesthetic drives me to continue playing, and keeps everything fresh. The map feels varied enough without becoming too cartoon-ish, and the style really works with the genre. The characters pop out enough to be visible, but not so much that you can’t sneak about. It works well alongside the squad-based gameplay.
Finally, the optimization is phenomenal. I’ve rarely had slowdowns on either setup I’ve played on, and I’ve been working with max settings. Respawn’s no stranger to a good optimization, but they’ve really knocked it out of the park here (a few minor networking issues aside).
Apex Legends is such a landslide moment. It’s looks, from the outset, as a culmination of greed-driven game development. It’s as if Respawn synthesized the ultimate “shitty game”. Yet, with all the pride Respawn has taken in developing this game, Apex Legends is set to be my favorite shooter of the year.
The only thing I haven’t addressed is the microtransaction elephant stomping around the room. Do I support MTX? God, no. But do I hope this gives EA a reason to keep Respawn around, making more Titanfall, making Star Wars, and developing stellar systems? Absolutely. And I think that’s exactly what Respawn is doing: showing EA how valuable they are. Even when sandwiched right next to Anthem, I hear more people talking about Apex. Their tongue-in-cheek tweet about the whole affair seems to me like a confirmation of such.
I just can’t wait to see what happens next in this crazy year! Hopefully not more hours put into Anthem, that’s for sure.