Open world Team Deathmatch.
For those living under a rock, Battle Royale has been a genre that has been insanely popular over the last year and some change. While PubG was the first to really set the market on fire, Fortnite swooped in and brought a different look and feel to the genre and unquestionably took it over. Being a gamer that is far more focused on PVE, Battle Royale was never a genre that interested me to the point of playing every night, purchasing the battle passes, or really caring about getting that “W”. Sure, I’ve jumped in for a few rounds of Fortnite, PubG, Realm Royale, and Call of Duty’s take on the genre with Blackout, but none of them really kept my interest peaked. Apex Legends, however; has me addicted.
Apex Legends is a Free-to-Play Battle Royale game from Respawn Entertainment that was essentially announced and released on the same day and was also noted as being a spin-off of the Titanfall series. Taking place some 30 years after the events of the stunning Titanfall 2, Apex Legends does in fact lack two major components of its inspiration; there is no wall running nor does it contain any of the titular Titans. Instead, Apex Legends has a variety of hero characters called Legends, a group of personality driven heroes that feature various abilities and special offensive and defensive skills. Think of Apex Legends as a combination of Blackout and Overwatch, and you’ll get the basic idea of what to expect.
Respawn’s hero shooter comes ready with six characters freely available to choose from with two more; Caustic, and Mirage, to unlock by either grinding away to earn enough currency, or by simply paying for them with real money. Each of these two have numerous pro’s and con’s, so they don’t feel as if Respawn placed two of the best characters behind a so-called paywall. The microtransaction model has you purchasing coin, where you can then purchase loot boxes that contain the following; skins for both weapons and characters, special finishing attacks, crafting metals, and other cosmetic items to alter your character’s profile banner. Nothing here gives you any sort of edge in battle and is purely cosmetic. Crafting Metals are blue crystals that you can use to outright purchase what skins or banner items you want, skipping the need on relying on them unlocking randomly through a loot box. Where the cosmetic items are purchasable with those crafting metals, the Legends themselves are unlocked (or again with the use of actual money) with Legend tokens, a currency you earn as you level up. As I’m currently level 22, at the time of this writing, I am one level away from using them to unlock my final Legend, Mirage. As being an EA Access member, I was gifted 1,000 coins at the start and used 750 of them to unlock Caustic.
When I started up Apex Legends, I immediately gravitated towards Wraith, a women who can phase in and out of reality and can cast portals perfect for a quick escape. When I hit level 4, I unlocked her Legendary skin, The Liberator, and pretty much mained her until I hit level 12 or 13. I would alternate between her and Pathfinder, a robot who can cast out ziplines and grappling hooks, both equally viable for yet another quick escape method or the ability to reach some higher highs. He also has the ability to send out a survey beacon to reveal the ring’s next location, so he can be useful in a pinch. Another character that I’ve tried a few rounds with is Lifeline, a support class that can not only heal, but can call down a Care Package loaded with high level goodies. Her ability to heal is amplified with a protective shield while she revives her fallen comrades as well as a healing drone dubbed the Drone of Compassion, that can grant those much needed heals after an intense firefight. My experience is limited around Lifeline as she is the main of a friend of mine, who is extremely effective in keeping our team alive, and responsible for healing me just in time to secure my first victory kill.
Once I unlocked Caustic, I took the gas grenade wielding chemist out for a stroll and found him to be fairly effective, but not overpowering. Caustic can place a half dozen canisters of deadly Nox Gas around the environment as traps, and his special skill will blanket a large area in the gas itself. As I dabbled between other Legends; Bloodhound, a tracker who can scan the environment for their prey, Bangalore, a DPS focused fighter who can shoot out smoke grenades and artillery strikes, it wasn’t until I finally tried Gibraltar where I truly found my footing. With his large bulky stature, you would assume Gibraltar to be slow, and while he can feel that way, he still moves just as quick as everyone else. Equipped with a gun shield that blocks incoming fire, Gibraltar also can throw down a dome-shield that blocks attacks for 15 seconds, making revives that much safer when you’re surrounded by other teams. His special ability is a defensive bombardment; a concentrated mortar strike that you throw out with a smoke grenade. That said, I am often frustrated that you cannot throw out your special attack while inside the bubble as it will bounce off the dome and land right beside you. While I’m trying out Mirage as I’m typing up my review, my experience is limited with his ability to send out holographic decoys of himself, or using them while he is knocked down, allowing him to safely hobble away to his teammates, looking for a revive. As it stands, he is probably my least favorite of the group.
Respawning during a Battle Royale game is nothing new, Realm Royale does it as well, but it’s handled in a very genius way here that allows the action to become even more intense because of it. As you are knocked down, you can reach out to your allies for a quick respawn, or should you fall completely in battle, those allies have 90 seconds to pick up your dog tags and take them to a respawn beacon. The beacon takes a few seconds to spawn you back in, but they are set up in locations that are fairly out in the open, as well as painting a target on your back due to the large drop ship that appears to place those once dead Legends back into the fight. Where a respawn system could break the game into making matches longer than they need to be, it actually makes the matches more exciting, creating that element of paranoia, wondering if the Legends you have put down have stayed dead or are on the hunt for revenge. While Apex Legends may lack the 100 player cap found in other Battle Royale games, having 60 players here able to respawn can actually give you far more targets to take down instead of 100 players that are removed from play upon death.
Apex Legends is built around teamwork. While there seems to be plans on allowing solo or duo matches to be implemented in the near future, the game is currently built around hosting 20 teams of three players. I’ll also note that while matches are usually packed full of 60 players, myself and my squad have loaded into matches where it was just us and one other team at least two or three times. Where a game like Overwatch is largely set to flourish more with teams that are built around containing certain archetypes, teams in Apex Legends can often thrive no matter the combination of Legends. After you have launched from the drop ship and found a location to start the round, you’ll scavenge nearby buildings and supply pods for weapons, ammo, armor, and throwing items such as grenades or explosive throwing stars, the latter of which granted me the title of champion during a lucky toss to my opponents face. That crunch it made when it shattered his armor and health still makes me laugh. Armor comes in four tiers that range from how many segments of armor are actually protecting you. Apart from items you can equip and use from an offensive or defensive standpoint, you can also gather up med-kits and shield regen units, ensuring that you can always heal yourself in some way. This allows your team to thrive even without a healer standing by, further enforcing the ability to compose your team out of any and all available Legends.
Now, I glossed over the drop ship aspect because it’s more than just dropping from up high and agreeing to a meet point. Apex Legends is the first Battle Royale game to have you launch as a connected team, at least that I am aware of. While you can break off from your team, should you want to, Apex Legends puts the responsibility of that drop in the hands of the Jumpmaster. Now, if that responsibility is too much for you, you can entrust that jump into the hands of another teammate. By jumping as a team, you ensure that you are together right from the start of the match, avoiding any confusion of “Oh, I thought we were dropping here..” or “I lost track of you guys” as it can happen in other games. Another aspect of the trio-jump is that it looks incredibly cool with the smoke trails behind you and gives your team almost a superhero look as you shoot through the sky.
Titanfall 2 had some amazing weaponry and several of those guns make their return. That said, some of those weapons have seen small tweaks that allow them to work a lot better in the Battle Royale format, where others simply had either a class change or their name was altered in some way. The Peacekeeper, however; is an entirely new gun to the series as it did not exist in Titanfall 2 and is easily the best shotgun in the game. Apex Legends features six classes of weapons to find scattered all over the map; Assault Rifles, Sub Machine Guns, Light Machine Guns, Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, and Pistols. Each gun then falls into another category of color coded ammo types; Heavy (Dark Green), Light (Orange), Shotgun (Red), and Energy (Light Green). You can also equip scopes, larger capacity magazines, barrel stabilizers, and hop-up attachments that are only compatible with certain weapons like increasing head shot damage for the Wingman or Longbow, or changing the fire modes for the Prowler, a favorite gun of mine. A nice touch that is presented through the item pick-up system is ammo or attachments you don’t need for your equipped weapons will indicate that you don’t need them, allowing you to drop them without worry that you might have needed that. As you run around and gather those attachments for your gun, they will auto-attach themselves to your weapon, ensuring you don’t waste a second trying to min-max your gear and then get shot down while stuck in a menu. Staying on that point, the game won’t let you pick up worse gear, so you don’t have to worry about panic grabbing a common armor piece and accidentally losing your legendary one in the process.
Given that much of its combat was pulled from Titanfall 2, a truly enjoyable FPS experience, the gun play here is solid. It feels fun and guns are incredibly satisfying to use, no matter your preference on what you choose to wield. While I tend to prefer the Sub or Light machine guns like the R-99 or the Devotion, I can fully understand why people would want to rock the Hemlock or the Longbow sniper rifle. Working in concert with the solid gun play is the ability to slide and while Apex Legends may lack the Titanfall wall run ability, the sliding systems here are second to none. Sliding down large patches of a decline is vastly enjoyable as is sliding into someone with the peacekeeper and then dropping their shields in time for a sniper round from your allies to seal the deal. You have the ability to mantle up to higher ledges, making you feel like you can literally explore anywhere. Mobility is key to survival and Apex Legends certainly does not disappoint.
Part of what makes a winning team in team-based competition is communication. Voice chat is usually instrumental as most in-game communication tools are often lacking in some form or another. Apex Legends hopes to change that with very intuitive mechanics that are all thanks to one button. With Xbox, this is your RB button, PS4 users will know this as R1, and PC users will rock the mouse wheel click, or whatever key or mouse button they have remapped it to. This button is essentially for ping’ing various things; enemies, locations, armor, weapons, and pretty much anything else you want to bring awareness to. As you can hold it down to detail the type of ping you want to select through a radial wheel, this system allows for a sense of communication that can really allow teams to work together even if they choose not to open up voice chat. As someone pings a nearby weapon, you can ping that location to acknowledge them and even press down on the D-Pad to send out a thanks when you’ve picked up something they have dropped down. There is a smart use of in-game communication here that has had me and other randoms understand each other’s intent without so much of us saying a single thing into our mics. Targeting enemies has been super useful as well as it allows everyone on the team to understand where the threat is and have your attention focused.
At launch, Apex Legends has one single map, with that to chance at some point later in year. King’s Canyon is filled to the brim with variety, excellent bottleneck opportunities and more. You have multi-level facilities, small settlements next to a giant pile of bones, to jungles, swamps, and desert wastelands. About the only typical environmental trait missing is one of a snow-covered mountain range, but maybe that’s the focus of the next map. Either way, King’s Canyon is small enough to keep the action focused and yet large enough to discover and explore. In typical Battle Royale fashion, a burning ring will cause players every few minutes to work towards reaching the next available “safe space". Now, I use that term lightly as there really isn’t a safe space anywhere to be found when you are consistently being hunted. To ensure you are aware of this, you’ll see banners everywhere showing the team that is currently in the lead with kills. Seeing yourself up on that banner is fantastic, but it also makes you a prize to the next player, hoping to earn that extra 500 XP bonus for gunning you down.
King’s Canyon is easily the most enjoyable map I’ve seen in the genre as it does so much more than just giving you a fun location to explore. You have numerous vertical and horizontal ziplines to get you from place to place and even sections marked by a balloon that can launch you back into the air to fly far distances to either run away from the enemy or bridge the gap between you and the next ring location. While there will come a time when you’ve seen everything this map has to offer and know all the trick of any given location, it’s still a wondrous map to explore and use your experience to take down new players still finding their footing.
Given Respawn’s track record, Apex Legends was going to be a good looking game. Titanfall 2 was a very polished experience and this title is the same way. Battle Royale games have often been considered to be a very clunky genre, often having their entire library of games released in some form of early access. Apex Legends is extremely polished and is no doubt the leader in the genre from a technical standpoint. Characters have solid animations, personalities, and the game is very colorful without feeling too cartoony. The environments are downright gorgeous and features some great shadow systems that can play tricks with your eyes when you think you see someone in the distance, but it turns out to be a shadow of a flag waving in the wind. Some areas will cast up dust storms, blocking the vision of that sniper down the road, allowing you to dive inside when he misses his shot. Another nice visual touch is your equipped attachments showing up on your gun icon on the bottom right, ensuring you know exactly what attachments you have and what you still need to keep a look out for. The overall UI is downright fantastic and every menu system has been built around being as intuitive as possible.
While the feature is also available on the PC version, its nice to see the inclusion of a field of view slider (or field of vision, if you prefer that..) on the Xbox and PS4 versions that will allow you to pull back the viewable area and see more of the map around you. This sort of feature is usually just a focus on PC and something many people have wanted present on consoles for some time now. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really aware of just how important a FOV slider was until I used it here and frankly, this should be mandatory on all FPS games on consoles going forward.
By releasing and launching within the span of 24 hours, Apex Legends allowed the game to speak for itself. By completely bypassing the usually scrutiny of trailer analysis videos and criticizing its monetizing systems months in advance of its release, Apex Legends was a game people were downloading and jumping into just to see what the fuss was all about. While this approach hasn’t always worked out, it has catapulted Apex Legends to the top of streaming charts across every platform. I’m not a big fan of the Battle Royale genre but somehow Apex Legends got to me. It has stellar mobility systems, easy to handle controls and a fantastic cast of characters that is only going to get better. While Respawn hasn’t set out to redefine the genre itself, it has fine tuned nearly every system to near perfection. As far as I’m concerned, Apex Legends is the Battle Royale king and I don’t see the throne being vacated any time soon.
Ending note: As the Battle Royale genre is a never ending series of seasons, updates, and character additions, I will be updating this review as I see fit. This may result in the score changing from what you see on other sites that I link from, but know that I will try to update this review when there is a substantial need to do so. With a Battle Pass launching in March, expect an update to reflect what the Pass does and how it affects the game and what the new character has brought to the overall experience. As such, some content in this review may be out of date by the time you read this, so keep that in mind when taking my information as gospel.
Apex Legends was downloaded by the reviewer and played on an Xbox One X.
The review has been written to be viable for all platforms.
All Screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.