Another day, another battle royale game. That’s the general feeling amongst the industry right now at least, in reality, we’re shuffling between the main four: PUBG, Fortnite, Call of Duty: Blackout, and now Respawn’s Apex Legends.
Apex Legends is a free-to-play 60 player battle royale set in the Titanfall universe… but, don’t expect Titanfall from this game. The gunplay is really the only carryover from those games, it’s largely its own entity. Titans are gone and there’s no wall running, only some light parkour. That said, Titanfall fans shouldn’t feel betrayed by Respawn or EA as they’ve created something really wonderful.
Apex Legends is immensely polished, intuitive, and smart. The most innovative thing it does is add hero characters similar to the ones you’d find in Overwatch or Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s competitive multiplayer but that’s really where the true innovation that sets itself apart from other BR games ends.
That’s not to say that innovation is poor or anything, Respawn actually plays the class-based system off really well. No character feels like it lacks purpose, characters like Pathfinder can create a zip line to get out of hairy situations or traverse the map quickly or use a personal grappling hook to enter a building through a window or climb high. Some other characters provide more support based roles like throwing down a drone that heals everyone, something really useful in tense firefights, or call in a care package with random equipment.
There are offensive roles too that can launch AOE bombing runs and so on, right now there are eight characters from the getgo with two you can pay to unlock via fairly easy to attain in-game currency or microtransactions. Respawn has also said more will be added in the coming months.
The rest of Respawn’s take on the tiring genre is more about improving other key areas in the battle royale formula. Communication is an essential element of this genre and Apex Legends doesn’t allow you to play solo, it always matches you with two other players (there are no modes, it’s all one collective game mode, no squads/duos/solos) whether you know them or not.
So, if they’re strangers, you likely aren’t talking verbally with them. Respawn has made communication efficient and while sometimes other players aren’t on the exact same page as you, the methods put in place here help create a very cooperative experience.
For starters, your character is very vocal via an easy to use command wheel. Tap RB/R1 to ping a location on your squad’s screen, depending on the context of the situation, your character will either direct everyone to move to loot an area, call out a specific item for an ally to pick up, or point out where an enemy is.
Hold down this button and the wheel will come up, you can issue these same commands or more specific ones that allow you to tell people that someone has already come through the area you’re in, indicating the loot has dried up or maybe you should stay on your toes for nearby enemies. In the grand scheme of things, you may consider this a small touch added by Respawn but it’s essential to both the genre as a whole and Apex Legends as a strategic shooter.
You can even open your inventory and select empty attachment slots such as your optics which then tells your team you’re looking for a scope for a specific gun type. And if you want to go even deeper, hold down the touchpad on PS4 (probably the select or start button on Xbox) and you can type a message with the keyboard which then plays as a generic robot narrator to your squad.
This allows you to send more specific messages to your team such as specifically calling out another player for something, giving in-depth strategic callouts, and more. Or you can do what my friend and I did and spam very inappropriate/absurd messages to each other to hear a robot lady say them.
Respawn has streamlined the most convenient and accessible battle royale experience possible. Other small changes that make all the difference include things like having all your attachments on a gun automatically transfer if you replace said gun, meaning you don’t have to unequip all of them, drop them on the ground, and then reequip them on your new gun.
It helps make everything flow far better, eliminating those moments that cause the action to slow down with clunky mechanics/controls or game design that feels less than intuitive.
Apex Legends also has a very interesting approach to the jump at the start of every battle royale match. One player in the squad is designated as the “jumpmaster”, the jumpmaster either ignores or listens to their team and guides everyone to one location while your other teammates can freely look around and call out other enemy squads in the area.
Players are also free to branch off from the jump master and go their own way if they please but given that no matter what, you’re bunched up with a squad and everyone you encounter will also be in a squad, you should stay close.
Another reason to stay together is that if you die, you’re not 100% out of the fight. You’ll be forced to spectate after being eliminated but there’s an ample amount of time for a teammate to come pick up your banner off your body which can then be brought to one of several respawn stations around the map. Your character will then be airdropped back on to the map and thrown back into the thick of it.
It’s a nice incentive for staying to support your team as just a spectator but also to ensure that even if you slip up and die, there’s a chance to still come back and get the much sought after W.
Perhaps where Apex Legends fails to make much of an impact is in its map design. It feels dry and uninspired, lacking any distinct locations. It all meshes together, meaning there’s no airbase in PUBG, Tilted Towers in Fortnite, or Nuketown in Call of Duty equivalent for Apex Legends. Even a single location that everyone all goes to create an early game onslaught that separates the wheat from the chaff is notably missing, usually when I drop, it’s a blind drop to a town that looks like it has a decent amount of buildings.
Every time I end up at a place that looks familiar I just think to myself “oh, it’s this place, I’ve been here” but it doesn’t pop out. It’s more or less some industrial areas, a swampy area, and some towns with uninteresting looking apartments. It’s missing a severe amount of flair to its overall map design.
There are also portions of the map that looks like they may be designed for that Titanfall parkour traversal we know and love with long walls that look like they could be run across and more but alas, our feet are meant to be firmly planted on the ground. Respawn has stated they tested the game with the fan favorite mechanic in mind but it wasn’t working so they cut it and they’d know better than anyone else but it really feels like something that could be fun to throw into the mix of Apex.
There’s room for other minor improvements as well such as making it easier to tell what kind of armor an enemy has equipped. Everyone’s appearance is pretty static so if someone is decked out in level 3 armor head to toe and the best shields they can equip, you won’t know.
In PUBG and Call of Duty, there’s a physical change with beefier looking armor equipped to the player. This makes it easier to tell whether or not you should engage an enemy head-on, wait for an opportunity, or just let them go altogether. You don’t get that in Apex Legends unless you pop a couple shots at them and see what color the damage numbers are which reflects the strength of their armor and by then, you’ve started a fight you have to finish.
Respawn has successfully entered the battle royale genre with Apex Legends, allowing itself to take notes from its predecessors and come in and build upon the foundation laid before them. By refining the formula rather than making a significant effort to reinvent the battle royale wheel, this studio has proven themselves as unmistakable masters of their craft with both the Titanfall series and now Apex.
While there are still steps that can be taken to help shape it into something even better, Respawn has ultimately begun birthing a (wait for it)… TITAN of a competitor to the other titles in this genre and I can’t wait to see how it grows in the months and hopefully, years to come.