In a short period of time, the Battle Royale genre has grown exponentially. What began as an experimental mod has blossomed into games that have become a legitimate cultural phenomenon. Due to the tremendous success of PUBG and to an even greater extent Fortnite, even the world’s biggest shooter, Call of Duty, threw their hat into the battle royale ring this past Fall with Blackout. Over the past few months this has led to unavoidable question of “Is the battle royale genre saturated now, or is it here to stay?” Apex Legends, a surprise release from Respawn Entertainment, has very quickly taken the battle royale genre, and frankly the gaming world, by storm. And in my opinion, after spending tens of hours playing it this past week, has definitively answered the question.
Developed by Respawn Entertainment, creators of the Titanfall series, Apex Legends injects the battle royale formula with several new ideas resulting in an overall fantastic experience. In its current state, players choose from eight legends each of which have unique abilities that can help your squad come become the champions. Similar in a way to Overwatch, each character has a distinct personality and players have quickly associated themselves with their favorites. But what’s most interesting, is how it impacts the player battles. Unlike other battle royale titles, you have to approach each individual battle accordingly, and understanding how each legend can be used against you is paramount. This helps to keep battles feeling fresh and interesting match after match, and is certainly a differentiator from other titles in the genre.
Beyond the legends though, the most notable aspect of Apex Legends is the ping system. Communication and squad play is imperative in battle royale games and Respawn has developed a non-verbal system that is now the bar for any future battle royale entries. Using a single button and integrated radial menu, you are able to identify loot, enemies, locations, drop points, and more, instantly. This means that playing with random players or those without microphones is actually viable for a change and once you get used to the system, it becomes second nature.
The smart design of Apex Legends is further extended to several quality of life improvements over your standard fare as well. Compatible attachments from weapons automatically transfer to new weapons you pick up, you are prevented from equipping armor that is of a lesser degree than you already have equipped, and all ammo and armor is color coded for instant identification. The armor color identification is even extended to landing hits on an enemy thus informing you of their armor quality and that key moment when you have broken through it. While these may not sound ground breaking on paper, in play they all come together to form a brilliantly streamlined experience that allows you to focus on the battle itself instead of managing menus and inventory.
Titanfall quickly become well known for its movement and gunplay and Respawn once again demonstrates their pedigree for creating shooters that simply feel right. Navigating the beautiful map is fluid, the controls are tight, and gun combat is near flawless. Most importantly, when I am outplayed it is due to the enemy and not the game itself which, in such a competitive game type, is critical. And even once killed, squad mates can respawn you at specific points on the map which presents a risk vs. reward scenario every time your squad considers it. But this presents an exciting alternative to members of your squad simply watching the rest of the match after dying. Quite frankly, Apex Legends is simply a joy a play and it is an area where it stands firmly above its competitors.
Apex Legends has completely captivated me. As someone who has been playing competitive shooters for over 20 years, and has hundreds of hours into other battle royale games, I’m in awe of what Respawn has accomplished. Of course there are some items I’d like to see in the short term such as expanded options for play (beyond the current 3 person squads) and deeper stat tracking. But with a road map already in place which will bring additional legends, maps, and items for players to unlock, the title has an incredibly bright future. And in that vein, it’s shown that the genre itself has a very bright future as well. Now, I’m off to play some more.