I haven’t been shy about my love of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Titanfall 2 in the past, but if you had tried to tell me that I would be playing a mashup of the two in 2019, I’d have laughed at you. But here we are in 2019, playing a Battle Royale game set in the Titanfall universe. And despite missing the series most outrageous movement mechanics, and the titular Titans, Apex Legends feels like the next evolution of the genre.
Taken at face value, you could be excused for thinking Apex Legends is just another Battle Royale shooter, but that impression changes as soon as you’re in a game. Because while many of the systems in Apex Legends will be familiar to seasoned Battle Royale players, respawn have introduced a bevy of smart and incredibly welcome changes. Some of these are endemic to the game’s setting, but others are completely new to the franchise and even to the genre itself. Combined with some great guns and tight and rewarding shooting mechanics, Apex Legends becomes something special.
Of these additions, what really sets Apex Legends apart is the Ping system. Communication has always been key to success and survival in a Battle Royale game, and everybody has had at least one experience where a player in their Squad doesn’t have a headset or is just not talking. What Respawn has done is introduce a new contextual mechanic in Apex Legends that allows you to highlight items, locations, weapons, enemies and even make requests via the press of a button. Point at an enemy and Ping, and that enemy’s location is highlighted for your Squad. Find a great weapon attachment you don’t need? Ping it to let the Squad know where and what it is for them to find. They can even respond with a return Ping to call dibs and have a marker added to their map. Got a sniper, but no scope? Jump into your inventory and you can Ping the open slot to let your team know what you need. All accompanied by contextually correct voice overs. I never knew I needed a system like this, but now that I have it, I want to see it come to every Battle Royale game.
There are other, less inceptive, changes that help set Apex Legends apart from its competition. You have the game’s movement mechanics, which are a toned-down version of the ones in Titanfall. Gone are the double jumps and wall running, but the fast run, high jumps, wall scrambles and slides are back. The map has been designed perfectly to these mechanics, with a plethora of walls and ledges to climb and slopes to slide down at pace. Combined with handy ziplines and balloons to launch yourself from, Apex Legends is designed to allow you to move at pace at all times, and it feels great. The other is in how weapon attachments and armour are handled. Gone are the days of remembering what level armour you have equipped or manually equipping your attachments. Instead, Apex Legends outright stops you from equipping armour that is worse than what you have currently equipped. Attachments? Auto-equipped to your main weapon by default, with lower quality attachments auto dropped or moved onto your second weapon. Instead of spending time manually adjusting your equipped attachments like in Battlegrounds, you can just fly through rooms picking up everything you see, safe in the knowledge that Apex Legends has your back. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Forced into squads of three, without the option for solo or duo play, Apex Legends removes options that were standard in other games in favour of a singular well-balanced mode with forced matchmaking. However, it’s a decision that is sure to rankle some, especially people like myself who really enjoyed the different dynamics and thrills of solo Battle Royale play. What it does mean, is that Respawn were able to balance the game’s Legends – Hero characters selected at the beginning of the game – knowing that there would always be three of them in every squad. Every Legend comes with their own unique skills, each with their own situational uses. Lifeline’s heal drone and care package are great at bolstering yourself in the early game, Gibraltar and Bangalore’s air strikes are fantastic at flushing out opponents in the late game, and Pathfinder’s zip line can be amazing at almost any point in the game. No one Legend feels overpowered and all of them have their own unique situational benefits that make them viable choices.
With Apex Legends being a free to play game, I would be remiss without covering the monetisation that Respawn have built into the game. At launch, there are two Legends locked behind currency purchases – both can be unlocked via purchased or earned currency – while the game’s cosmetics are largely locked behind loot boxes called Apex Packs or premium currency purchases. The game’s loot boxes contain a myriad of different customisation items, from weapons/character skins, unique character voice lines, character-specific stat trackers and more. While there is a guarantee of no duplicates – except for crafting materials, which can used to unlock skins of your choice – there is such a massive range of cosmetics in the game that it looks as though it is currently impossible to unlock everything without paying something. Given how granular some of these cosmetics are – to the point where you literally can’t display a stat beyond Kills without randomly getting a stat tracker via a loot box – it does feel as though it was a deliberate decision to try and push people to purchasing loot boxes. Sure, you unlock Apex Packs as rewards as you level up, but these currently stop being awarded at Level 100. This may change in the future as new Seasons begin, but right now there is a hard limit to what you can unlock/earn without paying up in Apex Legends.
While I love PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, after a swathe of technical issues and hacker problems I was waiting for a new Battle Royale sensation to take its place. Apex Legends is exactly that, a fantastic Battle Royale game that pushes the genre forwards with some incredible new mechanics and tight design. I would have loved to be able to play it solo, but that’s a relatively minor quibble for a game that has already eaten up some many hours of my time and will likely continue to do so for some time to come. At an upfront cost of absolutely nothing, I can’t help but wholeheartedly recommending at least giving it a shot.
- The Ping system is the best new mechanic in the genre - Matches are fast paced and fun - Shooting feels tight and rewarding - Map is well designed for the movement mechanics
- Lack of Solo and Duo play options - Multitude of granular customisation options push you towards loot boxes