When a gaming company starts a mysterious stream on Twitch on a Monday morning and hundreds of thousands of gamers flock to the chat to spam emotes and wait literally hours for whatever this gaming company, however maligned, has to announce, it’s difficult to sit on the sidelines and not wonder exactly what the fuss is about. I found myself watching the stream with very low expectations from a publisher that has let me down so frequently in the past, but what I was treated with over my lunch break at work was a new title from Respawn Entertainment, creators of the much loved Titanfall series. What followed was a wave of emotions, ranging from elation to disappointment, as this new title revealed itself as so many things at once: a member of the Titanfall universe (Great!), a battle royale game (Not a fan!), a hero shooter (I guess I like those…), and the project that Respawn had been working on for so long that ISN’T Titanfall 3 (Booooooo!). I rushed home to download the game that night and now, many games, many hours, and a few wins later, I write this review as a rabid fan and unrepentant addict of Apex Legends.
Title: Apex Legends
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PC
Release Date: February 4, 2019
Game Downloaded Freely for the Purpose of This Review
As with any form of media, gaming moves in waves and trends that follow popular interest and the technical capabilities available to the modern consumer. In my formative preteen years, I watched the rise of the MMORPG and spent countless hours slaving away in the Olthoi nests of Asheron’s Call, my mind constantly blown that I was in a living, breathing world with thousands of other individuals each trying to become their own definition of a hero. Of course, the game was rife with flaws and poor design, but the fresh and nubile mind in my head was quick to forgive these shortcomings in favor of spending time in such an imaginative setting. Years later, with the inspiration of the likes of Asheron’s Call, Everquest, Shadowbane, Ultima Online, and many others, Blizzard released a near-perfect combination of all of the best aspects of each of these games, set in its already fan-favorite universe of Warcraft. World of Warcraft dominated (and, 14 years and some change later, continues to dominate) the MMORPG market in a way that quite literally destroyed any incoming competition, because each iteration of the genre following seemed like a lousy rip-off of features that already worked just fine in a game all of your friends were already playing.
Fast-forward through many short-lived trends of gaming and you would likely find yourself talking to friends about the newest hit genre of 2017, Battle Royale. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite have dominated this market with ease for nearly two years. Imitators have come and gone, but it nearly seemed that the genre had run its course and would live and die under the banner of Epic Games. I am pleasantly surprised to be wrong, as for me and seemingly millions of others, Apex Legends has become the World of Warcraft of Battle Royale games – ride the wave of popularity, learn from your predecessors, perfect the formula, and pick up the straggling gamers waiting for the next big thing. Nearly everything in Apex Legends builds, expands, and improves on its forefathers, while stripping away the tired and broken pieces we were all ready to be rid of.
Apex Legends appears on the surface as the next ho-hum battle royale shooter from a quick look, but the welcome changes immediately arrive before you even play your first match. Before the match starts, you get to pick one of eight unique heroes, or “legends”, as named by the title of the game. Each legend has a unique passive, activated, and ultimate ability. These work very similar to popular hero shooter Overwatch, with a few differences. The abilities in Apex are typically on much longer cooldowns, forcing you to think a lot harder about when and how you use them. The ultimate abilities charge up over time, again similar to Overwatch, however slower. Despite the more infrequent use of legend abilities compared to Blizzard’s counterpart, the abilities seem more insignificant. They can sway the dynamics of a firefight moderately or give you downtime or post-battle benefits, but never feel as if they completely sway a battle to one team’s favor. As such, switching between legends, when you may not get to pick your main from the legend select screen, causes little stress to the user because you won’t be relying on your abilities for the majority of your playtime. As should be expected, Apex matches are won on the backs of superior gunners.
You drop onto the island with no weapons, armor, or items, and like Fortnite, you have to find the guns strewn about various buildings and encampments placed on the map. The guns are plentiful enough that typically you will find a gun at the beginning of each match, so long as you drop near a building. But just because you find a gun doesn’t mean you’ll find THE gun. The guns in Apex Legends each have their own style of shooting, kickback, fire rate, range, clip size, damage, and feel. Over time, certain guns will fit your style more comfortably, much like the variety of guns presented to players in the Counter-Strike series. A number of sniper rifles, shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, and SMGs await your use, and with the variety available, it doesn’t take long to ease into a favorite that you’ll be begging your teammate to trade for. The guns work well, sound threatening, and hit hard and, despite all of the other fun additions to the genre, are the true highlight of the game. Each gun also comes with modification slots that improve the effectiveness of the gun in various situations. These modifications, also found throughout the world, vary in quality and availability, and finding an epic or legendary attachment for your sniper rifle feels like you’ve already won the game. Even though you probably won’t.
As you search for guns and gear on your favorite legend, you’ll be happy to see one of the most beautiful and detailed shooter settings available. The island you drop onto has swamps, ruins, caves, mountains, deserts, bunkers, markets, artillery bases, and shanty towns. The island is small enough to see most of it in just a few matches, given you live long enough to escape the damaging aura that closes in every couple of minutes to draw the survivors closer together. No inch of the map is wasted as you struggle for places to hide, gain vantage over your enemy, and survive. The loot changes position each match as well, with rare or epic loot spawning in different locations each time. Before long, you’ll have a favorite spot to drop on the map with your favorite legend as you search for your favorite gun.
Unfortunately, the chances of that spot and gun being someone else’s favorite are pretty high. Only 60 players (or 20 squads of three) drop onto the island each match, which initially caused me worry that I would wander the island aimlessly looking for people to kill only to waste 15 minutes before the first people I saw headshot me. Respawn meticulously built a map that is just big enough for 60 people, and areas that are perfectly built for small squads of players to duke it out between each other. If squads of three don’t sound fun to you and you prefer either large teams of friends or solo survivorship a la Bear Grylls, I have a feeling you won’t have to wait long. The number of players each match allows, 60, is conveniently divisible by each number between one and six, a fact and option I’m sure Respawn has deeply considered.
Aside from perfection of the many familiar aspects of its predecessors, Apex Legends introduces welcome additions to such a competitive scene. My favorite is the ping mechanic, which functions so well that it might be my favorite part of the game, period. For a game so focused on teamwork and communication, it is vital to alert each other of positional movement around the map, enemy locations, and good loot finds that you think they might benefit from. Respawn has added a system that doesn’t require you to participate in voice chat with your teammates, though that function is built-in as well. A simple click (or occasional double-click) will add a non-obtrusive marker to the map, color coded by what you pinged, and individualized with a voice line from your legend. There’s even a method of calling dibs on items you particularly want.
Next comes the most satisfying movement mechanic in recent shooter memory – the slide. Crouching is essential in every shooter game, but simple physics make it difficult to reach a safe crouch from a full sprint. Go ahead, try it. Careful of your knees. Instead, if you are in a sprint or moving quickly and press the crouch button, your character will go into a foot-first slide that increases your speed in downhill movement, as well as lowers your character to the ground, making you much harder to hit. It works so well that I frequently find myself sliding just for the satisfaction of it.
Finally, Respawn understands that battle royale is a game of high risk, high reward. With all things being equal (which they aren’t, but for arguments sake), a 20-squad match means you should win, on average, 5% of your games. It can be frustrating to die in an early firefight from an enemy you possibly never even saw hiding behind a rock. Introducing the banner mechanic. If an enemy manages to both knock you down and kill your legend, your teammates will have a short time to retrieve a banner from your loot, take it to a predesignated respawn station, and summon you back onto the battlefield to continue your quest to victory. You will have no guns or gear when you arrive back onto the battlefield, but with a little luck in nearby loot, getting back into the action makes the high-risk nature of battle royale games much more palatable.
The game has only been out for a few short days, so inevitably, it’s not perfect. The game is free, and while the microtransactions are mostly cosmetic, the grind to accumulate currency for your desired items seems arduous. Two of the unlocks are additional Legend characters, and after 5 days of play with multiple hours each day, I haven’t yet gotten enough currency to unlock one of them. The game also suffers from some optimization and matchmaking issues on PC, so you will occasionally be inexplicably dropped from your party, experience screen-tearing, or disconnect from a match prematurely. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to believe that EA and Respawn aren’t working diligently to resolve these issues. For a game that has been out less than a week for the public and has experienced concurrent player loads of over one million, it works swimmingly well.
My mother always told me that forgiveness is a virtue. EA, publisher of Apex Legends, has made it difficult to embody this attribute because over the course of many sunken dollars, they have disappointed me with undelivered promises, pricey in-game transactions, and abandoned developments. However, like a beaten dog, I’ve come whimpering back to their wide open, well-polished arms. Apex Legends is fun, it’s addicting, and the urge to play JUST ONE MORE is ever present. It’s difficult to say after not even a week since its launch, but if you’re looking for the next big competitive game, Apex Legends might just be it. I, for one, will be happy if it is.
9.0 / 10