It’s not Titanfall 3, which looks like it may now never be a thing, but Apex Legends has enough going for it to sway even the most jaded of battle royale players. It’s not a completely original idea, taking different bits from some of its most successful peers (and even those that totally flatlined), but those not wanting to splash the cash for Blackout would do very well to look Apex Legends’ way. I’ve already had more fun with it in three hours than I ever did with Call of Duty’s offering.
A squad-based battle royale, Apex Legends follows a familiar formula: drop, loot, survive. It does, however, quickly establish its own identity from the moment you jump out of the ship as the “Jumpmaster” in your squad is able to suggest where to land and then automatically guide their two teammates to that destination, though they are also able to break away at any moment. Once you’ve landed, the wildly varied looting begins with there being multiple options for armour based on rarities and so many weapon choices that it’s difficult to know which one to pick. Playing on a PS4 sans aim assist, those with little recoil and high damage output are your best bets.
Before that, you have your choice of six “legends” (eight with microtransactions, but more on that later) who take up roles not dissimilar to Overwatch — or basically any class-based game ever. There does seem to be a crazy dependence on Bloodhound for most squads at the moment thanks to his scanning abilities and overpowered “ultimate” with Gibraltar, basically the tank class, being the least picked. Some balance changes are certainly required, not only to make Bloodhound less tempting but also to make some of the other characters more appealing. So far, about 75% of my matches have included Bloodhound, Lifeline (a medic), and Wraith (the duchess of edge who can go invisible) in our squad.
These characters are murdering each other as part of a game show set in the Titanfall universe, though Apex Legends is wise to avoid the try-hard nature of Radical Heights in that regard. At the start of each match, a Champion will be declared based on their performance from the last match with XP gains going to whoever kills them, as well as the player with the most kills getting a bounty on their head. There are other quirks, such as a balloon that will allow you immediate verticality, but there’s nothing too gratuitous or on the nose in Apex Legends. It’s considerably more “out there” than the likes of Blackout and has a lot to get to grips in your first hour, but it never feels like it’s trying too hard to be different to everything else.
There are two Apex Legends mechanics that make it worth playing: respawning and pinging. Once a teammate is down, they are not necessarily out of the fight with you being able to take their banner card to a respawn beacon to call them back in. This causes unbearable tension towards the end of a match, the zone at your back as you wait patiently for the timer to finish and bring your teammate back to the fight. Pinging, meanwhile, is one of the most intuitive ways of playing off-mic I’ve seen in a while as it allows you to, with a simple press of R1, highlight items for your random teammates to use or let them know that an enemy is ahead. It’s lucky this is so good because voice chat is so terrible, other players sounding like they’re trapped in some kind of stone.
In terms of how Apex Legends feels to play, it’s no Titanfall. It doesn’t have the same speed or fluidity that the severely underrated franchise is known for, presumably because EA looked at Black Ops 4 (and even WWII) and decided that nobody wanted that anymore, which is odd considering that Respawn perfected the wall-running that Call of Duty co-opted. Players can still slide and put away their weapons to run faster, but it’s not quite the same. That’s not to say that Apex Legends feels lethargic; far from it. The map’s relatively small size means that the sixty players will bump into each other often, so you can expect to walk away from each match with at least a couple of kills to your name.
While the gameplay of Apex Legends may tempt you to finally let go of Fortnite and the ego-killing that comes with being habitually dunked on by young children, its monetisation practices may give you pause for thought. As a free-to-play experience, it has cosmetic content that you can buy with the fake money you earn through playing or the fake money you buy with real money — if a game has more than one currency, that’s usually a giant red flag. To make things worse, EA, for some insane reason despite the recent FIFA furore, decided that loot boxes needed to be a feature of Apex Legends. The items are “only” cosmetic, but the tactics typically employed for hooking players in to spend real money — free crates, almost pointless earned currency — on what is effectively just gambling feels totally insidious. For all its misdeeds, at least Fortnite doesn’t have loot boxes, because it actually respects its audience.
As it stands, Apex Legends is one of the most exciting battle royale games out there in need of some balance changes and a serious inward look at what kind of game it wants to be in terms of monetisation. Comparisons to Blackout and Overwatch feel unavoidable, but Respawn have created something that feels almost totally fresh with a clear pathway for a successful future. If they can support it almost half as well as Epic have with Fortnite, this could be a serious contender.