I have spent far too much money on Apex Legends, the free-to-play battle royale that is making a huge name for itself thanks to ingeniously simple twists on a well-established formula. I’ve been dumping a lot of my free time into Apex of late, and to clarify, I adore it more than many other games in recent memory. What I do not adore, however, is how its progression is so inherently linked to microtransactions.
It sunk its hooks into me early on with its two introductory packs to help me unlock Mirage and Caustic, its two DLC characters that are locked from the off (despite being heavily featured in early promotional material, but let’s not get into that). Since then, I’ve gone on to just throw money at the game; a few Apex Coins here and there, sometimes dabbling with the second tier purchase because it’s “better value”. The almost immediate regret is always forgotten the next time.
I have never been someone to dump that much money into one game, and especially not in the way Apex Legends has compelled me to in such a short space of time. That’s all down to its progression system, which feels like it would be the hot topic of Reddit if it weren’t for the game’s free nature. There’s nothing to be earned in Apex Legends that will give you an in-game advantage (other than arguably psychological benefits), but the entire system is set up to prod you towards further investment at the expense of a meaningful sense of pride and accomplishment, all while engaging in predatory practices that have been the end of other games.
My addictive personality can easily get the better of me, so I am always inherently wary of anything featuring random chance: I barely play anything with loot boxes in for this reason. Apex Legends normalises its loot boxes almost immediately by doling them out to you for free when reaching new levels, which happens with ease within your first few hours of play. After a while, they dry up and are given out every other level before then been giving out every five levels after reaching level 50 and do you see where I am going with this?
Perhaps the Apex Packs would be less enticing if you earned everything you needed within the 45 free ones you receive on your way to reaching level 100. While you have a 1 in 30 chance of unpacking a Legendary item, you also need to consider just how much guff is also included in the loot crate lottery, unlockables that feel like bric-a-brac chucked in at the last minute to pad it out. Stat trackers and quips are two things that you will grow tired of seeing, the first because you should not have to depend on random chance to show off your accomplishments, and the second because they are rarely heard, especially for intro quips as you have to be in the Champion Squad for anyone else to hear them.
The distribution of these unlockables is even worse when considering that they are spread out across eight different characters who all have to unlock their own stat trackers, quips, skins, banners, poses, and finishers. As a Lifeline main (yes, I grew to accept it), I have yet to “earn” a single Legendary skin. But I do have about ten skins in total for Pathfinder, along with basically everything conceivable for Caustic, somehow. The pull of the Apex Packs is too much to resist for those who want all the shiny things, and they know this because they planned for it.
You may argue that you can just outright buy skins and cosmetics in Apex Legends, but they’re a hard sell as they are. With not-even-that-nice skins going for roughly $20 in the barely rotational store, your next option is crafting materials, but guess how you earn those? Apex Packs. All Legendary items cost 12000 materials and with all the materials themselves having their own rarities, you can be assured that you will be unpacking a lot of Apex Packs before you have as much as you need to unlock anything that’s really worthwhile. I am closing in on 100 total Apex Packs unpacked and am still at around 900 crafting materials, though I have admittedly invested tiny amounts into stat trackers for Lifeline.
The progression system is entirely designed to funnel players towards further investment, which would come under far more scrutiny if Respawn didn’t have so much goodwill as a developer and the game wasn’t a finished and free product. A Redditor’s recent post about spending $500 just to unlock the Heirloom set (read: an artificially lucrative set of cosmetics that have a less than 1% chance of being unpacked) for Wraith was met with just as much shock as it was scorn for the player in question. They had no prior inclination to pour money into a game before, but found himself emptying his wallet and received what he wanted at the very last opportunity, making himself a whale in the process. I was on a similar path before I snapped myself out of it, the small purchases damn quickly adding up.
What EA and Respawn have here is a golden goose, one that could very well safeguard their futures for years to come, especially with a Battle Pass in the not too distant future. With the playerbase wising up to the nefarious business practices now some of the early Apex Legends sheen has dulled, it becomes a question of what they want Apex Legends to be remembered for.
“Even the most jaded of battle royale fans will find their interest rejuvenated by Apex Legends thanks to Respawn’s attention to detail, superior gunplay, and fantastic innovations, though the loot boxes and progression system certainly need addressing.”