Apex Legends Review
A new shiny tip for the Battle Royale spear
It seems like every fortnight another unknown player enters the Battle Royale arena. The genre has exploded, with millions of players accrued in a relatively short time. Existing franchises, like Battlefield and Call of Duty, are scrambling to implement the mode in order to cash in on the latest sensation. Enter Apex Legends from absolutely nowhere, developed by Respawn Entertainment and dropped on everybody’s lap just last week. Part Titanfall, part Overwatch, and part several other games in the genre, Apex Legends is a polished shooter with a glut of smart mechanics that elevate it from mere contender to potential leader.
Many will be familiar with Respawn Entertainment because of their recent Titanfall games. Before that, the developers worked on the Call of Duty series. All this experience with first person shooters put them in a unique position to push the Battle Royale genre forward. From the first moment you play Apex Legends, you’ll find out just how much that experience has helped in crafting one of the slickest shooters in years. Almost every aspect of Apex legends is so refined that it makes other Battle Royale games look stale.
Apex Legends is set in the Titanfall universe but it has no lumbering Titans and instead focuses on a bloodsport forged between ground soldiers. This competitive premise is not all that dissimilar to the original Unreal Tournament. It further encourages this in-game by displaying large banners of the current kill leaders (i.e. the squad you need to fear). Apex Legends has only one game mode on one large map; three-man squads scrounge for resources and try to outlive the others on the sprawling Kings Canyon map.
Kings Canyon is a suitably large area for the 60 player (20 squad) setup and it looks great. Like other Battle Royale games, players begin in a dropship and can land anywhere they can reach via gliding. From the beginning, Apex defines itself, as one player is designated the “Jumpmaster” and has full control over where the squad lands (unless they choose to fly solo). This results in healthy cohesion at the start of matches and is good for newbies who might struggle to make the distance. The Jumpmaster can land in busy areas or pick an outer zone and make the squad work towards the middle of the shrinking circle. Kings Canyon has many buildings where most weapons and items are located, but there are supply bins placed in the open to coax players away from interiors and provide a more obvious trail of breadcrumbs.
The map is split into large zones, occluded by sizable rock formations and other structures. These occlusions block both navigation and line-of-sight, offering isolation during combat and quelling the power of sniper rifles. The narrow channels (like tunnels or crevasses) that connect each region are great places to stage ambushes. Even the rolling sand dunes around Skull town offer suitable protection from long-range attacks. The map looks great, with excellent draw distance and bright colors. There are many design traits from the Titanfall games, including bones of giant creatures, ramshackle desert towns, lagoon huts, and swamps. Each zone in Kings Canyon is like a map from the Titanfall series, similar to Blackout in Call of Duty, and this helps the level stand tall after many hours.
Movement and gunplay is also exceptional. Many of the guns are replicas of those from the Titanfall games, albeit with balance tweaks, and they offer great punch without being unwieldy. Every player can carry two weapons of any type (pistols, assault rifles, shotguns etc.) and they all have a series of attachments. Combat isn’t just about the weapons; movement is first class as you are able to slide down declines and scale walls. There are no controllable vehicles, but they aren’t needed because ubiquitous zip-lines allow rapid traversal. There is no fall damage either, which is awesome in a map with significant changes in elevation.
Before you can get busy killing, you will need ammo and other resources to come away victorious. The game keeps a lot of things simple when managing the inventory. Ammo is color-based thus easily seen from a distance and quickly matched with weapons. Attachments that are not compatible with your current loadout have a cross over them in your inventory. Shields can be recharged with energy coils and standard healing items are easily identified. About the only clumsy aspect of managing resources happens when you open the box of a dead enemy (deathbox) and need to scroll through many items. Aside from this, the resource system is never a chore.
The ping feature also improves the general flow of play. Pinging objects is like a merger between Battlefield’s spotting system and Starsiege Tribes’ (1998) communication functions. It allows for rapid transmission of useful information. One button press will tag a helmet for your squad, and you know they need it because the game tells you what armor they have. If you see enemies, another button will tag their current location. You can even ask for specific ammo. There is far less reliance on voice chat compared to Blackout and pinging is often superior because it has persistence. Telling people where armor is located via the scratchy voice chat is one way to do it; tagging it with a ping and continuing your search is so much better. The ping system alone elevates Apex Legends above the pack.
Players each take the role of a Legend, which is basically like a hero from Overwatch with an ultimate ability and unique skills. Every Legend has both an active ability, that recharges fairly quickly, and passive ability. Lifeline is a combat medic, and she is able to drop a healing drone (active) and deploy a shield when reviving (passive). Pathfinder has a grapple and can drop a zip-line as an ultimate. Wraith can disappear into the veil, becoming impervious to damage, and her ultimate links two portals together. Since each Legend has a specific skill set you can anticipate their strengths, unlike the random perk system in Blackout. Only one of each character is allowed per squad, so it is easy to be useful with unique skills. Most Legends are entertaining to play and they have a personality which shines throughout the match, like when the circle is about to shrink. While Legends have useful abilities, they take nothing away from the shooting experience.
When you die, it’s not time to quit. Apex Legends includes a clever second chance system where any surviving squad members can recover your banner, from your deathbox, and respawn you at one of the single-use beacons scattered around the map. It’s not rare for one player to escape combat and hide somewhere before venturing back to recover the fallen. It can even happen a few times per match. This recovery period encourages stealth play because you have to avoid the killers and any other enemies between you and the, possibly distant, respawn beacon. It’s tense to be the sole survivor and have the lives of your squad literally in your hands. Finally respawning your squad after a close call is an incredible feeling and makes for a palatable Battle Royale experience where one failure is not always the end.
Normal revive is still present, for when you only suffer knockdown damage. And that, too, can be quite exciting because you can enable a shield to protect yourself from frontal damage. Killers can bypass this by performing a lengthy finishing move, but it makes them vulnerable. With the shield present, players are less intent on killing downed foes, and they may instead hunt for the remaining squad members, creating this epic cat and mouse game as players scramble, confuse, encircle, revive, heal, and more.
Many firefights can be quite prolonged due to the knockdown system, shield recharging, and other abilities. It can be quite the battle to face another squad of equal ability as you retreat to heal/recharge and then go in again to find they have done the same. The only issue with combat is how much reliance there is on the shield—level four shields are godly. There are a lot of things to consider in combat and it’s only really the presence of another squad that turns everything pear-shaped. But then again, that extra element of chaos can break a stalemate.
Apex Legends is free, which is fantastic. Seriously, go play it now. There is tremendous value in the base game and you’ll acquire some cosmetics by levelling up at a decent pace. New Legends are due for release over the next few months, along with more weapons and other loot.
But the game has three currencies, which is the first point of concern because it complicates and obfuscates what you get and how to buy it. Two of the launch Legends are locked away, and they can be bought outright at a decent value of about $7.50 a pop. You can also play for about 20 hours to unlock one for free, but that’s where the good news ends.
Just about every cosmetic you can buy, with real money, is terrible value. Apex packs (aka loot boxes) cost about a dollar and they are the only way to get crafting metals. Legendary skins cost 1200 crafting metals and 20 Apex packs only provided a measly 240. Do the math and you’re looking at a fortune just for a skin you want. Even time-limited skins cost $18 each. On top of that, there are banners, tracking stats, quips, and finisher animations which all require crafting metals. Why not let players buy everything directly? Why have three currency types? Some players won’t care, others will ignore it, but it’s an overpriced economy that sours the overall experience.
The game performs great most of the time and rarely puts a foot wrong with things like customisable controls, interface, and visual settings. Framerate is smooth and consistent. Unfortunately we did experience some random, errorless crashes that can happen at the start of games or right in the middle of the action.
Apart from the wacko cosmetic prices and intermittent crashes, Apex Legends is the next big thing for the Battle Royale genre. The improvements begin from the moment you step out of the dropship, via Jumpmasters, and continue until after you die, in the form of respawning beacons. Weapon handling and player movement is excellent and the map looks great while being well structured for intense battles that feature unique Legends. More Battle Royale games are sure to come, but they will need to consider Apex Legends if they want to be the champions of the arena.