Apex Legends boasts fast-paced action, a good selection of weapons, and places an emphasis on teamwork. It might not convert the PUBG faithful or Fortnite fans, but there's no denying that Apex is very special indeed
- Fast, frantic combat
- Best-in-class movement
- Three dimensional characters
- Gorgeous artstyle
- Everyone is a bullet sponge
- Limited ammo to loot
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Genre: Battle Royale FPS
- Developer: Respawn
- Publisher: EA
It’s best to think of Apex Legends, the new battle royale title from Titanfall developers Respawn Entertainment, as the latest in a long parade of triple-A multiplayer shooters desperately trying to capture the zeitgeist after PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds came along and blew things wide open.
However Apex Legends – which is free to play and chock full of cosmetics and three different in-game currencies to try and convince you to open your wallet – stands aside from many recent attempts at the battle royale genre because of both the sheer quality of the product on offer, but also Respawn’s desire and ability to innovate.
It starts before you click play. In Apex Legends, you always play as a trio. While you can lone wolf, death comes easiest in this game when you’re alone, so most of the fighting and skirmishing takes place in tense battles between several teams of three, drawn together like combat moths to the combat flame.
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Hit the play button, and you’re asked which of several characters you want to play as. Unlike say Call of Duty‘s Blackout, these characters have unique abilities, with a tactical ability, passive ability and an ultimate all in there to mix things up. These vary in power, but generally no character seems particularly powerful compared to the others.
Frontline fighter Bangalore has smoke grenades that can be launched with pinpoint accuracy to obscure the battlefield, or an ultimate ability that carpet bombs an area with rockets. Shoot at her while she’s running and she’ll get a speed boost, helping her flee to cover. It’s a cohesive kit, and means that either closing distance or getting the hell out of a fight that’s turned against you is easy.
Meanwhile, robot friend Pathfinder excels at route finding – surprise surprise – as he can hack the arena’s GPS towers to find out what the next circle will be. Then he has access to a grapple hook, or a more permanent zipline gun that can be used to get your team up to hard to reach places or help them ambush someone in a tricky spot.
Apex Legend‘s characters have clearly defined roles, and it’s easy to imagine Respawn dropping new units into the mix at a later date. There are already two in there, Mirage and Caustic. You can buy these, but I managed to unlock one via playing. The credits system is fairly generous in game, although playing 10 hours for one character might be a little much for some people, especially as it’s based on performance.
Out of the eight launch characters, there’s a diverse bunch. Non-binary characters, people of colour, several women with a bunch of different body shapes and suitably realistic combat armour and even a robot make up the roster.
There’s a certain type of person on the internet that’s going to be aggravated you have to pay money or invest serious time to unlock Caustic, the only white man on the roster at launch. You shouldn’t listen to those people: every character in this game has bundles more personality than – whisper it – Overwatch.
There’s also a wealth of customisation options with quips, poses and even brutal execution moves that really reinforces this abundance of personality. All of these characters are ruthless killers, that much is true. But there’s a lot more to them than that, which the game should be applauded for. It would have been easy to just slap some skins on a few units and send them out to fight.
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Get past your character selection and you and your buddies are airdropped over the map. This is the same as most battle royale games as you look at the flight path and pick a point to land. But hey, here you can be the jump master. See, although you can break loose and do your own thing, the randomly chosen jump master guides the team in to the drop zone, all three character flying through the air together in beautiful formation.
The map is made up of a mixture of worn-out industrial areas, shanty towns and stunning countryside. Apex Legends is set in the same world as Titanfall, but while there was a utopian gleam to much of that world, here everything looks grim and worn down, your team picking through a hastily abandoned airbase or overgrown power plant. This gloom is counteracted by the colourful artwork, which is so picturesque you’d be tempted to pull out a camera if it wasn’t for all the gun-toting killers.
Brave teams can try to start their game by landing on the moving supply ship, guaranteeing themselves access to some good loot, provided they can fight off the multitude of other teams with the same idea.
Dropping hot and landing on the supply ship ready for combat is exhilarating although often lethal, as you have to weigh up the risk and reward, often grabbing a gun and some ammo before leaping from the supply ship to the ground several hundred feet below, protected by Apex Legend‘s total lack of fall damage.
Then comes the arduous task of reuniting with the rest of your team, but some of my fondest memories are of tearing through those corridors and out into the open air, sometimes with a downed colleague falling out of the sky next to me, begging for a revive.
The slightly goofy brawl for dominance is backed up by the game’s own insistence that everything here is a game show. You’ll get an XP bonus for killing the game’s champion, the player who, statistically, is most likely to walk away with the win. Until they get aced, they’ll appear on huge billboards around the arena showing off their cosmetics, a victory pose and some player-chosen details of their player statistics.
This works in several cases as intimidation. I’ve made a hasty retreat from an enemy who had racked up 569 kills over the two days the Apex Legends has been available, or kept myself low when I realise I’m being fired at by the game’s current kill leader, who has racked up nine kills and wants me to be their first double digits kill.
The game show vibe lends Apex Legends even more personality, but there’s also something about being in an arena with the 60 foot tall killing machine being shown off on every billboard that adds a buzz of excitement that can quickly turn to terror when the gunfire starts.
On the ground, teamwork is achieved by sticking close together, augmented by one of the best ping systems I’ve ever seen in a game. The incredibly responsive ping system lets you mark enemies, flag up a spare helmet or even highlight an open door as evidence that someone has been through here, warning teammates to keep their guard up.
The simpler pings: “let’s go here”, “look at this loot”, “that there is an enemy with a gun” are all handled with a quick click of the middle mouse button, while holding the middle mouse down gives access to a wider array of options like suggesting an area to defend or a variety of other context-sensitive options.
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I’ve said it once but it bears repeating: you work together or you will die alone here. Death can be rapid with three guns turned on you, and so the most success seems to happen when you’re happy to stick together, communicating constantly.
Occasionally you’ll lose people even in a successful fight, but if you can get back to your teammates body in just the right amount of time, you can pull their banner from their loot and haul it back to a respawn point where they will return to the fray. Going into a fight with just one or two characters against a full team of three is often tantamount to suicide, so trying to keep everyone alive or respawning them if they get cut down is essential.
I’m going deep here to describe a mass of different systems that link together to offer up one of the most compelling battle royale games that I’ve played. This is tied up with a kinetic movement system that feels fresh out of Titanfall, a game famed for how good moving felt. There’s no wall running here, and the loss of a double jump is also a bitter pill to swallow, but moving at a sprint, or using the godly slide, is sublime.
Break into a sprint in Apex Legends and mash the crouch button and you’ll go into a slide. You can hold this slide as long as you have momentum, and it appears Respawn has designed as much of the map as possible to feel like a giant bowl, with all paths to the middle curving slightly downwards to let you slide as much as possible.
This is one of the best things about Apex Legends, and leaping from a roof while under fire and landing in a slide – which moves you faster than a sprint at the expense of some precise movement control – feels so satisfying it’s hard not to look at other shooters and ask how they’re getting it so wrong when Respawn Entertainment can breeze in and just surprise release a game that is kinaesthetic paradise.
The gunplay is best in class too, with the feedback on a sniper rifle headshot or a close range shotgun feeling so so satisfying, while the guns are well designed and often look incredible. There are a few problems here, in that the ultra-responsive movement system paired with a precision-demanding combat system often results in frustrating early firefights. Movement is fluid and recoil is quite pronounced, so I’ll find that several firefights still end with me peppering the entire horizon with a submachine gun magazine as my would-be victim dances around me in circles, punching me to death.
Further combat woes come from the game’s limited pool of ammunition and exceptionally strong shields. Executing a downed character can often result in you blowing through a backpack full of ammo just to finish someone who’s no longer a threat, while trying to engage an armoured opponent that’s actively trying to evade you is phenomenally irritating.
However, these are adjustable numbers and I’ve taken pleasure in the fact that few battle royale games have felt this polished in their initial release, and that with a bit of luck everyone will soon carry around a little less armour, a little more ammunition. We’re here to kick ass and chew gum, after all.
Meanwhile, the swirling chaos of attachments, armour and weaponry is easy to understand: a white item is average quality, but get your hands on a yellow legendary and you’ve struck gold in more ways than one.
Attachments like stocks, recoil dampeners, bigger magazines and even some sort of contraption that makes the Peacekeeper shotgun an absolute murder machine all have a substantial effect on your playstyle. Legendary support items like armour, helmets, knockdown shields or backpacks also come with bonus perks, such as faster ultimate cooldowns and the one-off ability to revive yourself.
For me, Apex Legends has been a story of near-misses. I’ve finished second in most of the games I’ve played at this stage, but the actual win has eluded me, often due to a clever play or someone with better reflexes sliding round a corner and ending me with a shotgun blast to the face.
But games like this are a journey, as I slowly work my way up to competence and eventually even confidence. In this case, it’s a path I’m excited to work my way down, which is one of the best endorsements I can give Apex Legends.
Apex Legends is the real deal. While it might not convert the PUBG faithful or fans of the candy coloured build-fest that is Fortnite, there’s no denying that Respawn’s latest effort is very special indeed.
There are problems, and the balance issue that currently lets every character wade around like an unkillable superman is certainly something I want to see resolved, but the foundations of the game – detailed teamwork, slick movement and good weapons handling – are all present and correct. With two friends at your side, this could be one of the best free FPS games out there.