The name ‘Apex Legends’ may not inspire much confidence, sounding like an amateur wrestling league or an overpriced protein shake, but Respawn would doubtlessly face a backlash had they connected this spin-off directly to Titanfall. While set in the same universe, it strips away numerous core elements, including the ability to wall run and the titular titans themselves.
Being franchise staples and all, it may initially seem like a bizarre decision. It just so happens there’s no place for colossal, rocket spewing, piloted mechs and the ability to sprint along vertical surfaces in Respawn’s take on Battle Royale. When given more than a few seconds thought, it makes perfect sense. It isn’t as if there’s nothing here to replace these elements, either.
Play just a few rounds of Apex Legends and Respawn’s vision becomes crystal clear. It’s more than evident that not only has Respawn spent a lot of time trying out the competition, taking notes about what works and what doesn’t, but they’ve also spent precious development time improving and refining the basics of the genre.
The result is nothing short of impeccable. At a time when most Battle Royale games feel as if they’re being shoved out the door while they’re the current hot thing, it’s refreshing to play something clearly held back until it was good ‘n ready.
Battles begin in a familiar fashion with players being jettisoned from a dropship, swiftly descending onto rugged terrain below. In this case, an island formed of distinct areas including a riverside shanty village, industrial complexes and a forest ravaged by fire. PUBG players will know how ‘make or break’ the initial drop can be, with some individuals immediately deserting the group. Apex Legends makes this issue a thing of the past by joining squads at the hip – so to speak – during descent.
Moreover, players can call out ideal or preferred locations using the ‘ping’ system. This is Apex Legends’ trump card – a pivotal feature allowing players to pinpoint loot, enemy locations, or provide directions using just a single button press. It works effortlessly, helping teams without mics communicate in the heat of the battle without resorting to messy radial menus. In a game where teamwork and communication are critical, this feature holds the package together single-handedly.
Once on the ground, the onus swiftly shifts. Players commence battle with no weapons, armour or health packs and so there’s a sense of urgency to grab vital loot before other players. There’s a wealth of stuff to look out for – weapons, armour, ammo, backpacks, weapon upgrades, and more – and thanks to equipment falling under different tiers, rated by rarity, looting continuously remains a focal point. It taps into that primal desire to constantly improve oneself, and although it’s possible to quickly become bulked down with reserve ammo, each new upgrade raises potential chances.
The brutally departed leave loot lockers behind too, allowing survivors to rearm and swipe upgrades from the fallen, purposely left defenceless while doing so. Fallen teammates also leave respawn beacons behind – another key feature. Carry these back to a respawn charger, and fallen squaddies (Apex Legends favours three-man squads currently) can be revived. Successfully bringing a squad back from the brink of death is satisfying, inducing another sense of urgency as you scurry to the nearest respawn point. Acting as an extra lifeline, it helps keep battles unpredictable.
Apex Legends also takes inspiration from Overwatch, introducing a cast of diverse characters. Eight in total, only two of which are locked behind a paywall – being a FTP release, there’s an in-game currency that can be either purchased or gained from battle. Characters fall into offence, defence and support classes and each has a distinct personality – with Pathfinder, a high spirited robot, being a personal favourite – along with unique abilities with cooldown timers. Most abilities benefit the whole team – Lifeline can heal the crew and summon supply pods, while others can call in mortar, toxic gas and airstrikes. Pathfinder can erect a zip line for all players to use, meanwhile.
Unlike Overwatch though, Apex Legends doesn’t allow for duplicate characters in a team – if somebody picks your ‘main’ then you’re forced to settle for your second, or possibly third, choice. This seems to be a purposeful design decision, making players become adept – and potentially master – a variety of characters, rather than just one. Of course, they each have a cubic tonne of unlockables, varying from weapon skins to finishing moves. The latter animations come across as tacked on, however, not really adding anything aside from a means to gloat.
We should probably move onto how the game feels. Unsurprisingly given Respawn’s back catalogue (Titanfall 2 was superb), they’ve nailed the flow of movement – there may be slightly better-looking games out there, but none move quite as smoothly. Sprinting and sliding remains a playful mechanic, the ability to run faster when weapons are stowed makes for a subtle nuance, and while wall running has been removed it’s still possible to scramble up walls and ledges.
There are other ways to get around quickly too, including the recently mentioned ziplines. Ingeniously, some are capable of propelling players across the map – vital for escaping enemy squads when outnumbered or fleeing from a no-go zone.
As you may expect, the battlefield shrinks at the end of each round, constantly pushing the remaining squads closer together. Rather than use the standard 100 player quota though, Respawn has opted for 20 three-man squads, bringing the player count to 60. The map was clearly made with this cap in mind as it’s uncommon to go more than five minutes without seeing an enemy.
Confrontations are exciting; a messy scramble if caught off guard, or dealt with swiftly and with precision if well-prepared and on high alert. The weapons all pack a punch, being the usual mixture of pistols, assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles with a slight sci-fi twist. You’re bound to find a favourite (and then spend the rest of the match scavenging for enhanced scopes, barrels, and mags).
It doesn’t take long for Apex Legends to hook, and when it does, it gets you deep. In addition to all the usual means of keeping you playing, such as a loot box after every level boost, there are some not too obvious methods afoot. Each character has a customisable banner showing current kill totals and other stats, all of which can be handpicked. During battle these banners can be found adorned on structures, giving current ‘kill leaders’ a spot in the limelight. Before a battle commences you’re shown the upper-tier competition too – the ‘best of the best’ from the match prior. Or in other words: the squad to beat.
With Apex Legends, Respawn has created a juggernaut – something that has the potential to grow and become even better over time. This is a game with legs. They may not be colossal, hydraulic, armour-plated legs any more (unless you’re playing as Pathfinder, we guess) but that’s okay – the sacrifice of the titans wasn’t in vain.
Respawn is a studio deserving of your faith. They’ve taken a concept starting to look stale, given it a good old shake-up, and delivered it with aplomb.
Now that’s how you hit the ground running.