Apex Legends Review

February 14, 2019
Also on: PS4, Xbox One
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Under the late Steve Jobs, Apple had a happy knack of entering markets late but with a product that to many was more polished and precise than those that had gone before it. These new products would often introduce elements that would be copied by its rivals when it was painfully obvious that whatever it was should’ve been there all along. After spending many hours playing Apex Legends — Respawn Entertainment’s entry into the Battle Royale genre — we get the feeling that this is one of those moments.

Having played many rounds of PUBG, trying — and failing — to understand how to properly build in Fortnite, this reviewer had pretty decided that Battle Royale really wasn’t my thing. I get the appeal and have nothing but respect for those who can build, shoot and loot all without skipping a beat. However, when rumours started swirling about a Battle Royale set in the Titanfall universe my interest was piqued. I was a big fan of both Titanfall games and feel that they were criminally underappreciated. Multiplayer in the original was a breath of fresh air whereby anyone, regardless of skill, felt like they were contributing if only because they could kill minions and drop in their Titans, pilot kills be damned!

Are you the Jumpmaster? I’m the gatekeeper… or something.

When the rumours became fact and Apex Legends dropped without any big marketing campaign behind it we were a bit surprised. However, when lead producer Drew McCoy spoke to Eurogamer the reason for this was simple, "To try and convince a skeptical audience for months with trailers and hands-on articles, we're just like 'let the game speak for itself'” — and boy has it! It amassed one million concurrent players within eight hours of its launch, over ten million players over its first weekend and twenty-five million inside its first week. To say the launch was a resounding success is a massive understatement. Compare that to the current king of Battle Royale, Fortnite, which took twenty-four hours and two weeks respectively to reach similar milestones, you start to get a sense of just how successful its launch has been.

This doesn’t guarantee that Apex Legends is going to be bigger than Fortnite, but it’s a very strong start and there’s likely to be a collective sigh of relief at EA. So how, exactly, did it manage to be this successful so quickly? Going back to our Apple analogy at the start of this piece, what Respawn has done, in our opinion, is taken a good long look at the Battle Royale formula and applied their own twist much as they did with multiplayer in the original Titanfall. The features they’ve brought in, which we’ll get to, make things simpler, more inclusive and a blast to play. Even when we’ve experienced a squad wipe within the first minute or two we were still enjoying ourselves and quickly readying ourselves up to get back into the fray. That ‘one more round’ feeling is still there despite ploughing hours and hours of playtime and with every round we play the more we fall in love with this upstart of a game.

The varied races, genders and identities of the Legends are refreshing as they are awesome.

When you load up for the first time you’re taken through a brief tutorial that explains the basic mechanics and it’s here, before you’ve played against any actual opponents that Apex Legends introduces it’s trump card — the ping system. Simply put, you can play entire rounds and never need to type or say anything to anyone on your three-person squad. By using the ping system on a building ahead — the middle-mouse button by default — your character will verbally suggest “let’s go this way” and a ping will appear on the hud of your squadmates. Ping a weapon and it’ll advise of what the weapon is or, if it’s armour, the type and level. You can ping enemies, any piece of loot, supply crates and so on. Literally anything you ping will be accompanied by a verbal notification and a visual one.

This one little feature, by itself, is a revelation and I can attest to its success given I was able to win more than one battle without ever muttering a word to anyone. No matter how toxic things may get, you can safely disable voice and text communications here and still contribute and be fed useful information. More importantly, from an accessibility side of things, the ping system alongside text-to-speech and speech-to-text functions has the potential to assist and welcome into the fold gamers who may have previously avoided other online multiplayer games. Couple this with a varied cast of Legends featuring characters from different races, backgrounds and two characters who are members of the LGBTQ community there is representation here seldom seen in many other games of its ilk.

It may not be top tier but it’s protection!

Each round starts by a player selecting which Legend they wish to be. Each one has a passive ability, one main ability and an ultimate which charges as you play. You can find Ultimate Accelerants around like you would any other pieces of loot and these can fast charge your ultimate so you can use it sooner. How you make up your squad won’t make or break your round but having a good mix of abilities does help. Many new to Apex Legends will likely go with Bangalore to begin with. Her abilities are well-rounded and her double-time passive ability, giving you a speed boost, is great if you need to get out of trouble. Lifeline is another great stepping-off point and her shield when reviving downed squadmates increases your chances of getting everyone back on their feet in a firefight.

In all there are eight characters with six unlocked from the start. The digital tracker Bloodhound, dimension hopping Wraith, the tank Gibraltar and the robot Pathfinder alongside the aforementioned soldier Bangalore and combat medic Lifeline are your available six. The trickster Mirage and delightfully evil Caustic can be unlocked with either Apex Credits — Apex Legends’ paid-for in-game currency — or Legend Tokens which you earn when you level up. If you’re a Origin or EA Access member you’re gifted one thousand Apex Credits, enough to unlock one of them or buy ten Apex packs which are Apex Legends’ equivalent of loot boxes. At the moment, the only thing you get in these packs are cosmetic items and crafting materials so, right now, there’s no pay-to-win element within the game. Some may still decry the fact that there are loot boxes at all but, given Apex Legends is free-to-play they’ve got to recoup the money from somewhere.

Once your squad of three is assembled — there’s no solo or duo available as of right now — you are transported to your dropship. It’s here that Apex Legends reveals its next ultra useful feature: the Jumpmaster. This person controls not only when your squad drops but where. You can, if you choose, peel off and go your own way but in Battle Royale that’s a one-way ticket to a short round. By having a Jumpmaster your team sticks together through the drop sequence and, if utilised correctly alongside the ping system, you’re more likely to stay together and back each other up. If it’s one thing that got us rather annoyed in other Battle Royale games it was our squadmates deploying in random directions leaving you with a squad splattered across the map.

Gotta catch up.

If you’ve ever played one of the Titanfall games then once you’ve landed the exquisite movement speed and flow of running, jumping and sliding will be very familiar. Whilst wall-running and double-jumping has been removed alongside Titans — much to the annoyance of some — it feels fantastic and as Apex Legends is running on Source it runs beautifully smoothly. Guns feel mostly balanced with only a couple of weapons, the Peacekeeper and Wingman, feeling a little overpowered for what they are. Gun battles feel intense, exciting and, most importantly, fun. They are often a blur of opponents all firing, running and jumping to get the right shot off to down you. If all three of your squad are downed that’s it. However, if you’re unlucky enough to die but your squadmates prevail you can be revived and brought back into the fray.

It seems so simple and yet it encourages you to stick around, especially if you’re queuing solo as you may be brought back in at a moment’s notice. There’s only a short space of time after you’re killed that your banner can be reclaimed for resurrection so if your team take too long you’re gone for good. Thanks to this mechanic though we’ve gone on to win rounds despite being killed early doors. There’s no limit to the number of times you can be brought back and the only price you pay is that you drop with nothing so if you’re unlucky and drop into another firefight, your second chance may be short lived. Still, having a team of three in the final stages of a match can be the difference between winning or losing.

During our playtime we found most matches lasted around twenty minutes and often found the playing field halved from a starting stock of twenty teams (sixty total players) in a matter of minutes. Sometimes, depending on our drop location we’ve made it all the way to the last five without so much as a firefight. This is somewhat down to most teams’ desire to hit the supply ship early doors. It is a high-tier loot location — you’re advised of loot type on entering a location — and as such everyone makes a beeline for it should it be accessible from the dropship’s path. It’s not uncommon to see five or six teams head that way or nearby and despite the map being relatively small, you can easily miss teams once the early mayhem is over.

Taste the rainbow.

Apex Legends isn’t without its faults however and we’ve had a few crashes with all but one being in the post-match menus. They’ve been few and far between but they do exist as has server issues and lag. Still, it’s not uncommon to see servers strain upon the release of a new online multiplayer and considering the numbers their relative infrequency suggests the underlying infrastructure is pretty sound. Compared to other, more recent launches — we’re looking at you, Anthem demo — it’s been very smooth and hopefully that trend continues. We also noticed occasional dropped frames and the UI can sometimes get in the way of where you’re shooting, sometimes blocking your sights on an enemy player.

The elephant in the room, however, is how Respawn and moreover EA choose to monetise this potential cash cow. As of right now Apex Legends is riding the crest of a huge wave of positive publicity with it being free-to-play but, more importantly, not being pay-to-win. In addition it’s currently one of the most streamed games on Twitch with top streamers such as Shroud drawing in over a hundred thousand viewers. What we don’t know yet is how the upcoming battle pass will work, how frequently new Legends will be released and what changes they may make to unlocking cosmetics.

Right now everyone is capped at forty-five free loot boxes which covers you up to level 100. After that you stop earning them and as crafting metals can only be gained from loot boxes so does your ability to craft skins for your favourite guns or characters. For some, this won’t matter at all but for others this may then force their hand and down the slippery loot box hill they’ll go. Whilst you’re always guaranteed unique items — no duplicates ever — it’s a shame that, as things stands, you’ll be forced to buy loot boxes if you want to unlock or craft that awesome skin you really want.

Uh oh, someone's been here...

If you take loot boxes out of the picture Respawn has crafted a fun, inclusive and highly polished Battle Royale game in Apex Legends. We’ve yet to come away from a round without a story to tell, even the short ones, and we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve come away laughing about something that happened, silly or otherwise. The ping system is revelatory and so is having a Jumpmaster for controlling your team’s arrival. It’s highly likely these systems will be imitated in existing or future Battle Royale games but Apex Legends will be remembered for introducing them.

What will determine Apex Legends’ longevity will be how it manages its monetisation. EA and Respawn do need to recoup the development and ongoing costs of maintaining the game. With no talk of Titanfall 3 and Respawn confirming that Apex Legends is their focus it’s clear that nothing will change on this front. However, has EA learned its lessons from Star Wars Battlefront II and more importantly how much control does Respawn have over its evolution. The coming months will answer that with its first season arriving in March along with its Battle Pass. From there it’ll be interesting to see whether there’s push back on the cap of free loot boxes once players start reaching level 100 en masse.

As it is we’re in the here and now and right now Apex Legends is a fantastic Battle Royale which rewards the highly skilled and yet is open and inclusive enough to welcome new players. Thanks to the ping system those who have shunned multiplayer due to fears of toxicity and abuse can play Apex Legends blissfully unaware and free of vitriol yet still contribute and communicate with their squadmates without uttering a single word. Like Apple did with phones, tablets and watches, Respawn has shook up the Battle Royale hierarchy with a mic drop of epic proportions and it’ll be interesting to see just how its rivals respond.

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Apex Legends lays down the gauntlet to established Battle Royale games such as Fortnite and PUBG. The ping system alone is worth its weight in gold and allows for the more reserved gamers amongst us to join in and have fun. Loot boxes aside, Apex Legends is fast, fun and buttery smooth to play.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.