Yesterday, Respawn did something very unusual, and especially unusual for a developer now owned by a AAA behemoth like EA. It announced and release Apex Legends there and then. No waiting. No marketing campaign. Nothing. Just ‘here it is’; it costs nothing; play it and see what you think.
The reaction from the anti-EA zealots who instinctively distrust anything that comes out of EA was entirely predictable, and in fact, this was the deciding factor in why Apex Legends was shadow-dropped.
"There are some people who think there are too many battle royale games or it's a fad, the world thinks we're making Titanfall 3 and we're not - this is what we're making,” said Apex Legends’ lead producer Drew McCoy during an interview with Eurogamer.
"To try and convince a sceptical audience for months with trailers and hands-on articles, we're just like 'let the game speak for itself' - it's the most powerful antidote to potential problems.
"We're doing a free to play game, with essentially loot boxes, after we were bought by EA, and it's not Titanfall 3. It's the perfect recipe for a marketing plan to go awry, so why have that - let's just ship the game and let players play."
It’s a candid, interesting statement for McCoy to make. First and foremost, Respawn was all too aware of the perfect storm that would be brewing when it announced its first game as an EA-owned studio would be F2P battle royale with microtransactions and loot boxes. It didn’t matter that Apex Legends was Respawn’s idea entirely and it had to convince EA this was the right idea. People see what they want to see. Development of Apex Legends began after the launch of Titanfall 2 as a potential new game mode; Titanfall 3 was never even on the cards.
The only conceivable way to get around this huge potential PR pitfall was to get Apex Legends straight into gamers’ hands and win them over the old-fashioned way - by trying to give them a damned good game.
On that front, it looks as if Respawn has hit on something rather special. Respawn not only developed Titanfall; it’s also the core team that helped created Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4 and effectively laid the blueprint for modern FPS. Apex Royale hit 1 million players within just eight hours. These folks aren’t messing around.
Apex Legends is a fusion of classic military battle royale, like Call of Duty: Blackout, with hero shooter (Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, etc). There are currently eight playable characters, each with a trio of unique skills that can help them in a combat situation. This layers in additional depth, both individually and with team composition. Apex Legends is currently played entirely in trios and each player in a squad must use a unique character. Playing as a team reaps the biggest rewards, and it’s here where Apex Legends makes some of its biggest changes to the norms of battle royale.
In Apex, not only can downed players be revived but dead players can be respawned at special respawn machines. The dead player’s teammates just need to pick up a tag from their corpse within 90 seconds and then head to a respawn location. This calls the player back into battle aboard an attention-grabbing dropship. They’ll be weaponless but they’ll still have a chance. This introduces some great risk/reward in heading to death locations and respawn points, as well as providing a reason for dead teammates not to instantly drop out of the match or grow bored waiting for their team to die.
Then there are the ‘Legends’, the playable characters themselves. Each has a tactical ability, a passive ability, and an ultimate ability. Bloodhound, for example, has a tactical ability to see through walls, a passive ability to track enemy footprints, and an Ultimate that highlights enemies with a red glow and allows Bloodhound to move faster. They’re all totally unique as well. An early favourite of mine is Wraith. She can use her tactical to enter an alternate dimension and briefly move across the map undetected, popping out behind enemies. Her passive warns when an enemy is near while her tricky-to-use yet powerful Ultimate opens a dimensional rift that allows her to link two locations with portals to allow instant travel for an entire squad. These characters are where we see the big parallels with Overwatch and they help Apex Legends stand out from COD: Blackout in the same way Fortnite is distinct for its building.
The next key factor is the single map that’s currently available. It’s named, suggesting more are in the works, but it also offers plenty of unique biomes and an unprecedented amount of verticality. Getting around is easy thanks to Titanfall 2’s zip wires which can be used both upward and downward, while some characters can even benefit from grappling hooks to get up high at any point. It’s a dense, interesting map with plenty of easy to recognise locations even after only a handful of matches.
Gunplay in Apex Legends feels much the same as Titanfall 2, albeit with a much higher time-to-kill depending on the armour being worn. It’s slick, fast-paced and there are plenty of Blackout/PUBG-style attachments and upgrades for the weapons, along with a ton of gadgets and grenade types to give players the edge. Movement is fast-paced although it does lack the wall-running of Titanfall. In particular, slides are awesome. Run and crouch on a hill and you will knee slide the entire way down. It’s utterly joyful.
So far, so awesome. But, and there’s always a but, the microtransactions probably aren’t going to sit well with some people. As a F2P title, Apex Legends is absolutely loaded with them from top to bottom, it’s what’s going to pay the bills after all. However, MTX are almost exclusively cosmetic aside from two characters which can be bought or grinded for. I'm not entirely sure how long this actually takes just yet, or if they’re better in any way than the standard characters, but this could be a point of contention. Loot crates are handed out fairly generously at the start though, and I’ve already earned six from about two hours of play.
The other downside right now is Apex Legends is it’s currently exclusively for trios. No solos, duos or quads. I suspect this comes down to a couple of things.
Firstly, I imagine Respawn wanted to guarantee a healthy player count and minimal queue times at launch. Splitting Apex off into four playlists could’ve risked trouble. Seeing as Apex has already received a considerable degree of success though, we reckon other playlists could be added shortly.
The other issue is down to balance. The Legends’ unique skills a big factor and some are clearly designed to work with teams, putting certain characters at a disadvantage in solo play. I’ve also heard plenty of disappointment about the lack of Titans, although it seems ludicrous to assume Respawn didn’t try to incorporate Titans in Apex. As it turns out, they did, obviously, but it became difficult to balance and the game was less fun for it. That doesn’t totally rule out it happening at some point in the future though.
Anyway, that’s my slightly rambling diatribe on all things Apex Legends. So far I’ve been loving been time with it, it’s been a real surprise and feels like a sorely needed breath of fresh air in the battle royale scene. I'd probably go so far as to say I've been blown away as my expectations weren't high at all, but grab a few mates together for a squad and Apex is a great time.
I’d love to know what your thoughts on it are though, or if you haven’t played it yet, whether you’re planning to give Apex Legends a shot!