The worst kept secret of the year is out! After a weekend that saw the internet awash with information, opinion, and enough hype to fuel a fleet of giant robot killing machines, the latest game from Respawn Entertainment is here. For those of you that have not had a chance to drop into the carnage, we got some teammates together and tried out Apex Legends for ourselves.
Coming from the studio that unleashed the Titanfall franchise on the world, you’d expect that Respawn and EA’s latest offering would build on the critical success of this series. You would be correct and wrong. Don’t expect parkour and the chrome plated combat of Titanfall is nowhere to be seen. Instead of robots bashing the hell out of each other, Apex Legends brings conflict a little closer to the ground with a battle royale style arena shooter.
While Apex Legends is primarily last man standing shooter, it clearly gleams ideas from across the competitive FPS scene. The character-based system that works so successfully for games like Overwatch makes an appearance, Classes will make sense to an MMO audience, and progression systems are in line with current standards in competitive arena systems. So, Apex Legends has to have something to mark it as a valid contender in an absolutely oversaturated market.
Jump into a drop ship and this selling point becomes quickly apparent. Apex Legends is a squad-based shooter. Assuming you have mastered the games, initial tutorial and clicked on the prominent play button, character selection becomes the first hurdle. Teams of three draft heroes in a turn-based system that works to keep some level of balance throughout the game but can equally feel like a blunt way to get around more complex character balancing for the poor player left to pick support or face the wrath of their team.
Like most hero characters, each of the available Apex roster conforms to class-based archetypes that benefit team play. With only three players per squad the idea seems to be to force a squad to make choices. Every team selection will have advantages over rivals and miss particular skillsets that opponents might have chosen. Each character is endowed with their own special skill that is entirely independent of the ammunition that they might scavenge around the world. The aforementioned medic can, of course, heal allies, while the games obligatory tank can throw down a support skill. These vary significantly enough that they all prove to be impactful on gameplay. This skill is coupled with an ultimate ability that, on a full charge can be dispensed to change the tide of any encounter. These options can call down a care package, provide an almost impenetrable field of protection, or reign down the pain with a massive artillery barrage. Even without a sidearm, it makes heroes feel useful.
Traditional ordinance is, predictably, strewn around the game's map, hidden in between abandoned shanty towns and squirreled away in human-sized cylindrical cans. Like any good last gun standing, Apex Legends is a random loot n shoot. Open a crate, or delve into one of the supply drops that plummet from the sky periodically, or manage to land on top of a supply ship on your initial ejection into the world and you could find armor, guns, ammo, health kits, or any number of grenades to blow apart your enemies. The variety of weapons is, at least initially, satisfying. Players can carry up to two interchangeable weapons at any one time, although this is balanced out by a fairly utilitarian approach. Weapons do one thing, shoot one type of ammo. Variation is absolutely required and enforced through space for one alternative sidearm and the general scarcity of ammo.
Encountering enemies in Apex Legends is typically free form in Apex Legends, with no set objectives beyond survival. The games singular map makes enough room for all 60 players without any need for you to get into a fist fight right away. Eventually, however, combat happens and it is chaotic. The usual periods of scavenging and exploration are present, followed by sheer panic as you turn a corner right into another player’s shotgun. Larger engagements can become a mess with various ultimate abilities blowing holes in the sky, players zipping around on ropes, and smoke grenades everywhere. If you thought that this was going to end up like Titanfall’s parkour you’d be very wrong. This doesn’t mean it’s completely distinct from Titanfall.
Apex Legends still retains a little of the Titanfall aesthetic, with terrain and heroes that look a little more stylized than their mechanized inspiration. In fact, Apex Legends looks fantastic, it’s the progression system that hides the ugly truth about this game.
Thankfully, there is no power creep here. Characters are based on horizontal flexibility rather than a straight-up power progression. Participating in matches, and leveling up provides players with a range of currencies, drops, and cosmetic rewards. On the positive side, rewards are generally cosmetic. Gun skins, drop, combat poses are available, and a crafting resource even provide a guaranteed road to specific skins. Where this all starts to raise concern is the inclusion of loot boxes. Tied to levels and alongside a very obvious cash shop system, loot boxes are a staple of EA and frankly can’t be ignored.
After our first hour in Apex Legends, I’ve got to say I’m generally impressed. Respawn has taken a good stab at crafting a niche in the battle royale genre, borrowing a ton of design ideas from successful hero-based shooters like Overwatch and mixing them into a concept that could find a home on my multiplayer roster. However, every tie a care package falls from the sky, I still hope it is a titan and EA’s interest in the cash shop can’t be taken lightly. You can load up Apex Legends to try out right now on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, just put your wallet away and enjoy the mayhem as it closes in.