Respawn Entertainment’s surprise release of Apex Legends put a new spin on the battle royale genre, which seemed like it’d been worn about as thin as it could be. Apex Legends’ hero shooter route works so well that it makes one wonder how this was never done before, but Respawn did players one better than just throwing another twist into the battle royale formula: it made an outstanding game.
Apex Legends needs little introduction by now after the game released on February 4th – you pick a Legend, each of them with three unique abilities, drop into a smallish map, and battle royale your way to the top spot. Playing as squads of three is the only option available right now, but Respawn’s communication system combined with the limited number of Legends available now means three players per team is plenty.
Compared to other battle royale games like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Apex Legends is the best one yet, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, after advancing past level 80 and trying out each of the Legends. It moves at a speed other battle royale games only obtain through limited-time modes that alter the rules, has fulfilling gunplay that rarely feels unfair, and, above all else, it’s polished.
“Polished” is a term which can mean many different things when describing a game, but it’s particularly applicable to Apex Legends seeing how Respawn stealthily launched the game the same day it was announced. Apex Legends worked (and still works), an accomplishment itself for a game which withstood an onslaught of millions of players in its opening weekend without support of a beta or widespread stress test. Some server downtime and crashes have been experienced since its launch, particularly on the PC platform, but for the most part, Apex Legends players have enjoyed a smooth ride with steady communication from Respawn about issues that’ve cropped up.
Apex Legends’ opening moments from the launch sequence to the seconds after players touch the ground are perhaps one of the best indicators of how things are done differently here. A Jumpmaster decides where the three-person squad will drop, though players can split off and drop solo if they so choose. The Jumpmaster music is phenomenal and creates an unmatched feeling not found in other battle royale games, especially when you look in all directions and see other squads rocketing towards hot zones. It's exhilarating and gives players the same feeling of urgency and importance as they get when they see banners around the map display their character’s face and stats if they’re dominating the match. One of Caustic’s quotes when he’s the Jumpmaster is, “I feel most alive when rapidly approaching my death,” and while it’s an admittedly edgy line for Apex Legends, it’s not far off from how it feels to be the Jumpmaster.
But unlike other competitors where the excitement can end as quickly as it begins if a weapon isn’t found immediately, Apex Legends’ hero shooter mechanic actually gives players a fighting chance until they can find a suitable weapon. Since every Legend has a Passive, Tactical, and Ultimate ability, they’ve got unique tools to survive that give players some agency over the early moments of a match. The abilities’ diversity means some are obviously better than others, but every Legend’s Tactical and Passive abilities are available from the start. Mirage’s Decoy can make a similarly ill-equipped enemy think twice about following the Legend into a building, Lifeline can heal up any early-game damage to change the outcome of a post-landing skirmish, and Caustic has the only damaging Tactical ability unless you happen to hit someone with Bangalore’s smoke grenades.
The game’s weapon balance also seems fair, though that might depend on who’s on the receiving end of a Wingman. It didn’t take long for that high-powered pistol and the Peacekeeper shotgun to take their spots at the top while the Mozambique is the sole resident of the meme tier, but every gun between those highs and lows feels like it serves its purpose. You’re likely not going to find much value from an Alternator late in the game, but by that point you’ll have something like a Devotion, Turbocharger, and other relevant attachments, with the game’s difficulty naturally scaling itself up through eliminations.
Where the Tactical and Passive abilities shine, the Ultimate abilities falter though. Apex Legends has a diverse cast of Legends with unique abilities, but almost every Ultimate can be separated into two categories: “Let’s Move Over Here” or “Let’s Make Sure Enemies Can’t Go There.” Two exceptions to that are Bloodhound’s Predator vision-style Beast of the Hunt and Lifeline’s coveted Care Package, but the other six Legends are split evenly between the unofficial Ultimate types.
Every Ultimate accomplishes its goal whether its mobility through Pathfinder’s Zipline Gun or the zoning power of Bangalore’s and Caustic’s Ultimates, but Gibraltar and Bloodhound are the only Legends with Ultimates that give an immediate, fulfilling impact both in terms of its purpose and the effects which accompany it. There’s been no shortage of suggestions for how these Ultimates can be improved, but as with any game with characters who have unique powers, adjusting an ability in the smallest of ways can alter the meta dramatically, so it’s refreshing to see Respawn avoid knee-jerk reactions to early opinions on guns and Legends. Where other abilities might have a delay or low damage, Gibraltar’s and Bloodhound’s don’t offer such comforts for enemies. Bloodhound’s ultimate puts players in the zone since the Legend has to go into the fray while its duration lasts, and Gibraltar’s Defensive Bombardment klaxon and power means someone’s going down if they’re caught in the open.
And if we're talking about polish, we have to talk about the game's pings. Respawn’s communication system using pings to direct teammates and announce intentions could be talked about at length, but it’s simply immaculate, to say the very least. It’s got room for improvements and could benefit from a “Don’t Go There” ping or something of that nature, though no other battle royale game even comes close to it.
As a free-to-play game, it’s impossible to talk about the quality of Apex Legends without discussing its in-game economy, but the system Respawn and Electronic Arts have set up is passable, at least for now. Loot boxes come in the form of Apex Packs earned through levels or bought with real money and include skins for weapons and unique items and cosmetics for Legends including skins, banners, poses, trackers, and more. There’s a lot to discover in the loot boxes and every new Legend will only add to it, which could be a problem considering players can unlock items for Legends they don’t own. It might not look like a problem now, but good luck trying to find that one skin for Bloodhound later on when three new Legends have been released, none of which you currently own.
There’s also no way to describe Apex Legends skins other than “overpriced.” You can buy items like rotating skins with Apex Coins, the premium Apex Legends currency, or craft them with materials also earned through loot boxes. Apex Legends is a first-person shooter, which means you’ll hardly ever seen your skin, so the idea of spending $18 on a Legendary cosmetic that’s not on par with skins from other games like Overwatch is difficult to get on board with. Players (including this reviewer) are ready to throw money at Apex Legends, Respawn just needs to add something that’s worth buying. It’s got its flaws, but the game’s economy will likely make much more sense when the battle pass is unveiled next month.
Close to one month after its release, Apex Legends has proven that it’s not just a fad in danger of going away anytime soon. To say the framework had been laid for a multi-season and hopefully multi-year success would be an understatement, but it’ll be up to Respawn to keep up with the high demand of battle royale updates players have become accustomed to elsewhere.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Apex Legends is now available as a free-to-play game for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC platforms.