Apex Legends launched on February 5 and hit 25 million players within a week. Obviously, people are hooked on this new free-to-play Battle Royale. But why? (Image courtesy of Respawn Entertainment)
Apex Legends launched on February 5, hit 25 million players within a week, and has already seen its first competitive tournament worth $100,000 USD. Obviously, people are hooked on this new free-to-play Battle Royale title. But why? And is it really as great as the numbers make it seem?
Well, Apex Legends is not without its issues, but it’s quick and it’s pretty darn fun. As long as you’re not emotionally attached to winning—or you’re quite a bit better than I am, of course!—Apex Legends is definitely worth checking out.
The game’s success lies a lot in its pacing. Many other battle royale games suffer from periods without engagement. In other games, after you’ve looted everything in sight, you’re on the lookout for other players to kill while making sure you’re within the match’s shrinking survival zone. It may be a matter of minutes before you actually run into another player. Apex Legends delivers action at a quicker pace than similar games, and a lot of that has to do with the map and mobility.
The map is sized well for the sixty players who drop in each round. While you can avoid players early on by deliberately heading away from them, you’re guaranteed to run into other players soon. Between the slide function, the balloons, the ziplines, and not being limited by stamina for running, you can cover ground pretty quickly. Mobility in this game is quite high. There’s also no fall damage, which means there’s no environmental penalty for moving quickly and less carefully. If you want to go hunting, you can make it happen.
Anyone who watched the Twitch Rivals Apex Legends Challenge on February 12 likely saw competitors trying to hunt down the remaining players in their games. Teams were able to cover a lot of ground very quickly to try to maximize their kill totals. While my approach is a lot less aggressive, being able to speed through areas of the map I’m less comfortable in or high-tail it to cover has been quite valuable. Plus sliding down hills is pretty darn entertaining.
The survival zone is even more clearly a herding tool for the decreasing number of players still alive in the game than it is a threat. In my games, it rarely instilled the urgency that I felt when playing PUBG. With all the mobility options, it’s easy to travel to that zone regardless of where you dropped, and I have yet to see someone die because they didn’t have enough time to make it to the zone. It feels much more integrated into the flow of the game rather than a separate environmental threat.
Consequently, all the pressure comes from other players in the game. Phew, so much pressure!
Other players are armed with characters (also known as legends) and, soon after dropping into Kings Canyon, an array of grenades and modded guns.
The legends are a collection of diverse, cool individuals. Much like in Overwatch, any lore associated with them is not really relevant to how the game plays. But that they do represent a wide spectrum of individuals is heartening. And each character is colorful in their own way, which is also a plus. Though the game launched with unlockable skins for the characters, I’ve found them, on the whole, rather unenticing. Perhaps I’m spoiled by Overwatch’s thematic skins?
The gun skins, because you can change the look of your guns as well, are a lot more interesting to me. I unlocked a legendary skin for the Hemlock early on, “The Winged One”, and that got me hooked on curating my collection of guns for visual appeal.
In terms of how they play, the characters have an array of abilities that’s relevance only became clear to me when I watched the Twitch Rivals event. At my skill level, the abilities matter much less than the ability to hit my target with bullets. While the legends’ abilities are a nice perk at this point, none of them felt especially critical for success. I’ve felt very comfortable playing my favorites and experimenting rather than being pressured into an ideal combination of characters.
There’s a good variety of guns, and a hierarchy for them is already making itself clear. The Mozambique shotgun-pistol seems to be universally disliked. I’m quite happy to support that. Many times I’ve dropped into an area to discover it populated by a thriving colony of Mozambiques. I did not survive the gun battles that followed.
I also learned quickly that my strengths do not include aiming accurately. To compensate, I’ve found rushing in and punching characters right after the jump can result in some quick kills. There’s something extra satisfying about it as well. Remembering to punch when a gun’s reload time can mean life or death is important!
It’s also really hard to miss with a punch. Point blank range is my ideal range.
On that note, one thing I’d like to see added to the game is a practice room so I can train with all the different guns. For one, my aim is terrible and I could use the practice. But second to that, there’s enough variety of guns in the game, and your ability to find them all is variable each round, that I’d like to spend some time learning the feel of them and prioritizing which ones I like the most. The tutorial substitutes in a pinch, but something that lets me get quickly into practice mode rather than teaching me the basics each time would be delightful.
Apex Legends is pretty to watch. It’s a good-looking game. The map has a cohesive aesthetic, and each zone within it has it’s own visual identity. Ranging from desert to swamp, military base to the river of the Cascades, there are different terrains to play around and plenty to explore.
One of my favorite spaces is the Market. It’s an indoor space, with stalls and shops. I like the contrast of how enclosed this space is compared to the openness of a good chunk of the geography around it. It feels like it’s own private world, especially if multiple teams drop in and an extended shoot-out takes place.
Even the jump at the beginning of each match is pretty. Each team drops a plume of colored smoke as they fall. It creates a gorgeous visual with all the tendrils tracing through the sky. It also is a great cue for determining where teams are headed, which can help decide where you want to go and where you should head if you want to hunt down (or avoid) other teams.
There are a few bugs I’ve run into, mainly around trying to stay connected as a full party. My regular crew has adopted a survey process to ensure we all see each other readying up for the next game before we ready up together. It slows us down a little, but it’s less frustrating than ending up with just two of us in a party. The game’s already been patched once, so I’m hoping there’s a fix for this issue.
There are also a few things I’d like to see added to the game.
I’d like a training mode, as I mentioned earlier, so I can practice my aim and get more comfortable with the variety of guns.
I’m also curious about features for tournaments, such as spectator tools and private servers. Not launching with these gives the impression that Respawn cared more about making this game the best it could be for players rather than trying to force it as an esport. However, the current gaming climate is such that if you can play a thing competitively, and people like it, they want to see the best of the best duke it out.
The game’s got a great in-game communication system using pings, which allow you to bypass voice entirely if it’s not your thing. While the small squad size and early interest in the game have made it easy for me to find a pair of friends to team up with, the few times I’ve queued solo, I’ve gladly made ample use of ping-communication. I’d like to have other ways to connect with players though. A guild? Something that tracks stats for members? Give us the ability to compete against other groups of players. There are lots of social possibilities here.
Apex Legends combines the things I love most about Battle Royale games with the things that appeal to me from Overwatch. There’s plenty of visual appeal, an easy in-game system for non-verbal communication, colorful characters we’ll likely get to know better outside of the game, and each round is fast enough that no one’s going to dwell on the particularly bad rounds.
Overall, the experience is really fun. That rhythm of jump in, frantically find weapons and armor, and then kill, kill, kill is enjoyable—if that’s your thing. It’s free-to-play, so your investment is just in the time and hard drive space spent installing. My recommendation? Jump right in!