In a world where battle royale games are oversaturating the video game market, I was skeptical last week when “Titanfall” developer Respawn--with almost no marketing--released its own take on the genre with the free-to-play “Apex Legends.”
I’m happy to report it has been the best battle royale game I’ve played and the most addicting and thrilling multiplayer experience I have played in years. I haven’t been this hooked on a game, let alone a competitive one, in a long time. In short, I’m obsessed.
The concept of “Apex Legends” is similar to other battle royale games, which started with “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” and exploded in popularity with “Fortnite.” Matches start with you and two other squad mates dropping into a huge map to loot for weapons and gear you will use to defeat the other 19 squads that populate the ever-shrinking play space.
But “Apex Legends” includes several twists on the formula to make it stand out.
The ping system is something I hope becomes a foundation in multiplayer games moving forward. With a simple button press, you can mark locations, weapons, armor or anything else you want to bring to your teammates’ attention. Instead of having to explain over a mic where a weapon is inside a four-story complex for your buddy to pick up, you can ping it, and your friend can easily find his way as you move on.
By double-tapping the button, you alert your friends to enemies, which, if used correctly, is nothing short of vital. Instead of having to frantically call out over a mic that an opponent is to the northeast behind a tree, you can simply ping him, and soon your teammates all will be engaging. The ping system is nothing short of a genius way to communicate with teammates who don’t have or don’t want to use their mics, and it really perfects the communication and teamwork that is so vital in battle royale games. This makes “Apex Legends” fun to play even with random teammates.
Most battle royale games give you only one life per match. Not “Apex Legends.” If you die, your teammates have a limited time to grab your banner and return it to a one of several respawn beacons dotting the map. You respawn with none of your weapons or armor, and respawning calls attention to your team, so it comes with risks. Still, it is a mechanic that adds a nice wrinkle to the battle royale formula and gives you a second chance at contributing.
Most battle royale games have the problem of enemies immediately killing you after you are downed. “Apex Legends” doesn’t suffer so much from this because it's kind of difficult to finish a downed enemy in the middle of a firefight. When bleeding out, you can crawl surprisingly quickly and even put up a shield to protect yourself, and it only takes a few seconds for a teammate to lift you. This encouraged me to concentrate on other still-alive enemies after downing an opponent instead of wasting my time going for the easy kill, leading to more strategic and fun gun battles.
“Apex Legends” offers up to eight playable characters (two must be unlocked by spending real or in-game currency), and each has special abilities that separate him or her from the rest. The medic Lifeline can summon a drone to heal herself and teammates. Bloodhound, my personal favorite, can spot enemies through walls and track them across the map. Pathfinder is a happy-go-lucky robot that can grapple and set up ziplines for mobility. The unique characters make engagements fun because utilizing their powers and correctly adapting to an opponent’s can quickly change the tide of battle, leading to thrilling victories.
And you will have to adapt quickly, because “Apex Legends” is a fast-paced game. You can put your weapons away to run faster, and the ability to slide downhill at breakneck speeds--all while shooting--is a ton of fun. There is unfortunately no wall running as there is in “Titanfall,” but ziplines and the ability to climb walls gives “Apex Legends” some vertical variety.
The game features an awesome assortment of fun weapons to use. Some are utterly useless (the pistol shotgun Mozambique is almost worse than melee), but most are a blast to use and master. Each weapon can be outfitted with a number of attachments and mods you can find while looting, which offers literally thousands of potential weapon combinations. I have almost as much fun customizing my weapon with each crate looted as I do using them.
While the gameplay in “Apex Legends” is incredibly polished, especially for a free-to-play game, there have been plenty of hiccups since launch. Servers have gone down several times for me, I’m sometimes dropped from games when queuing up with friends, and some matches are plagued with lag that diminishes the experience. However, these problems are guaranteed to be patched over time, and with season passes, new characters, new maps and other goodies on their way, I know “Apex Legends” will only improve over time.
“Apex Legends” is everything I want in a competitive multiplayer shooter. While the battle royale genre might turn some gamers off, there’s no denying Respawn has learned from its predecessors in refining the experience. “Apex Legends” is fast, frantic, satisfying shooting fun.
Final score: 9.5/10
“Apex Legends” was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.