Earlier this month EA Games studio Respawn Entertainment released its free battle royale game Apex Legends. It is marketed as a game that is carrying the battle royale genre forward. However, the game is not as innovative as it claims to be.
Apex Legends is perhaps best described as a combination of Titanfall and Overwatch. In the game players select from a limited roster of legendary characters with powerful abilities to battle against 57 other players.
The game currently only supports trio mode matchmaking where 60 players are split into 20 different three-person squads. Duo and solo modes are not yet available, but are expected to be added to the game at a later date.
The game is said to feature "deep tactical squad play" and "bold new innovations that level up the battle royale experience". However, those that have tried the game will know those marketing one-liners actually don't fit that well.
If anything, the game successfully combines gameplay elements found in popular titles from yesteryear in an attempt to spice up the genre. It took the battle royale genre from PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite and combined it with hero characters from Overwatch. It also took minor gameplay mechanics from various other popular shooter games, such as the revive mechanic, the resupply mechanic and healing mechanics.
My issue with this is that just merely copying these concepts and combining them with battle royale doesn't necessarily mean it will carry the genre forward.
While Apex Legends lacks actual Titans to play around with, it still takes place within the Titanfall universe. In the game players explore the "Outlands" approximately 30 years after the events of Titanfall 2.
The environment feels like an industrialized desert island overgrown with trees and vine plants and from above actually doesn't look that appealing. During my time with the game thus far I rarely felt the urge to explore because most of the areas looked surprisingly similar.
The way matches play out is identical to other battle royale games: you land, find loot, stay within the decreasing zone and hope for the best. There is a twist to this, however, because the game contains Respawn Stations through which dead team members can be revived, provided you have collected their banner from their corpse.
The "deep tactical squad play" that was advertised is actually nowhere to be found unless you play with friends, in which case you might as well be playing a different battle royale game because the level of tactical squad play will be the same.
More often than not I was teamed with very young players that generally had no interest in playing as a squad in this squad-based multiplayer game. Rarely do people actually communicate to try and work together, that is until they go down and they need you to resurrect them so they can continue to play alone. This issue is caused by design, because the game forces players into squads of three.
If anything, the only mechanic that at least to some extent powers squad play is the ping system. This system is used to mark locations and objects and is very similar to the one found in Ring of Elysium. The game does slightly improve upon it, however, by making characters speak when players ping, and by outlining weapons and objects, but it isn't new nor ground-breaking.
It will come as no surprise that this game also has an overly present focus on hoarding and looting weapons and items and this will be your primary motivation to explore your surroundings. Don't be surprised if you will spend most of your time looking for the best loot and less time actually killing players. It is a recurring trend in battle royale games that only Ring of Elysium has been able to really improve upon thus far.
As mentioned, the legendary character system is heavily inspired by Overwatch heroes. The idea is that these literally add character to the world in a way that doesn't give an unfair advantage. Each character has special abilities that can be activated every so often, ensuring none of them are severely overpowered.
However, certain characters still have an advantage over others just because of their appearance and ability set. Since every squad member has to select a different one you may end up with one that isn't in your favor.
I felt like many of the special abilities actually deteriorated the battle royale experience because it effectively makes matches less exciting knowing you and your enemies can rely on special abilities to stay alive or outsmart opponents. I could say the same about Ring of Elysium for allowing players to select from three different abilities, but at least there it is limited to three total, of which most are only there to provide joy of movement.
The Supply Drop from the Lifeline legend often contains strong armor, which can give the decisive difference. The legends Bangalore and Gibraltar can both invoke a kind of bombardment that can literally cause enemies to pop out behind their cover. It is frustrating enough that the quality of loot, weapons and item, still determines who makes it to the end game instead of pure skill, but to add to that issue by providing a significant number of special abilities is what I consider to be a step in the wrong direction.
The game's revenue model is similar to other free to play titles: skins and taunts can be acquired by playing normally or by purchasing with real currency. These can be used to visually customize your characters and don't have any effect on gameplay. You could say that the game needs to have legend characters in order to generate revenue.
Ultimately, I couldn't find enjoyment in playing this game over the more established battle royale games out there. The combination of several different gameplay mechanics sounds interesting on paper, but is actually far less exciting after a couple of hours played. The game generally feels generic and dull and similar to Titanfall 2, and having those extra mechanics there doesn't change any of that.
It is not difficult to pinpoint why some players consider it "the best battle royale game", however. Pure aiming skill has effectively been replaced by strategy and special abilities, so familiarizing yourself with weapons and improving your aim is less important here. Figuring out which strategies and special abilities win you the round is what it is all about. The game scores an extra point for that, because I know there is a niche market that favors that gameplay. However, if that isn't your cup of a tea, a 6 out of 10 is probably more fitting.
Perhaps most surprising about the game isn't the actual gameplay but rather the circus around it. The elephant in the room is that mainstream media give crazy ratings that in no way reflect the actual product. It seems as if any new battle royale game announced with enough buzz and marketing is automatically met with raving reviews.
Analyzing Apex Legends without those rose-colored glasses shows a game that is not as innovative as it wants you to believe. That isn't to say it doesn't do things right and delivers a fair shooter experience, it does, but you're not missing much if you decide to skip yet another battle royale game.