Apex Legends may not be the Titanfall 3 some fans were hoping for from developer Respawn Entertainment but it's the best battle royale game on the market. Respawn and publisher Electronic Arts' surprise release is instead a spinoff of the Titanfall series but barely resembles the mech-heavy, wall-running game.
Instead, Apex Legends is a multiplayer-only, squad and class-based spin on the battle royale formula that draws inspirations from several other hit games, and adds to them all in player-friendly ways. Apex Legends is not only the best battle royale game currently available, but it may be one of the best free-to-play releases of all-time.
Played strictly in three-player squads across one map (called "Kings Canyon") that supports 60 players total with characters who each have their own unique abilities, right away Apex Legends differentiates itself from the competition. Its class (character) based gameplay that highlights the unique personalities and gear of each character is best compared to Overwatch, and the game also draws its monetization strategy from Blizzard's shooter as well. When it comes to its first-person gunplay however, Apex Legends plays more like Black Ops 4's Blackout mode but with more diverse gameplay and more layers of mechanics and control, including in the game's animations.
There are eight playable characters (called "Legends") in Apex Legends at launch, and each squad member must choose differently. Two of the starting eight Legends must be unlocked through earning in-game currency or spending real-world money. Apex Legends embraces a totally free-to-play model on its platforms (Origin on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One).
Apex Legends Has A Smarter Microtransactions Model
The game's monetization model involves selling premium currency that can be spent on (very expensive) premium character and weapon skins, and the game's loot boxes (called Apex Packs). The Apex Packs contain everything from skins, to emotes, lines of dialogue for characters, and scrap that can be used to craft cosmetics not yet acquired. The best part of this take on the Overwatch loot formula is that there are no duplicates, and the rarity levels of everything are outlined on the official Apex Legends website. In the future, there will be battle passes for seasons (taking from the Fortnite and Rainbow Six Siege playbook) that last three months where limited time cosmetics can be earned or purchased.
Eradicating duplicates is just one of the for-the-player quality of life improvements Apex Legends offers. When starting a match, there's virtually no load time, nor is there a lobby waiting area. Players get into matches almost immediately. During gameplay players can mark and highlight enemies, loot, or any point of interest on the map (a version of the marking system from Rainbow Six Siege mixed with enemy marking from Battlefield) for very welcome in-game intel sharing/communication. When picking up mods and armor, items are automatically equipped where they should be instantaneously and there's already ammo in the weapon. Every thing a player would want or imagine should happen with fundamental game mechanics, simply does in Apex Legends and it just goes to show how other shooters and battle royale games are missing out on some key features.
But it's not just about improving what already works from the battle royale genre since Apex Legends adds many all-new features too. Matches are fast and usually completed in less than 20 minutes. At the beginning of a given match there's a dropship players jump from, like any other battle royale, but in this one players jump together as a squad and one player is designated the "Jumpmaster" to keep them together. Players can manually separate from the pack of course, but it's a smart change to enforce the idea that Apex Legends is a truly a squad-based game. There currently are no solo or duo modes.
Apex Legends' game map also includes an emphasis on verticality. There are zip lines in and around the map and its hot spots, and there are balloon launching points that players can zip up to and jet away to other parts of the map. One of the playable characters can even deploy their own zip lines for the squad. These systems work well with the nicely flowing control scheme and animations of Apex Legends where players can slide down hills or mantle up to high ledges. If you see something, there's usually a way to get there, except for some of the cliff and mountain tops which are out of bounds. Did we mention that top player Legends will be displayed in-game on banners and there's bonus XP for taking out kill leaders?
Other Battle Royales Should Learn From Apex Legends
Another unique element to Apex Legends is the ability to revive downed allies. Like other battle royale titles, a player is downed before being killed off and they can hold a shield item in their inventory to prevent players from shooting them to finish them off. Enemies can however, get up close an employ a lethal execution animation (these are also battler royale fists). But even then, players can recover the tags of their downed ally and bring them to a revive point where they can then re-enter the match via a dropship, but without any of their loot. These layers upon layers add so much to the dynamic of the usual die and go back to the menu style of more punishing battle royale experiences.
The game does not however, support cross-play or cross-save in anyway which is one of the lacking features for a game that uses EA servers/accounts across all platforms. Should players unlock cosmetics on one platform, they cannot use them on the other. It's a wasted opportunity that partially holds the game back from truly taking the genre to the next level like Fortnite has in this respect.
That downer aside, Apex Legends must be applauded for offering such a deep and polished experience from the get-go. Without any demo or beta tests, Apex Legends launched without a hitch and actually functions better than most full-retail triple-A online games. We can't emphasize enough how refreshing it is to have a polished battle royale game, that's also a polished triple-A online title, that's also FREE.
Respawn entertainment has also already clearly outlined its future plans, and Apex Legends is designed to be modular in a way that we can see plenty of interesting events and tweaks coming. Imagine a mode with larger squads, different gear, or changes to the map. It's all possible.
Apex Legends is a wonderfully exciting and fun shooter that's easy to play but challenging to master given all of its systems and the gameplay potential they offer. There may be issues of character and weapon balancing, and for some, the long time-to-kill rate may be a turnoff, but for anyone looking to squad up with exactly two friends (again, for free), it's shocking how Apex Legends plays so much better than other games in the market.
Apex Legends is currently available on PC (via Origin), PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant played the PC version for review.