Rumors had been swirling that Respawn had a new battle royale game to showcase, and on Monday, the developer. We didn't even have to wait: It was available for free immediately on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
After playing through several matches (with one win!), it clearly has the fundamentals in order. It has a crisp, colorful art style, great shooting mechanics and a familiar, fun battle royale experience. But the biggest difference between it and Fortnite, PUBG and other also-rans is that it gives you eight unique character classes to choose from. Other games like Realm Royale already dabble in this, but don't have the same cachet as a developer like Respawn does, having won over fans with its Titanfall series.
Playable Legends make all the difference
Apex Legends keeps to the battle royale conventions in most ways -- 60 players drop into a large map in squads of three, search for weapons, armor and other useful items, then battle it out with other squads as a wall of death closes in. But it really shakes things up with eight different "Legends" (character classes) to choose from, each with unique abilities that let you pick your role based on your play style.
There is Bangalore, who provides cover for her team with a smoke canister gun and has a passive ability that speeds up her movement when being shot at. Like all other characters, she charges up an Overwatch-like ultimate ability: in her case, a wide-ranging airstrike.
Bloodhound takes on a different role as a Technological Tracker, with abilities that let him briefly see enemies in his field of view and footprints showing where enemies have recently been.
Next is Caustic, a character that currently either requires a ton of free or paid currency to play, who has gas-spewing traps and grenades you can use to control the battlefield near you. If you know an opposing squad is in a small building, for example, you can fill the place with noxious gas to flush them out.
Lifeline, the Combat Medic, can heal the squad with drones. Lifeline also has a passive ability that makes her the speediest healer and reviver of all the characters. Another healing plus: She automatically drops a shield while she revives her squad mates.
There are four more classes with Gibraltar (Shielded Fortress), Mirage (Holographic Trickster), Pathfinder (Forward Scout) and Wraith (Interdimensional Skirmisher), but you're starting to get the idea. Each of these varied classes means you can assemble a team of specialists that work well together and maybe give you an advantage on the battlefield. Though there are other royale games that include classes, it's not a mechanic found in the most popular games in the genre like, or , setting Apex Legends apart.
Squad is the only way to play
Most battle royale games offer a number of different game types, letting you play solo, with a friend or as part of a squad. As it stands right now, you can only play Apex Legends in a three-person squad. It makes sense, since you have the ability to choose your class and create a team that works well together. But not everyone (including myself) is in love with playing with random team members. Perhaps Apex Legends will eventually suggest characters to help balance a team to have the best chance of winning. We'll have to wait and see if other game types are introduced in the future, but it makes sense to launch the game as squads-only for now.
To Respawn's credit, one thing that makes joining random squads more bearable is Apex Legends' ping system that allows for effective communication with teammates. When you want to signal where you think the squad should go next, you simply move your target reticle to the location and hit the ping button, sending a target everyone can see. You can also call out specific items, highlighting a gun that's available in your location or a grenade a teammate might need that you don't. So far, it works pretty well with random squad mates, even when it's just a replacement for opening up the map and pinging a target location.
New ways to bring back your teammates
In games like Fortnite and PUBG, when a squad member goes down, you have a limited amount of time to bring them back, leaving you stuck out in the open while you wait for a progress bar to complete. You can do the same in Apex Legends (with some advantages if you're playing as Lifeline), but there's another interesting option. You can also grab your downed player's "Banner," then bring that to a reviving station elsewhere to bring them back into the game once you're out of danger.
Of course, this means that opposing players could keep an eye on reviving stations to kill you in the process, but you can also camp around these stations to revive teammates later when it's less dangerous.
Yes, there are loot crates
As an EA-published, free-to-play title, no one's probably surprised there are loot crates. But all I've seen so far are loot crates that hold cosmetic items like skins for your guns, new banners, tons of character skins and unlockable audio quips for Legends.
Our sister site GameSpot talked to Apex Legends' project lead Drew McCoy about loot crates during a preview event prior to the game's launch.
"We've seen from games like Battlefront II, how much paying for any kind of advantage is so bad," McCoy said. "I actually think that Battlefront is a really good game mechanically, and they did a lot of great things and it got overshadowed by some of those choices, but it's a really good spotlight to shine on why those kind of systems are so problematic."
With this in mind, Respawn is trying to be transparent with the system by posting the drop rates for its loot boxes both in the in-game store and on its website. You're guaranteed at least a rare item with every crate and they won't give you duplicates.
"We just hope that you find a large enough player base that likes what we've built and wants to show off and decides to spend some money in the game," he said. "But if not, free players who spend their time are just as important to us. We take that very seriously. Time and money are the two most precious things in any humans life. And in fact, they're choosing to spend either of them with us is incredibly important to us."
Depending on your platform, you'll also be able to get an initial batch of free cosmetic items if you follow GameSpot's guide here.
Is all this enough to win over Fortnite and PUBG fans?
Fortnite, PUBG and Call of Duty: Blackout already have huge followings and we're still waiting for Battlefield V's take on battle royale, so the marketplace is more than crowded. But what makes Apex Legends stand out from the pack is Respawn's characteristically tight gunplay mixed with the inspired character classes inspired by games like Overwatch, League of Legends and DOTA 2, making it a game that's both about survival and creating a synergistic team that can outplay the competition.
It's too early to say whether Apex Legends will gain the kind of following of other big franchises, though the early player counts have been strong. Regardless, it's compelling to see a top-tier developer make innovative game design tweaks that change what we've come to expect in the battle royale genre. We'll have to continue to play, but from my perspective, Apex Legends is off to a great start.
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