Apex Legends preview: "I completely fell for the mix of battle royale speed and cheesy banter of the Overwatch-style Legends"

Is it your birthday? Because Titanfall studio Respawn got you a gift. Today, for free, you can play and download its new battle royale game Apex Legends via EA's Origin platform. Thanks to a secret event in Respawn's hometown of LA we've already spent a whole day playing it, and trust me, you're going to want to check it out as soon as you can. 

Between Fortnite and PUBG, it might seem like the the battle royale genre doesn't have room for a new blockbuster, but Apex makes for a beautiful threesome. Instead of battling alone you're part of a squad of three, competing with 20 other squads (60 players in total) on a huge map. The different legends all have wildly different abilities – from calling in air strikes to tracking other player's footprints – and personalities to match. Think the distinctive, rich back stories of the Overwatch crew and you'll have the right idea. 

The game is set in the Titanfall universe, but there are no Titans, and no wall running, but there is plenty of punchy, satisfying shooting with the trademark Respawn spice, and more charm than a Frank Sinatra tribute act convention. 

Let's be friends and not talk 

For me, Apex Legends immediately did away with my two battle royale pet hates. The genre can be a very lonely one, exploring an empty seeming map on your own, nervously dashing from empty building to empty building, until someone snipes you from some bushes. With my three person squad there was always a bit of life on the map, and someone to revive me if a rogue sniper stuck. 

The other problem with battle royale, and online games in general, can be communicating. There are a bunch of reasons why you might not want to be on mic, and Respawn makes room for all of them with an ingenious, nuanced ping system. Hit R1 or right bumper with your reticule over something, and your character will shout out something contextual. There's an enemy, a gun, the direction we want to go, a chest of goodies. Sure, if you're going to explain why you want to try the Civil War Anaconda plan on your rival squads you'll have to actually speak, but for us nervous introverts it's a bloody revelation. 

Shooting and looting

The game is free. Completely free. But it will have microtransactions. Spending your own money will let you unlock things faster, cosmetics, flair for your character banners that other players can see, special Legend characters, but there won't be anything you can't just get by playing. More to the point, absolutely none of what you buy will give you a player advantage. Respawn also points out that the cost to unlock a character early – $7.50 – is about the same as to unlock an Operator in Rainbow Six Siege, and that game costs $50 on the PlayStation Store right now. 

Here are the nuts and bolts of how the money will work, straight from Respawn:

"Legend Tokens are earned by increasing your Player Level. Legend Tokens can be earned even after reaching max Player Level by gathering enough match XP. They can be used in the Rotating Shop to unlock exclusive recolors of Legendary weapon and Legend skins, or to unlock new Legends"

"Crafting Metals are dropped in Apex Packs and can be used to craft specific cosmetic items such as Legend skins, weapon skins, and more."

"Apex Coins are a premium in-game currency that can be used to purchase Apex Packs, cosmetic items in the Rotating Shop, and new Legends."

For our morning session of play we sat down to the same Apex Legends that you can download today, no extra coins or currency, basically virgin fresh accounts. In the afternoon, our accounts were gifted some coins so we could play around with weapon skins and character lines and basically act like Richie Rich. Short of giving my characters badass skins, the coins made no real difference to how I played. Sure, the two characters that I had to pay to unlock were interesting – Mirage and Caustic – but if anything they were trickier to handle in the game than the freebies. 

Some people are going to be mad anyway, but the game is great. Respawn is being as transparent as possible about the way loot boxes will work (even publishing drop rates and guaranteeing no duplicates) and frankly, I'm OK with a bunch of talented people actually getting paid now and again. 

Meet your squad mates

Whatever your play style, or your feelings about paying to unlock characters, there really is a special someone for everyone in the initial launch line up. Pathfinder is a robot with an irrepressible cheery disposition who can shoot zip-lines to maneuver quickly, hack into beacons to get his squad an early heads up on where the next ring will be, and has a special move that can evacuate the whole squad from a sticky situation. Lifeline is another support player who can summon a drone that will heal allies, or call in a care package from the sky full of high tier defensive gear. Who doesn't love being the squad Santa sometimes?

If you're more aggressive you'll favor Gibraltar, a big guy who can create a domed shield to protect the crew, or Bangalore, who can call in a fiery airstrike that does brutal damage. Blood Hound is a fascinating character, able to use an ability that shows enemy footprints - perfect for tracking - and wearing a freakish, plague doctor-style get up. Caustic, who has to be unlocked through play or pay, is a sociopath that can leave toxic traps for other squads. He's sinister and deadly, but a bastard to master. The same is true of the duplicitous Mirage. He may have the banter of a hairdresser coming down off an MDMA binge, but his decoy ability is a lifesaver. Send out one fake Mirage so you can make a quick escape, or absolutely bamboozle other squads with a whole gang of clones.  

Whoever you have on your squad, you'll be thankful of them when you accidentally take a grenade to the guts. Squad mates have the chance to revive you if you're bleeding out, a simple case of taking the time to tend to your body on the battlefield. If they fail to do that though, you still have a chance, it's just a little riskier for your friends. Around the map there are respawn points, little spots where your allies can take your banner - collected from the chest that drops where you die - and bring you back to life. Like the waterhole in the African savannah though, it's a place where predators can gather, and as you drop in with an empty inventory your resurrection can be short lived. 

Battle royale with cheese

Personally, I completely fell for the mix of battle royale speed and instant gratification, mixed with the fun, cheesy banter of the Overwatch style Legends. I'd never clicked with Fortnite, and could only bear grinding through the empty maps of PUBG for short bursts, but after a full day of Apex Legends I had been converted to battle royale. Would I have spoiled myself if the big reveal at the event had been Titanfall 3? Sure, but I can't wait to see what Respawn does with Apex Legends. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to handing people their asses with Lifeline. See you in the arena. 

Check out our Apex Legends interview with project lead, Drew McCoy, for more on building a new battle royale, loot boxes and the legends.