If I'd have been asked two weeks ago what games I thought I'd be playing for February, I'd have said Fortnite, FIFA 19 and Kingdom Hearts 3, with titles like Far Cry New Dawn and Bioware's Anthem game filling up the latter half of the month. Respawn and EA clearly had other plans for me though, because I haven't touched another game since downloading Apex Legends.
Nobody had even heard of this game until influencers started dropping hints on social media two days before launch, but after pulling in over one million players in just eight hours, Apex Legends has pushed its way onto the battle royale scene like Wal-Mart shoppers trying to be first on Black Friday. Surprise launches are so rarely seen in an era where games are announced years before release, but Respawn went for it. So far, it's been a resounding success.
Building upon Titanfall 2
Back in October 2016, Respawn released Titanfall 2. Despite being possibly the best multiplayer shooter on the current generation of platforms, it massively undersold and most of the gaming world didn't get to experience the joy of wallrunning across entire multiplayer maps at speeds Sonic the Hedgehog could only dream of. It was assumed that since EA bought out Respawn, that the team would be working on Titanfall 3. While that may still be the case, Apex Legends has released as a stopgap before the third title in the franchise.
Since Apex Legends is in the Titanfall universe, a lot of what you see is taken straight from Titanfall 2. Most of the best Apex Legends weapons have been seen in the series before, albeit with some nerfs. That's a necessary change though because whereas the Titanfall games are arena shooters where you can respawn and get back into the action in a split second, Apex Legends isn't like that. You spend time looting up, each game is a fight for survival, not just who can rack up the most kills.
The battle royale market has quickly become saturated since the launch of PUBG. Apex Legends is going toe-to-toe with some of the biggest games out there right now; Fortnite, PUBG, Blackout, Ring of Elysium, the list goes on. Respawn claims that Apex Legends has been in development since Spring 2017, which means that the product they've released is polished. There's none of the early access teething problems going on. Sure, it has some bugs, like when you revive someone on the moving supply ship you clip through and hover in mid-air, but for the most part, it's a true AAA battle royale game and it feels that way, which cannot be said for most of the games trying to make waves.
What about the titans?
Titanfall is known for its enormous mechs that pilots can control and conquer the battlefield with, so when news came out that titans were omitted from Apex Legends, it started an uproar. Thing is, Apex Legends isn't a Titanfall game. It's simply set in the same universe. In Titanfall lore, only trained pilots are capable of using titans, whereas here you play as a Legend partaking in the "Apex Games".
It may seem even stranger that wallrunning isn't a feature - despite not being bothered by the lack of titans, even I was apprehensive about not being able to wallrun. Hurtling around a huge map and making the most of all the terrain sounded perfect to separate Apex Legends from the other games even more, but after playing for hours every day since launch, Respawn has made the correct decision.
In a multiplayer arena shooter, if you die to someone who flies around the corner and blasts you in the face with a shotgun, you can say "well played" and quickly respawn to go and get revenge. Battle royale games don't work that way. You could spend up to 15 minutes looting up and searching for the right gear, then for you to be killed in an instant by someone essentially flying around the map would be nothing short of infuriating. The lack of fall damage and ability to scale walls still creates a fluid movement experience that you'd expect to find in a Titanfall universe game.
How does Apex Legends fit in to the Titanfall story?
And that's because it is a Titanfall game. Both Titanfall games are set during the Frontier War, which - to cut a long story short - involved a lot of factions including the IMC, Frontier Militia, Apex Predators and more. It lasted for years and ended at some point between the Battle of Typhon - the events in Titanfall 2 - and the Apex Games, which is the focal point of Apex Legends. The war is over, so a competitive bloodsport has emerged, because that's a logical course of progression, right?
Framing it this way makes the entire gameplay experience feel like an alternate version of The Hunger Games. Every match features a "Champion", who is someone that won their last match and has a 500xp bounty on their head. There's also a "Kill Leader", who as you'd expect is the person leading with the most kills. All of this is announced via an impressive loudspeaker system, which all adds to the atmosphere you experience in Apex Legends.
Throughout Kings Canyon - the only map available in Apex Legends right now - there are also banners that showcase the Kill Leader. Just like you see with your teammates at the start of the game, it broadcasts their stats and current kill count to anyone paying enough attention to read it. You truly feel like you're partaking in a brutal killing sport, rather than the hyper-realistic setting you get with a game like PUBG.
The first battle royale with heroes
But that's not all that sets Apex Legends apart from other battle royale titles, as it blurs the lines between hero shooters too. Games like Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch have served to make the Hero Shooter genre immensely successful, but nobody has tackled the concept of heroes with real success in battle royale until now. At launch, there are eight Legends - Apex Legends' equivalent to heroes - available, with more confirmed to be coming throughout the upcoming seasons. All of them have vastly different abilities and tactics, and since there's no solo mode in Apex Legends, team composition becomes an important factor.
Despite having so many Legends, each with unique powers, there's nothing that immediately raises concerns about being overpowered. Every Legend is useful throughout a match, but none of the tactical or ultimate abilities can single-handedly win a match. Even Gibraltar's Defensive Bombardment that brings down a concentrated mortar strike can be easily countered by finding shelter.
Whether you like to run as a medic with Lifeline, being a professional soldier like Bangalore, or you simply enjoy Pathfinder's dry robotic wit and ability to reach high places, you'll quickly find your main. Respawn is catering to everyone too since two Legends are LGBTQ - Gibraltar (bisexual) and Bloodhound (non-binary) - which is a wonderful nod to the importance of improving diversity in games.
A revolutionary communication system
Online gaming seems to have moved past the era where kids still in primary school would scream down the mic about having done despicable things to your poor old mother, but communicating with random players on your team still isn't a desire for most people. To circumvent this since Apex Legends is a team based game, Respawn has introduced the absolutely phenomenal ping system.
The Apex Legends Ping System is a brilliant solution to the horror of playing with strangers online
This is a method of working with your team and communicating to them, without actually saying or typing anything. Pinging a location will set a marker there and your character will suggest the team move in that direction, while pressing the button to ping twice in quick succession indicates there's an enemy. You can also ping items on the ground to signal to your team that there's worthwhile loot, you can bring up the ping wheel to indicate which direction you're watching, whether an enemy has already been there, which location you want to defend, and more. Apex Legends' ping system is undoubtedly going to set a gold standard moving forward for battle royale titles, and hopefully multiplayer games in general.
Down but not out
One minor gripe that everyone who's played a battle royale before will have come across is that weapons can be hard to find at the start. Finding the perfect loot ratios is no easy task for a battle royale developer, but in Apex Legends, weapons feel a little too scarce. There'll be plenty of times when you land in a popular location with a couple of other teams and you have no choice but to flee or punch people in the face like Hitmonchan.
When this does happen and you eventually get slain, you'll be knocked down to crawl around on the floor. If an overtly keen player comes along to thirst you, in most games you'd be dead and resigned to spectating your team or going back to the lobby. Not Apex Legends. When this happens, your teammates have 90 seconds to get to your corpse and pick up your banner. This means they can run to one of many respawn stations throughout the map and bring you back to life, where you'll come back with a vengeance. The only downside is that you'll have no gear and you need to loot up again, but that's a small price to pay for the ability to rise from the dead. Or technically fall from the dead, since you jump out of a drop ship.
And you're telling me this is free-to-play?!
Perhaps most baffling of all is how on earth Apex Legends is a free to play game. With almost two years of development time at a AAA studio made up of industry veterans, without even launching in early access, it is a miracle that Apex Legends is free-to-play. Everything about the game feels like the devs have dedicated most of their time play testing, and the result is an immaculate battle royale that should only get better as the months roll on.
There's very little that detracts from the Apex Legends experience. Not earning more Apex Packs once you reach level 50 is a kick in the teeth, but there's nothing to really cause an uproar about because they are just cosmetics. No doubt the Kings Canyon map will start to get stale after a while but with the planned Apex Legends roadmap, no doubt there will be some map developments as part of that. Apex Legends may well be the new champion of the battle royale genre.
Reviewed on PC and PS4.