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Apex Legends (PlayStation 4) artwork

Apex Legends (PlayStation 4) review


"The next evolution of battle royale games is here, courtesy of Respawn."


Apex Legends, the newest game from Respawn Entertainment, is such a surprising hit that it didn't even need to be installed on my hard drive to send me on an emotional tailspin. First, it was curiosity: The developerís previous game, Titanfall 2, remains one of the premier first-person shooters of this generation, although its brilliance did little to help the game sell during the great First Person Shooter Roulette of Fall 2016. Being the rare FPS that featured equally brilliant single-player and multiplayer modes wasnít enough to overcome the blunt power of familiarity that Battlefield One and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare had. Itís strange to consider a game from the makers of Call of Duty 4 that was published by EA as a cult classic, but thatís what Titanfall 2 has become. Itís the only shooter Iíve ever really gotten invested in; I still make room on my PS4 to return to it from time to time. Whatever Respawn did next after making something so great, but ultimately unrecognized would garner my attention, sight unseen.

Skepticism came round once we learned what that next thing would be: Popular streamers who were allowed to see the game the weekend before its release positioned the then-unannounced game as a ďTitanfall Battle RoyaleĒ. Deprived of context, this was not particularly exciting news. It was hard to see how the Titanfallís freewheeling skillset would work in a genre typified by looting and slow-building tension. 100 titans on a battlefield is a neat idea, but that concept still feels incongruous with the often-agonizing pace and randomized weaponry that is common across most battle royales.

This uncertainty quickly became a lazy form of cynicism: Did EA, badly needing a win and jealous of the mountains of money that Epic has gained from Fortnite, come down from high and tell Respawn what their next game should be? What would happen if the response to this game was also underwhelming? Itís not like EAís track record of releases over the past couple years gives one much reason to be optimistic, even if its from a storied developer. (Miss you, Old Bioware.) On top of all of that, Iíve gotten much more enjoyment out of watching other people play battle royales than actually playing them myself.

Iím very happy to be incredibly wrong. Apex Legends goes out of its way to make a fairly intimidating genre more approachable and fun for people with less than stellar kill-death ratios while retaining plenty of depth for players who will take the game more seriously. It begins like most other battle royale games - in Apexís case, only 60 people fall out of the airplane - but itís the details that reveal themselves post-landing that explain why itís been so successful out of the gate.

Battle Royales are cruel by nature. Luck plays a prominent role in how competitive you will be in any one match. If the building you land near doesnít house some guns - or worse, it only has Mozambique shotguns - the randomized math might get you killed before you have a chance to do anything and that can get frustrating. Respawn tries to lessen the effects of chance by encouraging something rarely seen in shooters/games/most of society: earnest collaboration.

Apex Legends is a team-based battle royale that places players into twenty teams of three. This set-up makes a basic level of communication paramount to in-game success. This would be terrible in almost every other game since talking to strangers online is probably the least appealing exercise one can put themselves through. But Respawn has done plenty of work to make that dynamic one of the game's great assets. The biggest innovation is the Ping system. A simple tap of a button (R1 on PS4) can alert your teammates to several pieces of information, such as where to find different types of ammo or point out a location on the map you want to scope out. Double tapping the button will mark the space where you think youíve spotted an enemy player. Holding the button will bring up a radial wheel that has several built-in phrases that account for many situations - going in this direction, keeping a lookout over here, that sort of thing. It streamlines the process of finding loot and maintaining an awareness of your squad, and the potential dangers surrounding you. These systems can never be as nuanced as speech, but it offers more than enough to get by. I actually prefer the ping system when playing with randoms because it sets up a defined language and a manner of speaking that everyone understands. It says it all that Epic, feeling pressed by a competitor for the first time, added the ping system into Fortnite as soon as they could. Itís the one battle royale that encourages teamwork and a downright wholesome sense of decency. Youíll probably have a better time with it if you engage in good behavior.

Ease of use is the name of the game. Battle royales are also typified by the number of attachments players can add to their guns. In Apex, that system is as simple as it could be. The quality of the loot is coded by distinct colors: from grey to blue to purple to gold stuff that are exceedingly rare and carry extra abilities. (The same system is used for the guns, but I can't really tell you how the gold guns feel. The one time I found one, I died literally seconds after picking it up.) If you have an attachment better than the one you're looking at, the game will just tell you, and you can't even pick up the lesser loot. It's an exceptional use of visual language. You get all the information you need in seconds.

But just because Respawn has made the game easier to play doesn't mean that it is easy to win. You'll still die a lot. Thankfully, Apex always gives you a second chance at life. When you are inevitably shot down by another player, your body suddenly transforms into a futuristic grey casket. If one of your teammates goes to your body, they can recover your banner and resurrect you via one of the eight respawn beacons scattered across the map. It enforces the feeling that youíd have to be a real dick not to look out for your squad. Thereís still a risk in using them - they take five seconds to work and the respawnee drops with no weapons or armor. It plays on an impulse that many games donít assume is common - that people will be helpful and considerate if given the right options. Considering everything else going on in the world, thatís a weirdly beautiful sentiment, particularly coming from a game about wacky characters murdering each other with weapons and magical powers.

The teams of Apex Legends are constructed from a roster of nine heroes with three distinct abilities on different cooldowns: Tactical, passive, and ultimate. (Three of the characters have to be unlocked through leveling up a lot to earn enough of the gameís three in-game currencies or by paying real money for them. Free to play games got to make money somewhere.) The abilities are fun to use and appeal to different playstyles. (That is, with one exception: Mirage's ultimate is completely useless and needs to be fixed ASAP.) Miss Titanfallís grappling hook? Play as Pathfinder. Want to set traps for unsuspecting foes? Thereís Caustic. Want to track enemies while holding a sick raven on your arm? Play as Bloodhound. All of the characters are based on archetypes you have seen before - a robot that only speaks in dry quirks, a big, gregarious character who can shield others, a goth girl who is constantly hearing voices from the void - but Respawn subverts expectations just enough to make these character feel fresh and exciting. Cliched class types are enlivened simply by changing who gets to portray these roles. Where games like Overwatch have found it so difficult to add women of color into their evergrowing rosters, Apex Legendsí includes two black women in the cast from the start. The simple act of making Bangalore, the gameís closest equivalent to a generic soldier that exists in most multiplayer first-person shooters, or Lifeline, the gameís sole healer, black makes those characters more interesting and makes me want to play as them more often.

Respawn's previous games have been typified by excellent movement, and that tradition is continued in Apex Legends, albeit in a surprising manner. Titanfall 2ís excellent double jump has been expunged, and the grapple mechanic that was fundamental to that game is exclusive to one of the legends. Wallrunning is gone entirely. The realization that this game didnít have those mechanics was initially jarring, considering how fundamental those skills were to navigating throughout Titanfall 2's maps. But they have been replaced by a feature that is more befitting of the change in scope.

When you hit the crouch button while running, your character will slide across the ground as if they were a hockey puck along a smooth sheet of ice. Itís a great way to move around the map while staying slightly more hidden than if you were running out in the open. The amount of distance you can cover is ludicrous. Itís not as inherently enjoyable as the mechanic itís replacing, but it fits this game much better.

The action takes place on an island warzone named Devilís Canyon. As much as the rest of the game doesnít bear much resemblance to Respawnís previous work, the aesthetic of Apex's map is undeniably theirs. The map looks and feels like an amalgam of unused Titanfall 2 map ideas stitched together by the empty, deforested space that has become a default locale for most battle royales. The environments are well-made - dense enough to make every shootout tense, but big enough that movement never feels restricted - but familiar enough that they become generic fast. There are three variants on the 'battered enclave in the desert' motif. All of the buildings on the island have the same rustic future look that gets boring after a few games. Some extra weirdness could go a long way. Given that there are already giant, silhouetted dinosaurs lurching around in the surrounding body of water, the avenues for that are already there.

Apex is at its faultiest when the dream team dynamic inevitably doesnít work out. The amount of enjoyment you get from the game is largely dependent on the whims of other people. And if youíre not playing with a group of friends, itís a total lottery to see if youíre teammates will actually work together. Iíve trudged through dozens of matches where somebody didnít use the ping system, landed solo because we didnít go to their beacon, or run hundreds of meters away from the other teammates even though theyíre playing as Lifeline and should ostensibly be invested in the wellbeing of the group. Iím not sure how you would do it, but there needs to be more done to emphasize, for lack of a better phrase, playing the game correctly.

And Apex is not immune from the predictable downsides of battle royales. You can still get pretty far sliding and crouch-walking to and from buildings before dying in the first shootout you have with someone who found a level three shield while you found the measly level one version. That's a lot of tension for zero payoff.

The lack of a real training arena is also a problem. The tutorial is solid and walks you through the basics, but it moves so quickly that you canít use all the guns or try out every legendís special ability. Thereís no guidance given to how to play within a squad, since the tutorial silos you off into a one-person shooting range. If you want to try out different legends, you have to do in a real game, which can lead to people using their abilities poorly or not at all. Experimenting while in a live game is hard to do when you have teammates to impress and youíre competing with other squads. i

Many of these are fixable problems. The arrival of the games as service mentality has its problems, but it also means that multiplayer games are constantly in a state of evolution. This could be a completely different game in six months. The map will probably change by then. New heroes were added to the game while I was writing this. Maybe they find a way to add titans or wall running after all. Maybe EA, who only bought Respawn to stop someone else from buying them, tries to exert too much control on the game and ruins the fun. Maybe a different battle royale from some other developer takes off and eats their lunch. Itís all possible! The future is chaos!

What I do know is that Apex Legends is a game I didnít know I wanted until I played it. I was more than a little trepidatious when this game was announced. But the subtle changes Respawn makes this the welcoming entryway into a genre that can be very intimidating to the uninitiated, all without sacrificing the studio's high-end traditional roots. It's the type of game that leaves you thinking at the end of every session just one more game.

4.5/5

sam1193's avatar
Featured community review by sam1193 (March 30, 2019)

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hastypixels posted March 31, 2019:

Overall a solid review with enough contextual information to support your viewpoint and inform the reader, and I enjoyed your turn of phrase. I'd consider trying it if I were into the genre, so that's a good sign.

Lastly, there's a trailing "i" in the third-to-last paragraph.
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Ogreatgames posted April 02, 2019:

_

What a great review!

Nice job!

I like how you play with your words when describing a certain subject or detail.

Apex Legends really surprised us.

It's delightful to see it living up to the hype.
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Nightfire posted April 06, 2019:

As per your request for criticism: The map is called "King's Canyon", not "Devil's Canyon". Also, that floating "i" at the third-to-last paragraph needs to be deleted. Otherwise, a great review.

I was also considering writing a review of this title, but you've sort of beat me to it. I got quickly absorbed into it and haven't looked back. Playing with randos can be annoying, but if you have a pair of good friends to play with it is extremely enjoyable. It reached 50 million players in a month, which is very impressive. This should boost EA's stock prices a bit, if I had to guess...
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hastypixels posted April 06, 2019:

If anyone is wondering why EA is still a thing, it's games like this that do it...

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