… and then a few weeks ago Apex Legends landed without any warning and made lots of people go “Waaahhhh!” – So why was that?
I originally wrote a whole dull paragraph here about my chequered past with PU:BG and Fortnite:BR, but that was far too long and can be summarised by saying:
“I like the concept of Battle Royale games, but I’m just not very good at them”
That’s not to say that skill or ultimate placement correspond to fun, but playing a game that you can’t feel improvement or just generally show up to be an extra notch on someone else’s frag counter is rarely a rewarding experience. I want to feel as though I can at least hold my own, so my infatuation with both of the above titles gradually tarnished until I gave up and uninstalled them. Then Apex Legends showed up (apparently having something to do with Titanfall) and I got sucked back in to that Battle Royale play-loop; firstly out of curiosity but sticking around because it turns out it is actually fun.
It’s a first person squad-based battle royale game set in a generic sci-fi hued landscape which begins with players jumping from a drop-ship as it traverses an island play area. From here squads must collect weapons, upgrades, and equipment to boost the odds that they will be the last squad standing in a gradually shrinking play area. EA have made it free-to-play through their Origin platform (I guess you might count installation of Origin a “cost” depending on your views about that particular delivery vector) with premium currency usable for cosmetic (and some class) unlocks… and those last three sentences are likely to quell any rumours of originality in the EA concept department. It is undoubtedly a painfully by-the-numbers idea, but developers have proven time and time again that well-worn popular ideas can still pack the players in.
Luckily there are a few interesting facets and features to the game, but more importantly for Apex Legends is an overpowering sense that the developers have invested heavily in playtesting to polish the core experience to a point that arguably exceeds that of the current two main players. FPS combat feels tight and provides appropriate balance between weapon bloom, kickback, and iron-sight precision. Weapons themselves are the usual variety pack of shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, and sniper rifles with none seeming particularly overpowered (although some certainly feel like a last-choice option). Ridiculous sniping, a feature of most battle royale games, is essentially absent which immediately gives Apex Legends a huge tick in the plus column and, for good or bad, many of the other reasons that I favour this battle royale romp can be described in how it differs from both PU:BG and Fortnite.
Immediately the first-person presentation put me at ease given my gaming past; I’ve just never been a big 3rd person gamer and both PU:BG & Fortnite rely on fiddly things like corner & ghost looking as key gameplay components. I’m also much happier with Fortnite’s brand of rapid construction out of the picture…
… and to be clear this isn’t some ageing gamer ‘get-off-my-lawn’ style rant. I get that in-game construction is something that has defined a generation of gamers, largely due to the sustained efforts of Minecraft… it’s just that this isn’t my generation of gamers. Face me with the challenge of throwing-up a quick fort in under 5 seconds and I’ll barely have managed to work out which button rotates that ghostly panel before the gong… ok, maybe this is an ageing gamer rant.
Apex Legends employs the PU:BG style of weapon upgrade system with various different optics, stocks, and stabilisers littering the landscape. Unlike PU:BG however, Apex Legends automatically puts the ‘best’ upgrade on an appropriate weapon and the inventory handily marks any upgrade that you can’t currently use with a helpful no-entry sign making it easy to drop excess weight. There’s also a much improved marker system when compared to its contemporaries – affectionately termed the ‘ping’ system. Rather than just dropping a map marker, ‘pings’ can be dropped for teammates with a quick double-click of the middle-mouse-button and are assigned a type by context. For example, drop a ping on a distant building and it will show up as a new destination marker, drop one on ammo and the ingame dialogue will report which ammo type is available there, and drop one on some distant enemies and they’ll be marked as a threat position. Pings vastly improve the always tricky teamwork aspect when playing in a random squad without having to descend in to a swamp of obnoxious voice chat.
All this technical flumpf comes together to form a satisfying game experience. With only 60 players split in to three-person teams and a smaller island than PU:BG;F:BR (yes, that’s what I’m calling them collectively now) it’s a generally faster paced round structure. Squad co-operation is essential for success, a sentiment that is emphasised with the default of a jump leader controlling the landing point. There are also player revive points which mitigate the always frustrating early loss of a single squad member. The map design makes some excellent use of vertical space with cliffs, ravines, tall structures, and generally just more going on than the odd hilltop and two storey building. It also manages to create a more traditional fps ambience with different regions acting as self-contained deathmatch arenas connected by valleys and paths; This removes the drudgery of roaming across endless hillsides and keeps skirmishes exciting events that tend to take place in these defined regions.
I guess it’s going to be time that tells if Apex Legends is sticking around or even if I end up spending as many hours playing it as I did with PU:BG;F:BR before I realise that I’m either bored or just not good enough to get enjoyment from the game. For the moment my first impressions have been good with some satisfying encounters and even a couple of squad wins. In a selfish way I’d like to see Apex Legends succeed; it’s closer in pace to the FPS games that I grew up with whilst adding in the best elements of the more modern additions to the genre. The drab greens and browns of the modern military shooter have been wound back to revel an interesting ‘alien’ landscape and combat pace involving super-human speed, jumping, and bullet absorption are reminiscent of the glory days of Quake III arena.
… maybe just one more match…