By Danny Ryerson, Copy Editor

Game: Apex Legends

Platform: Xbox One, Playstation 4, Microsoft Windows

Release date: Feb. 4, 2019

Genre: First-person shooter, battle royale

Developer: Respawn Entertainment

Publisher: Electronic Arts

 

Like pretty much everyone else, Apex Legends came out of nowhere for me. No marketing campaign, no trailers, no nothing except a huge groundswell of word-of-mouth from my friends and the Internet.

I’m generally not a huge fan of battle royale games. I found PUBG to be buggy and broken, Fortnite’s building mechanics are interesting on paper but annoy me in practice and I thought Black Ops 4’s “Blackout” mode was rather boring. But one of my friends mentioned that Apex is free, so I thought, “Hey, what do I have to lose?” and took the time to try it out.

Let me tell you, that was an incredibly good decision on my part. Apex Legends, in short, is fantastic.

The game is developed by Respawn Entertainment, whose claim to fame is being founded by the minds behind the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Medal of Honor series, and for developing Titanfall. First-person shooters are their bread and butter, and Apex is no exception.

All of the weapons feel excellent to use, from the hard-hitting Peacekeeper shotgun to the rapid-fire R-99 submachine gun. There’s a clear hierarchy of best and worst weapons (for example, the Mozambique pistol is about as effective as breathing on opponents), but by and large, I’ve never felt screwed out of a win because the other guy had a slightly better gun than I.

Instead, what separates the bad guns from the good is the attachments. Scopes, barrel upgrades, magazines, stocks and other upgrades come in four rarities, and each provides some small benefit, from faster aim-down-sights time to less recoil. With some exceptions, though, many of the weapons perform just fine without any attachments.

This is symbolic of something that I really admire about Apex’s design: loot doesn’t win fights, skill does. One of the biggest problems inherent to the battle royale genre is randomly generated loot, meaning that a bad player who finds a good weapon could win a fight versus a skilled yet unlucky player. Apex, though, places far more emphasis on aim, positioning and movement — things that can’t be found find lying around on the ground.

The characters — or “legends” — move and act like a toned-down version of Titanfall 2. Wall-running and double-jumping have been removed, but players familiar with the series will recognize the sliding and parkour climbing that defined much of Titanfall 2’s gameplay.

This movement is key to the reason that Apex feels so much fun to play. Even on a controller, which usually feels clunky to me, it’s easy to slide down hills and climb over buildings to chase opponents. With legends that have additional movement abilities, like Pathfinder’s grappling hook or Bangalore’s boosted sprint speed, flanking and repositioning feels like a dream.

It also heavily influences the combat. All of the guns in Apex are projectile weapons, meaning that their bullets have travel time and don’t connect instantaneously, so the best way to hit every shot is to get in close. Aggressive play is key, and often, the team that pushes best, wins.

This focus on tried-and-true guns-blazing aggressiveness is a welcome change from the often tedious sniper duels of PUBG and the “build battles” of Fortnite. As long as I played my position well enough, capitalized when the enemy made a mistake and coordinated with my team, I’d win fights handily.

But that’s the issue — Apex is a team game with a heavy emphasis on communication, and, of course, teamwork. Without a headset mic, how can I effectively work together with my squad?

Enter what is possibly Apex’s finest mechanic: the ping system. At the touch of a button, a small marker will appear for all players in the squad, as well as a quick voice line from whichever legend used the ping. This would be useful on its own simply to mark where to move to next or to highlight enemies, but here’s the thing: the ping changes contextually based on what the cursor is pointed at.

Ping a zipline, for example, and the legend will call out, “Zipline here!” to let the team know. Ping when the team is still flying above the map, and it’s interpreted as a suggestion, “This is where we should land.” Double-tap the button or ping an opponent, and the marker changes from an orange diamond to a red crosshair, “Enemy spotted.” Ping a weapon on the ground, and teammates can see its location and even ping the marker itself to call “dibs” on it.

It’s an extremely polished system that sets Apex head and shoulders above team modes in other battle royale games. No need to fumble around with compass headings when trying to figure out where the bad guys are shooting from, just ping them. It’s even possible to have short conversations by pinging, as the legends act and react as they call out pings.

Really, all of Apex can be described like that: extremely polished. After the training wheels of Titanfall 2, Respawn seems to have hit their stride and cemented themselves among the battle royale greats with a genuinely fun title that fixes a lot of the gripes I had with the genre.

If it wasn’t already apparent, I’d recommend Apex Legends to anyone and everyone with the thumbs to play it, and at the low, low price of free, it’d be positively criminal not to try it out.