After Titanfall 2 launched between Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the game failed to live up to sales expectations, with some estimates putting it 6 million units short of EA’s sales goal for the title. Following this, many assumed that the Titanfall franchise was dead, as Respawn shifted focus to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and virtual reality projects. But while Titanfall 3 may not be in active development, Respawn has continued working on games in the Titanfall universe, including the free-to-play battle royale game Apex Legends.
Apex Legends launched out of nowhere, with no pre-release announcement of any kind. This unique marketing ploy seems to have successfully piqued the interest of the gaming community, as the game has already had millions of players. However, others have written Apex Legends off as just another battle royale game, and won’t give it the time of day. From our time with it, we can safely say that those people are missing out.
What’s immediately striking about Apex Legends is its polish and technical stability. Many battle royale games, especially close to launch, suffer from a wide-range of server issues and other problems. And while we ran into the occasional server disconnect after matches in Apex Legends, all that was required from us to fix the problem was to hit one button to get back into the lobby proper. With so many online games suffering from significant issues at launch, it’s truly incredible that Apex Legends is as stable as it is without any kind of public beta or stress tests.
Apex Legends is also one of the better-looking battle royale games on the market. Since it’s set in the Titanfall universe, it borrows the art style from the main series, with slightly more exaggerated and cartoonish character models. The game world has more detail to it than one might expect from a battle royale game, and the battle royale map itself is full of varied, interesting locations to see and explore. The map is surrounded by some of the alien monsters encountered in the Titanfall games, which not only helps it feel firmly rooted in the Titanfall universe, but also helps it stand out from other battle royale games.
While Apex Legends is set in the Titanfall universe and takes place about three decades after the events of Titanfall 2, it is missing some of the franchise’s key elements. Players can’t call titans from the sky, and there is no wall-running to speak of at the time of this writing. It’s easy to see how titans could break the game, but the lack of wall-running is disappointing, especially since the game otherwise allows a lot of mobility for the player.
Despite the lack of wall-running, Apex Legends shines when it comes to mobility. All of the playable Legends move relatively fast, and are capable of climbing over high walls, falling from great heights with no fall damage, and launching themselves from ziplines to quickly travel over great distances. The slide move is especially great, allowing players to zoom down hills and easily catch up to enemies on the run. Combine the game’s mobility with twitchy gunplay and Apex Legends stands out as one of the most fast-paced battle royale games there is.
It’s also one of the least frustrating battle royale games there is, and that’s for a few of reasons. For one, Respawn has managed to strike a fine balance with the time to kill, making it so shootouts aren’t over in an instant like in Black Ops 4‘s Blackout, and instead giving everyone a chance to win a fight, even if they’re taken by surprise. Secondly, dying in the game doesn’t mean that players are truly out, which isn’t the case in most other battle royale games.
When a player dies in Apex Legends, their teammates have a chance to recover their “Banner” and return it to a respawn station to get them back into the action. In most other battle royale games, dying often means sitting and watching teammates play for upwards of half an hour or more until they either win or, more likely, die.
Another reason why Apex Legends isn’t nearly as frustrating as some other battle royale games is thanks to its communication tools that help players relay information to teammates without even needing a mic. Apex Legends utilizes a ping system that allows players to easily call out items, enemies, and more, and it’s something that all the other battle royale games on the market should steal.
It’s a good thing Apex Legends has its ping system, too, because there is no option to play without teammates. At launch, Apex Legends only allows players to play in squads of three, which is one of the more disappointing aspects of the game. The lack of a solo option or any options besides three player squads, whether that be duos for four player squads, is a letdown. Hopefully some more options are added later on, but at launch, players better get used to working in teams of three.
It’s possible that restricting players to teams of three was a deliberate design decision due to the hero-based shooter elements of Apex Legends. Players have eight playable Legends to choose from, who all have their own little special abilities and Overwatch-style Ultimates to give them an advantage in battles. Properly coordinating these abilities can be the difference between life and death in Apex Legends, though at the same time, the hero-shooter elements are not overwhelming and can almost be ignored.
In fact, we won games without ever really utilizing our abilities. Far more important than the abilities is the core gameplay of finding weapons and shooting enemies, so players shouldn’t confuse Apex Legends as a strict hero-based shooter. It’s more of a traditional battle royale experience with some hero-shooter flavor. For example, a healer character isn’t going to have a significant problem taking care of a tank like they would in other hero-shooters, so teams don’t even need a balance of different classes to be successful.
And speaking of loot, that’s another area where Apex Legends seems like it needs some work. Compared to other battle royale titles on the market, loot in Apex Legends seems relatively rare, and it seems to take longer to arm oneself at the beginning of a match. This can make for some frustrating starts when a lot of people land in the same area and there are not enough weapons to go around. However, this problem is mitigated if players make it a point to land away from other squads and avoid the high-tier loot areas.
To Apex Legends‘ credit, the loot system is still one of the better ones, as it almost completely eliminates the need to manage inventory at all. Players won’t often find themselves hiding behind walls and fiddling with their inventory, as the best gear and attachments are distinctively color-coded and automatically equipped. This keeps players in the game itself, and cuts out some of the more boring bits of other battle royale titles.
The loot system in Apex Legends is great, but the game does retain some elements of other battle royale titles that may rub some players the wrong way. Perhaps most notably, the game utilizes loot boxes for its cosmetics, as well as a couple of in-game currencies that can be earned or purchased through microtransactions. The game’s monetization have already drawn some ire, but since Apex Legends is a free-to-play game, its use of loot boxes is far more forgivable than it would be in a full-priced game. From our experience, Apex Legends is pretty generous with its loot boxes and they often have decent rewards, though it is a bit annoying to unlock cosmetics for characters that haven’t been unlocked yet.
Apex Legends is still in its infancy, but the game has already been a success, surpassing 10 million players worldwide within just a few days of its launch. If it’s able to maintain its popularity moving forward, then it’s likely Respawn will aggressively support it with content updates like we’ve seen in other battle royale titles, and those updates could address some of our concerns. But even though Apex Legends has some missteps here and there, it’s still one of the better battle royale games on the market and could give the giants of the genre a serious run for their money.
Apex Legends is out now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant reviewed the game on Xbox One.