I had high hopes that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode would be the polished, AAA battle royale game that could bring battle royale back into my life after PUBG disappointed me one too many times, but I was wrong. After that disappointment, I didn’t think any battle royale game besides Battlefield V’s Firestorm stood any chance in reigniting my interest in gaming’s hottest genre.
Then Respawn Entertainment stealth-released Apex Legends, and I was proven wrong once again.
Apex Legends is more than just a Fortnite or PUBG clone. Using the basic battle royale structure as a foundation, Respawn’s game single-handedly drags the genre kicking and screaming in an exciting new direction by making some bold design choices.
The hero characters, known as “Legends,” are the most obvious difference between Apex Legends and its top competitors. Each hero’s unique abilities create interesting tactical options for the three-person squad’s to utilize in the heat of combat. Bloodhound’s hunter vision, Bangalore’s smoke screen, and Mirage’s hologram can all conspire to confuse the enemy while your team is getting the drop on them. Or, if you want an easy way to heal up your team, use Gibraltar’s bubble shield and Lifeline’s healing robot to get a second wind. But beyond their skills, the Legends add some much-needed personality to the game.
Sure, Fortnite itself has personality to spare, but it doesn’t have many interesting characters (at least in its battle royale mode), and Black Ops 4’s specialists don’t stand out in Blackout as much as they do in the game’s more traditional multiplayer modes. The fact that I’ve already memorized the names of Apex Legends’ characters prove that Respawn is doing something right with its heroes.
Even selecting a hero is an exciting experience. When the match starts, each player has a few seconds to pick the hero they want to play. This selection screen is accompanied with a pulse-pounding score, heroes saying their catchphrases, and an ever-shrinking countdown bar that makes you anticipate your turn to pick your character. This screen has nothing to do with the actual gameplay experience, but it’s the kind of theater that starts off every match on an adrenaline-pumping note that carries over when the bullets start flying.
There can only be one… jumpmaster
Battle royale’s early-round scramble is always the tensest moment of any match. Finding enough gear and surviving the clustered skirmishes that break out in high-traffic areas can be stressful even with a full squad backing you up, but when one of your squadmates decides to splinter off and do their own thing, it’s downright impossible.
Apex Legends incentivizes players to stick together with its simple but effective “jumpmaster” mechanic. In essence, when you drop into a match, each squad has a jumpmaster that controls all three players. You can split off if you want to, but it’s much easier and more effective to at least stick together until you’re close to the ground.
And just like with the character selection screen, the jumping portion of the match is bolstered by Respawn’s penchant for theatrics. The music that plays while you’re free-falling towards the map and the differently colored jetstreams coming off every player make every match feel like a major sporting event. It’s another one of those cool touches that have no effect on the gameplay but create a sense of environment and spectacle that other battle royale games fail to capture.
It’s called Respawn for a reason
One of the most frustrating things about other battle royale games is that there’s nothing for you to do if you die besides scream in your friends’ ears through your headset while they’re in an intense firefight. Apex Legends fixes this issue by bringing respawning into battle royale.
The game has two downed states. The first is the traditional BR version, where enemies can revive you if you’re downed. The other occurs after the enemy’s finished you off. If you do get killed, your teammate can snatch your banner card from your “deathbox” (your dropped loot) and bring it to a respawn beacon, where you’ll be brought back into the match without any of the weapons or items you previously owned. The catch is that you respawn by jumping from a giant ship that can be seen from a mile away, alerting enemies to your position immediately.
Not only does this give you a reason to keep paying attention to the game after you’ve died, but it can also make for some epic comeback moments. In a single match, I respawned a teammate who died, then died twice, respawned both times, and then ended up winning the game. It was the most intense, unbelievable, come-back-from-the-brink experience I’ve ever had in a battle royale game, and it’s all thanks to this respawn mechanic.
Ping me a song
Apex Legends lets you ping enemies and loot for your teammates so you’re not having to scream compass directions into your microphone. This is a mechanic that should have been in the first battle royale game. God bless you, Respawn.
Apex Legends isn’t my favorite game, or even my go-to multiplayer title, but it’s the only battle royale game that I’m actually looking forward to playing again. It isn’t perfect and still hangs on a little too strongly to some of the genre’s more annoying conventions (like the importance of armor), but it takes the genre in a refreshing direction. Whether the game can sustain the kind of audience that a free-to-play game needs to survive is yet to be seen, but with new Legends, weapons, and maps on the horizon, Apex Legends could have a bright future.