I made it clear last year that I am not the biggest fan of the battle royale genre. I have softened toward the mode somewhat since increasing my exposure to non-Fortnite renditions of it, so while I know battle royale can be fun, the degree to which this trend has infested the industry is starting to feel like a major pandemic. Gamers have watched for over a year as game after game has shamelessly tried to jump on the battle royale bandwagon, but for a time it felt like we were almost out of the woods. That is, until Apex Legends came along and ruined everything by being shockingly good.
Since developer Respawn Entertainment stealth launched Apex Legends last week, this new battle royale fad has been reaching Fortnite levels of popularity. Beyond solid gunplay, Apex manages to integrate some badly needed innovation into the battle royale formula. The unique abilities of the new Legends characters and the option to resurrect teammates at respawn beacons are ultimately simple ideas that do a ton to mix up the mode as we know it. Being a lover of games as a whole, I always try to applaud quality design, even if it falls within a genre of which I’m not particularly partial. Unfortunately, Apex Legends has left nothing but a sour taste in my mouth, not because of how it plays, but what it means.
After Apex was announced, Respawn revealed that it was the game the Titanfall team had been working on, rather than the anticipated Titanfall 3. As a die-hard Titanfall 2 fan, this broke my heart, but not as much as what I learned next. Respawn proceeded to confirm that no other projects were currently in the works by that team. To make matters worse, adjacent reports claimed that Titanfall 3 was in development at one point, but was pivoted into Apex Legends for various reasons. So, instead of getting a sequel to one of this generation’s best shooters, we get another battle royale to throw onto the pile.
I reiterate that, regardless of how it came to be, Apex Legends is a well-designed game and one of the best battle royales out there, but its quality may be a problem in of itself. Who here remembers a little game called Paragon? A few months after Fortnite set the world on fire, developer Epic Games decided it “didn’t execute well enough to deliver on the promise of Paragon” and shut the game down, despite a seemingly respectable following.
We know that sizable development effort was redirected from Paragon to Fortnite shortly before the end, so it’s easy to imagine that the closure was founded less in the Paragon community’s disinterest and more in the developer’s Fortnite-induced tunnel vision. Now, Respawn doesn’t have any live-service experiences in its catalogue at the moment, but further down the road, if this tidal wave continues to grow, who’s to say what may be sacrificed to maintain Apex’s momentum.
Alternatively, let’s say Apex takes an abrupt downward turn over the next couple weeks. Respawn is now owned by EA, a publisher that is not known to be patient with developers that don’t synergize with its capricious plans. Given who we’re dealing with, it’s totally possible that one wrong move can turn Apex into the death of Respawn, rather than its champion.
This may come off as some Chicken Little, “the sky is falling” speculation, but less preposterous is the potential effect Apex’s success has on the industry in general. Fortnite proved how much money there could be in cashing in on the popularity of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, leading so many to follow suit. But over time, games like Radical Heights and The Culling 2 demonstrated to developers the consequences of jumping into the battle royale ring without a sound vision. Even solidly designed battle royale experiences like Black Ops 4’s Blackout never garnered hype even close to that of PUBG and Fortnite.
This waning interest gave a real sense that battle royale development may soon die down, but Apex Legends resuscitated it back to the forefront of the industry. Not only does this game prove that the demand for battle royale is still greater than seemingly anything else, but also that it doesn’t matter how much time passes, as long as your attempt strikes the appropriate nerves. With this one release, we could be stuck in this battle royale rut for years to come.
Contrary to how it comes off, I agree battle royale deserves its place in gaming, but what’s less tolerable is the uninspired cash-grab that has come with it. This industry that we all love thrives on innovation and there’s only so much that can be done with this specific mode. Whatever its enticing qualities, the battle royale genre is relatively rigid in structure. Even something as innovative as Apex really doesn’t stray far off tune if looked at from a broader perspective: squad-based, elimination-style combat, check; dropping in from an aerial vehicle, check; massive player count, check; resource gathering, check; etc.
If all people want going forward are recycled battle royale experiences of varying qualities, I’ll accept that I’m an outvoted relic of a bygone age, but I dream of a world in which we can enjoy the occasional battle royale mode without it becoming a development default because nothing else can compete. As for the fate of Titanfall, I still have some hope. Respawn has confirmed that there is a “premium” Titanfall project getting announced later this year (which seems to contradict earlier statements, but we’ll just have to wait and see what it means). And in a smaller victory, the popularity of Apex has reinvigorated Titanfall 2’s servers, which I can’t help but thank it for. Even if battle royale eventually takes over the world, it’s good to know it can coexist with Titanfall, at least for the time being.