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Apex Legends Review

Edited by: Tiffany Lillie

This doesn’t make any sense, you guys. Let me just speak in some general terms to give you an idea of how ludicrous the success of Apex Legends is: Electronic Arts, considered by some to be the Wal-Mart of video game publishers, releases a game overnight without making any prior announcements or putting out any promotional materials beforehand. It’s a battle royale title, considered by many to be an oversaturated flavor-of-the-week genre that they’re getting tired of, like the hero shooters of a few years ago. This game is developed by Respawn Entertainment, a studio that everyone believed was working on the third installment of their highly-regarded Titanfall series — but then this came out instead. It’s free-to-play, contains loot boxes and microtransactions, and has a progression system that is sparse with the free rewards. These factors, among others, are what’s working against Apex Legends.

So why is Apex Legends so damn good? Now that we’ve got a look at the game’s first battle pass, I think we’re in a good position to evaluate why it resonates so strongly with people, myself included. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t genuine gripes with the way Apex Legends is put together.

Streamlining systems with simple design.

Rather than introducing big, ambitious concepts into a familiar genre, Apex Legends looks to refine the genre with subtle — but effective — changes. Apex Legends is not a massive evolution of the whole genre; it’s just a necessary step forward in what players can come to expect from their typical battle royale experience. I have to assume that more games will adopt these systems (like Fortnite already has).

One of the first things that most players will notice once they drop out of the plane and start looting is the contextual ping system. Basically, if you know a teammate is looking for a particular item, whether it’s a gun, ammo, or some other equipment, just ping the item and it will pop up on-screen for your entire team. The visual indicator is matched with an “X item here!” callout from your character.

No more asking your Teammate #1 “Where was that level two helmet again?” followed by a series of unsure pings that lead you nowhere because Teammate #2 has already taken it. This isn’t an earth-shattering, revolutionary feature, but it makes communicating with your teammates simpler and easier, and it smooths out the overall game experience. In addition to the looting advantages, players are also able to ping specific information, such as enemy location, which pops up on screen with an urgent red indicator. You can also call out open doors to indicate that another team has already looted an area, or when a loot drop has fallen from the sky. It’s not sexy, but it’s excellent design.

Although it’s not the first game to include this feature, the ability to resurrect your teammates after they’ve been killed provides tremendous quality-of-life. As I’m usually playing this game with a group, other games can be infuriating, because if I die early, I’m stuck watching my friends finish the round at a disadvantage. With the loud noises made by the respawn ship, it also makes for some interesting conflicts, due to your location being made obvious to anyone nearby.

EQUIPMENT

One thing I don’t hear anyone talking about is the way equipment and attachments are applied to your character’s loadout, and I find that to be a shame. The tedium I’ve experienced in PUBG from swapping out different muzzle attachments, grips, magazines, etc. is excessive to say the least. After all that clicking and dragging, most of the time I’d barely notice a difference in the weapon’s behavior, anyways.

In Apex Legends, weapon attachments, armor, backpacks, and knockdown shields are ranked by color and will automatically replace an inferior attachment when you pick it up. No fussing with your inventory over which stock to apply or wondering how many light rounds you’ll be able to pick up and still be able to hold onto your grenades. It’s simple. It works. It doesn’t get in the way of the gameplay. That’s all inventory systems need to be.

No titans, no wallrunning, no problem.

When I heard that the developers of Titanfall made a game with no wallrunning, double jumping, and only trace parkour elements, I was a bit disappointed. The movement in that game was so satisfying and buttery smooth that it took some time for me to adjust to other shooters that didn’t make you feel like Spiderman with an assault rifle. I know there are people out there with similar reactions to the fact that there are no titans in Apex Legends — another trademark of the Titanfall franchise.

I’m here to tell you that despite those missing elements, traversing the environment in Apex Legends is a dream. You’re not Spiderman, but movement is slick, to say the least. Sliding downhill to pick up speed on your way to a new loot zone, mounting a wall to gain an unexpected angle on an enemy team, and using Pathfinder’s grapple to make a quick escape all feels fluid and intuitive. Mastering this movement and making yourself an unpredictable target is necessary for high-skill players.

The weapons that you have at your disposal will feel familiar to Titanfall fans, but not everything feels exactly the same, even if the guns share a name. Still pulling from their Call of Duty roots, Respawn Entertainment has created combat that feels as quick and responsive as any shooter out there. The guns just feel good to fire — especially weapons like the Eva-8 and the R-99 SMG.

It’s not all sunshine and longbows.

For all its strengths in gameplay — and there are plenty — there are two glaring weaknesses to Apex Legends that are worth addressing: the monetization and the netcode. The netcode is one of my only significant complaints, as it’s an important pillar upon which the game is built and it’s folding under the pressure. It’s not uncommon for a firefight to end with a bullet that “curves” around a piece of cover I was definitely behind, killing me and forcing me to buy a new keyboard because I just punched my spacebar in frustration. The servers can be a real mess. There are times (I’d say something like once in every ten rounds) that you get stuck with what my friends and I have come to call a “mud server,” because everyone in the game feels like they’re running around in mud. Everything is slow and miserable until half the server dies off, at which point things return to normal.

I’ve heard people call it “desync” or “server lag.” All I know is that when a game feels this slick and responsive on the front end, it’s an incredible bummer to unload half a magazine from your Spitfire LMG into a guy at close range, watching the damage numbers run way past their max potential health, and then get downed by a couple of blasts from their shotgun. What I see on my screen, apparently, is not matching up with what the server acknowledges. That’s a huge problem that needs to be fixed before Apex Legends cements itself as a long-term contender with Fortnite and PUBG.

A battle pass… just because.

The monetization needs adjustments if it expects to get money out of the casual player. While I’m sure Apex Legends has already locked in a significant portion of spending players to catapult money over to the EA headquarters, they’re going to have to bring a little more substance to their progression if they want me spending money on the next battle pass. I bought the first one because I felt that I had played a free game for two hundred hours and enjoyed it, so I figured $10 isn’t too much to ask to extend my progression. I’m telling you now that I do indeed regret spending that money.

The cosmetics found both in the battle pass and the game’s vanilla progression are rather underwhelming across the board. There are a couple of cool legendary skins that are going to drop almost never, although I didn’t find any of the skins on my main character (Bangalore) to be compelling in the slightest. The battle pass adds no legendary character skins to the game. Does that not sit right with anyone else? In fact, there’s only one legendary skin in the battle pass, and it’s for an underpowered rifle.

But the most egregious error in the cosmetics is the insane amount of filler you’ll find in the battle pass rewards. Twenty badges — basically 20% of the rewards you can earn from the battle pass — are just a red square with your season rank on it. It’s a letdown to say the least. If addictive progression is what keeps you coming back to your games, then Apex Legends is going to fall short in that regard. You’ll need to love the gameplay, deriving nearly all your satisfaction from that. The progression system is going to provide little more than heavy sighs at this point.

Final thoughts.

Make no mistake — I’ve had some real fanboy moments when playing Apex Legends. It’s such a terrific response (gameplay-wise) to what mainstream battle royale games are right now. We have cool variations on the formula out there, like Hunt: Showdown or Battlerite Royale, but this game doesn’t look to be a variation; it’s a refinement. It’s isolating the key fun factors of the genre and adding in the tight gun controls that Respawn Entertainment has nailed over the years.

The netcode problems, however, are a wet blanket on what would otherwise be the best battle royale gameplay on the market. Combine that netcode with a progression and cosmetics system that is quite unfulfilling, and you’ve got drawbacks that will understandably turn away some players. While my understanding of the actual development is limited, it’s my impression that netcode is not something that can be fixed overnight. Hopefully, over a series of updates, these server problems will be resolved, and I hope the reward system sees an overhaul as well. Whether or not upcoming development will focus on these areas remains to be seen, but it’s impossible to deny the high ceiling this game has.

7

The Verdict: Great

I’m not done playing this one. I foresee many more hours going into Apex Legends, but I also see a future where the potential here is squandered. The future of this game is as exciting as it is worrisome; we’ll just have to wait and see how development proceeds. Aside from hoping for these improvements, it's a really good battle royale title.

Adam Wheeler
Written by
Thursday, 18 April 2019 11:05
Published in FPS

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Adam Wheeler loves his computer, his cat, and his work-from-home lifestyle. When he feels the motivation to put on pants, he tells jokes on stage. With no real distractions in his life (friends, relationships, a reason to go outdoors, etc.), he is able to provide in-depth analysis of games and the culture that surrounds them. Adam almost never has anything better to do.

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