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With the continued dominance of Fortnite and the pervasive nature of the Battle Royale genre in general, it’s not surprising that reactionary responses to the phenomenon are both coming and going. Right now, there are more Battle Royale games to play than you’re probably able to remember, but far fewer that have made as much an impact as Respawn’s Apex Legends. Despite its questionably bland name, nothing else about this surprising release can be described as the same. Apex Legends is faster, smarter and more refined than most of its competition, which is why it’s easily one of the best Battle Royales you can play today.

Apex Legends immediately stands out because the way that it differs from the likes of Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and the genre staples in general. There are no individual modes for solo, duos and more, instead only featuring a single match type that puts 20 teams of three player squads into battle across a single map. The goal is the same – you’re tasked with looting weapons, armour and more across the map and eliminating all other teams – but Apex Legends combs over each element to make small but meaningful changes to each of them. Something as simple as death, which used to be the end of a round and the prompt to start another, is altered to allow for dynamic and exciting plays to try and revive your teammates. It’s reined in by limiting where you can revive someone, and how much time you must do so, making this otherwise large change feel balanced.

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The biggest change is its different characters. Apex Legends gives you up to eight different characters to choose from, each with their own abilities that are meant to synergize with the rest of your squad. Lifeline, for example, can deploy a stationary healing drone that can provide free healing to teammates around you, while also passively letting you revive fallen ones faster. Gibraltar, a more offensively designed one, features a deployable dome shield that can help protect you and others from his destructive air strikes. Player abilities are easy enough to understand that hopping between them is simple enough, but also forgiving enough that not entirely understanding the breadth of their capacity to influence a game is paramount to victory. Unlike a shooter like Overwatch, these abilities make skirmishes less about who has a better scope, and who can make the best with which they have with the abilities at their disposal.

That’s not to say that gear isn’t important, and Apex Legends benefits from its connection to Titanfall in making the learning curve smoother. Weapons you remember from its two campaigns reappear here with similar characteristics, but some slight changes to their balancing to suit the new mode. Assault Rifles, for example, initially start with far less ammunition in the clip than you might expect, never ensuring a clean kill with a single magazine. Attachments that are strewn around the map expand this, but Apex Legends already feels like it needs to balance some of its weapon tiers a little more tightly. Some weapons feel worthless in their current state, while types like shotguns and sniper rifles often feel essential. The time-to-kill feels abnormally high for many weapons on the roster right now, which can make some last circle plays a little deflating.

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The feel of skirmishes can’t be lumped in the same basket though. Titanfall 2 established a phenomenal formula for the way weapons feel in both handling and firing, and Apex Legends brings with it the best that makeup. Shooting feels impactful and responsive, and the twitch-based nature of engagements gives the game a sense of speed that even Call of Duty’s Blackout never realized. Apex Legends revels in frantic firefights and up-close battles, encouraging risky movements and daring escapes. It feels incredible to slide into a losing fight, pick up fallen teammates banners and escape for a quick respawn, only to come back and wipe up your previous aggressors. Apex Legends is full of the same sorts of dynamic stories that so many Battle Royale games generate, but far fewer start off with extended periods of hiding and waiting.

Part of what makes that possible is the sheer breadth of movement every character has. Sliding down cliffs is a great way to escape at a speed sprinting could never give you, while falling down a massive ravine without the worry of a damaging impact lets you be riskier with your tactics. Apex Legends removes double jumps and wall running, which you might miss from Titanfall’s even faster multiplayer sessions, but it still feels incredibly refined as you’re zipping around from one encampment to another with a great sense of fluidity.

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What Apex Legends does exceptionally well, and what unequivocally makes it compelling to play both with a group of friends of alone, is its Ping System. With the tap of a button, you’re able to mark any number of items and locations that are then transcribed into contextual hints and markers to the rest of your team to work with. Aiming at a weapon will mark its location to teammates, and a corresponding ping from them will keep it showing on their screen while also marking it for them to pick up. A location can be pinged to either suggest a spot to move to, or double pinged to indicate an enemy sighting. The breadth of options and smart responses that this system has puts it far above any other similar feature in other shooter and makes Apex Legends breathlessly easy to play without the need for voice communication at all. It’s useful enough that it makes vocal call outs meaningless too, since a direct marker on your screen is far easier to follow than parsing out compass degree notches or vague direction callouts from teammates.

Inventory management is a much bigger part of Battle Royale shooters than most others, and Apex Legends skirts around the issues other games have had with this with ease too. Contextual popups for weapons appear as you hover over them, giving you immediate information about how many attachments you might have for a weapon on hand or which will automatically transfer over if you choose to swap. You’re never stuck wondering if you have better gear on you than what’s on the floor either, as quick equip options are disabled for you do come across them too. Even ammo types, which can sometimes be far too confusing for their own good, are colour-coded and presented with distinct icons that make them easy to parse and sort through. Apex Legends knows you need to be more focused on looting fast and getting back into the action, and everything about its inventory management lets you do that without much fuss.

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Smart, accessible features like this permeate throughout many other common traits of the Battle Royale formula too. Dropping out of your airship at the beginning of the match can be handled by a single player, with the other two following in tow automatically should they choose to. There are no staging areas in-between matches while players are found, and an accessible shooting range in the game’s tutorial gives you a hostile-free space to test out weapons without other players annoying hitting you with an inflatable pickaxe. These small changes all add up to making Apex Legends far more approachable for new players and will likely make you wish they had been in past Battle Royales you might have sunk hundreds of hours into already.

It’s a combination of these smart accessibility features, tight, impactful first-person shooting and a rethinking of what the standard rules of Battle Royales can be that makes Apex Legends feel like a fresh new take on a genre that’s still in its infancy. While so many are trying to replicate the success of their competitors, Apex Legends is intelligently learning from them and their shortfalls, resulting in a shooter that is both easy to get into but also deep enough to make learning its rules engrossing and fun. There’s some roughness around balancing that can be sorted out with the introduction or new characters and tweaks to existing ones, and some fine tuning to the weapons you’re able to pick up. But right now Apex Legends is polished, clever and deeply engaging, making it a fine choice to either be your first foray into the genre or a replacement for ones that might have grown stale.

Last Updated: February 13, 2019

Apex Legends
Apex Legends is a surprisingly different interpretation of the Battle Royale formula that introduces new rules for engagement while also refining many of the issues the genre has grappled with for months. It's ingenious tagging system and clever character abilities make it a multiplayer shooter that's easy to pick up and play, but also deep enough to sink hundreds of hours into for months to come.
9.0
Apex Legends was reviewed on PlayStation 4
89 / 100

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