The Apex Legends Revolution
How Respawn’s new battle royale changed the genre and the industry itself
For the last year, the battle royale genre has been defined by one game. Love it or hate it, Fortnite was the undisputed leader in the space and no game could come close. Plenty tried and were wholly unsuccessful at creating the spark needed to topple the giant.
PUBG kicked off the new wave of battle royales after H1Z1 originated the genre, but quickly collapsed under the weight of Bluehole’s inability to adapt to the changing landscape that Fortnite was creating.
Escape from Tarkov tried to tip the scales in the direction of ultra-realistic gameplay but simply couldn’t find a widespread audience to dive on board.
Radical Heights tried to take things to a playful and light-hearted place, but developers Boss Key Games were bogged down by the previous failure of Lawbreakers and shut down only a few weeks after the game released.
The Darwin Project tried to turn things into a true Hunger Games-style experience complete with an announcer and ways for viewers to chip in with a unique voting system, but it too fell before the giant that is Fortnite.
Blackout, which shipped with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, tried to capture their existing audience with a very Call of Duty-fied take on the genre, but it soon grew stale as the updates slowed to a snail’s pace.
After 12 months, though, Fortnite finally has some real, bonafide competition that came from the unlikeliest of places.
Word first broke on February 2 that a new battle royale was set to touch down from Respawn Entertainment, the developers behind the underrated Titanfall series, call Apex Legends. For the most part, this rumor was met with a collective shrug from the gaming community as we had grown tired of seeing new battle royales try (and fail) to stand up against Fortnite.
While Titanfall was certainly a series that deserves much more praise than it got, Apex Legends simply felt like yet another battle royale wannabe that would soon fall by the wayside.
Boy, how wrong we were! It’s only been two weeks since the game came out, but it’s already abundantly clear that Apex Legends is here to stay and has completely changed the landscape of not only battle royales but of video games in general.
How Apex Legends changed the gaming industry
Let’s touch on the latter half of that first before diving into battle royales specifically.
The manner in which Apex Legend launched was something we haven’t really ever seen in the gaming space, as Respawn decided against any sort of slow drip marketing and officially announced the game on the same day it released. As I put it on the Super Jump Podcast last week, Respawn “pulled a Beyonce” and gave us a full-fledged release out of nowhere.
It’s that last part I think is most important of all. We might have seen small indie devs drop games out of nowhere, but Apex Legends is a full-on AAA title with incredible polish. This game feels good. Whereas games like PUBG fell because they couldn’t solve the laundry list of bugs that appeared on a regular basis, Apex Legends came out the gate feeling like $60 title.
Speaking of price, did I mention that this game is completely free? Despite feeling like the most polished battle royale on the market, it doesn’t cost a dime to jump in. This is key to Apex Legends’ success as many of the other competitors to Fortnite came with a price tag, but Respawn decided to go free-to-play and it certainly paid off in the form of 25 million players in the first three weeks.
Given the immense success of this marketing strategy (or lack thereof), expect to see many more companies try and replicate it to mixed results. Apex Legends’ success sort of feels like a lightning in a bottle type situation that very well may never happen again. Sure, companies will try their hand at pulling Beyonces of their own, but most will likely fail.
Apex Legends benefitted from a battle royale community that was desperately looking for something fresh in the face of the old guard that was Fortnite, Blackout, and PUBG. It was the innovation of Apex Legends that set it apart from the other battle royale titles and that truly allowed the game to flourish.
How Apex Legends changed the battle royale genre forever
After almost two years, it seemed like there wasn’t much else anyone could do to innovate the genre. The building in Fortnite seemed like it was just about all that could be done to break the mold. Anything else attempted by other games (the announcers of Radical Heights and The Darwin Project, the item management of Escape from Tarkov) didn’t hold weight to the tried and true staples that PUBG and Fortnite perfected.
Rather than added in new mechanics that sought to completely flip the genre on its head, Respawn simply took the vanilla formula of battle royales and added in a few key elements that brought insane amounts to the table without disrupting what people knew and loved about battle royales.
Gimme the loot
One of the biggest ways that Apex Legends has done this is in the way that the game handles loot. While it’s got the same RNG elements of finding different weapons each time you load in, Apex Legends does something that curbs a bit of the randomness to give some semblance of regularity to the equation.
Rather than giving every location equal weight, every named location has a certain percentage chance to have a certain level of loot and when you cross into an area, a pop-up comes on the screen and shows what level it is (either mid-tier or high-tier loot). This gives you a chance to better plan your strategy since if you’re in a mid-tier area, you don’t need to loot the entire thing once you get something you’re comfortable with. This takes plenty of the guesswork out and allows you to stay in the action as much as possible.
I’m bout that action, boss
Speaking of the action, everything about the movement in Apex Legends feels better than any other battle royale out there. The game thankfully steers clear of the complexity that is Fortnite’s building and puts forth what you’d expect from a typical first-person shooter. With that being said, though, the game has a couple of things that truly set it apart from the other games.
First, and most importantly, is the sliding. My god does it feel great! After gaining a bit of momentum with the sprint function, simply hitting the crouch key puts you into a slide that not only gives you a ton of speed when going downhill, but it just feels great. I’m the kind of person that switches weapons and jumps a lot when playing shooters, so the ability to slide just gives me another compulsive thing to do that feels great every time.
In addition to the amazing movement through sliding, Apex Legends gets a massive boost with the help of jump tower balloons that allow you to redeploy your gliders and rotate around the map fairly easily. The concept of redeploying your glider is something that Fortnite has struggled to balance over the last few months, but Apex Legends has managed to do it right off the bat.
Never leave a man behind
In every other battle royale on the market, when you die, you’re dead. There might be some respawn modes, but the main modes are one and done.
Not Apex Legends.
Respawn decided to buck the trend (you should be sensing a theme here) and do something that hasn’t been seen at all in a battle royale to this date. When you are down and eliminated by an opponent, your teammates have about 90 seconds to pick up your “banner,” which can then be taken to a designated respawn point that will then bring your back into the action.
While any sort of respawn mechanic might seem a bit busted in a battle royale, the respawn points are usually quite aways away and are out in the middle of an open area. Not only that, but the dropship that brings you back can be seen from a long ways away, making you an easy target for an ambush if an enemy team is around. If all that wasn’t enough, you come back with no weapons at all in this method, making you a sitting duck if said ambush does manage to come down on you.
As such, the mechanic is incredibly balanced and doesn’t break the flow of the game at all. There’s no doubt in my mind that future battle royales will mess around with this mechanic to try and keep up with Apex Legends in the future.
Who needs mics when you can just ping?
Succeeding at a battle royale takes an immense amount of communication. Callouts for enemies and loot midfight are sometimes a bit tough even for the most well-coordinated squads. As such, playing any battle royale with randoms is often a chore and a half.
When I first heard that Apex Legends had no solo mode and was only available in trios, I was worried that these communications problems would completely ruin the experience and prevent a solo player like myself from having fun.
Boy was I wrong.
Apex Legends manages to circumvent this by creating what is most definitely a new standard for battle royales: the ping system.
With the press of a button, you can tag enemies, tag loot, ask for ammo, declare a direction to go, you name it. It’s quite possible to win a game of Apex Legends without uttering a single word and it’s all due to the ping system. Sure, nothing can beat good old voice chat, but when many people play the game without that, the ping system is a godsend.
It’s important to note that Apex Legends didn’t invent pings. A basic ping system is present in just about every battle royale. The difference is that in games like PUBG and Fortnite, pinging something means simply dropping a marker; there’s no indication if that means a possible location to rotate or an enemy.
Apex Legends took this basic concept and injected it with steroids that have completely changed the game. The brilliance of this is that the game recognizes what you’re pinging and changes the command accordingly.
Staring at an enemy? Your character calls out the enemy and it marks the map with a red diamond.
Staring at a weapon, item, or attachment? Your character names the weapon and it marks the map with the icon of whatever you pinged.
Staring at empty space? Your character lets your team know you want to move there and marks the map with a waypoint marker.
It’s an incredibly simple system, to be sure, but it makes a world of a difference and is one of the biggest things that sets Apex Legends apart from the battle royale stalwarts like PUBG and Fortnite. Expect to see future games implement this ping system into their games.
It’s only been two weeks and it will be a long time before Apex Legends gets anywhere close to the user base that Fortnite has, but there’s simply no denying the early staying power of the game.
Twitch viewership isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to the popularity and longevity of a game, but it’s a pretty good barometer. Since Apex Legends released on February 4, it has been sitting at the top of Twitch by a large margin. There were brief moments where it fell during the Fortnite Secret Skirmish event, but as soon as that ended, Apex was right back on top and it’s been there ever since. Again, this doesn’t mean it will always be like this, but it’s something that just hasn’t happened for more than a day or so in the last 12 months since Fortnite exploded. The fact that Apex Legends has done this for two weeks is astonishing.
The true determining factor of whether this game will eventually topple the giant will be Respawn’s update schedule. A large part of what has made Fortnite so successful is the weekly update schedule Epic Games has been able to maintain. While it’s true that this schedule and Epic’s desire to add tons of new items all the time has led to many of the problems and frustrations from the community, it’s still been Epic’s main key to success.
If Respawn can take a page from that book by actually listening to the community and updating the game on a regular basis, Apex Legends has a real shot at lasting success here. Respawn has already expressed a desire to just that so all that’s left now is to see if they can deliver.
Wherever you might fall on the battle royale spectrum, there’s no denying that 2019 is shaping up to be a massive year for fans of the genre.
I absolutely can’t wait.