In a surprising step away from the gaming industry’s fascination with long marketing campaigns designed to illicit a sense of anticipation from an increasingly jaded audience, Respawn Entertainment shadow dropped its latest product, a Titanfall spin-off called Apex Legends, a week ago. Even with the Battle Royale sub-genre approaching saturation, Apex Legends has pulled players in their droves – 25 million players in its first week, in fact.
Leaning on the popularity of dozens of high-profile streamers, Apex Legends could be the perfect title to bring gamers into esports, both as players and as viewers.
Battle Royale titles such as the all-conquering Fortnite traditionally have a steep learning curve, as players are forced to learn the mechanics through trial-and-error tactics. These skills are crystallised through dozens of multiplayer matches, and plenty of losses. It’s simultaneously what makes this style of game so compelling and also so hard to break into – a losing streak early on can decimate the confidence of a relative newbie.
Apex Legends’ genius lies in its squad-based spin on Battle Royale. By forcing players into squads, there’s a very good chance a new player will pick up the basics within a round or two. If this fills those with an aversion to voice chat, don’t fret – Apex Legends’ ‘ping’ system allows for tracking of threats, items, locations, and other key battlefield considerations with the touch of a button.
Of course, another distinguishing factor is Apex Legends’ roster of eight unique character classes. Each one is visually distinct enough to be able to identify from a distance, and each has unique abilities that are easy to learn. This gives a personality thats lacking in many of Apex Legend’s contemporaries, particularly when paired with the audio cues from the aforementioned ping system.
So much of a traditional match of Battle Royale titles such as Blackout or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds can devolve into a trudge from one end of the map to the other, particularly in the mid-game. In order to alleviate this, Respawn implemented a risk/reward system for redeploying using one of the red “balloons” located around the map – if you can make it, transport yourself across the map at impressive speeds.
If you are sniped by an enemy, your team-mates have the opportunity to grab your “banner” and get you back in the game by depositing it at one of several locations, known as respawn beacons. While this may seem like a concession made for lower-skilled players, it can lead to exciting situations where a player can fight on, earn another chance for their comrades, and make a surprise appearance in the final circle.
Apex Legends is one of the more accessible titles released in the last few years, and not just in terms of gameplay. Offering three different options for colourblind players, the option to convert text to voice, and voice to text, it’s inclusivity is impressive. This is all to say nothing of its low entry cost – like Fortnite, it’s free.
All of this feeds into Apex Legends as a spectator esport, too. Watching a streamer play with a co-ordinated squad will always be exciting, but the ping system can pick up some of the slack if they aren’t joined by more talkative players. On the subject of speech, the addition of an Announcer brings a “Hunger Games” magic to each match and makes it easier to follow than visual cues can be in the middle of the action.
The map itself is full of bottlenecks which offer ambush opportunities, and traversal is infinitely more kinetic than the more glacial PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – the combination of ziplines, sprinting, and sliding means more skilled players still have room to experiment. This immediacy also makes matches shorter – more palatable for a viewer than watching someone hide in a bush or build ever-taller towers.
With a less cartoony approach than Fortnite, a lower price tag than Blackout and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and an impressive following already from streamers and the gaming press, it seems Apex Legends is here to stay. All the ingredients are there for a strong entry point into esports, and we can’t wait to see it grow.