In Koshun Takami’s 1999 novel entitled Battle Royale, a randomly selected group of high school students goes to a desert island to take part in a macabre show. After three days, only one of them is to remain alive – otherwise everyone will die. A few years after the book's premiere, the theme became a worldwide phenomenon thanks to Hunger Games, a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and their cinematic adaptations.
The first attempt to translate the straightforward rules of the royal battle into the virtual realm was made in mods to Arma 2 and Minecraft. However, these were merely experiments, preparing the market for the real earthquake that was to come. The battle royale mode to H1Z1 attracted thousands of players, but the real groundbreaker came later, with Playerunknown's Battlegrounds. I can still remember the release of PUBG – and the reactions of players fascinated by the "new formula" of multiplayer competition. However, it was the game released a few months later (and its huge financial success) that really allowed the trend to explode. That game was Fortnite.
The title from Epic Games quickly conquered the world of video games and introduced a kind of monopoly on battle royal games. PUBG subsequently encountered a few slumps in popularity – mainly due to the developer, who was more concerned about their bank accounts than the players – and the discontent of the community has been growing since (although the game is still the number one on Steam). It seemed that the battle royale market was dominated by the two games, and that no new force was able to change the status quo – until Apex Legends came right out of the blue – quite literally; the release of this game was not preceded by even one day of an advertising campaign.
And although I didn't initially predicted a huge success of the game, I thought to myself: "If it’s free, why not give it a shot?" – and it was one of the best decisions of my gaming life. Why? Because Apex Legends redefines the genre, introducing a number of fresh, original ideas and juxtaposing them with tried solutions from the best games of the genre. What does Apex Legends do better than other battle royales, with Fortnite at the forefront?
1. Communication without microphone and chat
One of the most important mechanics that have been completely redesigned in Apex Legends, is the team communication. Until now – not only in Fortnite and PUBG, but in virtually every battle royale which I had the pleasure of playing – the use of the microphone was an indispensable part of gameplay, and lack thereof resulted in the imminent rejection by the rest of the teammates. Why? A person without a mic was of little use for the squad; they could not immediately inform teammates about approaching enemies or potentially useful items.
This is not the case in Apex Legends, where the communication system comes in the simplest possible form, and even players without a microphone can use it without feeling disenfranchised. Pressing the "F" key, you can indicate the place where you saw the enemy. This area is highlighted with a red marker, which allows to precisely tag the opponent.
Another button important for communication is the middle mouse button – it serves a few purposes, depending on the context. By clicking MMB and pointing at a valuable item, you can mark it on the map for your teammates; by pointing the crosshair in any direction and pressing MMB, you can easily indicate a place that you’d like the team to move to. Furthermore, holding down the key calls up a circular menu, from which you can select more specific commands – starting from defend position order, ending with highlighting a location you want to loot.
This is one of the most intuitive solutions in any battle royale – using it consciously is extremely effective during the game proper. However, this system does not make the game itself much easier. Using a microphone can still be advantageous, but this mechanical communication is enough to keep things together 99% of the game – and, most importantly, the visual information is on an equal footing with the voice chat, and players don’t abuse it, may they be blessed.
APEX RESPECTS YOUR TIME
Apex is a game that respects the time of its players. While before the game actually starts in PUBG, we just get bored sitting on an island with other players, in Apex, we can be in another helicopter over another map almost immediately after the end of the previous game. Thanks to this, an unlucky landing that ends with a swift defeat, hurts much less – because you lose much less time than in other battle royales.
2. You. Can. Respawn.
An interesting innovation is the unprecedented system of reviving companions. Fallen enemies (or we ourselves, if we get unlucky) are knocked down, and can be revived for some time. If that doesn’t work, it’s still not the end of the match: the killed avatar leaves into a box with loot, which includes their individual banner that can be carried by another player to the Revive Beacon. When using it, we are defenseless for a moment and exposed to enemy fire, but we can bring the reborn companion back on the game.
Such a solution may seem a bit impractical in the abstract – but it proves really playable and completely changes the approach to the elimination of enemies. In PUBG and Fortnite, it’s enough that you kill the enemy – even with your last bullet and under heavy fire – maybe you don’t win, but you sure as hell are not going down alone. Apex Legends doesn’t promote such ideas, simply because the team that wins a skirmish can resurrect their fallen companions. And although it's not an easy, it can often change the course of the entire game. The last survivor often starts to play in a more thoughtful way, and as long as the last man is standing, the whole team can get back to the game.
Apex Legends also offers more ways of... mocking the opponents. In PUBG and Fortnite, there wasn’t any “statutory” way of doing it – nonetheless, the players soon developed their own meta system, as befits competing creatures. In addition to calling people names on the voice chat (and in global communication), which is very uninventive, players use special animations – e.g. dancing or emoticons – right over the body of a killed opponent, just to enjoy a unique display of domination. Waving at the kill-cam is another way of channeling the feeling of superiority over the victim (btw, if you’re interested in the reasons for this kind of behavior, you might enjoy this article).
The new game by Respawn Entertainment, on the other hand, seems to elevate the mockery to a completely new level. We can approach a knocked down opponent and make a special finisher, for example executing the opponent with a close headshot, which they see in first-person. Such a move may prove irresponsible, however, because it leaves you completely vulnerable for a short period of time. The whole action brings additional points, though, and in some cases may even bring some bonuses (e.g. the fourth level armor is renewed in full if a finisher is completed). It’s fun, risky, and adrenaline-infusing.
4. Unobtrusive in-game store
Micropayments are a vital part of this type of games, and Playerunknown's Battlegrounds takes it a bit too far. At one point, the Bluehole team was literally flooding the game with new skin boxes and novel customization items. Fans were up in arms because the creators focused solely on generating paid content rather than fixing the game. This greedy policy cost them many a player, as people often opted out, switching to the much more polished Fortnite. I am one of those who remained – but I was still nettled by the approach of the devs, more interested in making money than increasing the quality of the experience.
Here, Apex Legends reconsiders once again. First of all, this title, like Fortnite, is free and supported by microtransactions alone. Not once, however, did I get the impression that I was paying for ridiculous skins, caps and other useless garments. Not even once has the game used pop-up windows to inform me about some "incredible special deals."
Respawn Entertainment seems to be very humble in approaching people for their, oftentimes, hard-earned cash, and the shop icon is not very exposed – I took a peek in there out of curiosity and... for the first time I actually wanted to pay for a skin. Those in Apex Legends are not merely textures slapped on the same guns. Just as in Fortnite, the skins completely transform our weapons, similarly to the costumes that totally change the appearance of the character.
5. No random stats
Apex Legends – unlike other battle royale games – doesn’t focus on anonymous dudes fighting for life, but on the so-called legends, i.e. specific and fleshed-out heroes. These differ in their specializations, skills, and even the motivation for participating in this crazy and deadly tournament. There are currently eight to six protagonists available at the beginning, and two that can be unlocked for premium currency or points earned directly in the game. Each of the playable heroes has a different task on the battlefield – they also differ in size and speed.
Skills are important – the legends each have one passive and one tactical ability (that regenerates in a few seconds) as well as one special ability, whose cooldown can take even a few minutes. Most importantly, these characters balance and complement each other, and they’re all equally important on the battlefield. Before the game, we have to choose our own character – they can't be doubled in the same team, so you have to think about your decision carefully.
6. A setting, at last
The uncomfortable problem of the zones which are the very cornerstone of the battle royal genre, is a topic that’s been explained only in the original book. The games have completely instrumentalized it, diversifying the dynamics of the game; using it to gradually shift the focus of gameplay from looting to fighting with others. In PUBG, it's simply some zone; Fortnite makes it a bizarre and deadly storm. None of these games, however, takes much effort to explain why the heck are people fighting inside zones in the first place.
In Apex Legends, the creators made sure there’s a story behind all that. Events such as first blood, change of leading player, and so on are announced by a commentator, the games are being watched by an audience, special screens are scattered around the maps to display the leaderboard and the stats of the top player (as well as their nickname and avatar) – there’s an atmosphere to all that.
7. Low entry level
The most positive surprise about Apex Legends was its entry-level accessibility. Getting the hang in PUBG required at least several dozen hours of getting used to the mechanisms – everyone could fall on a parachute to a specific place and collect the necessary equipment, but working on the tactical sense and getting used to the clumsy, unresponsive control system was quite cumbersome.
It's no different in Fortnite, where constructing an ordinary bridge turns out to be an insurmountable challenge for me to this day. I don’t know man, it just takes a lot more time for me to do it. This mechanics is simply awkward for many players.
Things are quite different in Apex Legends, where the newbies can resort to a handy tutorial introducing them to the basics of the game – learning these allows you to be quite effective from the very beginning; the hard-boiled "skill" simply comes with time, and so this game is a textbook example of Bushnell’s law in practice – easy to learn, hard to master. At the same time, it doesn’t come with the sort of mechanics Fortnite uses to pull the rug and make things artificially complicated (without the construction, the game’s a simple third-person shooter).
8. Teamwork, teamwork
In Apex Legends, sheer numbers aren’t enough to secure a victory. A single clever player can eliminate the entire squad of equally skilled warriors if they fail to work together on the strategic level. A well-coordinated team, on the other hand, can only be defeated by another squad if it cooperates just as well. Apart from communication, it is necessary to support your friends and understand your own role in the team – Wraith, for example, as an inter-dimensional warrior, should install teleports in key locations, which will enable a quick retreat from point A to point B, and Gibraltar, as a tank with the ability to create energy shields, should provide cover to secure such a tactical retreat. It is also important to use the non-verbal communication system (even if you have a microphone).
A player who can rely on their teammates and exchanges information with them is significantly more efficient than even the most skilled lone wolf. This emphasizes the teamplay a lot, which adds a whole new depth to the game.
Apex Legends rules?
I love battle royale and the thrill this genre is able to give. Until now, however, this formula has been ossified with the slothful PUBG and the monopoly of Fortnite. Apex Legends shakes the foundations, cherry-picking the best elements from other games of this type and combining them with its own, great ideas.
I think that Apex is currently the best battle royale out there, and it will probably remain that way for a long time. Everyone will find something of interest here – both the veterans of Playerunknown's Battlegrounds and the Epic’s Fortnite, as well as newcomers, for whom both these games were too inapproachable, but who still would like to try their hand at the murderous games. Will Apex Legends be able to outrival Fortnite, though? Everything seems to indicate that this is possible, although it will certainly take some time.
Michael Pajda | Gamepressure.com