Apex Legends Review – Kinetic Fury Within the Ring

Avatars of death split the sky open, painting war lines across the endless blue with trails of smoke. No fewer than 57 of these aerial warriors will lay broken, beaten, and bloody on the ground by the end. King’s Canyon is a tight field of prefabricated buildings, storage bins, and violence. Death will follow swiftly as the combatants land and scramble for arms. By the time the last pair of boots hit the ground, several will already be dead. The Apex Legends offer few mercies.

The scramble that follows landing feels equal parts rushed and contemplative. There’s a mental game to the resources on the ground. Grab gear quick, or quietly drift into the shadows, starved of combative riches but equally of risks. The quiet lay in wait of the final, inescapable conflicts. The loud blast through their opposition, armed and warmed up for the terminal shot.

Gameplay – 8 / 10

Most are familiar with the formula for battle royale at this point: a shrinking radius squeezes squads of fighters into tighter and tighter quarters until the final battle area puts the final squads face-to-face in a gunfight for victory. The winning squad is awarded the crown, and it all restarts for the next game.

What sets Apex Legends apart is the pace. Nearest comparisons Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds both feel paced a bit slower. Movement is relegated to slow-feeling movement across expansive terrain. The, at the time of writing, only map in Apex feels compact. Players have less to fear from the closing ring than the threat posed by other players. In combat, sprinting, sliding, and heroic skills all bolster an already kinetic game, giving players a real sense of speed and dynamic movement options that means close encounters are much more immediate, visceral, and harrowing.

That said, compared to the full kinetic fury of movement in some open spaces, a lot of the climbing and zip line behaviors feel gummy and awkward, leading to certain sections of the map feeling inhibiting and unfulfilling if the game and player disagree with the result of an intended input.

Having a good run slapped with the wet blanket of sluggish, groggy response to an intended action is the worst kind of let down.

Innovation – 7 / 10

Though, in a majority of play, there is something kind of fresh about Apex Legends. Even if the genre is largely strip-mined by this point, the details are well-attended. Marking items on the ground, audibly and over the HUD of squadmates, feels like the best kind of decision. Marking enemies in a similar way is long overdue.

Likewise, giving players a choice of heroes, each of which brings slight uniqueness topspin to their play through skills, introduces a lot of variety into even subsequent repetitions into the arena. Although none of the heroes feel wildly unique, the skills each provide a new way to address problems that arise through play. What tool a given hero has to address varying combat situations gives players ways to, even momentarily, influence the randomness of loot tables and chaotic item distribution feels like a step in the right direction for a genre that is, otherwise, a roll of the dice.

Likewise, two opportunities for revival feels like a needed iteration that enables slower, defensive play as a rewarding option for even single players within squads.

That said, under all of the nice set dressing is a game that feels familiar. Run, loot, and shoot has been visited and revisited in several ways by several games, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s a bit overdrawn. There’s a sense that it’s all been done before, about as well, and that there’s another way to chase down good gunfights in a way with fewer hurdles and more immediacy.

Combat feels fine, but not strikingly dissimilar from, say, Titanfall 2 that came before it. Titanfall 2’s jet-packed pilots and enormous titans also feel faster, more kinetic, and with a wide variety of player-elected skills, boosts, identical weapon loadouts, and permanent access to preferred loadouts.

In getting so close to a kinetic firefight, intense with rewarding punchiness and energy, worthy of a non-battle royale title, Apex Legends is left wanting because it isn’t quite a non-royale. It’s caught in a no-mans land, where fights could come more quickly and feel like a more traditional deathmatch first-person shooter or could come more slowly and entrench the player in a battle that feels less fly by night.

By doing neither as rewardingly as its nearest peers, it can be hard to find Apex Legends to be as good as it could be.

Community – 7 / 10

Though, to go back to marking items in the game world via a simple mouse button, it means Apex Legends stands in the ideal position to enable quick, efficient communication without the use of voice chat. For players who do not or cannot use microphones, having a non-verbal ability to communicate with teammates fosters an easier, less strained sense of community.

That said, the side effect of this mechanic is that its absence makes uncaring and uncommunicative teammates feel even more slapdash and disinterested in team play and cohesion.

Without the ability to join guilds in the game, or perhaps foster some kind of social network outside of third party programs or existing friend groups, finding good teammates is entirely luck of the draw.

Which would feel less stifling if there were game modes other than three-man squads, which at time of writing, there aren’t.

Graphics  / Sound – 9 / 10

Each of the characters has a unique voice, a unique cadence to their comments and barks, making each one identifiable by a single word into the sentence. The game world plays global updates—change in kill leaders or death of champion squads—over loudspeakers which have a physical presence in varying parts of the map, giving the game a real sense that the world is a finite one. An arena endlessly performing a violent arena sport, likely broadcast across the world, for enraptured onlookers all over the world.

Likewise, the character profiles from a distance, the visual effects to the heroic skills, the recognizable clatter of the gunfire from a distance, the chatter of squadmates as items are called and kill leaders announced, everything feels appreciably real. The threats are around the corner, the chatter of distant gunfire isn’t really that distant, and every sound sits in service of some useful information to the player. Sound, tight game design wrapped in a frenetic shooter.

Though characters are unique and clear, and sound does a great job of humanizing and giving a sense of scale, the world is clearly a long line of identical buildings nestled among very game-like crags, valleys, dips, hills, and towers. The entire world lacks a sort of world of their own, it feels like a manufactured gamespace built for a battle royale videogame, but given the trappings of a kind of sport-shooter-arena, so the illusion of a surrounding world is undermined by banal set dressing for a loot-based risk-reward system.

The big tragedy of a bland world also turns Apex Legends’ speed into a stumbling point. With no real-world worth visiting, except for loot-centered set pieces, there’s no reason to breathe in the atmosphere or take in the sights. Vistas are sniper perches only. Water is a stage barrier only. Ziplines bring no rush of air, just a fast piece of transit to cart squads to different areas. There’s no real incentive to view any area beyond its game use. Run, loot, and shoot. The where isn’t important.

A world of exceptional visual design and tight atmospheric sound design reduced to a fast food diet of gunfire feels so wasted.

Value for Money – 8 / 10

The primary use for transactions in the game exists for players to buy packs. In them are weapon and character skins, a spendable currency to craft those skins as well as little appearance tweaks like the player cards that appear before battle. These items are purely visual, and have no impact on play (save to perhaps render camouflage unlikely).

A secondary use of premium microtransaction currency is to unlock two heroes who are locked by default, though they can also be unlocked by a currency gathered as players raise in levels. It takes until Level 23 to unlock a character through grind only, which takes between 10-25 hours. As shortcuts go, this one is not terribly disruptive, and the unlocked characters are themselves not more powerful or beneficial than those unlocked by default.

Largely, microtransactions are inoffensive, but the sense of grind as players climb in level rank is inescapable, and the free-to-play cost of entry does feel like a way to build a large audience to which Apex Legends may incentivize a few premium purchases to accelerate the grind.

Summary – 7 / 10

Apex Legends is an inoffensive choice among many choices in the battle royale genre of shooter. The kinetic gameplay, harrowing gunfights, and compact play area leaves the game feeling less farcical than Fortnite but far less grave and weighty than PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The hero choices and marking systems give players a wide variety of communication methods that all of its nearest competitors entirely lack. Movement options and stellar sound design give the game a lot of polish, but the vaguely empty and built-by-committee world leaves it all feeling a little absent too.

Overall, it’s hard to fault Apex Legends, but it also feels like it was trying to be something else too and couldn’t quite bridge the gap. It is a fine game, one that will undoubtedly join an inescapable part of the streaming—and undoubtedly eSports—circuit. It just feels like there’s potential in all of the polish, just wasn’t given enough time to percolate and come out of the gate with something bigger.

Pros:

  • Tight mechanics and fast movement gives this small world an alluring immediacy.
  • Familiarity gives the game a short learning curve.
  • Exceptional sound design makes the world, its hazards, and other players instantly identifiable.
  • Player markers give wide player communication options.
  • Hero choice grants a variety to play unlike any in the genre.
  • Giant water creatures southeast of the map! Look at them! They’re so big!

Cons:

  • A drab world design leaves the map feeling like a world put together of pre-built construction brick buildings.
  • The high-speed movement comes with a painful gumminess for even slightly bungled inputs, magnifying the terminality of battle royale games’ progression.
  • Good communication options don’t make up for the lack of ability to organize in-game, without an in-game system to add friends, make clans or guilds, or report jerks.
  • Squads-only game mode limits single person options to luck of the draw.

 

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About Taylor Hidalgo

Taylor Hidalgo is a freelance writer and editor. He's an enthusiast of books, exercise, videogames, and friends. He'd love it if you read his work, let him know if you enjoyed it, and also made friends with him on Twitter.