The last thing the world needs is yet another Battle Royale game, right? Well, if we hadn’t already played Respawn Entertainment’s latest, we might be inclined to agree with you. With its last series, Titanfall, the Californian-based developer pushed the first person shooter genre toward faster gameplay with enhanced, double jumping movement, and now with the newly revealed Apex Legends — it has set the tone for what squad-based Battle Royale should look like going forward.
The best part? Apex Legends is a full release, it’s free to play and it’s out right now. But with Respawn busy working on Titanfall 3 and Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, the question is, where did this surprise shooter come from?
Building a Legend
Lead Designer Fairfax “Mackey” McCandlish explains: “As we began prototyping for the game after Titanfall 2, we were exploring characters, exploring social and on top of all this we were exploring survival game modes in Titanfall 2, because we were fans of ARMA — fans of the survival genre. Then suddenly, along comes PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in March 2017 and it says, ‘Look, here’s a recipe for survival that works.’ That game blew up, so during our prototype process, we tried that model using Titanfall tech and it was just instantly fun.”
Although it’s set in the same world as it’s mechtastic counterpart, thankfully, Apex Legends isn’t just a Battle Royale shoehorned into the Titanfall universe. “We discovered fairly early on that Titans didn’t lend themselves very well to Battle Royale,” he continued. “The genre has certain conventions and one of those is inherent fairness, similar to poker, where you each get two cards. It’s not like some people get four cards and you get two. So we could tell that the Titanfall mechanics didn’t gel well with that inherent fairness… imagine If someone showed up at the final circle with a Titan and [another player] didn’t have one. Especially with where our tech was at the time, it meant that we couldn’t just do an instant Battle Royale, like the way Rockstar did a little mode in GTA V. We didn’t have the tech.”
It’s taken two years for Respawn to get there, avoiding the pitfalls of doing an early access release by developing in secret and releasing the game alongside its announcement. The result? An enjoyable mix of the fresh and the familiar. Apex Legends takes a bunch of Battle Royale staples, like dropping from a plane, starting out with no weapons or gear, and fighting to be the last man standing, but then refines them into tight and polished three-man squad play with class-based characters.
PICK YOUR CHARACTERS
The first thing you might notice when you boot up Apex Legends is that you aren’t just picking skins to look flashy and show off. In Respawn’s battle royale, players have to choose from eight characters, each boasting their own set of individual tactical and ultimate abilities. In practice, this mesh of fast-paced shooting and class-based shooting feels like a blend of Call Of Duty’s Blackout mode and Ubisoft’s ever-popular team shooter, Rainbow Six Siege.
Lifeline, for example, is a character that boasts a health bot that can heal teammates, a directional shield to protect her when reviving buddies and an ultimate ability that let’s her call in a supply pod. Bloodhound is a different beast. He can ping the nearby area to see if enemies are close, passively call out points where enemies have passed through, and can even enter ‘Beast of the Hunt’ vision in order to reveal footstep trails and flush out where enemies are hiding.
While they’re all pretty easy to pick up and play, Mackey suggests picking Gibraltar if you’re new. “He’s a great character because, if you’re in trouble, you hit your tactical and you’ve got a shield around you, so you can catch your breath for a moment. If you’re in real trouble, you can throw down your giant barrage in their general direction and that should give you a chance to get back into it. [Gibraltar] can also block when you aim down sights because a shield pops up, meaning you can take an extra hit.”
Like in Rainbow Six Siege, your squad picks one character at a time before each round starts, letting you carefully draft up a squad of characters that work well together. “A secret tip is that the more you play with the same people and the same characters, the more you’ll realise the subtle magic between those characters that only exists when you play in those unique combinations.”
JUMPMASTER TO THE HOT ZONE
Ever get split up from your buddies when dropping into Black Ops 4 or PUBG? Well, it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief, because that’s not a problem in Apex Legends. This time, a designated Jumpmaster decides when you jump and then flies all three of you together down to the ground.
“We ended up creating the Jumpmaster system because we knew we wanted squads to land together, and it’s another place where other games in the genre weren’t as successful,” explains Mackey, “If you want to peel off we’re not stopping you, but we’re making it a lot easier to play as a squad.”
But where do you want to drop? One location on the map is clearly marked as a Hot Zone, where you’ll find high-end weapons and loot for a good start, while a supply ship moves in as you’re dropping, and you can land on it mid-flight if you time it right. You’ll know if you’re going to get into a fight when you land because, as Mackey points out, “When you’re dropping, you’ve got jump trails so you can see if someone else is dropping near you and veer off to a safer location.”
COMMS GET SMARTER, NOT HARDER
Trying to explain where exactly an enemy is shooting from can be an absolute nightmare in PUBG or Fortnite, and seasoned battle royale vets will know the pain of trying to guide a friend to that last little loot spot. Thankfully, the Smart Comms in Apex Legends helps ease the pain, with context sensitive pings that tell your team exactly what they need to know, where stuff is, and if you’re feeling poilte — even lets you call dibs or say thanks .
“In Battle Royale [games] it’s hard to tell where people are going, so what if you could easily communicate without voice chat?” asks Mackey, “We made a rule, we turned comms off and said we were going to make it fun with no comms in a squad. So we created this Smart Comms system where you can say, ‘OK, I’m going over here’ or ‘I saw an enemy over there’ or ‘I’m going to loot here’ with one button.”
RESPAWN FOR MORE ENTERTAINMENT
If one game develoepr was going to figure out how to implement respawning in Battle Royale, it kind of had to be Respawn, right? “We’ve had the respawn mechanic for almost a year now,” Mackey reveals, “because when you play squads a lot, you realise it’s no fun to always be watching your teammates play or saying, ‘Hey, kill yourself so we can play again!’ We knew we had to solve that.”
If one of you is downed and can’t be revived in time, you’re not forced to sit and watch on the sidelines anymore, but can be brought back into the fight by one of your squadmates grabbing your character card from your dropped loot and delivering it to a respawn beacon.
There’s a twist though. You’ll drop in with none of your old kit, and when you come back to the fight, the drop ship will signal your location to nearby enemies, adding in a welcome element of danger.
SLIDE TO THE MIDDLE
While we already miss Titanfall’s double jumping and wall running, luckily, players can still zipline up and down ropes, mantle up walls and, in one of the best parts of Apex Legends’ movement, even slide down hills. The sound of slipping through mud is great, and it’s much quicker than running. In fact, it’s an integral part of the map design.
“The map’s also designed like a big bowl to take advantage of our slide mechanic,” Mackey explained, “so you can always go from the outside to the inside relatively smoothly by sliding down big hills.”
Apex Legends might have seemingly come out of nowhere, but Respawn has been developing this and (learning from the rest of the genre) over the last two years. The studio’s come up with some great solutions to the more awkward parts of squad play in Battle Royale, has delivered a tightly designed map, and offers up some surprisingly interesting characters to play as. Sure, it isn’t Titanfall 3, but Apex Legends still more than worth checking out.