The Apex wave came from nowhere and stayed strong. Some fools compared it to Fortnite early, but why the hell does it need to be that? What’s the matter with a game just occupying the space it occupies?
Respawn Entertainment, still freshly moaning in pain from their installation into the EA machine, came in without any apparent intentions of toppling the world. To their credit, everything felt in-lane form the word go. The shooting, art, heroes, and even loot-heavy aspects feel unique to this world even if a lot of basic constructs come from elsewhere. As a result, Apex is mostly phenomenal at what it does without breaking its neck looking to the stars.
With what must be the most marketable idea of this current dark age, you grab a hero from a small list and drop into a team-based battle royale clash. Each of the heroes has their own perks, powers, and ultimates that charge on a timer while your team of three gathers the best combinations of gear on the ground. Last team standing wins the metaphorical prize of pride and dreams of further victory in life.
While certainly familiar, there are two key aspects that Apex holds high. The first aspect is communication, which can be handled entirely within a simple Ping system. Saw an enemy that you shot a bullet at? Ping them. Found some snazzy blue armor? Ping it. Received some great loot from your teammate? Thank them with a fruit basket. It’s all mapped to a trigger so you can put away the mic. Better yet, tell everyone else to do the same.
This accomplishment goes beyond the extraordinary into the realm of neutral reactions within the game itself. If you’re separated from your teammates by some distance to where you can’t hear their plight, their icon with jump with gunfire when they’re shooting, or change color when they need a revive. The hub will notify you when you collect them, when they’re dropping back in, when you’re the last hope for your team. In fact, I can say pretty confidently that this is the first game I’ve played this much that I prefer to play muted.
Doing so actually works in Apex’s benefit as it covers up a lot of vacant air and forced characterization. The legends each have something resembling a character, but none of them are even brought up to those in Overwatch. Mirage is the most pronounced as a stereotypical rogue and the low bar hovers as a challenge amongst the rest of the crew.
Each of them still throw out their lines, which end up just feeling like retreads of what you consume visually. That mixes with ambiance that feels far off with a lack of the terrifying thud of enemy footsteps. Relying solely on the audio, you’d think this is a twitch shooter the likes of Call of Duty because you will only hear what’s/who’s right on top of you. When muted, everything feels more intentional and streamlined, quizzically heightening Apex into a more flowing stratosphere.
Because of all the information visually thrown at you, the hub can feel a little crowded. Your field of view is pretty wide so it doesn’t encroach too greatly on your aiming in the height of battle, it’s just tough to find ready information on your person. Even 70-some-odd matches in, I’m still having to find a quiet spot to take in everything I’m currently carrying and check on the status of my ultimate. The core tenants to keep in your mind are the type of skirmishes you can survive with your weapons and the location of your teammates. Apex, thankfully, never makes it difficult to know either.
The heroes of Apex each have their weird little quirks outside of the core difference in ability. Bloodhound is great for tracking in a close game with wounded enemies while my favorite, Wraith, can connect one area to another through portals and phase shift. Everyone’s abilities unfortunately fall into very tidy boxes without any bleed over or originality. Healer is healer, tank is tank, ongoing damage is ongoing damage etc. Pathfinder is the only hero that comes close to originality thanks to his grappling/zipline abilities.
Inside the one, large island, everything feels a little too tidy in Apex. From the drop, you will know what you’re in for; the name of the location and the tier of loot available flashes on screen as you gain your bearings. This ruins a lot of exploration in areas for me because I already know I only want to make two real stops: the first one and any high tier locale after. This is a strategy that seems flawed but has never bitten me in the butt yet. I’ve either been doomed from the start or found myself in unwinnable firefights (or won).
Moving in Apex feels normal in the short-range but terrific in the mid or long game. Zip lines and ropes are yours for the scaling at the press of a button while massive hills give you the capability to slide to the bottom in seconds. Sliding feels intentionally insane with its range and speed, making any last-second sprints into the closing circle that much more exhilarating.
So, what is all this for in Apex? Unfortunately, the answer is not something worthwhile to me despite the deluge of cosmetics straight from the Overwatch catalog. Winning is tantamount to gaining a loot box in the early going, which drops voices, skins for guns and characters, and other for-looks-only products that are also purchasable. This system feels balanced around Overwatch’s regularity of reward and just as with that game, this gives me absolutely-zero f*cks gained.
It’s not that I’d rather the unlocks per level mean something in gameplay ala Battlefront 2. That doesn’t make the polar opposite result any more palatable. Why not adopt a Super Smash Brothers Ultimate style where you can partially choose what you want to unlock, and then make those unlocks backstory for the characters? Even segments of cutscenes that form into a larger story would feel way more engaging for me to collect because that’s something that feels connected to the game. This type of system makes me think that these characters are my children that I’m taking shopping everytime they get a B- on their report cards. I’m not a father for a reason.
Even so, Apex is a great deal of fun as it continues to live in its own little space of the battle royale genre. It may be one of the best out there when it comes to straight-up gameplay and execution, but as it sits, the content won’t measure up to the biggest competitors. The empty system of unlocks does nothing to stoke any longevity out of my ever-wandering eye to boot. Apex will certainly keep pushing ahead and, just as long as it continues to just be itself, I’d love to stick around for the ride.
Apex Legends Score: