Battle royale games can feel, particularly for newcomers, like a monumental challenge. Even the most talented players will marathon through sessions in which their best efforts are laborious but futile. Forage for weapons and armor, scramble to eliminate other players for a momentary shot at glory, and push forward into danger to escape the rapidly shrinking circle — and then, more often than not, get killed and start the entire process over.
Skill is of the essence, as are patience and good communication. When playing in squads, the need to speak into a microphone, if only to facilitate teamwork with complete strangers, adds a dollop of anxiety to each scenario. Battle royale games can almost feel like a host body rejecting its players, allowing only the absolute best to enjoy victory.
Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends is no less challenging, but it is more inviting.
Apex Legends’ robust ping system allows squad members to communicate with startling ease and clarity. At its core, it’s a single button I can tap to let everyone know what I’m up to. It renders voice chat with internet strangers largely unnecessary. Want to suggest a location to land on from the dropship? Just point to that area and ping it. Wish to tell your teammates about a nifty weapon upgrade you spotted among the desert dunes? Just aim your crosshair on the attachment and ping it. Want to suggest camping in a nearby bunker? Just ping it.
This feature adapts to the context of situations both in and out of combat. For instance, one player can simply agree to another’s suggestion to head in a general direction by clicking on their ping. Among teams, this voiceless setup becomes a beautiful, seamless, and unspoken tango.
Now, playing with strangers in other battle royale games, the alternative proves to be unbearable. I suspect you’ll get what I mean when you inevitably get paired up with that one player who can’t stop yodeling commands and pointless exclamations into their microphone.
The ping feature is emblematic of Apex Legends’ accessibility and savviness as a multiplayer shooter. Building upon the successes of progenitors like DayZ and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the game doesn’t stray too far from the tried-and-tested formula, but still offers a flavor distinct from those of its peers.
One of Apex Legends’ biggest draws is its emphasis on cooperation, particularly its refreshing twists on permadeath. While reviving squadmates on the brink of death is now a conventional feature among shooters, getting knocked out doesn’t spell the end of my round in this game. Instead, I can gain a second wind if someone picks up a banner that my avatar drops upon death, and then brings it to one of the many beacons dotted around the map. Not only this does this give less experienced players some breathing room to pick up the basics, it incentivizes working together. I’m not going to get far on my own, since other squads will have the opportunity to revive their team members, too.
Unlike its competition, Apex Legends also tosses character classes — common in hero shooters like Overwatch — into the mix. The game still sticks to familiar archetypes from such shooters; I have the more combat-focused Bangalore, the defensive tank known as Gibraltar, and the stealthy skirmisher called Wraith. The notion of choosing and learning a character (or Legend, as they are referred to in the game) can seem like an intimidating prospect. For many shooters, picking a different class can offer a wildly different experience, but it also corresponds with a steeper learning curve.
Conversely, the legends in Apex Legends remain on equal footing. This is largely made possible due to their abilities, which are unique enough to differentiate the classes, but slight enough to complement rather than overwhelm one another. Not only does this make switching between classes a lot less complex, it further accentuates teamwork rather than individual skill.
Take Pathfinder, an automaton that’s handy for mapping out shortcuts and unconventional paths out of danger. Its abilities mainly revolve around its grappling hook, which lets the character quickly reach areas that others can’t easily access. Meanwhile, the soldier Bangalore has a passive ability that allows her to sprint faster while taking fire, or call in an artillery strike that’s more useful at scattering opposing squads rather than eviscerating platoons of enemies.
Instead, my lethality in combat has more to do with the array of weapons I can get hold of in this sprawling battleground. Here’s another clear example of Respawn’s meticulousness. Coupled with the aforementioned ping system, these traits work in concert to deliver an exhilarating battle royale experience — one that’s hyper-focused on elevating teamwork.
It would be remiss of me not to point out the small but diverse roster of characters in Apex Legends. Out of the current band of eight Legends, the presence of four people of color and two LGBTQ characters is a heartening first step. In particular, the mysterious hunter Bloodhound is probably the most — if not the first — prominent example of a nonbinary character in a mainstream shooter. Yet Apex Legends also faces the same narrative challenges that the relatively progressive Overwatch had with inclusivity. In a genre that carries a greater emphasis on gameplay rather than storytelling, injecting meaningful representation can admittedly be a trying process.
For instance, Gibraltar’s character biography on the Apex Legends website casually mentions a boyfriend, but players who mostly just interact with the core game can easily miss this detail. It’ll be interesting to see how — or if — Respawn will expand upon Apex Legends’ lore and stories. Perhaps that’ll come through comics or short films in the near future, if the studio follows the formula established by similar competitive online games that use other media to carry the bulk of the story.
The very concept of becoming the last combatant standing is a core tenet of battle royale games, but it has also kept the genre intimidating for rookies. Even with a significantly smaller number of players per session in Apex Legends, the game features a steep learning curve, while its tutorial level is a tad inadequate in familiarizing newcomers with the game. Yet Apex Legends’ astute take on squad cohesion and its brilliant communication system have made it enormously playable not just for veterans, but newcomers too.
Apex Legends is now available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. The game was reviewed on PC via Origin. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.