So far, 2019 has been a great year for gamers across all platforms, with many long-awaited games being a resounding successes, such as Resident Evil 2 and Kingdom Hearts III. There are also many heavy-hitters ahead, with Anthem, The Division 2 and Mortal Kombat 11 releasing in the coming months. However, between all of these well-promoted triple-A titles, one game was released out of the blue and managed to get to the most-watched spot on Twitch over night.
That game is Apex Legends, the newest title created by Respawn Entertainment, the studio formerly known for the Titanfall series. As the game is yet another entry in the already well-established genre of Battle Royale, and knowing that simply announcing the game with a trailer, then releasing it months down the line would make people shrug it off and forget about it, Respawn Entertainment made a daring decision: release the game as soon as the first trailer is released, in the form of a free-to-play title. Because of this, many people were initially rolling their eyes at yet another Battle Royale while watching the trailer, but were eventually won over after trying the game out for free. In fact, the game has won so many people over that in only 3 days, it got over 10 million unique players, and over one million concurrent players. In contrast, it took PUBG almost six months to reach 1 million concurrent players, and that game is published on Steam, a vastly more populated platform than Origin, which is the platform Apex Legends can be played on.
So, what does the game do so well that has allowed it to reach these impressive numbers? Well, a lot: from the monetisation system to certain gameplay refinements, the game is a true gem. First of all, the monetisation system is very friendly: the game is free, which should be enough for most players, but certain cosmetics can also be unlocked for free. Every time players level up by playing the game, they gain one lootbox and small amounts of a currency. Upon opening a lootbox, players unlock three cosmetics (hero skins, voice lines, weapon skins) or parts of a second type of currency.
There are three kinds of currencies in Apex Legends: The first one is “crafting metal,” which, as the name suggests, is used to craft most cosmetics in the game, the second one is the “legend token,” which can be earned by levelling up and is used for unlocking additional legends (characters) and cosmetics, and the last one is the “apex coin,” which can only be purchased with real money and can be used to unlock new legends or spent in a shop that rotates periodically, similar to the one implemented by Fortnite Battle Royale.
But monetisation does not make a game. Not a successful one, at least. Luckily, Apex Legends also has great gameplay to go with its great monetisation system. Apex Legends has the player choose a legend from a roster of 8 (at release), then teaming up with two other players in eliminating other teams with the goal of remaining the last team alive. Each legend has a unique appearance, as well as a passive ability, an active ability and an ultimate ability. The abilities range from being able to track enemies through walls, to summoning a drone that heals allies, to creating a large shield to protect your team.
The gunplay is similar to the one in Titanfall 2, which should be no surprise seeing as, on the technical side, this game works on the same engine, and on the lore side, the game takes place in the same universe as Titanfall, 20 years after the events of Titanfall 2. In fact, Titanfall 2 players will even remember the guns as they have been ported directly to this game. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t feature gigantic titans or fast-paced parkour mechanics.
There are, however, a few features that differentiate Apex Legends not only from the other Battle Royale games, but from all other first-person shooters. First of all, characters are able to slide down hills, which gives them momentum and makes firefights more intense. Secondly, Apex Legends features a respawn system, which is revolutionary to the genre: As long as you get to where your teammate died within 90 seconds, you can retrieve their card, which can then be placed in a respawn station (found across the map). Lastly, the “ping tool” is another great addition that revolutionises the way people interact with strangers in online video games. The ping tool allows the user to point at a certain spot, then pick one message from a quick message wheel to display at that spot. For example, players can tell their teammates that an enemy is in a certain spot, or that they suspect someone was just in that spot. Of course, the ping tool was in other games as well, notably Portal 2, but this is the first time it was used in a fast-paced game that truly needs quick communication.
Apex Legends is a smash hit, surpassing all expectations from a new entry in the Battle Royale genre; it is a title that not only revolutionises its genre, but first-person shooters as a whole, by implementing new mechanics to existent formulas in order to obtain something fresh. Apex Legends represents a lesson of how to think outside the box for every game developer.