A Surprise ‘Fortnite’ Competitor Just Came Out of Nowhere: ‘Apex Legends’

Here’s what you need know about the newest free-to-play battle royale on the block

apex legends mobile
Apex Legends

Before the video-game-loving internet could wipe the confused look off its face when Kotaku published a mysterious story on Saturday—which claimed EA would soon release an unannounced free-to-play battle royale game—Apex Legends came out, planting a flag in the Fortnite-dominated landscape of competitive shooters.

On Monday, spoiled only a little bit by the rumors, EA surprised the gaming world by putting out Respawn’s next game, Apex Legends, for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. It was a secretive launch for what the developer and publisher hope is a serious contender in the growing battle royale space. It’s neat that one of the biggest publishers can release a Triple-A game from a celebrated developer with (almost) no one the wiser, but such a launch leaves a lot of questions.

What is Apex Legends?

Apex Legends is a new free-to-play sci-fi, multiplayer cooperative/competitive, battle royale shooter set in the Titanfall universe.

It contains many of the elements that people will be familiar with from popular battle royale games like FortnitePlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode. Apex Legends has a limited number of players in a contest to see who will be the last person/team standing. It has an ever-shrinking ring that limits the playfield for competitors who last in the bout. It has varying loot with degrees of rarity and power. You play for in-game currency (which can also be bought with real-life currency) to unlock cosmetics and characters. You even jump out of a ship to soar down and land on a singular island map. Additionally, as a free-to-play game, Apex Legends follows the Fortnite model and sells a seasonal Battle Pass.

“The Battle Pass is a seasonal system that rewards players with exclusive cosmetic items,” according to the game’s FAQ. “These rewards are a mix of exclusive seasonal cosmetics and Apex Packs. Every player can unlock some of these items each season through normal play; those who choose to purchase the Battle Pass can earn everything available that season, around 100 different rewards.” Additionally, as is the trend with many games today, once you level up, you will receive an Apex Pack that contains a variety of different cosmetic items.

With so many similarities, you might think that it’s another run-of-the-mill clone that’s trying to cash in on the battle royale trend. But you’d be wrong.

How is Apex Legends different from Fortnite?

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EA Games

Though Apex Legends has a lot in common with other battle royale games, it has a variety of elements that make it unique. Think of it like Fortnite/PUBG/Blackout mixed with Titanfall and a little Overwatch thrown in for good measure.

One of the larger differences that Apex Legends brings to the genre is character-specific powers, hence the Overwatch comparison. Players choose from a cast of characters who each have a tactical ability, a passive ability and an ultimate ability. For example, Pathfinder, the robot character, has a grappling hook as a tactical ability, it can find where the ring will shrink next as a passive ability, and it can create a zip line for its teammates as an ultimate ability. Wraith, an “interdimensional skirmisher,” has teleportation as a tactical ability, she can get a warning when danger is near as a passive ability, and she can create portals connecting two points for her team as her ultimate ability. Additionally, there appears to be loot that alters stats, like increasing the health regeneration rate.

At launch, Apex Legends offers only a competitive squad mode, where teams of three face off against each other. According to Giant Bomb, representatives at Respawn did not say they were exclusively committed to this as the only offered mode and that other options may follow.

The game has lots of super-interesting quality-of-life things that evolve the genre in compelling ways. Instead of a squad counting on each other to land in the same place at the beginning of a match, one jump leader takes charge and makes the decision. If a member or two of your squad has been killed, there are points where you can respawn them. If you are knocked down, there is a shield you can deploy to try to protect yourself while waiting for help. Another difference, for all those frustrated by Fortnite, is that Apex Legends has no building in it.

Maybe the most important difference of all: It is a game by Respawn. The developer, which rose like a coding phoenix out of the ashes of a Call of Duty/Activision scuffle, has released two games: 2014’s Titanfall and 2016’s Titanfall 2. Both games introduced gameplay with an emphasis on mobility and traversal that has been copied (but never really duplicated) by many releases in the ensuing years.

Titanfall 2, especially, just felt amazing to play. And when EA acquired Respawn at the end of 2017, there were some concerns that the developer would be bent to the publisher’s will and we might not ever get a game like that again. Apex Legends just might be the Titanfall sequel many people, myself included, have wanted.

How do I play it?

It’s a free download on the PlayStation and Xbox Stores, and it’s available on EA’s Origin launcher on PC. The game currently doesn’t feature cross-play between platforms, but the FAQ says the team is “always working on new features and improvements.”

How do I get good?

You’re going to have to practice if you want to improve. Respawn has been very outspoken in saying that everything you can buy or earn in the game will not give players an advantage over others in playing the game: “In Apex Legends, we don’t sell any items that offer a gameplay advantage. When you enter the Ring, no player will have an advantage based on how much they have spent. Apex is supported primarily by cosmetics and new characters (which can also be earned).”

What does it mean for video games?

Apex Legends comes at a fascinating time as the battle royale genre begins to mature into its third year and as Games as a Service continue to dominate the industry’s business models.

This game could be seen as many different things. It could be an ambitious experiment for EA into a new game area. It could also be seen as something of a throwaway. Respawn could have been developing Apex Legends when it was acquired by EA, and instead of losing all the assets and work, the publisher decided to put it out in an odd way.

EA’s involvement does weigh this weird release down a bit. There are many questions still surrounding whether players can trust the publisher’s intentions with a free-to-play game and loot boxes. Star Wars Battlefront II’s release wasn’t all that long ago.

Another EA-owned studio is releasing yet another Game as a Service in just a few weeks, with BioWare’s Anthem. Though the two sci-fi shooters are different enough to conceivably attract separate audiences (one is cooperative and one is cooperative/competitive), they still both want to keep players tapped into their individual ecosystems for as long as possible. This ultimately seems like EA is competing with itself. I’ve predicted that this year will be the high-water mark for Games as a Service, and situations like this only add weight to my argument.

At the end of the day, Apex Legends is super exciting. Though there aren’t any mechs, I’ve been hungry for another Titanfall game that plays with the robust thrill that Respawn always delivers. And it doesn’t look like Titanfall 3 is coming anytime soon.

From an industry perspective, competition is a good thing. I don’t think Fortnite is going anywhere, but it’s great to have new blood in the space to shake things up a bit and prod developers to continue innovating. The inclusion of Overwatch-style character specials is also a neat way to push the genre forward, and there are plenty of other aspects such as respawn points and zip lines that put a new spin on things. I’m extremely interested in seeing how this game plays and evolves over time.

Read more: Are Gamers Fed Up With Too Many ‘Games as a Service’ Titles Like ‘Fortnite’?

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