Apex Legends – next game from Titanfall developer Respawn, dropped on 4.2.19. There was no fanfare, little pre-warning. The first I knew was a tweet from Eurogamer at about 10am which got shared around my office.
It’s another Battle Royale game. I was excited for the 5 minutes I spent seeing stuff about it floating around on the net until I read those 2 little words. BR. Immediately, my building excitement and anticipation deflated like a balloon poked with the business end of a lit cigarette. My love affair with Blackout turned out to be shorter lived than the average celebrity marriage, although it ended far less acrimoniously. There were no tell-all stories in the gutter press, or loud arguments or tearful recriminations. I eventually just moved on and stopped speaking to it. But my twitter feed is full of streamers losing their shit when the word “Champion” appears on their screens, and I’m left yet again wondering what it is that so many people find so damn attractive about Battle Royale games when they leave me so cold.
But they certainly do find ‘em attractive. Within a couple of hours of its launch, it had over 1 million players. 72 hours after its launch, it had 10 million. A week later (today!), it was announced that the game has 25 million players. 25,000,000. To put that number into perspective, in 2017 Australia had a smaller population than the number of people who have played Apex Legends. As of right now, it’s sitting proudly at the top of the Twitch directory, with nearly 200,000 more people watching it than are watching Fortnite. If Respawn were looking to enter the market with a bang, they’ve certainly managed it. No doubt given their recent run of underperforming games, publisher EA must be absolutely beside themselves with joy – no doubt their accounts department are breathing an enormous sigh of relief. The marketing spend for this game has been… practically the cost of a tweet. Whether you like the game, or the developer, or the publisher or not, that’s a phenomenal achievement. It’s free to play, which certainly helps. A cursory check of the in-game store reveals prices for cosmetics that seem pretty reasonable, to my mind.
It’s curious, isn’t it? People are eager to shout about how much they hate EA… and yet as soon as a FTP BR drops, all is apparently forgiven. I haven’t heard a single person talking about boycotting this because EA’s published it. Weird, huh? Go figure.
In spite of it being BR, I downloaded it anyway. I gave it a go. Within moments of finishing the tutorial, it’s clear that this isn’t a straight-up BR game. Imagine a threesome between Fortnite, Titanfall and Overwatch resulting in a bastard child carrying the best genes of all three parents… and you’ve got Apex Legends. As BR games go, it has to be said that if anything’s going to threaten Fortnite’s long-established dominance, for my money it’s this. All the other BR’s I’ve tried have been rough around the edges (and that’s being generous in the case of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds) – but this one is polished like a diamond. Respawn didn't just make Titanfall – it’s worth remembering that a lot of them were part of Infinity Ward in the golden age of Call of Duty. These guys know exactly how to make a shooter. The movement in it is wonderful – it combines the run/jump/slide that gave Titanfall its speed and smoothness, it feels like the digital equivalent of a hot knife through butter that’s already been microwaved. The shooting is sharp and snappy. The map is enormous, and features far more verticality than most BR maps with passageways and catwalks all over the place. It’s reminiscent of every Titanfall multiplayer map that ever shipped. Graphically, it’s beautiful – it shares a lot of assets with Titanfall (which makes sense, seeing as it’s set in the same universe) and that’s fine by me, as Titanfall was gorgeous. The different character classes add a level of variety that none of the others currently do. Weapons are scattered generously around, and there’s a non-verbal communication system that’s frankly incredible. It simply feels really good.
In the handful of games I’ve played, I’ve done uniformly badly. Those who play with me won’t be surprised by this. I think my best run saw me last about 15 minutes, and my squad being among the last five alive before we were wiped out. I had fun during that game, the tension gradually ratcheting up as the circle closed coupled with the hope given by finding some better items the further into the map we ventured.
And yet… something niggles – and as usual for me, it’s not about what the game is, it’s about what it has cost. For all this time, ever since Titanfall 2 dropped in that awful launch window (slap bang between Battlefield 1 and whichever CoD game shipped in 2016) a lot of us have assumed that Respawn were busy working on the third game, and they haven’t been. They’ve been working on this. All well and good. It’s excellent. It’s in the Titanfall universe, it feels a lot like Titanfall… except for me it’s like Titanfall without its best bits, wrapped up in an overall wrapper that I’m not really a fan of. Titanfall without the grappling and the titans themselves feels a bit like Fallout without VATS – still fun, but missing something so core to the experience, so vital, that it feels almost like an imitation of itself. I might be wrong, but right now I can’t help but think that Apex Legends comes at the cost of Titanfall 3.
Of the two, I know which I’d rather have – and it’s not the former. But, commercial realities have to be respected. Titanfall 2 was amazing in every way, and under-performed massively. The whys and wherefores cease to matter – all that remains is that simple fact. EA’s track record of late has been pretty poor – that’s also a simple fact. With those two points in mind, Respawn’s decision to hop onto the BR bandwagon makes a lot of sense – and it’s further justified when you think that in just under a week, they may well have come to dominate it. I guess I’m just hoping that some of the money made from the cosmetic items sold via the microtransactions in this game are spent on a third installment of Titanfall. Because Apex Legends is good, but I’d rather play something where I can push the d-pad and hear the words “Confirmed. Standby for Titanfall,” followed by that roaring noise of my mech dropping from orbit. The thud of it slamming into the ground. Jumping toward it and being caught in midair, and lifted into the cockpit.
As it stands, Apex Legends is an exceptional BR game – but for me, the simple fact of it being BR is what will prevent me from enjoying it long term. I hope it does well and makes a bucket-load of cash for all involved, and that the people playing it enjoy it now and into the future. But it’s not for me.