When EA sent out an invitation for the announcement of Respawn's new game in Los Angeles, no-one on the editorial team thought it was anything other than Titanfall 3. What else would the studio do while it works on its Star Wars game? We might not have been completely wrong, but we weren't completely right either. Apex Legends has just been announced and we have ploughed about eight hours into the finished version of the game, which is out... right now.
During the initial presentation, we're quickly told that Apex Legends is a game in the battle royale genre, which makes sense really since EA still has no game out in the genre, although Firestorm for Battlefield V slowly gets closer. It's a battle royale experience that takes place in the Titanfall universe, but also ends most of the similarities with Respawn's grossly underestimated series. It takes place about 30 years after Titanfall 2 and there isn't a glimpse of a titan nor the possibility of running on walls. Respawn tells us that the game was born through an internal test that they thought was too fun to not do something serious with. It's going to a be a hard push for the studio, but we're glad they are trying.
So why should anyone be hyped about another battle royale game? Perhaps especially one published by EA, which isn't exactly known for being consumer friendly. Well first of all, Apex Legends is completely free-to-play on any platform, and Respawn has chosen to adopt the same type of "battle pass" system as in Fortnite, so the only things that are available for real money are cosmetic items and new characters. So no pay-to-win or pay-for-power at all (more on this later, though). Secondly, it's super fun.
You already know how it works by now; a whole lot of people are dropped onto a map (60 in Apex Legends), and it's all about grabbing weapons and equipment as fast as you can while at the same time trying to keep track of where that circle is located (the one that you have to stay inside). Of course, during all this stress opposing teams must be dealt with using bullets, grenades, or an old fashioned beating. The basic structure is thus according to the template for the wider genre, but Respawn introduces a couple of really interesting differences in Apex Legends, differences that make it stand out from other games in the genre such as PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode.
With a total of 60 players per match, the group is divided into 20 teams of three; there is no option to play solo at all. Another significant difference compared to, for example, Fortnite is that Apex Legends contains character classes. Right now there are eight to choose from, two of which have to be unlocked via micro-transactions or by playing for currency, and only one of each character can be included in a squad. To simplify it slightly: look at it like Fortnite meets Rainbow Six: Siege and Overwatch, although the class differences aren't quite as big as they are in Blizzard's hero shooter. Another great detail is how one player becomes a so-called "jump master" when it's time for the initial jump and the other two automatically follow that player, making sure that everyone lands in the same place. It's possible to break out of the formation and fly solo if you so wish, but generally we'd recommend keeping the team together.
Of course there are other games in the genre that embrace similar class layouts, but the classes here allow the vast majority of players to be able to complement their play style in a way that makes Apex Legends feel unique and varied. We really liked the tank-class Gibraltar, which has a protection bubble to throw out that either creates space between us and other combatants or lets us revive a teammate in safety. Each class has three unique features - one passive, one that activates by the player, and one ultimate. The latter, of course, can turn a very dangerous situation into an advantage for your team if used correctly. The properties vary from very defensive to precise and deadly attacks, depending on how you like to play.
The map in Apex Legends is called Kings Canyon and works in quite traditional ways. There are open areas for high octane sniper duels, narrow gorges for close combat, and everything in between. A nice addition is that in select places there are ropes you can hook on to then be launched into the air and activate your jetpack for a short while. This makes it easy to travel long distances quickly, ideal if you have a long way to go to the circle and the time starts to become scarce, for example.