Apex Legends is the big new challenger for Fortnite’s crown, and it appeared almost entirely out of thin air. Oskar Howell plays the new battle royale game everyone is talking about.
Fortnite has spent two long years dominating the gaming scene, and no other game has really managed to come close. Its zany, cartoon style captured the attention of the masses and drew focus from most other battle royale titles. Many, like Call of Duty: Blackout, Ring of Elysium and The Culling were born, lived and died during the long winter of Fortnite.
Aside from some largely ignored rumours on reddit leaking the development of a new battle royale title, most gamers were still drinking the Fortnite-flavoured Kool-Aid. As far as game releases get, Apex Legends was as stealthy as they come. One week it was announced, the next it was available for download.
Like many people, I felt indignant when I realised how this game had flown under the radar.
“Who do they think they are, releasing a game without telling me?” I cried. “I am the all-powerful consumer, and I demand colourful trailers with techno music and expensive marketing campaigns that make me feel catered to.”
Gamers received none of these things. There were no wacky YouTube advertisements, no booth at E3, and no emails or posters teasing a new challenger in the genre.
Apex commanded our attention by not demanding anything at all. It knew what it wanted: to do everything Fortnite wasn’t doing. If Fortnite is the class clown, the centre of attention, then Apex is the quiet kid with the nice handwriting who lets you copy his homework before class.
Like Fortnite, the overall premise of Apex is simple. Squads of three parachute onto an island, kit up with guns and armour, and duke it out to be crowned last team standing: the apex champions.
Where Apex differs from Fortnite is the pacing. Off the bat, being the first squad to hit the deck and grab a gun is crucial to survival. Finding armour is essential and camping isn’t a reliable strategy, meaning you’re forced out into gunfights that trump the now stale gameplay in Fortnite.
Fortnite has been the cornerstone of the battle royale genre for what feels an eternity, and no matter how many new weapons, locations and quips they put into it, eventually it grows tedious. Its dedication to the ‘no-limits’ ideology is also its Achilles heel: too much of a good thing stops being interesting.
There are only so many times you can have a giant cross-canyon sniper duel, only so many times you can blow up an enemy fortress, only so many funny new skins you can buy for your character. But to its credit, Fortnite stayed a true battle royale genre. And like a keystone in a bridge, it supported the genre and helped it maintain popularity.
The core premise of Apex is doesn’t differ much from the rest of the battle royale field. From H1Z1 to PUBG, the whole ‘hunger games’ genre has been a staple of shooter games for almost half a decade, and Apex stays faithful to the form.
This similarity is one of the reasons why I’m a fan of the battle royale. For decades, games have banded together under common stylistic genres that let their smaller differences shine, encouraging classic rivalries like Doom and Halo, or Call of Duty and Battlefield.
It’s no different in Apex Legends: the little differences are what makes it shine. Development studio Respawn Entertainment take Titanfall’s top-notch game engine and add in more parkour, brilliant gunplay, a fantastic item ping system and lovable characters. You now have a recipe for a zesty new game raring to break the stale battle royale mould.
I love the way the game flows, from the initial drop into the arena to the final fight for first place. It’s a constant adrenaline rush from start to finish in Apex Legends, something missing from other battle royale games.
Apex puts character development and narrative at the forefront of the game, pedestaling the characters you play. It has a unique variety of characters to choose from, with personalities that seem, well, real. Want a wacky robot with a grappling hook? A teleporting, interdimensional phase warrior? Sorted. A god-worshipping tracker that calls on a mysterious god for thermal vision? No problem.
Bloodhound is my go-to. I like tracking the trail of a rival squad, following the small blips that appear on the ground as they move across the map. In case I don’t get first choice of character, military professional Bangalore with her artillery strike remains a reliable second pick.
The initial games are utter bedlam, a constant blur of confusion and bewilderment. The next few are hard, and the coveted title of apex champion feels unattainable. But the more you play, the more you improve. Apex has a small learning curve and a low skill ceiling, meaning it’s easy to pick up for new beginners and makes improvement straightforward.
Once you fall into the Apex Legends rabbit hole, it becomes difficult to escape.
“One more game,” you say. “This time, I’ll get the character I want, and we’ll drop in a good place.”
“The loot will be better next time,” you tell yourself. And you gamble on another round.
Then suddenly you’re like me: at level 72 with 120 hours sunk into a free-to-play game. I owe this game nothing, but it keeps me occupied day in, day out.
I’m no anomaly, either. Within the first eight hours of its release, Apex had reached one million players. Within 24, it had surpassed 2.5 million. At a week, the game boasted a cool 25 million player count, and at a month had smashed the 50 million milestone.
According to a report by e-sports investment company Roundhill Investments, Apex is one of the fastest growing titles on streaming service twitch.tv – though some wonder whether paid partnerships with industry leaders are responsible for its remarkably strong numbers.
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So where will Apex go from here?
The half-life of battle royale games is unpredictable, and it is hard to predict the success a game will have. Many games have been touted as the ‘Fortnite killer’, but normally fall short of the margin. The real question is how long Apex Legends will last, but that answer is far more unclear. It may go the distance and be crowned king of the battle royale games. Or, much like how it arrived, it may suddenly vanish in a cloud of smoke.
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