Apex Legends - Critique
Taking up the Titanfall universe (but without the iconic Titans), Apex Legends matches adopt a relatively small scale: 20 teams of three players compete and try to stay alive, on an increasingly reduced map , with a strongly science-fiction-oriented design. Due to my rather unfortunate experiences with team play in other battle royale, the fact of having to necessarily team up with two other players worried me initially. But I have so far been pleasantly surprised with this approach, thanks in large part to the excellent non-verbal communication system used by Apex Legends.
While it is always useful to interact with your teammates through voice chat, Apex Legends has a particularly intuitive contextual tagging system, doing much better than those at work in other battle royale. With the push of a button, you can place points of interest (whether it's supply, enemy positions, or more simply a place you want your team to head to), and your character will then take care of verbally expressing their nature to your teammates. Knowing that it also offers other possibilities for automated dialogue, intervening for example when shots are fired. I was really struck by the wide range of possibilities offered by this extremely easy to use system. I have thus happened to mark enemies that were approaching our position, and to see my teammates instantly converge on their position and cover their flanks without a single word being uttered. Likewise, if your search for loot turns out to be unsuccessful and you only get modest pistols or accessories that you can't use, one of your teammates can get their hands on an SMG and the mark so that you can recover it easily.
In the twenty hours or so that I spent on the PS4 version of the title last week, I have noticed that the vast majority of players who use the tagging system effectively, do so to coordinate their actions with those of their teammates rather than going alone on an adventure. For those of us who until now weren't particularly thrilled about having to play with randomly chosen teammates, whether they own a mic or not, is a real eye opener.
This scoring system is also essential for achieving victory, as only finely coordinated teamwork will keep you alive until the end of the match. This is in part due to Apex Legends acting like a UFO in the midst of battle royale, giving you the chance to revive a teammate more than a minute after they've been taken down. Thus, one of the members of your squad will be able to grab your banner within 90 seconds of your death and move towards the nearest beacon, in order to bring you back from the dead via a special drop. spectacular that is sure to attract the attention of other squadrons in the area. This multistep process - in which you are particularly vulnerable - requires you to deal with nearby threats first if you want to resuscitate someone, as you will not be able to do so if you find yourself under enemy fire. This approach only reinforces the importance of strong teamwork.
A few of my deaths have been in misguided attempts to bring back a banner before the time runs out. But if I am to believe my experience, taking that risk in order to keep your full team is always worth it. As the end of the game approaches, a few of the teams are generally intact and have the best loot gleaned from the spoils of other players. And during these intense, close-knit, high-stakes clashes, losing a teammate can be extremely crippling (each of my many wins has been with my full squad). Surprisingly, this respawn system was designed in such a way as not to lengthen the duration of the games too much, and these generally lasted between 20 and 25 minutes.
The diverse range of Legends you have access to adds new nuances to the battle royale genre and places more emphasis on team play. The eight characters available (knowing that two of them are unlocked with real money or by grinding) each have their own set of tactical, passive and ultimate abilities that can sometimes be very useful. That said, because firepower is determined by the weapons you find rather than the class you choose, the difference between the different classes here turns out to be much less marked than in a game like Overwatch, where a character from support will be outclassed by a DPS (having a high damage per second ratio). In Apex Legends, abilities are more of a asset, and your team will likely prove viable regardless of which character you choose. It encouraged me to try out different characters without worrying too much about team balance, and I found the Legends to be a welcome addition, especially thanks to the particularly immersive voice work done.
I've set my sights on Bangalore, a DPS-type Legend, and Gibraltar, a defensive character, largely because of their ultimate abilities, which turn out to be quite similar. Bangalore can unleash a full-scale artillery strike, while Gibraltar will call for a concentrated mortar strike (having previously designated its target), which I mainly use to take down teams that have gathered together. Other Legends have nice abilities that can also be particularly useful: Wraith can for example create a space-time vacuum to teleport to safety, Pathfinder is a robot equipped with a grappling hook allowing it to move quickly, and Bloodhound has a tactical ability highlighting the position of enemies as well as their footprints. Endowed with a passive ability allowing her to revive your teammates more quickly and benefit from the protection of a shield wall, Lifeline is a combat rescuer who can also call on a small drone that will automatically and progressively heal nearby players . When she uses her ultimate ability, a drop mod spawns and sends you high level defensive gear.
Every now and then, Legends' skills can save your squad or get you out of a sticky situation, but, like other games in the battle royale genre, Apex Legends remains focused on loot first and foremost. Unsurprisingly, this one is strewn all over the map, with Supply ships periodically dropping high-level gear that you can set your sights on if you feel like the only one coveting it. Supply crates and various buildings are also stocked with helmets, bulletproof vests, ammo, grenades, health kits, and other shield boosts. One of the features of the loot system that I prefer is the inability to pick up weaker gear than what you already have, which by extension saves you space in your inventory (which also accommodates ammo) .
As in the two Titanfalls, the feel of Apex Legends' weapons is as punchy as it is precise. The guns themselves are pretty standard (SMGs, shotguns, long-range rifles, assault rifle, pistols, and sniper rifle), each one has a particular inertia, recoil, and sound that help make their take in single hand. Damage points seem to burst from enemies when you hit them, and their distinctive color also tells you what type of armor your opponent is wearing. The firearms can be modified and receive riflescopes, larger capacity magazines as well as barrel stabilizers, but the most remarkable modifications remain without a doubt the hop-up accessories, like the Precision Choke which will reduce the spread bullets when targeting an enemy with the Peacekeeper or Triple Take, while adding a rather fun particle effect in the process. From a gameplay standpoint, the Peacekeeper, in particular, offers a much different grip when receiving these types of changes, and I hope more hop-ups will be added in the coming months.
The absence of the Titans and the iconic wall-running makes Apex Legends a much different experience, but it is still just as fun to slide and take down your opponents from a distance. The ability to cross walls and cling to ledges, allowing you to regain the vertical mobility so dear to Titanfall.
Apex Legends currently only has one map, called Kings Canyon, but it's definitely my favorite map when it comes to battle royale. The level design is absolutely bonkers (in a good way): waterfalls, elaborate multi-story military complexes, shopping areas, lush jungles, vast expanses of sand, and buildings built on eroded banks. I also saw giant creatures similar to Tauntauns from Star Wars waddling in the distance, and also visited the rib cage of a gigantic creature in an area not unlike the Halo 2 Tumulus map. The juxtaposition of these different environments is obviously nothing fundamentally coherent, but they are nevertheless particularly pleasant to walk around.
The Apex Legends map also avoids one of the major issues that plagues most battle royale games. As the play area shrinks every few minutes, some of the more remarkable environments on the different maps are only visitable for short periods of time. Worse yet, some of them have a ton of particularly boring areas to walk through. But I've never seen anything like it in the dozens of matches I've played in Apex Legends so far. All areas of the map are rich in detail, interesting to explore, and house different means to move quickly, such as ziplines (knowing that some of them are attached to balloons and allow you to land in a other area of the map). Even when you don't encounter any opponents in the first five minutes of play - which has happened to me more than once - the map offers its own set of thrills. You walk through an underground tunnel, and the next moment you find yourself climbing a cliff that reveals a huge building filled with high level loot. This feeling may fade over time (when I know every nook and cranny of the map by heart), but this powerful sense of discovery deserves to be highlighted.
Despite the rather small number of players per game, I see that almost half of the teams are eliminated in the first round, that is to say before the playing area is reduced for the first time. Some of these early disappearances can be attributed to landings in popular areas, like the Hot Zone (a special area with high-level loot), but it usually seems to be a fluke. You never really know what you're going to stumble upon while visiting a building, and if the team nearby is complete and well-equipped, while yours is always on the hunt for something better than the base pistol, you risk not to last long. To date, all battle royale games are full of situations that make you feel like the spell is hitting you. And that is in my opinion part of their charm. Once past the second round, this risky side gives way to a real game of skill, which becomes really exciting at the end of the game, when the playing surface is extremely small and only a few teams remain in the running. It is precisely here that communication between your team members becomes paramount, and the special abilities of your Legends can tip the scales in your favor.
In addition to the two unlockable characters, Apex Legends adopts an economic model similar to that of Fortnite and Overwatch, which is based on a level system for each fighter and reserves non-part purchases for Apex Packs (loot boxes) which contain only cosmetics, like skins and emotes. While you won't be completely dependent on the exact item you want to glean, the process of obtaining a specific skin can be a little convoluted. You must first earn or buy a loot box, and hope that the metal you are looking for is one of the three items in it. Once you have enough metal, you can use it to acquire any skin you want. But it remains mandatory to open this type of box to achieve this, knowing that you win one each time you gain a level. Fortunately, if you spend the money, you will never get an item you already own.
The process of unlocking both characters, however, turns out to be somewhat laborious without spending any money, and it took me about 15 hours to amass enough ingame to unlock one of them (purchase these Legends with real money will cost you around 20 euros). However, in my experience, these two unlockable characters are no better than the six that you can get right off the bat, and it's not strictly speaking a pay-to-win type system, given that they don't offer you any substantial benefit and are mostly akin to another way of playing - but unlocking them can be quite a goal to achieve. That said, Respawn already has plans to add new legends, cosmetics, and gear every two to three months, much like it's done at League of Legends and Smite. This model may not be as generous as the one adopted by some completely free games (like Dota 2) but it has already proven its worth.