In this very different year of lockdowns, disruption, and a lack of face-to-face socialising, gaming has become an even more prominent way to keep in contact with friends. As I have mentioned before, my friends and I set up a Discord server this year instrumental in keeping us connected without meeting in person, and often we have supplemented our conversations with playing games together, from Dauntless to Spellbreak to more besides. Those examples I mention are free-to-play and have been a style of game fantastic at allowing everyone to get in and join up without cost – there is of course the option to spend in-game, but the initial free entry is much appreciated. The most recent of these games we have turned to is Apex Legends, which just recently rolled out on Steam.
Let’s Be Friends
Crucially, there is a key feature that not all free-to-play games have: cross-play. In recent years this feature – where players of a game on separate platforms can play together – has risen to increased prominence as popular games such as Rocket League and Fortnite have implemented it. Such was the desire for cross-play from games and their respective communities, that platform holders not allowing it (*cough* Sony *cough*) had to buckle and open up their systems; now this gamer-friendly option is an ingrained part of the gaming industry, and an example of how the voices of gamers were heard. Going back to my personal situation, games with cross-play multiplayer are suited to my friends and I, as we do not all play in the same place. Some are on Switch, some on PlayStation, some on Microsoft, some on PC.
Therefore, there is joy in discovering a new multiplayer game with cross-play – such as Apex Legends – in contrast to the disappointment of those without it (for example Path of Exile). Specifically, the option for PC and console to be grouped together is one we had been searching for, which led us to Apex Legends. This 60-player battle royale played in teams of two or three is one I played around launch in February 2019 and had a lot of fun with; the slick, fluid first-person movement with a focus on traversal paired really well with the innovations it brought to a genre that has risen so quickly since PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Take the ping system, where you can quickly signify to your teammates where an enemy, item, or more is without the need for voice chat – it makes you wonder why it took until Apex for it to be so prominently introduced, it now being a staple of new battle royale-style games.
However, there is quite a gap from early 2019 to me jumping back in now – to be precise, a seven season gap! I stopped playing either before or around the time the first Season of Apex Legends started, and upon loading up the game again, I was greeted with a lavish CGI trailer for Season 7! This immediately told me two important things; one, I had a lot of catching up to do, and two, Apex Legends has clearly been a success for Respawn Entertainment and EA for them to be injecting the sort of production value necessary for that lengthy cinematic. This cutscene also introduces the most recent new character, Horizon, a gravity-manipulating redhead with a strong Scottish accent. This, too, is an area where I had to familiarise myself again; more than 5 new Legends to play as – each with their own unique set of moves – have joined the roster since I last played, with the fiesty, sassy Loba and her handy item shop one I have been playing as a lot.
I’m the Jumpmaster
Ultimately, the core gameplay has remained the same; you drop from a jumpship into the map, and then balance time either finding stronger items or dispatching other players you encounter, working towards being the last ones left standing. As at launch, it is the surrounding packaging and how it has been improved since launch that make Apex stand out from the many other battle royale games. To start with, there are two new maps that are currently in rotation, the fiery, craggy World’s Edge and most recently the crisp, futuristic landscapes of Olympus; it is welcome to see that Respawn have been working hard to bring in new environments, though the original map Kings Canyon from launch is currently not around and I do slightly miss it as one of the choices. The maps are visually strikingly distinctive, but ultimately they have similar traits, visually distinctive with a range of buildings, mountainous vantage points, secluded tunnels, and more; they have their own quirks, sure, but they are not that vastly different.
Beyond the immediate change of scenery, though, are other new additions that revealed themselves from getting into some matches: you can find Treasure Packs that unlock rewards back in the lobby screen, a fun idea held back by a limit of one pickup every set amount of hours; also, within the map there are crafting stations where materials you pick up can be turned into items of your choosing; there are drones that fly around the map, which you can shoot down for supplies at the risk of alerting others to your position; and rare Vault Keys can be found (which reminds me of Borderlands, a series which may have influenced the occasional use of cel-shaded graphics in Apex) that open up rare stashes of items at set points around the map. These are all new quirks that, whilst not redefining the core gameplay, do add more intrigue and strategy.
You’re Asking for How Much?!
I mentioned the lobby screen, and that is more thoroughly kitted out as well. Daily and Weekly Challenges supply constant new targets which, upon completion, progress your Battle Pass level for the Season – oh, yeah, Apex Legends has a Battle Pass now, because I guess all these battle royale games do since Fortnite brought it into fashion. For those unaware of the concept, there are two versions of the Battle Pass: the free version, which as you play and complete challenges gives you some decent rewards, and then the paid Premium version (which works out around £7.50ish) which opens up better rewards such as unique skins. If you play enough with the Premium version, you can in theory earn enough currency to pay for the next pass, but that requires a lot (I mean a LOT) of playtime. One way Apex surprised me was with the Quest that runs alongside this, which is progressed by picking up those aforementioned Treasure Packs. At certain points in the unlock lineage you get the next part of a story featuring the Legends, told in digital comic format. Do not expect incredible storytelling, but the idea is imaginative to inject more personality into proceedings.
In terms of the monetisation of Apex Legends, it is otherwise not particularly innovative or different from launch. Without aiming to play into the whole EA-is-after-your-money conversation, the set-up does feel particularly complicated and unsatisfactory a lot of the time. There are three currencies: Crafting Metals, which you earn *very* gradually and can be spent on unlocking individual cosmetics; Legend Tokens, which are earned at a frequency of 600 per level up and spent in a quantity of 12000 for a new Legend; and Apex Coins, which must be purchased with money and go towards purchasing the cosmetics in the store or the customary loot crates (Apex Packs). This system is not that different to other games such as Fortnite or the recent Rogue Company, but the disappointment lies in just how out of reach cosmetics are without paying money.
Unless you happen to get the item you are after from an Apex Pack acquired on a level up (not all level ups supply one), then the barrier to entry is quite intimidating. At Level 36 I am nowhere near the amount of Crafting Metals go get a rare high cost skin, and even the discounted festive skin packs in the store right now for the Holo-Day Bash event work out around £15.99 each. It is expensive to the point of not even tempting me; if they were a bit more reasonably priced I may well have spent some money by now on a Loba skin. Furthermore, there are paid versions of Apex with other items bundled in, but the bad taste from the way the individual items are priced puts me off that too. It is such a shame as the gameplay of Apex is so well put together, but the monetisation severely overdoes it.
That Holo-Day Bash event also brings with it Winter Express, one of the multiple temporary game modes Apex has had since I played last. In his one, a train going around a custom version of World’s Edge is fought over my three teams of three, with the first to capture the train three times emerging victorious. It is a novel idea that reliably provides close combat and frenetic action, which can be a break from some of the slower-paced battle royale modes. On the other hand, it is quite rough around the edges, leaving early eliminations watching a spectator screen for longer than is ideal, and offering a significant advantage to teams utilising voice chat. Despite this, it is a fun experiment and it would be great to see more in this vein in the future!
Just One More Game
The other change of game mode is to venture into the world of Ranked play; a bit after our squad was all up to the required Level 10, we did so. It works as a sort of tactical game of risk-and-reward, with the costs of match entry going up through the tiers and your team placement and performance earning back points after the game is over. With the Bronze tier being free to enter, we have started to default to playing Ranked – the main drawbacks being that only the Olympus map is the only one played on, and there are only teams of three accepted, not two. A cosmetic reward for which tier you get to is a target to work towards, supplementing the several other ongoing tracked challenges I have mentioned so far.
If I had one main request, it would be for Respawn to try and figure out how to combine cross-play with cross-progression. I recently got my Xbox Series S (article on that soon!) and therefore started playing Apex on that as it runs better than on PS4; on Series S there are less anti-aliasing issues (less jaggies) and it clearly runs smoother at a higher framerate. However, on different systems you do still have to have separate accounts, meaning I started from Level 1 again. Respawn have noted that they are working on a way to merge accounts into one, so they are aware – this would be great if they got it running, as currently I am split on whether I play on PS4 where most of my game time is, or on Series S where the game can perform better.
Still, the key factor is that, yes, the game itself is awesome and has remained awesome. Playing with a friend has been instrumental in bringing me back to Apex Legends and to my subsequent enjoyment of exploring how it has changed. Having that rapport of communication is very helpful in the midst of the battle royale, and yes, we have won a game (and finished second so many times… )! So far, I have not mentioned the new Club feature either, where you can construct your own Club complete with custom logo and name – it is essentially a clan where a group of players can chat and see how everyone is doing. It is this essence of teamwork that often makes Apex shine, even with the questions around the monetisation. Now I have returned to Apex Legends and rediscovered my enjoyment of it, I am going to try and more consistently pop in to see each new season – especially now that, with cross-play, I have someone else at my side.