Apex Legends dropped into the battle royale genre with a strong first impression. There’s still an allure of newness, but as the initial dust settles and the game starts to take shape, it’s clear that Apex Legends has staying power. Much of that is owed to design decisions that streamline some of the clunkier aspects of battle royale and allow players of various skill levels to achieve victory.
As someone who plays a tonne of battle royale, I’m always disappointed at how often my friends tell me that they’re too intimidated by the genre to hop in and play a match. Battle royale is a compelling experience, but the skill gaps between players mean that those unaccustomed to the genre can find it hard to get started. Fortnite, for all of its inviting presentation and fun lore, demands an intimate familiarity with the building mechanics. PUBG places a premium on moment-to-moment map knowledge and shooting ability. If you don’t have experience, it’s easy to feel outclassed. One of Apex Legends’ strengths is how much it strives to find ways for all players to contribute.
The most widely praised tool in Apex Legends’ arsenal is the contextual communication tool. With the simple press of a button, players are able to suggest new locations to move to, tag weapons and armour, and mark enemy positions. This tool, which avoids the sometimes-daunting need to speak over an open mic, is a straightforward but powerful facilitator of the teamwork necessary to win in a battle royale. It’s also a way to contribute even if you’re not a deadly marksman. Information is power in battle royale. By providing an easy-to-use tool for sharing information, Apex Legends makes it easier for players to communicate and stay aware.
Apex Legends also implements quality of life features that reduce the busywork that might intimidate players new to battle royale. This largely affects inventory management, freeing up players to focus on their teammates, their position, and their opponents. Swapping guns with compatible modifications swaps over the modifications as well. Players can’t pick up items of a decreased rarity compared to items they have equipped. Even the default amount of inventory space is generous. This robs Apex Legends of some of the tactility that makes peers like PUBG popular, but the game balances that out with an increased usability that cuts down on excessive management and kit tweaking. Many of these techniques came to prominence as conveniences for mobile ports like PUBG Mobile. Apex Legends wisely iterates on them to give players a more immediate focus on their gameplay.
Consider how Apex Legends handles scope attachments for sniper rifles. Sniping is a difficult tasks in any shooter, often best left to intuitive players or those who spend hours studying bullet drop mechanics. If you’re shooting at a distance in PUBG, you either need to know your gun intimately or you need to gauge distance, zero your sights, and then fire. Apex Legends removes this added layer by having scopes that automatically act as range finders. If someone is 200 meters away, all you need to do is aim with the dot that has a “2” next to it. This streamlining removes excess interactions, grants players information, and turns a difficult task into something much easier.
Sacrificing some complexities doesn’t mean Apex Legends skimps on depth or tactical possibility—that’s where the hero shooter aspect comes in. Assigning each Legend character different skills allows players to contribute in more ways that landing shots and nabbing kills. Pathfinder and Wraith have abilities that allow teams to move faster, Bloodhound’s tracking skills show enemy activity and pair nicely with the communication tool, and Lifeline’s health drone can be essential in turning a battle around. If you’re not great at landing headshots, Apex Legends has more than enough things that you can do and which make demonstrable differences for your team. This is also what made Overwatch appealing to new players and those less-accustomed to first person shooters. It’s possible to contribute meaningfully even if other players’ raw mechanical skills surpass your own. And even if you or a teammate die, it’s possible to return to the battle. For battle royale, a genre where twitch skills are usually king, this proves to be a powerful and invigorating decision.
A recent victory of mine. This didn’t require mic communication and came after I’d been revived following a costly firefight. The Mastiff also helped.
Anecdotally, it seems to have netted results. Out of any battle royale out there, Apex Legends is the one that nearly all of my friends have at least one victory in, even if their skill levels vary wildly. In streamlining character management and providing players multiple ways to contribute, Apex Legends becomes a gateway game into a genre that has been historically alienating to new players. Victory feels possible. Victory is possible. This, more than EA’s aggressive advertisement campaign or the game’s free-to-play status, is what has turned Apex Legends into such an immediate presence.