Saturday, March 2, 2019

Apex Legends

By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris

Hey everybody welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth joint. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games ive been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Now just like everyone else I am going to be talking about Apex Legends this week; what the game does right, areas of opportunity, and how it could effect the wildly popular battle royal genre moving forward. Lets get into it! 

Respawn and very strangely EA did a superb job in setting (or in this case not setting) expectations for Apex Legends. One day very few people knew the game even existed and the next day it was the number one most played game on twitch. What Respawn did on February fifth was remarkable and something we havent really seen before in the battle royale space, what they did was they released a finished game.

Apex Legends came out and from the moment it was released all the features the developers intended to be in the game at launch were present, and it has been through those features that the game has been able to stand out in a very crowded field. Respawn has taken a simplistic genre dominated by what is in my opinion one of the most generic video games of the last several years and added actual mechanics that we would expect from games of a different genre. It's still very early in the game to be making bold claims like "Fortnite killer" but from where I'm sitting it looks like Apex could take a serious chunk of that battle royale pie. By simply showing up and presenting a completed and somewhat polished game Respawn has been able to knock out just about every other competitor besides one of the biggest games of all time out with just one punch.

Conceptually a battle royale game is extremely simple: a large number of players dropped into an increasingly finite space until one player is left alive. And for the last year plus that’s all that battle royales have been. There have been a few changes here and there and a few attempts at bringing something new that changes the game in a substantial way but aside from Fortnite's building mechanic none of those have been able to move the needle. Apex has been built from the ground up as a significantly different battle royale experience. While the blueprint is similar there are a handful of key mechanics that Apex is built on that make it, at least in my opinion, a better game.

For the most part battle royale games have forced players to implement their own alliances and cooperative experiences but Apex's squad system makes all those make believe relationships official. The game is built entirely around teamwork and this is demonstrated to the player as early as their very first jump by assigning one player as the jumpmaster. Designating the responsibility of where to land to one player as the default forcing players to make the conscious decision to NOT work as a team rather than the other way around sets the tone and establishes the importance of working together. Moving together, looting together, fighting together, winning together but most of the time losing together Apex is all about the squad and I really love that. I'm able to strategize with my friends about who is going to play as each legend to maximize our effectiveness and suddenly what was an extremely lonely type of game is a tense quiet one as we work towards the same goal and keep an eye out for each other.

While the entire point of the battle royale genre is survival of the fittest and only having one life, the respawning mechanic that Respawn has been able to implement is game changing. After a squad mate dies the possibility of a respawn creates an incredibly intense cost benefit analysis on both sides of the fight. For the squad that lost a player do they attempt a recovery mission to grab the banner and make for a respawn point or do they cut their losses and limp along a man short? And the squad that got the kill, do they chalk it up as a win and get the hell out of there or do they sit on the banner and try to finish off the rest of the opposing squad? Revival's, recoveries, and respawns add an incredible dynamic forcing players to balance risk and reward in a way that is unique to the battle royale genre.

And of course the namesake of the entire game the legends. Choosing from a variety of different legends with different abilities the game is able to borrow quite a bit from what makes games from the hero shooter genre like Overwatch and Team Fortress 2 so successful. While Apex doesn’t rely nearly as heavily on this ultra specialized character types as those games do it does bring some of that spice and allows for another layer of involvement in planning your own success or in my case failure. For the most part all the legends play similarly with only minor differences but balancing those differences and coming with a well rounded squad can be the difference between life and death in a dire situation. I also think the hero system is a bit of a mistake in the way it was implemented but on the ledger it's a net positive for the game.

And the last thing that really jumped out at me as making Apex the best battle royale to date is the map design. From my admittedly limited experience with battle royale's having only played about five hours of Fortnite, a couple hours of blackout, and one round of PUBG a prevailing theme across all three was that they all felt very flat. Just large flat maps with almost no verticality to speak of. Apex's map is damn near a work of art. Every area has choke points, lanes, shortcuts, hiding places, and escape routes that can all be used effectively if you know where to find them or can leave you out in the cold with your pants down if you don’t. You like what I did there? I combined two analogies to make them both make less sense. The Apex map is full of layers that make what is already a large map even larger. I know it's only been a month but is it to early to use the L word? Because I love the Apex Legends map!

All of these things make the moment to moment gameplay fantastic which is great but what puts the game over the top and makes it continually digestible is the presentation. Apex Legends is perfect representation of what dystopian movies like The Running ManThe Hunger Games, and Death Racewere trying to portray. A future in which people compete in a blood sport for entertainment purposes. So the serious tone of those combined with the more light hearted esport type future envisioned in a show like Video Game High Schoolmakes the presentation of Apex Legends not only more digestible over longer periods but I think could also lead to the game having incredible staying power.

Now at this point the game has only been out for a few weeks and while it's on top of the world right now there are definitely still things that can be done to make the game better and give it a longer tail. Character customization is an absolute must; I know that the legends were implemented so that players could see another player and be able to identify what that players special abilities are through visual cue's but couldn’t that have been done in some other way? In a game that's hitting this perfect balance between approachability and esport to make the character look unique to how I want them to look is integral. Have players hit points be a different color when theyre shot or outline them with a different color to indicate their ability types but for the love of god let us create our own characters!

Event's and mysteries are what keep a not insignificant part of the Fortnite audience coming back. Just recently a crack appeared in the ground somewhere on the Fortnite map and I wanted to jump in and find out what was up! I wanted to be a part of solving that mystery and be there when Epic revealed what they have been planning. And I havent even started that game up for almost a year! Respawn, EA if anyone is listening please give us more than one map a la PUBG but also let the maps evolve in the same way the Fortnite map does and bring a seasonal twist to the game to keep it fresh as it grows older.

The game is free to play and that’s awesome! And I'm not dellusional I understand that Respawn and EA have to make money on this product. In fact I WANT EA and especially Respawn to make a ton of money on this game because they deserve it! I suppose this is more of a consumer's perspective than a plea for something to come to the game later on, but as it is right now I'm not touching those "micro" transactions. Make it possible for me to buy most of everything I want a la carte for less than ten dollars and reserve the ultra rare gear for the loot boxes to make that a constant source of income. Essentially what I'm saying here is that the game is great and I would love to be able to spend money on it but spending more than $10 on cosmetics is a tough pill for myself and most players to swallow.

Finally and most importantly please create a system for multiple squads to group up. I'm not saying allow for mega squads or even squads any larger than three but at least allow for multiple squads to group up and drop into the same games. The game is at it's best when I have two of my friends to communicate with and we can work together, the fewer people I have that level of cohesion with the less fun that game is. I don’t mean to brag but I've got more than two friends and when there are four of five of us online it becomes a choice of either run one full squad and one partial squad or rotate players out so everyone can get in on that full squad action. I know there would be some players who would be major assholes and make a nine man squad by just agreeing not to shoot at eachother but if Respawn were to just trust the players to not let that possibility ruin the game the potential of A) always playing with my friends and B) being the one to eliminate my friends would make it so worth it! Hell even after my squad was all eliminated I would still spectate to watch the rest of my friends until we were all gone.

Apex Legends is a game that is setting the new standard for the genre. PUBG, Blackout, and even Fortnite will have to find a way to adapt to the actual game mechanics Apex has brought to the table if they want to even have a chance at competing. In 2016 EA made the poor choice of releasing Titanfall 2 right between Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty essentially dooming the best of those three games to obscurity based on nothing but a release date. Well here we are two and a half years later and just as Battlefield 5's battle royale Firestorm is about to be released Respawn has exacted their vengeance. Apex is a great game and I cant wait to see what the future holds for the game and the Titanfall universe as a whole.

Have you won Apex Legends yet? Which is your favorite battle royale? Let me know in the comments down below.

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