It’s not often that a AAA video game arrives totally out of the blue, being announced and available on the exact same day – but that’s what happened this week with Apex Legends, the new first-person shooter from Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment and publisher EA.
While many of us had been praying to the gaming gods for the announcement of Titanfall 3 (Titanfall 2 being so one of the best single-player FPS games in recent years), we’ve got something a little different: a battle royale game cast from a not-dissimilar mould to that of Fortnite or PUBG.
So just what has Respawn been cooking up in secret for the past few years? Here’s the lowdown.
5) It’s battle royale, but done a little differently
Unlike battle royale pioneers PUBG and Fortnite, Apex Legends doesn’t feature solo or duo modes. When you drop into the game’s single (but huge) map, King’s Canyon, you’ll do so as part of a squad of three, facing 19 other trios – that’s a total of 60 players in each game.
As in most BR games, you can revive team members who are knocked down if you can get to them fast enough, but here even squad mates who bleed out get a chance to rejoin the fight. If you’re quick enough to grab the fallen teammate’s banner (you get 90 seconds from the moment they’re killed), hotfoot it to a nearby beacon and you can have them drop back into the action, albeit with no gear equipped.
Other mechanics “borrowed” from other BR games are an ever-shrinking playable zone, which forces you into close proximity with other teams as the game goes on; and the need to find and equip weapons and armour after landing. And you win in the same way you do in all BR games: by being the last team standing.
4) It’s a hero shooter
In most battle royale games, every player starts out the same, but that’s not the case here, thanks to the eponymous Legends. It’s a bit like Overwatch: at launch there are eight playable characters (two of which need to be unlocked, either by paying real-life money or earning in-game currency), each of whom has passive and active special abilities, such as the ability to throw up an energy shield, deploy a zip-line for quick movement or call in a massive artillery barrage.
Each team can only have one of each Legend, so you’ll need to choose your character wisely to ensure you’ve got a tactical balance of offensive and defensive talents.
3) Communication is key
Some players can’t stand barking instructions into a headset microphone – or play late at night and don’t want to risk waking the kids by bellowing, “Revive me, dammit, REVIVE ME!” into the ether.
In other BR games, you can play solo to avoid having to be social, but with Apex Legends being team-based you’re might think yourself at a major disadvantage if you remain mute. Thankfully, Respawn has come up with an excellent ping system for silent or mic-less players, allowing them to hold the target over enemies, loot, locations and other on-screen stuff and “tag” them. Do this and your in-game character will vocalise orders, plus whatever you’ve tagged will appear on the map and HUD for your teammates to see. It’s one area where Respawn has pushed some innovation into the BR genre.
2) It’s set in the Titanfall universe
While we’re not getting a brand new Titanfall game out of Respawn – at least not for a while – we are getting one that’s set in the same fictional world.
You won’t find the huge, hulking titans and their pilots’ wall-running abilities in this game (the developers experimented with both, but found they detracted from how the combat played out and upset balance); it’s set around 30 years after the events of Titanfall 2, in the Outlands, a part of the world where lawlessness prevails – hence the Hunger Games-esque competition in which you’re taking part.
We expect Apex Legends to flesh out the Titanfall world in some interesting ways. Even if you don’t get to revel in the power fantasy of piloting a giant mech bristling with weapons, you’re going to learn something.
1) It’s out now – and it’s free
That’s right, if you’re on PC, PS4 or Xbox One, you can download and play this right now, without having to pay a penny. That’s impressive for a game this polished.
Much like Fortnite, the game will always be free to play, but micro-transactions will be a major part of it – albeit only for obtaining cosmetic items like skins and emotes. Respawn says the game will never be pay-to-win, and we imagine publisher EA is keen to avoid a repeat of the immensely negative reaction to its pay-to-win antics with Star Wars: Battlefront 2.
With a roadmap already in place for seasons and a full-on "game as a service" plan for Apex Legends, it's shaping up as a genuine threat to more established BR titles. We'll certainly be keeping a close eye on it in the coming weeks and months.