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‘Apex Legends’ is the best battle royale

Battle royale is one of those shooter sub-genres that I thought was pretty boring. The premise is simple: 60 to 100 players are thrown into a huge map, Hunger Games-style, and must collect guns and gear to kill each other until only one team or player emerges victorious. I thought this meant that the majority of the gameplay would consist of walking across an empty map and hiding in buildings. Thankfully, my expectations were completely shattered when a friend introduced me to “Apex Legends,” a free-to-play title developed by Respawn Games. It is the most engaging battle royale I’ve ever played.

The game is set in a sci-fi future where humanity has expanded its presence onto other planets where the “Apex Games,” battle royale tournaments, take place. Each planet features vastly different landscapes with a great deal of verticality. There’s a city floating in the sky, an abandoned mining center and a canyon occupied by gigantic, dinosaur-like monsters. As you traverse these maps, you will encounter distinct points of interest that hint at the stories behind the universe and its characters. As the stories evolve, the maps will change accordingly: areas will be destroyed and new places will form. Unlike its competitor “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG), where the maps are just terribly boring with the same landscapes and drab-looking buildings copied and pasted everywhere, “Apex Legends” offers settings that are immediately immersive and interesting.

In addition to being a battle royale, “Apex Legends” is a hero-based shooter. Instead of controlling a blank-slate character with zero personality like the ones in PUBG, you choose from a diverse pool of “legends,” each with their own abilities and ultimates that form unique play styles. For instance, the legend “Gibraltar” can place dome-shields to protect his teammates and call down airstrikes to nuke an area. “Octane” can boost his movement speed and put down a jump pad that gets his entire team to distant elevations quickly. 

But beyond what the characters do mechanically, it’s really easy to become attached to a certain legend for who they are narratively. They all have intriguing backstories, standout visual designs and endearing voice lines that can play during a match when reacting to their situation or when you try to communicate with your teammates through chat wheels. It’s these little details that make you want to “main” a certain legend, and therefore keep playing to improve. For me, that legend is “Revenant,” a psychopathic, immortal android who can silence enemy abilities and grant his team an extra life. The cutest thing about him is his “thank you” voice lines: “don’t go thinking I owe you anything” and “I’m not thanking you.”

Gunplay in “Apex Legends” is excellent. I love the high tech aesthetic that instantly differentiates itself from the realism of its competitors like PUBG. Take the “Havoc” for instance: it’s an assault rifle that consumes battery-like cylinders to shoot glowing projectiles. As it charges up to fire, you can see and hear this light blue energy transferring from the cylinder to the barrel, which then expands to allow the shot to come out. Likewise, each gun has their own cool animations and sound that give it its feeling of weight and impact. I absolutely adore the immersive details that almost all the guns have: a little screen at the back and an indicator on the sights to show how many shots are left in the clip. 

Every gun has its own recoil pattern, which is the pattern of how a gun kicks when firing. Many of them are quite difficult to control because of their powerful recoil, especially when you’re just starting out. But with dedicated practice, your muscle memory will eventually adapt to all of them. It’s so rewarding to finally be able to handle these powerful guns, steadily track the enemy with your crosshairs and not miss a single shot.  

The user interface and sound design in combat is frankly addicting. I love watching the damage numbers quickly adding up as I laser my opponents with a submachine gun and hearing that shattering sound effect when I break their shields. If I manage to knock them down, the hit marker turns red and the game plays this high-pitched “swish!” sound effect to let me know that I have conquered another in combat, and it feels fantastic.

The mechanic that makes “Apex Legends” stand out the most from other battle royale titles, and most shooters in general, is its incredible movement mechanics. In addition to the regular sprinting and jumping, players can climb walls to reach higher places or slide down hills to build up speed. There are ziplines and jump towers that can quickly transport you through terrain.  Seamlessly combining these mechanics in your movement takes a lot of skill and practice, but once you master them they become extremely satisfying. You can dash, hop and slide from point A to point B like an unpredictable assassin. In gun fights, such freedom of movement makes for chaotically fast-paced and interesting encounters. With Octane’s jump pad, for example, you can practically shoot at your opponents while dashing through mid-air. His speed boost also makes him difficult to chase down. Countering mobility—tracking high speed or airborne targets while accounting for bullet trajectory and predicting how they might position themselves—becomes a fundamental skill and a rewarding challenge in itself. 

Combining diverse maps, character abilities and solid gunplay with fast-paced movement, “Apex Legends” offers an amazing battle royale experience. With this game, I finally began to appreciate the appeal of battle royales, and it feels so damn good to win. In fact, the game is so addicting that I already have 200+ hours on it—probably the best battle royale out there. Keep in mind, however, that it can often be quite challenging to do well and frustrating for new players. I recommend playing with friends for ease of entry. 

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