"Apex Legends" came from nowhere to become the first breakout hit of 2019, even giving "Fortnite" a run for the money.
- In a surprise move, a huge new game from EA was announced and launched on the same day.
- Since "Apex Legends" launched on February 4, more than 25 million people have played it. It's a surprise hit!
- There are lots of explanations for the sudden popularity of "Apex," but one reason stands out above the rest: It's an excellent game.
Like movies and TV, video games are often announced long before actually launching. Months of trailers and hype and marketing build towards the eventual crescendo that is launch day.
"Apex Legends" skipped all that.
Instead, the new, free Battle Royale shooter was suddenly launched on February 4 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. It costs no money to download and play. Most important of all: It's very, very good.
A new way to announce and launch a game.
With little warning and nearly no leaks, "Apex Legends" was announced and launched on February 4 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
It's impossible to overstate how rare that is, especially from major game publishers like Electronic Arts. That the game also turned out to be a free-to-play shooter from the talented folks behind "Call of Duty" and "Titanfall" is even more of a surprise.
Simply put: It's a huge risk — or at least it feels like a huge risk — to launch a game without a carefully planned marketing campaign.
Instead, EA worked with a large group of influencers who had a chance to play the game one week before launch. When "Apex" was announced on February 4, a cluster of influencers also flooded the web with their own #ApexPartner-labeled content.
Moreover, many of those influencers kept covering the game after launch because their fans demanded more. As of publishing, "Apex" is the most popular game on Twitch.
What is "Apex Legends"? A really great first-person shooter in a squad-based, class-based Battle Royale setting.
"Apex Legends" doesn't feel quite like "Fortnite" or "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" — it plays sort of like "Call of Duty," but an evolution of "Call of Duty."
That's because it's from the folks who made many foundational "Call of Duty" games — the same folks who eventually moved on to make the "Titanfall" series. In that sense, "Apex Legends" feels most like a "Titanfall" game: a tight shooter with a focus on mobility.
"Apex Legends" takes the Battle Royale concept from "Fortnite" and "PUBG," and applies it to a Hero-based game, like "Overwatch." Each of the game's eight "legends" has their own special skills, which more or less correspond to standard classes (medic, soldier, etc.).
And there's another twist: "Apex Legends" is focused solely on three-person squads.
It's all of these little distinctions that add up to make "Apex" feel entirely new in the Battle Royale genre — despite the fact that it is, on paper, very similar to other Battle Royale games.
Why is "Apex Legends" so good? The details.
Currently, there is no way to play "Apex Legends" as a single player. There is no "duos" mode, either.
The only way to play the game is in squads of three players, with 60 total players filling 20 squads. Given this, "Apex Legends" is very specifically made with communication in mind. Your squad is much, much more likely to win if you're talking to each other.
But don't worry: That doesn't mean you have to actually talk to strangers.
A brilliant, robust system exists in-game for "spotting" various things. See an enemy? Tap the right bumper on your gamepad, and your character will call out those enemies and even mark their last movement for your teammates.
Smarter still, that system is contextual. If you're looking at a level-three helmet and "spot" it, your character shouts out, "Level-three helmet here!" and marks it for your teammates. It's this system that enables teammates to communicate a wealth of information without having to literally speak to strangers.
The spotting system cannot be overstated in its importance — it's such a smart innovation that I outright expect it to show up in most multiplayer shooters going forward.
Just moving around the world of "Apex Legends" is fun unto itself.
One of the biggest issues with the Battle Royale gaming genre is the vast amounts of downtime.
Whether you're scrounging for supplies early in a match, running from the ever-encroaching wall of death, or simply moving to a new zone, there's a ton of time spent moving around in between actual fights.
"Apex Legends" solves this in a brilliant, logical way: Movement is actually fun!
If you see a downhill section coming up ahead, try running and sliding into it — and watch as your character goes flying downhill with surprisingly frictionless speed. A carefully timed leap at the end of that slide will send your character flying through the air.
Or perhaps you see a zip line? Even if it's going against gravity, it'll still magically whisk you at full speed toward the endpoint. There's even a zip-line solely intended to launch players into the air, enabling major movement across the sprawling Kings Canyon.
It's these little nods to traversal that make playing "Apex Legends" much more fun than most online shooters, let alone most Battle Royale games.
"Apex Legends" is a best-in-class shooter — which really makes it stand out from the competition in the Battle Royale genre.
The team behind "Apex Legends" has a serious pedigree behind it, having created the "Call of Duty" series and the "Titanfall" series.
It's no surprise, then, that the shooting in "Apex Legends" feels so good — it's from developers who more or less set the standard in video-game shooting.
To this end, bullets fall appropriately over a distance. Gunshot sounds are directional. Headshots feel substantial, and submachine guns feel like high-powered BB guns.
The shooting looks, feels, and sounds about as good as it does in the best shooting games, from the latest "Call of Duty" to "Destiny 2."
This may sound obvious but, in the most popular Battle Royale games, the shooting is pretty terrible. "Fortnite" has notoriously lackluster shooting mechanics. The only great Battle Royale shooter is "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds," and that shooting is held back by pretty much every other aspect of the game.
"Apex Legends" brings the total to two — and the rest of the game is just as good!
It's incredibly quick and easy to get into a game of "Apex Legends."
With most Battle Royale games, the time spent between matches or waiting for matches to begin or end is surprisingly long.
In "Apex Legends," getting into a new round is nearly as quick as jumping into a standard "Call of Duty" match. That's hugely important! Over the course of a few rounds of most Battle Royale games, it's easy for players to get burnt out on waiting. The more downtime, the more likely you are to turn off the game or switch to another — that's certainly the case for me.
But in "Apex Legends" it's incredibly easy to keep going, from match to match, even though a round could last as long as 25 minutes.
The introduction of Heroes and Hero abilities makes "Apex Legends" feel fresher than the competition.
In "Fortnite," every character you play as has the same abilities. It's a third-person shooter with building mechanics, and every avatar — visuals aside — is identical.
The same can be said for "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" and the battle-royal mode in "Call of Duty: Black Ops 4."
But in "Apex Legends," each player has unique abilities. There are various "classes" of characters — soldiers, tanks, healers, etc. — and various specialties within each class. In this way, "Apex Legends" is more similar to "Overwatch" — or even "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" — than its direct competition.
And blending those characters into a team made up of complementary players is part of the delight of "Apex Legends." Better yet: The game's developer, Respawn Entertainment, is promising additional heroes in the near future.
So, what are these powers? One character is able to conjure a healing drone that can heal multiple teammates at once. Another character has a grappling hook, and another has noxious-gas containers that warn of impending enemies. Since it's still early days for "Apex Legends," many of the best ways to use various abilities are still shaking out.
And that's thrilling! There's a "meta" to "Apex Legends" that is deeper and smarter than games like "Fortnite." It feels like there are many ways to win, with a variety of different team setups, rather than a "best" way to win. And that leads to the kind of experimentation that keeps the game fresh.