Forget about ‘Fortnite’: A new, free game makes 9 brilliant changes to the Battle Royale formula – INSIDER
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Forget about ‘Fortnite’: A new, free game makes 9 brilliant changes to the Battle Royale formula – INSIDER

What’s with those dinosaurs?

“Apex Legends”/Electronic Arts

  • A brand-new battle-royal game named “Apex Legends” was released in a surprise launch on Monday. It’s free and available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
  • “Apex Legends” is cut from the same cloth as “Fortnite,” but it makes several meaningful changes that advance the battle-royal genre.
  • After playing a bunch of “Apex Legends,” it’s clear that the game stands out from its inspiration.

In a risky, unprecedented move, Electronic Arts (EA) announced and released a brand-new blockbuster game this week: A battle-royal-style first-person shooter for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC named “Apex Legends.”

On paper, “Apex Legends” sounds a lot like “Fortnite.”

It’s a free-to-play shooter centered around a battle-royal mode! It’s available on several gaming platforms! It’s full of colorful loot!

In reality, “Apex Legends” is a very different game in the same genre as “Fortnite.”

As the latest entry in the increasingly crowded battle-royal genre, “Apex Legends” advances the formula in a variety of brilliant twists. Allow me to count the ways:

1. It’s a class-based, team-based battle royal that doesn’t require a headset.

While staring down the sights, a simple tap of the right bumper will “spot” enemies, point out waypoints for your squad to move toward, and even identify loot. It’s a tremendously useful system that should be in all team-based shooters.

EA/Respawn Entertainment

At launch, there is no way to play “Apex Legends” as a single player online. 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.

2. Death isn’t necessarily permanent.

EA/Respawn Entertainment

The concept of reviving teammates in battle-royal games isn’t new, and it isn’t new to online multiplayer shooters.

What is new, however, is the concept of respawning completely dead teammates — “Apex Legends” enables just that.

As is now standard in squad-based shooters, players on the losing end of a fight are “downed” initially. Thus begins a timer that leads to that player eventually dying, called the “bleeding out” process. If you get to your squad mate before they bleed out, you can revive them — pretty standard.

But if they die, a new timer begins. You now have about one minute to retrieve your squad mate’s banner, which was left on their corpse. If you retrieve it safely, there are respawn stations where you can outright respawn a fallen teammate.

This may sound small, but it fundamentally changes the nature of battle-royal games.

If you encounter a player and kill them, but don’t wipe out their whole squad, you risk allowing that player to be revived. Similarly, if you’re killed early in the match, you shouldn’t quit out of the game and move on — your squad mates are just as likely to revive you.

In so many words, it adds another layer of depth to the battle-royal formula.

Anecdotally, the first game I won was a game where I was respawned by a savvy teammate who carefully got away at the right moment.

3. Dropping as a group solves a major problem with battle-royal games.

EA/Respawn Entertainment

Too often, when playing games such as “Fortnite” or “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” in squad-based modes, everyone barrels to the island and does their own thing.

Right off the bat, “Apex Legends” strongly encourages teams to stick together by forcing them to drop from the airship together. One of the three players is appointed the “jumpmaster” (really!), and that person gets to decide where the trio of players drops on the map. You’re able to split off mid-air or jump earlier if you prefer, but the message is clear: You’ll do better together, so why not stay together?

As a bonus, you get to call your friends funny nicknames that involve the amazing nonword “jumpmaster.”

5. The focus is on squad play and nothing else, and that’s fine.

EA/Respawn Entertainment

Could “Apex Legends” use a solo mode? A duos mode? Sure, those would be fine.

But given how much of the game feels purpose-built for squad-based gameplay, perhaps it doesn’t need either mode just yet.

More specifically, the game’s use of hero characters with unique abilities makes it a difficult game to simply allow solo play. Maybe one hero is the best for general use, and all players gravitate toward that class — it would be a significantly less exciting game if that were the case.

Moreover, the spotting ability would be significantly less useful in solo play. Simply put: “Apex Legends” feels made for squad play.

7. A blessedly simple, easy-to-understand loot system.

These little robots are the in-game equivalent of loot boxes. Punch to open!

EA/Respawn Entertainment

Like “Fortnite” and other battle-royal games, a “loot” system is core to the experience.

The very first thing you do in any battle-royal game is gather loot — weapons, armor, healing kits and whatever else — as a means of survival and, hopefully, success.

“Apex Legends” is no different in this regard, but it smartly streamlines the process. Not only can you tell what’s what simply by looking at it, but contextual pop-ups as you hover over items will directly tell you if you’ve already got something better.

No comparing what’s in your backpack to what’s on the ground, or trying to figure out if your gun attachments are as good as the ones you just found: “Apex Legends” just straight up says what’s what. It’s exactly the type of subtle detail that “Apex Legends” so smartly nails across the board.

8. Just getting around is fun.

Ziplines! Sliding! Hot air balloons! Oh my!

EA/Respawn Entertainment

When describing most shooters, the word “runner” might be more accurate. That’s the vast majority of what players do in every online shooter: run.

It’s a sad truth that much of the time spent in games like “Fortnite,” “Call of Duty,” “Battlefield,” and “Destiny” is actually spent running from place to place.

Yet, despite this truth, many shooters do nothing to make that process any more entertaining. One of the best first-person shooters ever made, “Starsiege: Tribes,” is beloved for doing exactly that: It added jetpacks, and a mechanic known as “skiing,” which made the simple act of traversal much, much more entertaining.

“Apex Legends” has its own version of this.

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 zipline? Even if it’s going against gravity, it’ll still magically whisk you at full speed towards the endpoint.

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.

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