How Apex Legends succeeds where other battle royale games fail
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You may look at the battle royale genre and think it’s fairly crowded at the moment, but in reality, it has far fewer games in it than other major gaming genres. That hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most popular genres around, though. So how have the games shaped up? Let’s take a deep dive into Apex Legends and see what sets it apart from its rivals.
What started as a new battle royale game secretly tested by major content creators has become the leader in its genre. Thanks to regular game balances, updates that constantly keep the game feeling fresh, engaging lore that keeps you wanting more, and a competitive arm that gets you cheering for your favorite players, Apex Legends has truly succeeded in the battle royale genre where its competitors have simply fallen flat over the years.
The battle royale genre is simple enough: X number of players drop into a map, and the last player or team standing wins. But while the premise is simple, keeping the gameplay and style fresh is extremely important when supporting such a large and dedicated player base. The development team for Apex Legends has kept to its core values throughout the years but certainly made other changes, and this keeps the game feeling fresh to the seasoned player while welcoming new ones. While Apex Legends is a battle royale at heart, there are so many options to choose from to play whether you want to play casually, solo, hardcore, or try your hand at a whole different mode—Arenas.
Each playable character, or Legend, comes with their own unique set of abilities. Screenshot by author.
In other battle royale games, each player is exactly the same, creating a completely equal playing field. The groundwork is the same in Apex; however, providing characters with different abilities breeds an unlimited amount of playstyles. Thanks to regular balancing, no character feels extremely overpowered (most of the time.) With a new legend introduced just about every season, there are always new styles for players to try. Of course, as the community uncovers each new playstyle, they also find ways to counter it, and the cycle continues, making for an enjoyable and unique experience.
Apex Legends has a variety of different maps that force players to adjust their tactics. Image by Respawn Entertainment.
Changes to the environment can also drastically affect the way the game is played. For the first two seasons, the Apex Games took place on one map: Kings Canyon. But with the introduction of World’s Edge in Season Three and Olympus in Season Seven, the variety of playstyles continues to expand. All three maps have unique features that make for three separate experiences, with different characters excelling on each.
On release in 2019, Apex had one option: Trios Battle Royale. Right off the bat, this set it apart from others in the genre. At the time, it was typical to have teams of two, four, or solo, so introducing teams of three brought with it a new team dynamic. But as the game has evolved, so have the ways to play it. Duos have now been added to the battle royale mode, and while there is no solo option (and no plans for one), if you’re feeling spicy, you can select “no fill” to drop in by yourself against teamed players.
Season Two brought with it a formal ranked mode. Ranked allows you to play against players and teams of a similar skill to yours while providing you with points based on your gameplay in each match. Depending on the number of points you’ve earned, you’ll earn a certain rank in the game. Ranking your way up to Apex Predator has a ton of perks to it, but, in the end, playing a more competitive mode with friends is generally a fun experience overall. Ranked mode may sound like a simple concept, but after analyzing ranking data, Respawn has adapted it throughout the seasons to make it more enjoyable whether you're Bronze or Predator rank.
With a major update in Season Nine, Apex introduced a completely new mode: Arena. While this article mainly focuses on where the battle royale genre succeeds, it’s necessary to discuss the variety available in the game as a whole.
Arena mode keeps to the same three-player team ideals but takes smaller areas of certain maps and pits players against each other through various rounds. Points are earned per round and can then be redeemed for weapons, weapon upgrades, abilities, or healing items.
Adding Arena mode certainly reignited interest in the game at every level of difficulty. It’s become a new style to play in the same universe that gives a fresh take. Ranked Arenas are also set to be added in Season 10.
When you have any games as a service (GaaS) game, it’s crucial to have open communication with your community. This is where Respawn Entertainment and the Apex Legends team truly excel. As the game has developed through the years, it’s gotten into the groove of having major seasonal updates about every three months. These updates usually include the addition of a new legend, a new mode, and major map, weapon, and general balance changes. Even during these seasons, smaller, regular balance changes are made as well. These regular and scheduled adjustments to the game not only keep it feeling new and fresh to its current player base but attract new players as well.
Major and minor updates are regularly made to the game while keeping players informed. Screenshot by author.
Some of the major changes over the seasons have been crafting in Season Six, a new map in Season Seven, and adding white shields, helmets, and knockdown shields on drop in Season Nine. All seem like minor changes, but they can significantly impact the playing style of the game, making it more enticing to jump into (literally).
Respawn has excelled at keeping the core of the game the same throughout its two years of existence, despite regular balances and updates. The same cannot be said for competing titles that are merely shells of their former selves. Apex developers listen to the player base and adapt to the wants and necessities of its game to make for a more enjoyable experience for everyone.
While these updates are welcoming and sometimes necessary, in the game, the communication between the development team and its player base is simply wide open. In previous seasons, developers have laid out clear roadmaps to plans for the game and incoming changes. This gives players a concise idea of what they can expect. Even though seasonal roadmaps aren’t released anymore, the content team regularly updates on what changes the team is working on via the website’s blog, interviews, social media, and message boards like Reddit. These aren’t just about seasons every three months, but mid-season updates and even random balance changes that the team has noticed need to be rolled out.
Open opportunities like AMA’s on Reddit keep the developers in check with their community. Screenshot by author.
This “direct line” feeling of communication with the development teams gives players a sense of security, knowing that their concerns are being heard and considered, along with the assurance that the team is working diligently to keep the game feeling fresh and balanced for all levels of players.
The Ping System
Communication with your team is essential in any multiplayer game, particularly in the battle royale genre. Apex Legends has truly changed the framework of in-game communication with its ping system. Many people believe that voice chat is the superior form of communication, but whether you don’t have that ability or simply don’t want to, Apex’s ping system allows you to send out clear call-outs during a match with the click of a button. It’s not only a game-changer for your average players but for players with disabilities that may not be able to hear or see in-game communication clearly. Pings coupled with subtitles give players with disabilities the chance to play on the same level as their enemies.
Holding down a button of your choice brings up a communication wheel, giving you the ability to warn of incoming enemies, mark a spot on the map you want to travel to, inform your teammates of loot, or request better loot for yourself. Your teammates can then acknowledge, accept, or deny the ping sent. This system may sound simple enough, but it’s genuinely been revolutionary.
Communication in other BR games has previously felt dry, complicated, and, most of the time, confusing. The system Respawn has put into place is clear, concise, and monumental to the point that even its competitors in the genre have begun to implement similar systems, the ultimate form of flattery.
As we mentioned previously, one of the most unique features in Apex Legends is the legends themselves. In other battle royale games, everyone enters a match as the same base character and empty-handed. Apex, however, lets you choose from a list of legends, all with their own unique abilities. With different characters available to play, this opens up the possibilities of background stories and lore. An advantage Apex Legends has here is the fact that it’s based around the universe of Titanfall, a fellow Respawn Entertainment game. While the lore comes from familiar instances in Titanfall, Apex is a brand new game. Respawn has taken advantage of this by introducing new characters with their own unique stories.
With the lore Respawn has laid out for Apex Legends, players understand the actual reasoning behind playing in the Apex Games. There’s a deep interest in this, and developers capitalize on this by releasing legend trailers showing more and more lore about their favorite characters. Their Stories From The Outlands series also digs deeper into the lore behind the legends.
The animated “Stories from the Outlands” series gives players a closer look at the background of their favorite legends. Watch A Father’s Letter on YouTube. Image credit: Respawn Entertainment.
This investment into the game’s lore makes it a more engaging game for players: knowing what their characters are thinking, going through, and how they might even relate to that. This makes for a more profound and enjoyable gameplay experience.
We’ve established that battle royale games, in general, are pretty easy to understand and to observe, but watching them at a high-tier competitive level has yet to be perfected. Respawn makes the esports side of Apex Legends an engaging and enjoyable experience by providing a clear roadmap along with top-notch broadcasting.
After release, 2019 was a year of testing the competitive waters. After finding out what worked and what didn’t, Respawn released an ambitious plan for the 2020 competitive season—The Apex Legends Global Series. The ALGS consists of online and global events allowing teams of three to compete for a piece of $3 million. What’s unique about the ALGS compared to other esports is that anyone and everyone can enter through qualifying rounds. Since the creation of the ALGS, we’ve seen the explosion of smaller players as they get their chance to compete against big names, but we’ve also seen star players fall under pressure. As COVID-19 ravaged the plans for live events, Respawn made the ALGS online only. Despite the pivot, the developers have dedicated time and, more importantly, money into the competitive side of the battle royale game.
The GLL Masters Spring saw players pulling off some impressive stats. Image credit: GLL.
The broadcast is an engaging experience for viewers as well. With spotlights on social media thanks to specific hashtags, to the ability to earn in-game items just for watching on Twitch, watching competitive Apex Legends is simply an enjoyable experience.
Aside from the main circuit, Respawn has allowed third-party organizers to fill the gaps between the main season with tournament matches. These range anywhere from the top-level teams to the open community tournaments that anyone can join.
Competitors in the BR genre haven’t quite figured out the best esports process the way Apex Legends has. Confusing tournament rules, qualification nightmares, cheating concerns, and a lack of clear communication with the community have set other games miles behind what Apex Legends is doing in esports.
With what Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts have put into Apex Legends over the years, you can’t deny the impact it has had on the genre and gaming as a whole. Apex Legends may still not be your cup of tea, sure. But how it differentiates from its competitors is clear considering the areas that it excels at where others fall flat.
There’s no definitive answer to what is “the best” game in its respective genre, as it is relative player to player. The truth of the matter is, with the current quality of games in the genre, the players themselves are the real winners.
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