"We're doing a free to play game, with essentially loot boxes, after we were bought by EA, and it's not Titanfall 3. It's the perfect recipe for a marketing plan to go awry, so why have that - let's just ship the game and let players play."
That was the statement from Apex Legends' lead producer Drew McCoy to Eurogamer back when the game launched, and it was hard to argue. The game was dropping onto a battle royale landscape (pardon the pun) that was dominated by Fortnite and PUBG at the time, while Blackout, Call of Duty's offering, was picking up steam.
Could a team that was behind the Titanfall franchise enter the space and hold its own?
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The Cast and Crew
Characters are larger-than-life and instantly recognisable
The answer, of course, is yes. In fact, EA recently reported that the game's player base has grown 30% year-on-year.
Apex Legends set itself apart from its peers in multiple ways. Firstly, it offered a focus on squad-based play, eschewing traditional solo playlists to encourage players work together to be the last squad standing.
That was backed up by the now-ubiquitous "Ping" system, offering contextual commands at the touch of a button to facilitate teamwork even for mic-less players. Then, there were its initial eight Legends - characters with unique abilities, looks, personalities and backgrounds.
Finally, players could respawn teammates that had been slain in battle, meaning there was an incentive to stay in the match, even after you'd been eliminated.
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King's Canyon changes regularly
That's not to say that there's not plenty to like about Apex Legends beside its characters and match setup, though.
Built off of Titanfall's foundation, it drops wall-running and the ability to call in mechs but maintains excellent gunplay with meaty weapons that feel great to use whether you're sniping enemies with the Longbow DMR, or up close and personal with the Mastiff shotgun.
That's combined with excellent locomotion. Apex has become somewhat renowned for its downhill slide, but it's just as fun to zipline upwards on downwards to get the drop on an enemy. 'Game feel' is so hard to quantify, but Apex Legends has it in spades.
Of course, no battle royale stands still, and Respawn has built off of Apex Legends' excellent base over time. The obvious additions are new Legends introduced with each season, and each it more surprising than the last.
Take Loba, for example. A thief with an ultimate ability that rounds up loot in the surrounding area for teammates to grab, she plays much more differently than her arch-nemesis, Revenant. A terrifying mix of machine and madness, he can negate death in a short window. Then there's Octane, who can trade speed for health and vice versa, or Horizon and her ability to create a black hole. Respawn has shown a willingness to throw outlandish abilities into the game, and it's all the better for it.
The downside is that obtaining new Legends can take some grinding if you don't want to open your wallet, but the good news is that none are definitively better - it's a case of preference in many ways.
While King's Canyon has been rotated in and out several times, as well as being tweaked with takeovers and limited-time events, it still feels like home, even with the other two maps being markedly more varied in their visuals.
Then there are new gameplay elements. A new crafting system, introduced in Season 6, means players can accrue materials throughout a match and convert them into high-level gear at Fabricators that drop around the map.
One of the more subtle changes is the way player armour levels up when players deal damage. Sure, you can still loot higher-rarity protection, but it incentivises aggressive play.
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Apex Legends was undoubtedly a risk for Respawn after Titanfall 2 soared critically but failed to sell well. As it happens, it was one worth taking. With an excellent roster of Legends that continues to grow, fluid movement and near-perfect shooting mechanics, it's hard not to recommend players try Apex Legends at least once, especially since it's free.
It's an excellent game played solo, but with friends, it's one of the best.
Reviewed on PC with time spent on Xbox.