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Apex Legends: AAA battle royale, is here for good or ill

© EA

Landing in seemingly out of nowhere with only murky rumors to precede it, Respawn' Apex Legends dropped right in the middle of the Super Bowl. Published by gaming industry giant EA, this marks the first attempt by a AAA studio to make a battle royale game right from the get-go. But given EA's history, it's only natural to have some mixed feelings.

So another battle royale, what's the big deal? It may not be the most original idea, but just because an idea isn't original, it doesn't mean it can't be good. Fortnite became the phenomenon it is by improving on PUBG, and as in most industries, success breeds imitation.

Apex Legends is a landmark game in that it's the first one built from the ground up to be a battle royale by a big name AAA studio. Fortnite's Battle Royale mode eclipsed the original survival game that it was tacked on to. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has a battle royale mode, but doesn't commit fully. But, in direct competition with the biggest game on the planet right now, what does Apex Legends bring to the table?

Titans give way to Legends

The new battle royale is set in the same universe as Respawn's Titanfall games, sans the actual Titans: colossal mechs which were apparently deemed too difficult to balance for a competitive game. Aesthetics distinguish it right off the bat: whereas PUBG does for a kind of gritty realism and Fortnite is colorful and cartoonish, Apex Legends has a sci-fi theme with polished graphics, which is more fantastic than PUBG and more serious than Fortnite.

The other draw are the legends themselves. Apex Legends is a battle royale that also incorporates gameplay from the 'hero shooter' genre, aping Blizzard Entertainment's hit title Overwatch. Rather than a generic fighter only distinguished by equipment and your own play style, the different characters, or 'legends' in-game, each have different strengths, weaknesses and abilities. For example, Gibraltar excels in defense, whereas Lifeline is a medic, Bloodhound is a tracker, and so on.

While fans of the all-against-all battle royale style might not like this kind of asymmetry, it does offer interesting possibilities for squad based matches, and therefore opportunities to revive fallen teammates. If you enjoy squad games in Fortnite but can't really be bothered with building, or wish there were different classes to play, then this could be your jam. And thanks to Respawn's marketing tack of getting big-name streams like Shroud and Dr Disrespect on for the launch, there's already a substantial player base to roll with.

Respawn's Titanfall games are solid, and Apex Legends certainly has potential, and I wouldn't weigh in more heavily before having a chance to spend more time with it, so why do I already have a sense of foreboding? It's more to do with money.

Monetization matters

Thanks to Fortnite, the free-to-play battle royale is on-trend, and Fortnite makes its millions via selling cosmetic items though an in-game shop, packaged with challenges to unlock items, known as the battle pass. The game also has a shop to buy items directly. 

Apex Legends has all this and more - a veritable mess of different monetization systems: there's a battle pass, loot boxes called Apex Packs and a shop to buy items outright. Then there's the fact that certain "legends" can be paid for to unlock, although one can also unlock them through intense play. Two legends, Mirage and Caustic, are locked from the get-go, and future DLC legends will also be locked in this way.

apex screenshot squad.jpg.adapt.crop
Caustic (left) and Mirage (right) are both initially locked. / © Respawn Entertainment

There are also three (!) types of in-game currency: legend tokens, Apex coins and crafting metals. Of course, each is earned through different methods, and unlock different things. So far, this isn't a great look for a AAA free to play game. With all the different currencies and things to pay for, there's more potential for shenanigans.

Respawn has assured players that all paid items are cosmetic only, and that the Apex Packs are controlled to guarantee decent items, avoid duplicates or runs of bad luck. They will not carry exclusive items either. The loot box odds will also be published online in an effort for transparency.

Respawn's intentions may be good, but it's hard not to be skeptical given publisher EAs record of pushing excessive monetization well past consumer pain points and facing a heavy blacklash for it.

EA was slammed for the microstransactions and loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront 2 and FIFA 2019. In the case of the former, microstransactions were temporarily removed and then re-introduced for cosmetic-only items. As for the latter, the game publisher clashed with the nation of Belgium, which declared FIFA 2019's loot boxes in violation of the country's gambling laws. Other countries are also considering regulation on paid random reward systems like loot boxes.

Has EA learned its lesson after these two strikes? Honestly, it's still too early to tell. Gamespot detailed the game's microstransactions to start with, and many are not so micro ($20+). We'll have to see when the game's season kicks off in March, and players have had enough time to check for themselves how fair the monetization is.

There's a lot riding on this. If it succeeds, then we've got a good game that can give Fortnite serious competition and clear some of the stink from around EA's recent controversies. If not, down the line, players may find themselves in the dismal position of having invested money for items in an abandoned live service. At least, being free to play, the curious have nothing to lose but their storage space.

Apex Legends is out today for PS4, Xbox One and PC. Have you tried it yet? Let us know what you think!

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Nicholas Montegriffo

Nicholas Montegriffo

A cyberpunk and actual punk, Nicholas is the Androidpit team's hardcore gamer, writing with a focus on future tech, VR/AR, AI & robotics. Out of office, he can be found hanging around in goth clubs, eating too many chillies, or at home telling an unlucky nerd that their 8th level wizard died from a poisoned spike trap.

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