For the last couple of years, a seemingly endless stream of online players has declared that the juggernaut Fortnite is their battle royale king. In other words, other contenders need not apply. That hasn’t kept gamemakers from trying to get in on the trigger-pulling, winner-take-all, multiplayer vibe, however. And it looks like the gang at Electronic Arts has come up with a game, Apex Legends, that might just loosen Fortnite’s fan stranglehold.
This hero-focused online battler reportedly drew in a million unique players in the first eight hours after it launched. That number grew to 2.5 million after 24 hours. And by the end of its first week, Apex Legends reached about 25 million online participants. Can you say wildfire?
So what can players (and their parents) expect from this hot new multiplayer melee?
First of all, Apex Legends is a free game (making its money via optional—but often enticing—in-game purchases) that’s based on the Titanfall arena shooter series. No, that doesn’t mean that there are large robotic tanks in this game’s version of a battle royale; those huge metal robos are kept off the field. But it does mean that players will encounter familiar weapons, locations and characters from Titanfall’s sci-fi world if they’ve spent time in that M-rated milieu before.
Here, players have eight different heroes, or Legends, to choose from. There’s no solo play in this game. Instead, players must all choose a Legend avatar and play in a squad—with each group of three only holding one of each Legend type per team.
At the beginning of a battle tournament, up to 20 squads are dropped onto a map with empty hands. They’re set loose to scavenge weapons, ammo and armor, then tasked with eliminating the enemy squads all around them. The zone of play on the map slowly begins to shrink, and eventually the last team with members still standing takes the day.
If that sounds a lot like Fortnite Battle Royale, well, it is. The difference, of course, is in the details.
Besides blazing about a battlefield and gunning down as many enemy squad members as possible, the big challenge here has to do with players’ strategic choices. Choosing the right combo of Legends and using their skills properly can make a huge difference. To that end, each Legend has a unique set of three abilities, categorized as passive, tactical and ultimate.
Let’s take the Legend character Bloodhound, for instance, a tracker type. His passive ability lets him see indicators on the map that can lead him to other squads. His tactical ability is similar to a radar ping that reveals other hidden players for a brief moment. And his ultimate ability lets him move faster than other players, as well as revealing their old footprints for a short while.
Another character, Gibraltar, functions as a tank-like protector. His abilities allow him to deploy a small shield when he looks down his gunsight, to throw up a dome of protection for teammates and to call down a mortar strike on an enemy location. And on and on the different character abilities go in the areas of offense, defense, support and recon. Among the many skills here are healing powers, grappling hook abilities, dimensional portals, artillery strikes, deployable traps and decoys, etc.
One positive element of Apex Legends’ gameplay, from a parental standpoint, is this game’s communication system. Like other online games, players can chat and text with each other during battle. But those potentially problematic elements can also be muted and replaced in Apex.
Once players mute those conversations, simple taps of a button in the game’s “ping” system can alert squadmates to weapon and ammo stashes, as well as tactical details such as the location of enemy units. It’s a nice addition that helps to minimize nasty comments from other players by helping everyone avoid costly mistakes.
That said, not everything is necessarily nicer here. Along with working out your squad strategies and communications, you need to get the best weapons. The rifles, handguns, lasers, etc., come in common, rare, epic and legendary forms. And as you might have guessed, the rarer the weapon, the bigger the punch. And it’s that punch that makes Apex Legends’ combat significantly more concerning than Fornite’s cartoony, bloodless shooting.
Apex takes a far more intense approach to gore and violence. It may not be as bad as, say, Call of Duty in the arena of explosive gush, but it’s still plenty wince-worthy. Of course, that graphic violence leads to another problem: After a while, games with lots of bloody splashes can be desensitizing to the point that such imagery doesn’t make a young shooter wince at all.
This game can also feel intensely fast. I’m not talking about the length of the game, but the speed with which gameplay occurs. While jumping in and out of buildings looking for the right weapons, scanning about for hidden shooters and leaping into gun battles on every side, the pace can feel frantic and the tension thick.
Add all of that up, and Apex Legends becomes a bloody, adrenaline-pumped rush. I’m sure that’s part of its appeal for those who’ve grown a bit bored with Fortnite—especially, perhaps, older players. But those enticingly rendered aspects are also the things that will keep bleary-eyed young players glued to a screen ’til 2:00 a.m., all the while reinforcing the addictive, rush-and-reward mechanics games like these are based upon.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.