As a studio, Respawn Entertainment has grown a reputation for creating pleasant surprises. Their “Titanfall” series is considered by many critics — including myself — to be one of the best shooter series ever made. “Titanfall 2” in particular came out of nowhere back in 2016 with a single-player campaign that was uncommonly innovative and emotional.
Now we have “Apex Legends” — a very generic-sounding game which abides by all the most popular design trends on the market these days, and is also, somehow, quite excellent. As a mashup of “Overwatch,” “Fortnite” and “Titanfall,” “Apex Legends” surpasses being a mere imitation of these three to become a uniquely thrilling experience.
Set vaguely somewhere in the universe of “Titanfall,” the game follows your standard “Player Unknown” or “Fortnite” Battle Royale formula, the exception being that there’s only one game mode. The game is set up as 60-player matches, with 20 squads of three each. There is no playing solo, unless you want to be a jerk and abandon your squad-mates, which in my dozen or so hours of playing the game, no one ever did.
You could write a dissertation on the subtle psychology of how this game pushes complete strangers into cooperation. I’m not being hyperbolic. I genuinely think there’s room for a scientific study here. Unless you make it to the very end, many matches of this game last no longer than 15-20 minutes. Yet by the end of that period, my two team members and I were almost always working like a well-oiled machine, as were everyone else’s, all without anyone having said a word to each other.
How does this game do that? I’ve played a lot of shooting games over the years — probably too many — and there’s always a match where the squad either falls apart, fails to help each other in any real way or starts out too big to really cohere in the first place.
I have a few ideas as to how this all fits together, but again, a scientist’s opinion would be much appreciated. I’m not sure that we’ll ever fully understand the nuances of how it works.
The non-verbal ping system is an obvious suspect for why this game’s squadrons work, but various other elements rule it out as being the sole cause. In terms of non-verbal communication, it is a stroke of brilliance, but previous games such as “Portal 2” or even “Battlefield” use similar techniques but to a lesser extent. Point at an item in the game world, hit a button and your teammates now know where that item is located.
This is based on a simple and well-worn concept but includes a radial menu that lets you specify exactly what in the game world you’re pointing at, and now you’ve got some nuance: enough nuance that people without traditional microphone-headsets can communicate effectively.
The “Overwatch” style of character class systems also reinforce this reliance upon one another. You may start each match without any items, but everybody still has a unique ability to help the other players. The medic has a healing orb, and the tough guy has a shield. After five minutes or so, a player can launch a super ability that assists the whole team.
I’m sure all of these features help enhance the overall player experience, but how much? After all, maybe I just got lucky. Maybe it all just comes down to the people you are playing the game with, but in a certain sense, that’s also up to the developers.
"It includes features like color blindness options for every kind of color blindness, and the option for an automatic audio-to-text conversion for teammates’ voices. Hearing impaired players can actually have their team members’ audio subtitled for them. I can’t think of any other title that does that."
I went into the settings when I started playing “Apex” to turn on some subtitles, and while I was there, my eye happened to glance at the accessibility menus. Accessibility is always something I appreciate in a title, and this game has options I rarely see in any game, much less in budget multiplayer shooters. It includes features like color blindness options for every kind of color blindness, and the option for an automatic audio-to-text conversion for teammates’ voices. Hearing impaired players can actually have their team members’ audio subtitled for them. I can’t think of any other title that does that.
I could talk about other things, like how the movement, sound design and environmental design of this game are all gorgeous. I could also mention how the micro-transaction system this free-to-play game runs on, where $10 is the minimum purchase, makes me a bit uncomfortable, but to me, they’re less important.
So there’s my recommendation. Give it a download, a couple bucks and maybe we can get “Titanfall 3” moving along already.
Final Grade: A
Marty Forbeck is a video games columnist for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.