Even though I’ve been playing Fortnite for the better part of a year, I still get surprised by the butterflies. There I am, running along the edge of a giant crater or sneaking through a dense forest, and some blue, fluttering wings catch my eye. I don’t exactly stop and stare — that’s too dangerous in a battle royale where everyone is out to kill you — but it’s enough to capture my attention for a brief second, before I move on to explore other parts of the island.
There’s nothing similar to those charming butterflies in Apex Legends. Respawn’s Titanfall-themed shooter stormed out of the gates when it launched two weeks ago, racking up 25 million players in seven days and regularly dominating the Twitch charts. Apex isn’t the first battle royale game to challenge Fortnite, but none of its contemporaries have had this kind of momentum. Even neon-haired Fortnite star Ninja is playing Respawn’s game, winning the game’s first major tournament last week in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers.
This might lead you to believe that the two games are in direct competition. And, at least for a portion of the competitive community, they are. But Apex and Fortnite also offer very different experiences. And while I’m enjoying the high-octane action of Apex, Respawn’s battle royale is missing my favorite aspect of Fortnite: Epic’s game is a much more pleasant place to hang out.
As a pure action game, Apex is the superior experience. As anyone who played the Titanfall games can attest, the developers at Respawn are masters at making tight, fast, and approachable first-person shooters. And while it’s missing the mechs and wall running that made Titanfall so unique, Apex is still an incredible action experience. You can run and slide around the map with ease, and the guns all have a specific weight and force to them that just feels right. Even better, while Apex is focused entirely on team play, there are features in place that make it fun even if you’re playing with strangers.
Compared to Fortnite, all of these elements — the gunplay, the movement, the social features — are improved in Apex. But that’s only a fraction of the reason why people actually play Fortnite. Epic’s game isn’t just a battle royale, it’s a social network and, increasingly, it’s a virtual place where massive hangouts happen and where people want to explore with their friends almost as much as they want to compete. Often when I play, actually winning a match is low on my list of priorities. I might play a few rounds to complete some rewards or follow the latest ongoing event. Today, I dropped into the island quickly before work just to check on the status of the earthquake-induced cracks. There’s so much to do outside of the core battle royale loop. (And that’s not even including the Minecraft-like creative mode, or the constantly cycled limited-time modes that put you on big teams and let you come back to life after you perish.)
Some of these elements are likely coming to Apex Legends. The game is getting a subscription battle pass, which in all likelihood will include daily and weekly activities to keep players coming back. It’s possible that the map will shift and change over time as well. But on top of these elements, Fortnite also has a lighter tone that makes it a much more inviting destination, particularly for a game you play on a weekly or even daily basis.
There’s a goofy charm to the world, a colorful sense of style that stands in direct contrast to the gritty shooters that dominate the space, and that includes Apex Legends. That makes Fortnite more appealing to a broader range of players, and much more appropriate for kids and palatable to their parents. It also means Epic has free rein to come up with wild ideas to surprise players. It’s hard to think of another competitive shooter that could fascinate players with a slowly rolling cube or a brief snowstorm.
All this is to say, for all of the comparisons and similarities, there’s a vast difference between what Fortnite and Apex Legends offer. While I prefer firing a shotgun in Apex, when it comes down to it, I’d much rather spend time in Epic’s ever-changing world — if only to check on the butterflies.