I had very mixed feelings when Apex Legends was announced. On one hand, Titanfall and its sequel are two of my favorite shooters, offering an incredibly fast, almost balletic sense of movement that made otherwise standard skirmishes feel fresh and alive. The idea of developer Respawn taking that to the battle royale genre and throwing in charming Overwatch-style characters was incredibly exciting. But there was one very particular aspect of the game that made me wary: you can only play it in teams. As someone who spends hours in Fortnite solo and hates the idea of voice chat with strangers, this was an instant turn-off.
But thanks to a handful of incredibly clever design decisions, Apex Legends is the rare team-based shooter where voice chat isn’t a necessity. You can be antisocial and still have a lot of fun.
Apex Legends is set in the Titanfall universe, and it has teams of three battling it out across a war-torn sci-fi landscape to be the last group standing. It’s a class-based game where you pick from a group of heroes, each of which fits snugly into an archetype like “support” or “tank.” They also all have special abilities that charge up over the course of a match. And just like in Fortnite and its contemporaries, the battlefield shrinks as the match goes on, forcing you into close contact with your opponents.
Usually, a game like this would require voice chat. In order to be successful, there are a lot of strategies you just have to discuss with your teammates — things like who is going to take on what role or where on the map you want to initially land. These are vital. Just look at a game like Overwatch where constant communication is a requirement, and voice chat is the only real option.
Fortunately, this isn’t the case in Apex Legends. It starts with the character select. Instead of having everyone choose their hero at the same time, the game randomly selects an order, and everyone has to choose one at a time. So if you’re selecting third and the team doesn’t have a healer, well, you don’t have much choice if you want any chance at winning. (It doesn’t hurt that, at least from my brief experience, all of the heroes are pretty fun to play, including the support class.)
Likewise, when it comes time to drop onto Apex Legends’ dense island, one member of the team is randomly selected to decide where you go. Other players can offer suggestions by pinging a location to highlight it, but it’s up to the leader to pick a spot. This concept of pinging is actually the core of what makes the game work without voice chat. Once you’re on the island, you can ping just about anything to alert your team. If you find a health pack or weapon you don’t need, you can ping them, and your squad will get an alert telling them what you found and where. If you notice your team seems directionless (I’ve been on a few squads where people seemed to not notice the incoming storm), you can ping a location and suggest that everyone head over there.
It may sound like a small thing, but combined, these features are just enough to coordinate a team, at least for lower-level play. I’m sure once Apex Legends turns into an e-sport, the pros will all wear headsets. But for more casual shooter fans, the kinds who are drawn to Splatoon and solo Fortnite, Apex Legends is just about perfect. Instead of hearing some stranger yell at you for going the wrong way, you hear an in-game character suggesting a new route. It makes a big difference, and it turns an often intimidating genre into something a lot more approachable.