Apex Legends is one week into its second season, which features a drastically changed map, a new character to master, and a pleasantly revamped battle pass with much-needed new rewards. But the most pivotal addition to the battle royale game is its ranked mode. Split into six tiers, this new mode will likely be the lifeblood of Apex Legends going forward, keeping it engaging for competitive players and carving out a community of top-tier streamers and aspiring pros who can form the backbone of a future e-sports scene.
The good news is that Apex Legends’ ranked mode is wonderfully designed. It fixes almost every big complaint I’ve had about such modes in other games, giving me a rewarding way to spend my time in a way that never feels like a second job, as so many games-as-a-service titles like Bungie’s Destiny 2 can feel. I’ve only just started playing, but can already see myself spending dozens to hundreds of hours here, so long as Respawn keeps it from growing stale and finds ways to combat the inherent toxicity ranked modes are infamous for.
Everything about Apex Legends’ take on ranked feels considerate, and it’s clear Respawn took stock of the current competitive field, from Overwatch to Rainbow Six Siege to Fortnite. The result is something smarter. This mode feels more fairly designed, punishes you less, and rewards you better for your time compared with pretty much any other comparable mode out there. Just like its approach to core battle royale, which feels like a best-of compilation of the genre’s smartest features mixed with much-needed innovations, Respawn’s take on ranked play will make you wonder why other developers don’t borrow from it more often.
The big difference I noticed after a week of playing is progression feels far less oppressive than in other games, where winning a match is usually the only gauge of performance. Naturally, because it’s a battle royale game, you don’t have to win every match, or even any matches whatsoever, to rank up. Similar to Fortnite’s ranked mode, you just need to place high, which earns you anywhere from two points for the top 10 and 12 points for the victory, or rack up knockouts, with up to one point per kill for a maximum of five per player on your three-person squad. Both winning a game and getting five kills in the process will earn you an individual match maximum of 17 points.
But Apexs combination of increasingly demanding rank up requirements, alongside an entrance fee system that forces you to spend your earned points to enter matches as you rank up, creates a unique dynamic you can’t really find in any other game. Each tier is split up into four sub-tiers, but the difference in points between those sub-tiers gets bigger in each new division, while the cost of entering a match also increases.
That way, as you get better at the game and rank up, you have to simultaneously adjust how you play, what you strive for, and how you measure success, or else you’ll start losing more points than you earn with each new match. In this way, Respawn’s ranked mode feels like it could engage huge scores of casual players that would normally be turned off from a highly competitive playlist like this, while also giving clear avenues for improvement to the players that in other games might just languish in the lower tiers without knowing how to get better.
For instance, the point system and entry fee policy both feel fair and encourage drastically different styles of play as you move up each tier. In bronze and silver, where the entry fee is zero and then one point, ranking up requires you either earn a few early game kills or play it safe and last until you get into the top seven, or if you’re lucky or particularly skilled, a combination of both. But move into gold and then platinum, where the fees are two and three and teams are hungrier to engage in combat, you’ll have to know how to survive a firefight and crack at least the top five to earn back your entry fee and progress meaningfully.
This colors how you play Apex Legends in every division and also gives you a wide variety of routes to take at the beginning, middle, and end of each match. Rarely is a game a total wash, even when you lose a team member to a disconnection or early exit, and there are always smart moves to make to ensure you earn some points even when you’re not at all confident you’ll win the match.
Missed an opportunity to revive a teammate? Just camp the center of the circle or play at height to avoid getting seen by full squads and try to squeeze out a higher placement. Feeling particularly outskilled or low on loot? Make use of your class abilities, like Pathfinder’s zipline or Wattson’s electrical traps, to keep engagements at a distance and retain an advantage.
This diversity of styles and options makes playing this mode much more refreshing than, say, Overwatch’s competitive playlist. In Blizzard’s take on competitive, you might play a game for a literal half hour, only to lose over a completely arbitrary element of the tug of war contest that not only just wasted 30 minutes of your life, but also knocks points off your rank as a penalty for losing.
That approach, combined with the fact that Overwatch places you around your previous season skill level, gives all but the most determined players few means to rank up and improve. And it leaves everything in Overwatch feeling like a boring stalemate by design. Apex Legends’ point system ensures that, so long as you play smart and consider your options, you’ll never feel like you’re throwing your time out the window. Often when you do lose, you can easily identify what went wrong and how to do better next time.
But this setup also means you might find yourself progressing steadily but not necessarily improving your core gunplay and positioning skills. That’s an understandable byproduct of a battle royale ranked mode, but it also offers griefers a multitude of opportunities to make other players miserable.
I don’t see toxicity as a big problem right now, although the freedom you’re given in Apex Legends could spell trouble for players who play solo and have to rely heavily on the skills of random strangers who may not be keen on engaging in fights. (Apex Legends’ ping system makes a huge difference here, but it still pales in comparison to voice chat with two other dedicated teammates.)
For instance, If you’re making your way into gold, platinum, or even diamond tiers, it’s likely because you’re earning it through a mix of good match placements and genuine firefight victories. In other words, you’re good at the game, getting better, and take it seriously. I can’t imagine a scenario, outside the rarest of exceptions, when someone can climb the ranks through sheer pacifist play and cheap strategies like full-match camping. But playing with those players would certainly be annoying, and we have yet to see how Respawn plans to handle ranked participants who actively won’t revive teammates or who will blatantly separate from the team to camp in a corner the whole game.
Right now, punishments exist predominantly to discourage quitting. Respawn says it will ban players for five minutes to start, and up to a week or longer for repeated violations of the early disconnect policy, which in an excellent touch includes quitting when you can still be revived by a teammate. The studio also says it has server-side features that will help it identify connection issues versus manual disconnects, a good-faith effort to avoid penalizing players with shoddy internet hiccups that I have yet to really see in action.
But every once in a while, if you’re playing solo or with only one other person, you’ll find someone who just isn’t interested in sticking together or making use of the ping system. It sucks, but again, Apex Legends’ very design makes it so you can still go on without them if you have to.
There are still a lot of open questions about the ranked mode. Will it get overrun by cheating and smurfing, plagued by unrepentant jerks and trolls, or just outright fail to attract enough players to keep it appropriately balanced? Or will it remain vibrant and fun, creating whole new styles of play that require you totally rethink your strategies? I’m hoping the latter, because I don’t think I’ve ever played a serious first-person shooter with this combination of strategy, teamwork, and fun factor. It’s clear Respawn has something special on its hands -- if it can keep evolving and improving it.