In 2019, Respawn Entertainment surprised gamers by following up its Titanfall games with something slightly different, instead opting for a take on the (then) new and growing free-to-play battle royale genre with Apex Legends.
You know what happened next. After a healthy dose of promoted live streams, the game quickly carved out a unique space and grew rapidly in popularity, racking up 25 million registered players in one week and crossing the 100 million mark in time for its second birthday. Now, Apex Legends is turning three, and in a conversation with The Verge, game director Steven Ferreira said that this year, players should expect to see the title do things that are completely unlike what we’ve seen so far while still keeping the battle royale as the core of the game.
In terms of changes, I don’t think that any stick out as much as the coming addition of Control, a 9 vs. 9 team deathmatch where the two sides battle for the high score by taking over specific map locations. Instead of looting, players select an initial loadout, then get new items from airdrops or as killstreak-like upgrades to their current gear based on playing well.
It’s a far more traditional kind of shooter experience than standard Apex Legends, and the developers acknowledged that, calling it a good place to get in and learn, especially while everyone is going to have to adjust to a new mode.
I played a few rounds with other journalists, developers, and content creators and came away with mixed feelings — it’s so much fun to play the same game with more freedom to try things knowing you’ll get another life in a few seconds, but right now, it’s still not as polished as other games that have a more refined approach to this setup, like Call of Duty or Halo. Maybe Control will get there, but even with the variety of legend abilities and well-thought-out ping system, it’s not the best at this style of gameplay — yet. One more reason to try it out is that for the first three weeks of its new Defiance season, players can unlock additional characters for free just by logging in.
One flaw of the battle royale concept is that it can be punishing for players at all levels, with long periods of looting barren landscapes devoid of other players before one headshot means a return to the lobby to start from scratch. When I spoke to Respawn ahead of the launch of the Storm Point map, they said they were looking at ways to improve the new player experience, and this certainly fits the bill. Whether you’re a complete newbie to BR generally or Apex Legends specifically, this mode will give you the chance to mess around as much as possible in a live game with very little downtime.
The only issue is that Control is (for now) planned as a limited-time offering, available for just a few weeks. The developers have used this as a way to test new mechanics before, and it seems possible, if not likely, that something like Control could become a permanent addition to Apex Legends.
However, based on Ferreira’s comments as well as what we heard from the rest of the team, I think this rollout is just the beginning of a new life for Apex Legends. While Fortnite has freely experimented with different gameplay styles, and Call of Duty grafted Warzone onto its existing game, it feels obvious that Apex Legends is preparing to join them by taking the game in very different directions.
That includes the new legend, Mad Maggie, and her interesting combination of abilities. They include a drill that burns through walls to burn enemies on the other side, full movement speed while carrying a shotgun, the ability to briefly track any enemy she damages, and an ultimate that rolls out a massive ball of destruction that drops acceleration pads to help her chase down survivors. She’s built to keep players on the move — if you prefer to hide and heal or peek around corners, then I have bad news, as Maggie can quickly put an end to that. Not coincidentally, one of the existing characters, Caustic, is getting a significant downgrade, now that players can disable his toxic gas traps even after they have been activated.
The new changes and the return of the Olympus map — which will return in “sabotaged” form with tweaks to address player complaints of constant third partying — will keep players on the move. It will definitely be more exciting for the streamers, players, and pros Apex Legends has attracted so far, but I’m not as sure that everyone will find it as fun to play all the time. Apex Legends: Defiance will launch on all platforms on February 8th.