In the early 2010s you might recall how ubiquitous it became for singleplayer games to tack on some competitive online mode. Even titles like The Last of Us, Red Dead Redemption and Assassin's Creed hopped on the bandwagon. You might think I'm scornful of these inclusions because they exhibit a clear lack of originality and pandering to popular trends. While this is true, a lot of these modes were quite fun and well made all things considered.
I have some fun memories of Mass Effect's 3 and GTA IV's multiplayer modes. That said I can't help but look back at these modes as an opportunity cost, for both myself and the developers. The hours I'd sunk into these modes probably would have been better spent enjoying other singleplayer games or more refined multiplayer ones. Secondly, you have to consider how many man-hours were put into these sections and whether those resources would have been better utilised elsewhere. How many people actually point to the multiplayer of these singleplayer behemoths as the main attraction?
The Battle Royale Craze
Just like the superfluous multiplayer modes of old, battle royale is about to become a universal feature of FPS games and even a few third person games like Red Dead 2. Again I'm not saying these aren't fun.
I never really got into Fortnite and after over 150 hours on PUBG and about 50 on Black Out I felt as if this genre had all of it's potential already tapped. The plethora of high budget games announcing they would be tacking on this game mode certainly didn't help.
It's easy to have a cynical view of any battle royale, whether a full title or just a game mode. Do you have a shooter series that's run out of ideas and has a declining player base? Battle royale is the solution. This isn't to say Black-Out mode is bad or BF5's Firestorm won't be enjoyable.
It does however, say a lot about supposed AAA FPS developers that the only way they can keep their franchises fresh is to copy the flavour of the month. A small South Korean studio managed to move 40 million copies of PUBG because the premise of their game was original, interesting and well executed despite its obvious lack of polish and content.
In two years virtually every major FPS series is going to have some tacked on battle royale mode. When that time comes and you're perusing your library looking for a battle royale to play with your friends what is it that makes you pick one over all the others?
What reason do I have to pick H1Z1 over Firestorm? What does Black Out offer me over PUBG other than some perks, better UI and a bit of big-budget polish? Since the release of Apex I now have a good answer to this question.
How Apex Innovates Battle Royale
Apex has given me a bit more hope for this genre. Rather than be a transparent copy of PUBG this feels like actual human beings sat down and thought about what could improve this genre. What are some of it's weakness and what is it missing? It seems like the devs tried to make a battle royale game that genuinely improves the genre while using the gunplay and some of the abilities of Titanfall as a template. Black Out cut and pasted Call of Duty's mechanics into PUBG.
I'm sure EA's board still have dollar signs in their eyes over the game's microtransactions but that's something I'm much more willing to overlook in a free to play game. It's not like they pulled a PUBG and added microtransactions to their buggy, unfinished, game despite already making over $700 million. Since the start of the battle royale craze this is the first game I've seen to genuinely innovate on what was already established.
It's necessary for death to be permanent in a battle royale game but this has some obvious downsides. There's nothing worse than entering a game of PUBG with your friends only to be killed in the opening firefight and be left sitting there for anywhere from 5-30 minutes. In Apex your teammates can take a banner from your corpse and use it to revive you at set locations on the map. A ship will then appear and you will drop down towards the site. You will land with nothing and nearby enemies will no doubt notice the incoming dropship, but you will be alive. Simply put, this is genius. It neither makes death inconsequential or overly punishing.
'Hero' type characters are nothing new to shooters and have become increasingly prevalent with the popularity of games like Rainbow Six Siege and Overwatch. Previously battle royale offered little for players to differentiate themselves from each other beyond cosmetics. The Legends offered in Apex fix this problem by giving player characters unique gadgets and personalities. The use of your abilities, especially in synergy with your allies adds another level of strategic depth.
The level of skill ceiling is also spot-on for a game that encourages you to play with your friends. Whilst combat is fairly low recoil and with high kill times, the game's mechanics themselves offer significant depth. Learning all of the abilites of each Legend and how to best counter your enemies and synergise with your team is a core to the gameplay.
There's also a lot of quality of life polish to Apex. The ping system is very easy to use and communicates information efficiently. You can mark equipment on the map that your team might need and mark enemy locations quickly. This is such a good system because it can be even more effective than voice chat. It's much easier to ping an item than to describe where it is over comms. You can also ping items or ammo in your inventory that you require.
This isn't a perfect game by any means. Overall there's a lack of content in terms of the number of Legends and the game only having one map. However, as a free-to-play game that will be getting constant updates, it's hard to be too critical. Apex clearly has the potential to be the best multiplayer game of 2019.
In hindsight, I can see why Respawn didn't want to announce this game. A battle royale game infested with microtransactions when a large number of gamers wanted to see Titanfall 3. Had this been announced at E3 there's no doubt that the social media machine would have flared to life with cynicism.
Huge numbers of people (myself included) would have dismissed Apex out of hand. That said, EA and honestly most of the AAA industry have certainly earned this attitude from gamers. I completely sympathise with people who are sceptical of this game but I urge you to give it a try, after all it won't cost you a cent.