Legendary game in the making

There is a new challenger in the popular battle royale game genre.

Launched with little fanfare last week, Apex Legends has already sent records tumbling, registering 10 million players in just three days.

This same milestone took battle royale phenomenon Fortnite two weeks to achieve. Apex Legends, though, still has a long way to rival Fortnite's accumulative player base of more than 200 million.

Apex Legends has the usual trappings of the genre, from having players drop down onto a small island to restricting the playable area as the game progresses to force confrontations among players.

What sets it apart is the focus on squad play. Teams of three players fight to be the last team standing out of 20 squads. While team-based modes are available in many battle royale games, they are usually more of an afterthought.

For starters, dying in Apex Legends is not the end of the game. A badly injured player can be revived by a teammate. Even a dead player can be brought back if his remains are recovered in 90 seconds and brought to a re-spawn station.

  • SPECS

    PRICE: Free (PC, version tested; PS4, Xbox One)

    GENRE: Battle royale, online shooter

    RATING: 9/10

This mechanic makes things interesting - an enemy squad may lurk in the vicinity of a fallen player in anticipation of his teammate coming to his rescue - leading to heated and desperate confrontations.

Each squad in Apex Legends is made up of three different "legends" - heroic characters with their own unique abilities. Taking a page from Overwatch, which was in turn inspired by multiplayer online battle arena games, Apex Legends has eight characters, of which six are available at the beginning.

These characters are sorted into classes, depending on their unique abilities, which can be defensive or offensive in nature. For instance, the aptly named Lifeline character is a medic with the ability to restore the health of teammates.

These abilities are on a timer, so they cannot be used all the time. Picking the right moment to use them, especially the powerful Ultimate ability, such as a mortar strike on a fixed location, is crucial. Some combinations of abilities also work better together than others, adding a tactical slant to the squad composition.

Apex Legends also makes it easy for teammates to communicate without the need for a voice chat. The game has an excellent "ping" system that intelligently adapts to the context. For instance, point (ping) to an item to tell the team to pick it up. Ping an enemy in the distance to warn teammates. Ping a location on the map to suggest the team head to that area.

At launch, Apex Legends feels polished with the production value of a paid game. The interface looks sleek while visual elements are calibrated to be accessible to gamers, such as using colours to denote tiers of loot and types of ammunition.

This is not always the case for the genre, which often sees games released in beta or incomplete form.

It has a good selection of weapons that all feel suitably different. They are drawn from developer Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall series of first-person shooting games.

Apex Legends is set in the same universe as Titanfall, though it does not have Titanfall's giant robots.

My grouse so far is that it currently has only a level to play in, which may get stale if players binge on the game, like I did over the past week.

Like other battle royale games, the business model for the free-to-play Apex Legends is through microtransactions.

While you can play without paying a cent, it takes a while to grind enough in-game currency to unlock the two characters not available at the start. Items available in the game store are cosmetic in nature and do not confer any in-game advantage.

• Verdict: Apex Legends may borrow from other games, but its polished, team-based gameplay makes it a blast to play.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'Legendary game in the making'. Print Edition | Subscribe