This game has single-handedly converted me to the Battle Royale genre. They did it, something that I thought was impossible. Now I'm hooked and I don't know what to do about it. I see it now, the new shiny thing all the kids are so excited about. I get it. And it feels amazing.
I hate online gaming to be honest. I'm in my mid-thirties now and I don't have many friends that still play games. Getting abused by teenagers thanks to my sub-par skill at games like COD and Battlefield isn't really my idea of fun. So this was always going to be a tough sell for me. Two things with Apex helped me get over that barrier - it's incredible viral popularity and the game-changing ping system.
The game was released 4 Feb 2019, with zero marketing or fanfare and has grown insanely since then. In 3 weeks it crossed the 50 million unique players threshold and has only continued to grow in popularity. This explosion in popularity means that a full 2/3 of my very limited Xbox Live friends list is playing it at any given time. There's a good probability I'll end up in a match with someone I know already, without any coordination or time-zone logistics to figure out beforehand. This is huge. No more abuse from random teenagers, which I count as a win.
The other game-changing feature from this perspective is the ping system. They've implemented a system by which you can point at things in the game environment and with a click or two have your entire squad notified at that location. There's a handful of different types, from simple "Item here" type notifications to more sophisticated "I'm guarding this" or "enemies here" type pings. It's all context-sensitive too, so whatever you point at you'll get a useful message. This largely removes the need for voice chat to function effectively as a squad. I actually don't even use my mic in this game, unless I'm playing with people I already know. It's brilliant. I don't have to spin the matchmaking roulette wheel when I'm paired with teammates anymore. Are they going to abuse me for being bad? Are they straight-up assholes? Are they creeps? It doesn't matter. Effective team-play without having to worry about whether I've been matched with horrible people? That's a win for me.
The game itself is a solid blend of a class-based shooter like Overwatch and the mega-popular Battle Royale genre made famous by the PUBG's and Fortnite's of the world. Developed in stealth by Respawn (Titanfall series) and published by EA, it's clear that the development team has experience in crafting very respectable FPS titles. It's free to play which again, I typically despise for a number of reasons, but they've hit the balance really well here and haven't skewed play-to-win at all. Microtransactions are all about cosmetics, and I honestly couldn't give two shits about that stuff. You start with 6 out of the 8 characters unlocked. If you're an EA Access member you automatically get enough credits to unlock one of the other 2 characters, and then some, which is a nice perk. I've almost earned enough XP to unlock the final character after about 2 weeks of play. It's all very fair and above-board. Given EA is involved that's a surprise, but hopefully they've learned something from past transgressions (I'm looking at you SW Battlefront 2).
Mechanically the game is a cut above typical BR games largely due to the developer's pedigree in producing quality AAA FPS titles. Gunplay is great, movement is fluid, everything feels natural. The lack of fall damage and the sliding mechanics took some getting used to but they became second nature very quickly. The variety of weapons on offer is meager, but each one feels like it serves a purpose, except the damn Mozambique (just why?!) Broken into 3 broad categories (light, heavy, energy), they all have a purpose. Light weapons are fine for the early game where everyone is scrambling for literally anything to defend themselves with. As you earn kills, loot crates and squads are eliminated, heavy and energy weapons become the only viable options as the herd is thinned and everyone is constantly upgrading their gear.
The classes all feel useful and distinct enough from one another that nobody is left out. Having said that, Gibraltar feels like the least useful of the bunch, given that his ultimate is similar enough to Bangalore's and she has the much more useful smoke grenade special. My favorite has to be Lifeline, the textbook medic/support character and in my opinion coolest of the bunch. I also like the extra mobility offered by Pathfinder, and I'm starting to learn how to use Bloodhound's abilities effectively.
To be clear, I am still terrible at the game, averaging anywhere between zero and five kills per match at best. It's still fun regardless, and I think that's what keeps me coming back. With zero downtime between matches and a 30 second firefight being equally as fun as a perfectly-planned 15 minute run, it's quite an achievement. Given how desperately un-fun sucking at games like COD can feel, it's refreshing to be able to enjoy being bad at something this good. The Mozambique still sucks though, prove me wrong.