Everything about the act of playing "Apex Legends" feels good, and the more I dig into the game, the more I find to love.
The simple act of moving around is so thoroughly, thoughtfully detailed that it bears praising.
Here's a very basic overview: Every character moves at the same speed, whether walking or running. While running, you can push the crouch button to slide — this offers you a minor speed boost if you're on flat or sloping ground. Every character can jump, and if you hold jump while leaping into a wall you'll clamber up the wall.
It's a very simple set of rules, but the way that "Apex Legends" makes all movement feel so fluid and smooth is remarkable. It's perhaps the most impressive aspect of "Apex Legends": The game simply feels good to move around in. The same can't be said for any other Battle Royale game.
Allow me an example: For the first few weeks, I rarely used hip-fire (shooting without aiming down the sights). Why would I do that if I could aim more carefully by aiming with a sight?
It turns out there's a massive benefit to using hip-fire shooting in "Apex Legends," and blending your shooting between aimed shots and hip-fire is a crucial component to successful play. Due to the relatively accurate spread of fire, hip-firing is critical for winning close-quarter fights with most weapons in "Apex Legends."
That's one tiny detail of myriad tiny details that make every little thing you do in "Apex Legends" feel so good. It's actually my favorite component of the game: I'm still learning finer nuances of each specific weapon, of how to move through the environment more swiftly, of how to reach a place I didn't know I could.
It's a game that still feels remarkably fresh to me even after dozens of hours played.
On our way to the next circle, my friend pinged a location for me to see — a tiny little hole he'd discovered that could be used to sneakily get away in a desperate Skull Town fight.
It was the most recent discovery he'd made after over 100 hours spent running, sliding, and shooting through the single map in "Apex Legends."
There are dozens of these little quirks to the map, and it's clear that an absurd amount of attention was given to exactly how each area of the map was laid out. There are always more angles to take, or ways to flank enemies, or a carefully placed boulder that'll have to serve as cover — the hands of the game's development team are all over the map if you look close enough.
Watching a video recently of a popular Twitch streamer playing "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds," I was struck by how stiff it was. Movement had no sense of weight to it, and the sound of the player running made it look like they were tiptoe-running across a field.
Frankly, it looked outdated and unpolished compared to "Apex Legends."
The closest any Battle Royale game gets, in terms of movement and gunplay and feel, is "Call of Duty: Blackout." It's quick, and has solid gunplay, and there are some interesting gameplay twists that make it unique. But it is inherently a "Call of Duty" Battle Royale mode, with all the baggage that comes with — movement isn't very fluid, and guns mostly sound like toys.
And that's before we start talking about the respawn system, or ziplines, or the pinging system, or dropships, or care packages, or the jumpmaster system, or any of the other dozen innovations that "Apex Legends" brings to the Battle Royale genre. It adds so much new stuff that it feels like a full step forward past every other game in the genre.
It's hard to overstate how impressive the ping system is in "Apex Legends." It should be the number one takeaway for any game developer working on a new multiplayer shooter.
The idea is simple: See an enemy? Tap the right bumper on your gamepad, and your character will call out those enemies and even mark their last movement for your teammates. See ammo your teammate needs? Tap the right bumper! It's a brilliant, robust system for "spotting" various things — from items to enemies.
Smarter still, that system is contextual. If you're looking at a level-three helmet and "spot" it, your character shouts out, "Level-three helmet here!" and marks it for your teammates. It's this system that enables teammates to communicate a wealth of information without having to literally speak to strangers.
The spotting system cannot be overstated in its importance — it's such a smart innovation that I outright expect it to show up in most multiplayer shooters going forward. It better!
The team behind "Apex Legends" has a serious pedigree behind it, having created the "Call of Duty" series and the "Titanfall" series.
It's no surprise, then, that the shooting in "Apex Legends" feels so good — it's from developers who more or less set the standard in video-game shooting.
To this end, bullets fall appropriately over a distance. Gunshot sounds are directional. Headshots feel substantial, and submachine guns feel like high-powered BB guns.
The shooting looks, feels, and sounds as good or better than the best shooting games, from the latest "Call of Duty" to "Destiny 2."
This may sound obvious but, in the most popular Battle Royale games, the shooting is pretty terrible. "Fortnite" has notoriously lackluster shooting mechanics. The only great Battle Royale shooter is "Call of Duty: Blackout," and that shooting is held back by the relatively stiff movement of the game.
In "Fortnite," every character you play as has the same abilities. It's a third-person shooter with building mechanics, and every avatar — visuals aside — is identical.
The same can be said for "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" and the Battle Royale mode in "Call of Duty: Black Ops 4."
But in "Apex Legends," each player has unique abilities. There are various "classes" of characters — soldiers, tanks, healers, etc. — and various specialties within each class. In this way, "Apex Legends" is more similar to "Overwatch" than its direct competition.
And blending those characters into a team made up of complementary players is part of the delight of "Apex Legends." Better yet: The game's developer, Respawn Entertainment, has already added one new character, Octane. And more are promised for the future.
So, what are these powers? They range from the ability to conjure a healing drone that can heal multiple teammates at once, to a grappling hook for reaching high places, to the ability to deploy noxious-gas containers. Using Bangalore's smoke grenade combined with Gibraltar's air strike ultimate is one combination I've been particularly enjoying.
Since it's still early days for "Apex Legends," many of the best ways to use various abilities are still shaking out. And that's thrilling! There's a "meta" to "Apex Legends" that is deeper and smarter than games like "Fortnite." It feels like there are many ways to win, with a variety of different team setups, rather than a "best" way to win. And that leads to the kind of experimentation that keeps the game fresh.
I've had lots of good matches of "Apex Legends" with total strangers. I've won many games where my teammates and I never spoke a word, using only the in-game pinging system to communicate while moving from fight to fight. It is entirely possible to play this game with strangers and have a blast.
But nothing is better than playing with friends, using both your voice and the game's pinging system to detail your words. Saying "Enemies right here" and pinging the location at the same time is a great way to immediately convey complex information to your teammates. Even better is the tactical planning you convey to each other afterward as you head into battle. "I'll take left flank," for instance, or "Getting height" — common refrains while sneaking up on an opposing squad.
Better still, you learn each other's strengths and compliment each other's chosen character. You laugh at each other's faults and call out items you know friends are looking for — yes, I'm always looking for an R-301. Thank you for remembering!
It's why I've been staying up way past my normal bedtime almost every day to play more "Apex Legends." It's the best game that's come out this year by a longshot, and by far the best Battle Royale game available.