Apex Legends’ season 2 isn’t a gamechanger, but then, it absolutely doesn’t have to be.
Apex Legends launched almost out of nowhere in February, and immediately the reviews were glowing. The team at Respawn followed up Titanfall 2 – the best shooter of this generation – with a smart, focused take on the battle royale genre, with rock-solid shooting, a great map, fun unique character abilities, and a free-to-play model that doesn’t feel greedy. It was great then, and it’s still great now, five months later.
You wouldn’t always know this from the chatter around the game. It’s been slow with major updates, and Twitch viewership and revenue for the game dropped off month by month after the initial release. While some fans and media argued that Apex Legends needed a stronger update schedule to compete with the likes of Fortnite, Respawn has been adamant that sustainable game development means avoiding crunch.
Apex Legends prioritised the health of its workers over taking down Fortnite, and you have to respect that decision.
Apex Legends is a game that I enjoyed immensely in the weeks after launch and hadn't gone back to until this week. This is typical of how I play – I could blame it on being a games journalist who needs to review at least six games a month, but truthfully my gaming history is full of similarly great titles that fell by the wayside.
With the game’s second season starting, and a bevy of major changes coming – including some changed locations on the map, a new gun, different ammo types, a new character, and a ranked mode – my mind was split over whether or not now was a good time to jump back in.
A few months down the line, games like this can often feel very intimidating if you’ve let your skills lapse. Players have spent months mastering Apex Legends’ map; while I’m aware of the changes made for season 2 by those marauding beasts that now sit in the middle of it, I couldn’t honestly have identified many of the major sites beforehand. Surely, if I jump in now, I’ll be a useless burden?
Well... yes and no. I haven't done very well in most of my games, but I can now say that one of Apex Legends’ greatest achievements is that you can jump back in after a few months away, play horribly, and still come away having had fun. It's not frustrating and it's not overwhelming. It's just, still, really good.
There’s a few reasons for this. The ‘mute squad’ button and ping system are still wonderful and help to give the game a more relaxed vibe. While the RNG grind to be leveled up enough for the final circle is still heavy, I’ve found that you can do okay until mid-game or so by just playing smart and sticking close to your teammates, making sure not to get ambushed.
The shooting remains extremely satisfying, and your enemies can’t, say, suddenly construct a tower in front of you as you try to remember what the different buttons do. The rounds are short and the map is small enough that surviving for a few minutes feels like an achievement, and then dying right after doesn’t feel like an enormous setback.
For the more serious fans – and they’re definitely out there – the new ranked mode will let them work their way up to Apex Predator level, and not have to deal with my incompetence while I desperately try to learn all the characters (I like Gibraltar for his straightforward perks and fun personality).
The game’s onboarding beyond its fairly basic tutorial is arguably lacking (I found myself refering to our own tier list just to make sure I knew which characters did what), but that's okay. Even without knowing the map inside out, or playing with a seasoned squad, or really playing a lot of online shooters these days, I can still usually get a few kills, or at least revive a teammate, in most rounds (if I don’t immediately land next to an enemy and lose the ensuing punch-out as we both desperately scramble to pick up a pistol).
Do I feel like I can carry a team to victory? No. Do I feel like I can be on a team that does well, and that I can make a non-trivial contribution to that victory? Yes. Do I, as I do in many multiplayer games I’ve tried to jump into too late, have an acute sense that I’m letting my team down, or that my mere presence is a burden? Not at all.
Apex Legends is better, of course, when your team is in sync and working together, but even in a bad squad the game is still fun, which you can't say about too many online shooters.
Of course, the hardcore fans who have really been paying attention and playing frequently since day one (the ones who have bought the fairly priced Season 2 Battle Pass and are now working their way through daily and weekly challenges) will have their own legitimate complaints.
Over on r/apexlegends, several posts are asking for changes to muzzle flash, which obscure your shots on some of the game’s hottest weapons. The newly added disruptor rounds seem to be emerging as extremely important, or potentially overpowered. There’s also been a rise in the number of cheaters, which Respawn has promised action on.
On the other hand, the new season pass is a clear improvement over the first one, with far more rewards and a better reward structure. Apex Legends continues to feel like a fair free-to-play game, and if I stick with it this season odds are I'll pop some dollars down on the characters I haven't yet unlocked - something I almost never do in games like this. But hey, maybe it's worth giving your money to a studio that has openly spoken out against forcing their teams to go through crunch.
Apex Legends doesn’t have to be the biggest, or the most popular, or the most regularly updated battle royale out there, because it’s the best one. It's the best without the team having to suffer through an impossible workload, which makes it even better. After months away, the updates that have come feel substantial without being overwhelming, and what works about the game remains fundamentally unchanged.
Ignore the fact that all of your favourite streamers went back to Fortnite – Apex Legends remains the best battle royale to play, and it doesn’t need to massively overhaul itself to stay on top.