Ever since “PUBG” exploded into the scene, I was pretty disinterested in the genre; Kinji Fukasaku’s “Battle Royale” is one of my favorite movies, not only because of the concept, but of what he explores through that concept, such as the brutal competition bred into younger generations by older ones who have seen and done monstrosities in order to survive, how friendship, kindness, and selflessness is considered a weakness in today’s ultra-capitalistic society, etc. But, the “battle royale” genre in video games was never about that; it was always about putting as many people in a map, at the same time, and seeing who has the wits, the calmness, and the skills to come out on top. That challenge was always unappealing to me (I’m not a competitive person, so I don’t really care for competitive multiplayer), so I just accepted that “battle royale” was something that a lot of people would enjoy passionately, and I would not; just like many other things that people enjoy and I can’t understand why!
But then, Respawn, makers of the “Titanfall” franchise and in particular “Titanfall 2” which is my favorite FPS game (even making me actively interact and enjoy the competitive multiplayer), shadow-dropped a free-to-play “battle royale” game with enough twists to the genre that would make it interesting regardless of developer history, so I thought “if anyone was going to make me enjoy battle royale games, it’s Respawn!”. After spending a dozen hours or so with it, I was both right and wrong; “Apex Legends” is the first battle royale game that I enjoy playing and finally feel the same excitement for, as so many others have for “PUBG” and “Fortnite”. In all honesty though, that is surprising to me; “Apex Legends” is an EA-published, free-to-play, multiplayer-only, team-based (without solo queues, as of the time writing this) hero shooter (with quirky characters that have specific abilities), which is the exact description of what I DON’T want from a videogame—yet somehow this is the most fun I’ve had with an online game since “Titanfall 2”. It’s still got that trademark fluidity of movement I’ve come to expect from Respawn, and the gameplay feels great, but there’s sheer genius at show here on many fronts here, but I’ll just highlight a few; for me, the star of the show is the balancing of the characters. At the same time, your choice of character (or legend as they are referred to in the game) has zero consequence on you chance of winning, and makes all the difference; for example, if your squad takes all 3 assault characters, that doesn’t mean that you can’t win, it just means that if you find yourself in a spot where the healer legend would thrive in, you don’t have that option. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t win or that you are at a disadvantage; my highest placement overall came in a game with two defensive legends and the hunter legend, however all of us were pretty good at using our abilities and senses to stick to our plan and drive the conflict towards our favor. Simply put, legends aren’t as important as in other hero shooters, but they do matter in the correct hands; that means you are free to try out different legends alongside mastering one or two for ultimate use, and when your legend is picked by another player, you don’t have to quit the game. Furthermore, there’s the jumpmaster system (which allows the player that picks last, the advantage to control when and where their team drops), the much praised ping system (which contextually pings stuff you tell it to; e.g. a gun you don’t want but want to alert your team to its presence), the loot system, which has color-tiered loot that incentivizes you to move on from your position or scavenge the area for better loot, the respawn system that allows fellow team-mates to respawn a fallen party member once if they can get them to a beacon before the time runs out; there’s a lot of cool ideas implemented in this game, and it is simply so good that it made someone like me who actively disliked the genre, fall in love with it. There are some issues of course; mainly, the balance of late game combat is stirred heavily towards shotguns and sniper rifles, making other weapons feel underpowered when coming against the protection offered by high-tier armor, or the savageness of the aforementioned guns. Also, the game’s progression feels a bit unsatisfying to me, in terms of what you unlock (which is currency to spend in the store, and loot boxes); I would have liked the rewards to be more meaningful and varied, but in a game where monetization exists (and in some spots isn’t handled very well), I get why you wouldn’t want to allow more meaningful stuff than legend skins or banners etc.
Remember when I said that “Apex Legends” was both the game that made me understand and enjoy the battle royale genre, and not (then went on describing why it was)? Well, that’s because a short time later, Nintendo shadow-dropped their own battle royale free-to-play game, in the form of “Tetris 99” and if “Apex Legends” was not going to do the trick for me, Tetris would have certainly done so! First of all, I never knew how much I wanted a Tetris-battle royale game until I heard those words uttered in the most recent Nintendo Direct event; second of all, I never knew how well Tetris fits that format; lastly, this is not only free-to-play, it is free of microtransactions as well. This is a stripped down version of Tetris, with the only new thing being the format and the fact that combos and the damage done to other players (which was usually up to 4) can now be directed at random, at attackers, at people close to losing, and at high-rank players; that’s it! But, this is a free-to-play game (if you own the Nintendo Switch Online membership), and, as of the time writing this, there’s no way to pay for it or for anything in it; that’s good marketing, and as solid as a reason you would need to buy that membership if you haven’t already. That’s also because there’s nothing really in it; no customization options, no other modes, no skins for the Tetriminos, nothing! That’s to be expected for a game with no fees attached, but there is one thing that is lacking which I find myself wanting; fan-fare. Winning a game in Tetris 99 results in the same screen you always get, but instead of the number of your place being silver-colored, it is now gold; no animation, no goofy quote, nothing! That’s a little anti-climactic, especially considering how good people are at the game, and how hard you fought to win; other than that, Tetris against 98 other people, is extremely fun, rewarding, and challenging on its own and I’m having a ton of fun with it!
So, if 2017 was the year battle royale burst into the scene, and 2018 was the year that big hitters tried to cash in on the craze, 2019 seems to be the year that developers start to iterate, evolve, and adopt the genre in interesting ways, and if the early results are anything to go by, it is going to be a great year.