Season 4 is here... so let's take a look back at the last year.
No one, probably not even Respawn, could predict just how big Apex Legends would become. On this date last year (4th February 2019) Apex Legends seemed like just another potential battle royale to taint the market... though for Respawn themselves, it was make or break. Since the games release, it has gone through three total seasons (each with their own battle passes), six special events, and two playable maps. Now that the game has properly had time to make its own place in the battle royale market, it’s time to review the game’s first year of life.
For this review, it will be explored in four sections: the base game, season one, season two and season three. Each section will talk about their contents, some pros and cons and will each be given a score, which will average up to be given a final total score (rounded up) at the end. I hope you’re ready, as this is going to be a whopper of a review.
Base Game / Pre-Season – Released 4th February 2019
On paper, Apex Legends probably sounded like “just another battle royale”; players jump onto a large scale map, scavenge for loot and then kill each other until you’re the final player(s). However the difference here is that it borrowed elements from other games and combined them here in a way that actually allowed you to enjoy playing with other players as well as make it feel like a fresh take in the genre.
The game kicks off when you join a match, and you and two other players in your team were given, at the time of launch, a choice of eight so called “legends” to pick from (with two of them locked behind a paywall as a fresh player). The choices were Bloodhound, who uses scout based abilities to track enemy movements; Gibraltar, who uses shield based abilities to protect players from damage; Lifeline, who has a healing done and blocks enemy damage as she revives teammates; Pathfinder, who uses zipline’s and grapples to help teammates get to areas easier; Wraith, who uses void portals to escape her enemies; Bangalore, who uses artillery based abilities to damage and escape enemies; Caustic, who uses Nox gas based abilities to choke and slow his enemies; and Mirage, who uses holographic technology to create decoys and “bamboozle” everyone.
Every character has a role to fill, and no matter what combination of legends you have, each player has abilities that are useful in the match. Say for example your team is a Bloodhound, Mirage and a Pathfinder. If you’re being overrun by a team, Pathfinder can create a zipline far away from them, Mirage can send out a decoy in a different direction to trick the team into thinking you’re going elsewhere while everyone escapes on the zipline, and Bloodhound can use their tracker to see if there are any enemies in the area you’ve escaped to. What’s also great is that every character has their own personality, and the roster feels diverse without it coming across as forced political correctness.
After choosing your legend, players were originally dropped onto the map named “Kings Canyon”, a very desert like map surrounded by a huge body of water. The map contained the skeletons of creatures who roamed the map long ago, some large enough to create the now in-famous Skulltown. A lot of the map borrowed elements from both Titanfall and Titanfall 2, since Apex Legends is set in the same universe as the games. Although some of the buildings are repeated across the map, each area of the map had its own feel and were often useful to each legend. For example Bunker was where all the Caustics hung out, as it was a small enough hallway that you could throw lots of gas traps down, sometimes even trapping players into the small rooms along it.
Skulltown was incredibly useful for Pathfinders as there were many tall buildings allowing them to grapple up and escape enemy fire. There were also large open areas that gave enough room for both Gibraltar’s and Bangalore’s ultimate abilities. That’s not to say set areas were only for certain legends, as most abilities worked well anywhere on the map, but some areas were just better for others.
The thing that helped change the battle royale genre though is the “pinging” system. This allows you to tell your team mates where you’re going, where the enemy is, where there’s a particular item a team mate might be looking for and so on. Previous games already did this sure, but not so much in the first-person shooter genre. It gave players the ability to communicate with other players without having to speak over a microphone if they did not wish to. Sure, players can happily ignore your pinging; it’s often annoying when you “dibs” an item, but a team mate of yours just takes it with no regard that you called it first, but you learn to get used to such behaviour over time.
Another feature was the ability to respawn your team mates; firstly if a team mate is knocked down, you have the ability to pick them back up again. If you’re a knocked player, hopefully you’ll have a knockdown shield to protect you from gunfire, though having it up slows your movement to try and shuffle away and hide from enemy view. If you are killed, a team mate can grab your banner and take you to a respawn beacon, where you’re dropped back into the fight as a fresh player. Some squad mates are amazing and will ping any loot they can find for you, or even drop some loot, while others just couldn’t care less; it just depends who you’re put with.
Best of all, this game was, and still is, completely free-to-play; you don’t have to spend a single dime to get enjoyment out of the game. However some of us choose to in order to support Respawn, the mastermind behind the game. All the things you can buy in the game are entirely cosmetic and do not affect the gameplay at all, with the exception of buying legends (such as Caustic and Mirage). However these legends can be earned over time with Legend Tokens, so with enough grinding, which honestly doesn’t take much grinding at all, you can get the locked legends for free anyway.
As for the cosmetics, at the time of release these came in the form of skins for your Legends, skins for your weapons as well as banner trackers, badges, frames, quips and poses. Each legend and weapon has a set of common, rare, epic and legendary loot to earn. At launch, players were able to grind to level 100, where throughout your time levelling up you were able to earn Apex packs. These packs give you three items of various rarities, though you’re always guaranteed a rare item or better and always a legendary after your thirtieth pack; after all, imagine opening up thirty packs and all you got were common items.
Whilst I won’t go into too much detail on the pricing, Apex packs cost the in-game currency of 100 Apex coins each, approximately 79p/$1. You can of course spend more money to buy large bundles of Apex coins, potentially saving yourself money of the many Apex packs you may decide to buy now rather than over time. As stated though, you do not have to spend a dime, and as you level up, you earn Apex packs every few levels (more on this later) though as stated at launch this was only up to level 100, and subsequently every level past 100 only nabbed you legend coins which couldn’t really be used on anything except a different coloured cosmetic item for a weapon/character you already had that appeared in the weekly shop, which was a massive disappointment at the time.
The game was, and still is, a huge success; Respawn seemed to have got in there at just the right time, as it definitely feels as if the Battle Royale fad may slowly be fading away... as everything does. But one cannot deny the brilliance that Apex Legends is; it’s simple, it’s easy to get into, it doesn’t have so much unnecessary fluff in the gameplay unlike other battle royale games. Yes, Fortnite is still king, but you cannot deny how Apex has just swung in on Pathfinder’s grapple and smashed so many expectations.
Season One: Wild Frontier – 19 March 2019 – 18 June 2019
I remember there being a bit of an uproar when the 1st March came and there was no sign of Season 1. Players had a good feel for the game and, miraculously, some players were already at the level cap and wanted to earn more cosmetic loot. Then on the 19th March, Season 1 finally dropped... and suddenly everybody was disappointed.
The way Seasons work in most Battle Royale games is that each one comes with a series of changes and additions, such as map changes, a battle pass to earn loot, new weapons, new characters and so forth. The first season for Apex Legends was, suffice to say, a little empty handed. The season itself centred itself around a wildlife theme. This meant a lot of the cosmetics in the Season’s battle pass contained items themed as such. While this seemed like a decent idea for a map set in a deserted landscape, one problem was the cosmetics themselves just felt very bare and simple and were mostly of “Rare” quality; these cosmetics included character skins, weapon skins and banner frames. Another problem with the battle pass is that every 5 levels it would change your level badge a bit to make it look slightly different than before, eventually building up to, if you reached 110, a chomping animal skeleton. This felt like a slap in the face, as this was considered a reward rather than something that just happens in the background. Not only that, but the level badge and Season 1 trackers were considered a paid reward instead of a free reward. Suffice to say for the first season it just felt like Respawn didn’t have much to go on and just added filler in between the actual cosmetics. The only upside to the battle pass really was that you could earn 1,000 Apex coins, enough to earn you the next season's battle pass for free.
Worst of all, whereas other battle royale’s allowed you to level up your Battle Pass using challenges, the only way you could level up this Battle Pass was just by pure and simply playing normally; whatever XP you earned for your regular levels also converted into XP for your battle pass. This meant that it took a very long time to level up for most; unless you played for ten hours a day, chances are it would take you almost the entire season to complete it. Sure, that’s probably the idea, but it felt more of a grind than it needed to be, and I'll be honest I stopped playing half way through the season only to come back with a later event.
Season One also came with no map changes; it was the same exact map through and through aside from the few jump pads littered around Kings Canyon, which we’ll come to in a moment. This could be argued though that the game was still new and fresh, and Respawn didn’t want to throw in a bunch of changes to the map and those who had just got used to it off. However even if it was just to change one or two areas to slightly fit around the new character "jumping" into the game (see what I did there?) at least it would have added a bit more to the season.
As for the meta changing things the season did add, the season added a brand new character called Octane. Known as the “High Speed Daredevil”, Octane, having blown off his legs, has mechanical legs that when he stims up can allow him to run at high speeds; this often means that he can get to that bit of loot quicker than you (annoyingly) or allow him to sprint quickly to or from a fight. He also heals a small bit of his health every few seconds, and as for his ultimate, he can place a jump pad (as mentioned earlier) which will allow him and anyone else who stands on it to be launched through the air. The idea around such a character was good, as apart from Pathfinder there weren’t any other characters that would allow you to get to high areas easily. Octane’s really good at getting in to grab your banner if your down and “leg it” to a Respawn beacon.
The season wasn’t entirely dull though, as we did get one event that occurred called the “Legendary Hunt”. This event brought with it some long awaited challenges as a small tease of what is to come for the second season, since Season 2 would be challenge based. Some new cosmetics were also included in the battle pass, almost as if it was some sort of an apology for how lacklustre the season was. This event also came with the “Apex Elite” mode; when you won a top 5 game in regular Apex, you were able to enter the Apex Elite mode, which was full of other players who had also not long come out of being in a top 5 of their game. The idea was to keep up a streak and see how many matches in a row you could get a top 5 win, where a badge would track your top streak. If you lost a match in this mode, you weren’t kicked out of it fortunately, but your streak would be reset and you would have one last chance to get a top 5 win before it was locked to you until you obtained another top 5 win in regular Apex. The only difference with this mode though is that the ring did more damage compared to regular Apex, which would make running outside the ring all the more intense and honestly... I wish this mode was the actual game in that the ring hits like a truck; it would make matches way more exciting.
Near the end of the season came a few teases for Season 2, when Flyers were seen carrying Deathboxes which contained various loot which changed the meta slightly as sometimes it revealed your position to shoot them down. Also the Leviathans were seen moving closer and closer to King’s Canyon, so it was obvious something was up and helped pump up excitement for the next season.
For the first season, Respawn could have done way better, and they’ve even acknowledged this was a disappointing first season. There were some good ideas involved, but the lacklustre battle pass and little changes to the map and meta made things feel a little sluggish.
Season Two: Battle Charge – 2 July 2019 – 1 October 2019
This is where Apex Legends finally stepped up and went "we're ready now". After an incredibly lacklustre first season, the second season dropped with more than we probably expected at the time, with map changes, a new legend, a new weapon, new types of cosmetic items and a vast improvement on the battle pass system.
We'll begin with the electrically charged new legend named Wattson (get it? WATTson? It's punny!). Her first ability allows her to create shock barriers around an area, and any enemies that pass through them get shocked and slowed for a few seconds as well as letting Wattson know someone has crossed the perimeter. Her ultimate allows her to place down a Pylon that not only slowly heals shields and quickly replenishes her barriers, but can essentially nullify Gibraltar's bombardment. Her passive also allows her to use Ultimate Accelerants to instantly regain her ultimate ability. Now after numerous hours of playing as her, she's definitely not for me; sometimes putting down fences can come across a bit flimsy, especially on consoles. She's absolutely perfect if you're trying to hold down a certain area with a Caustic and a Wraith, but personally I'm more of a Pathfinder or the actual Caustic player.
Then we had the map changes; my word if you thought King's Canyon felt barren in Season 1 (I mean that was the idea I suppose?), Season 2 gave the map a huge overhaul. Firstly remember those Leviathan's I mentioned in Season 1's review moving closer to the map? Well instead of just coming to the edge of the map to say "hi", they essentially made their way onto and remained in the middle of the damn map. Because of this, not only did new life thrive around the map, but certain areas were destroyed whilst others were newly built. The Leviathan's weren't just there for decoration though, as sometimes they would lift a foot up, where below it there might have been some legendary loot. However in getting the loot, you took the risk of being insta-killed when it put its foot back down. It was essentially a risk-reward scenario, and sometimes this would feel epic when you were just a second away from being stomped on.
Also included in the season is the L-STAR weapon. Now I don't know if it's just me, but I just can't get along with this weapon. Like last season, the L-STAR is an energy weapon that rapidly blasts out red energy cells. However this gun can overheat, so hold down the trigger for too long and you could lose out on that potential kill. The problem the weapon had in Season 2 is that it didn't do much damage and, for me personally, the aim always felt off. It's improved since it was introduced of course, but if it ever dropped in a care package, I never picked it up and, honestly, still don't.
As the end of Season 1 teased, you were, and still are, able to level up your battle pass through various challenges. Essentially each week, you can unlock a series of 7 challenges that remain with you throughout the whole season that you can try to accomplish as and when you like during the season, 3 of which will grant you a whole battle pass level upon completion while the other grants experience for your pass. Alongside these are two weekly recurring challenges that task you to complete 5 and 10 daily challenges which... unlock... daily (I guess that's obvious really). These weekly challenges also grant you a full battle pass level upon completing them.
As with the battle pass... Respawn stepped it up big time. First of all, as of Season 2's battle pass you can now earn up to 1,200 crafting materials. 1,200 crafting materials is the exact amount needed to unlock a legendary item of your choice of any character/gun you wish; this is still alongside the 1,000 coins you can earn which could be used towards your next battle pass too. Essentially Respawn are just giving stuff away at this point, and we haven't even got into what else the pass came with.
Included in the battle pass came brand new music tracks for pre-game build up and when you drop out of the jump ship for the first time, which really helps pump you up before a game. Loading screens were also added, most of which are just some incredible concept art, but I never get bored of seeing a single one as they each just hold sheer talent. A final new addition were skydiving emotes which gave your drop just a little more flair; these mostly just involved the character somersaulting in place, but some are a little more creative, such as Lifeline break-dancing in mid-air. Some of the actual cosmetics are also incredible, including the "Prince of Darkness" Caustic skin (one of my favourite ever skins in the game) and the "Jade Tiger" Octane skin. Also those trackers which were paid rewards last season? They are now completely free as of Season 2, where you could earn them regardless of if you bought the pass or not.
This season also introduced Ranked play, which honestly is just the best way to play. This mode puts you with other players of similar skill to you as you try to raise through the different tiers; Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, and Apex Predator. You gained tiers by earning RP, where matches would also cost RP too. Once you reached a certain tier colour, you could no longer be knocked out of it, but you could drop a rank (e.g. you could drop from Gold III to Gold IV, but not from Gold IV to Silver I). At the end of the season players were given a badge that reflected their end of season tier, for gold, platinum, diamond and Apex predator players they received a gun charm, and diamond and Apex predators received an exclusive dive trail of their tier colour, all amazing rewards that tell other players not to screw with you.
Finally let's talk about the events. The first event to come in this season was the "Iron Crown" event... oh boy. This event caused a stir for both the right and wrong reasons; the right reasons was that it brought a limited time "Solo" mode, which was an absolutely incredible time... even if it may have caused one or two problems including major imbalance and the craziness of many players being the same characters. This event also included the first of what would be called "Town Takeovers", which changed a small section of the map to be themed around a certain legend, the first of which was Octane where you'd find a Gauntlet with ramps and jump pads.
The wrong reasons were the issues regarding the limited time store cosmetics where everything was unlocked only through lootboxes... plus, if you wanted to unlock the heirloom (a cosmetic melee weapon for a featured character), you had to pay an incredible amount to buy all the packs, and THEN you could buy the heirloom if you wished... after already spending a heck load of money, you had to pay more for it. This event made a lot of people angry and made Respawn re-evaluate future events, where all limited time cosmetics could be bought direct, not through lootboxes.
The second event in this season came in the form of the "Voidwalker" event. This came with a new limited time mode, Armed and Dangerous, where the only weapons you would find were sniper weapons and shotguns. This mode is an absolute blast because everyone either plays super cautiously or are constantly up in each others faces with shotguns. Like with Octane earlier in the season, this came with another "town takeover", which opened up a massive portal which players could jump into and find themselves in an underground base. This area often got crazy, especially when so many players would enter the portal at once. With it came various cosmetic items, but the event itself was based on Wraith who received possibly one of the best skins in the game that even plays a custom animation on the character select screen if you have the skin equipped.
Season 2 was an absolute blast; it came with enough content to tide players over until the next season with new events, limited time modes and map updates. It was a bit of a miss when it came to one aspect of the Iron Crown event, but for the most part, this season was a massive step up from the last.
Season Three: Meltdown – 1 October 2019 - 4 February 2020
Season 1 was a bit of a slog... Season 2 was an incredible step up... Season 3 was just a whole other level. New Legend: check. New Weapon: check. New Map: wait, a new map?! No time to waste here.
Let's start off with the newest addition to the Legend's roster, Crypto. Now I mained him for about a couple of weeks when Season 3 launched, and while his abilities were interesting, I barely got to use them effectively. Firstly Crypto comes with a drone that allows him to scout locations for enemy players who will appear red on screen if they enter the drones view. The passive is that the drone will also highlight doors and traps alike. The ultimate ability for Crypto is that the drone can also create an EMP blast that not only slows players but depletes two bars of their shields and deactivates traps. The problem with the character is that doing any of this means your actual character has to sit and squat in the corner where you hope you're not spotted or killed; at the start of the season Crypto was vastly under-powered, though recently he received a buff which helped.
Players said farewell to Kings Canyon for a while as a brand new map was introduced named World's Edge and I've got to say: it makes Kings Canyon look like its made of paper. Don't get me wrong I adore Kings Canyon, but you can tell they put a lot more effort into World's Edge. It's got way more variety in terms of both colour and style; one minute you're in a city and then the next you're surrounded by lava. It blends the elements perfectly and makes each section of the map pop. There's so many high ground areas that give you the advantage compared to King's Canyon as well as many holes to hide in. The map is an absolutely glorious design and it would be a shame for a harvester to come in and destroy it all... ahem.
A new weapon was also introduced called the "Charge Rifle". If you were there at the start of the season, you know how much this weapon was incredibly overpowered, and over the season Respawn would constantly nerf the weapon. The weapon is still a joy to use; you use it by sending an energy beam towards a player, dealing minor damage, where it will then create a large burst, dealing heavy damage. As with last season this uses Energy ammo... I kind of wish we had more weapons that weren't of the energy type though.
With a new season came a new battle pass. This season added a new cosmetic: gun charms. Since the season came out they have added around 40+ new charms to tack on to your weapons; charms can be in the form of items like a death box, a grapple hook and a loot tick, to even character bobble heads such as with Wraith and Pathfinder. They just make an already amazing gun skin look even better. Some of the headliners of the Battle Pass cosmetics included an "Iced Out" Pathfinder skin, which allowed him to blend in quite well with the frozen environments, as well as the "From the Ashes" Lifeline skin, which gives her a devilish look which is wildly different to her Angelic look that comes with her physical edition of the game.
Season 3 was, for some reason, a month longer than the other two seasons. It might be so that Season 4 coincided with the first anniversary of the game, which I guess I understand. Despite this long period, players were treated to not 1, not 2, but 3 in-game events throughout this period.
The first event was the Halloween themed event titled "Fight of Fright". Not only did this come with some incredibly creepy character skins, but it also came with the new limited time "Shadowfall" mode. Every player dropped in solo, and when a player died, they came back as a shadow; they had very low health, but one or two melee hits to a living legend would often knock them down or kill them. Once the final 10 legends remained, they needed to get to the drop ship together before the swarm of shadows killed them. This at first seemed like a creative mode, but the problem was that people would just kill themselves on purpose and not even try to play the game. I would often drop from the ship and actually see players falling off the world just so they could be a shadow.
This mode wasn't entirely bad though as players were brought back to Kings Canyon... at night, which changed the way we saw the map. With the Halloween event also, it was clear that Respawn had slightly learnt from their mistakes in the Iron Crown controversy, allowing you to buy skins with crafting materials or Apex coins, from the get go. Some of the skins were creative, though some were a little predictable; seeing Gibraltar wearing a "Frankenstein's Monster" is predictable, but amazing at the same time.
The second event was the Christmas event which not only came with a new "town takeover", but another limited time mode (Respawn seem to love doing these). Firstly the town takeover came in the form of "Mirage's Voyage", which was essentially a party boat with many Mirage's having a good time. You could also snag some good loot as "starting the party" would throw loot balls in the air, allowing you to sometimes snag epic gear. With this mode came the "Winter Express" mode. Essentially 3 teams of 3 were tasked to hold a train for 3 total rounds by either killing off the other teams or being the only ones on the train.
This mode took a small portion of the map to do this, and while this was an incredible mode... it was only fun if you played as certain characters. If you were Wattson, Gibraltar or Caustic (the three defensive Legends), you could hold the train with no issue. If you were any other character, your abilities were usually worthless. Fortunately you were able to change your character in between rounds, though the load out of weapons you had changed per day per legend, so your favourite legend might have ended up having worse weapons than the previous day. Some of the skins are amazing too, with Mirage rocking the Toy Soldier look while Caustic... oh my Caustic... he was of course our Santa "Claustic".
Finally was a mode that I kind of wish they had waited until the 4th February to do, especially since they went almost all out with this event. The event was called the "Grand Soirée" event, where every two days for the next two weeks, a new limited time mode would drop and replace the other. The modes were (in release order):
Gold Rush Duos - All weapons were of gold quality only
LIVE.DIE.LIVE - If you die, you came back only after every round ended instead of at a respawn beacon
Third-Person Mode - It's... what it says.
Always Be Closing - The ring does not stop moving until it becomes a small circle, at which point that ring fully closes after around two minutes. The ring hurts... A LOT.
Armed and Dangerous: World's Edge - Snipers and shotgun weapons, but on World's Edge
Kings Canyon After Dark - The Shadowfall night map, just with regular matches.
DUMMIE's Big Day - Everyone was a silent DUMMIE with abilities supposedly included in the mode for us to test with.
Out of all these modes, personally I would have to say the "Always Be Closing" mode is the best; there was something absolutely intense where you could be looting a box and then slowly creeping behind you is the ring, and before you know it you're trapped on the wrong side of a wall and the ring has downed you. The worst one for me had to be either Third-Person Mode or LIVE.DIE.LIVE. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the idea of the third-person mode, but it felt clunky and was sometimes disorientating when trying to pick up an item you would normally have no problem picking up in first person. As for LIVE.DIE.LIVE, it got a bit boring dying so soon and then literally having to wait 5 minutes before you could spawn back in whereas your team mate could usually do it for you.
Finally with this season came a much needed, hotly anticipated level increase. Since launch players could only level up to 100, earning Apex packs every few levels. Instead of increasing the level cap to 200, Respawn increase it to level 500. Aside from the first few sets of levels where you can earn an Apex pack every level, between levels 20-300 players can earn a free Apex pack every two levels, where it increases to an Apex pack every 5 levels after level 300. This was a welcome addition to the game, as if Respawn looked stingy before, they no longer did after this cap increase.
What made Season 3 so special was what it brought with it; there was not a single month you could ever be bored of the game as there was always something to do or look forward to whether it be a new mode or the new map. Personally this is perhaps the best season of the lot and I'm interested to see how Respawn can top it. It's not a perfect season, after all there were some questionable decisions by Respawn on when they nerfed or buffed a legend among other things, but it just shows that Respawn are learning and listening... always.
So with that, it has been one heck of a year for Respawn and Apex Legends. It will be interesting to see where things go in Year Two. To summarise Apex Legends shook the entire battle royale scene to its core, and while it had its quiet or dull moments not long after launch, once Season 2 hit and Respawn got into their stride, so many great things came with the game. I can only thank Respawn for what they have accomplished especially after some missteps when it came to Titanfall 2.
The average score for Year 1 of Apex Legends:
I'll see you all in Season 4: Assimilation.