It’s barely been two weeks since Apex Legends took the world by storm, and not only are many people playing the game — it amassed more than 25 million players in its first week alone— but even more are watching others play the game. With 41 million hours of Twitch viewership over the past week, Apex Legends has more than doubled the watch time of Fortnite, which has been reigning supreme for almost a year now.Clearly, Apex Legends has quickly dominated the Battle Royale genre, but the real question is: how can it keep ahead of the well-established competition?
Nail the “Battle Pass”
Fortnite redefined what a successful Battle Royale game looks like, and owes much of its success to their Battle Pass. This optional in-game purchase nets you an exclusive set of weekly challenges to complete that carry their own rewards, plus 100 tiers of cosmetic items. The reason the Battle Pass found so much success is because of its low price point (roughly $9 per “season”) and perceived value. While not every tier included contained exceptional items, the Battle Pass guaranteed you a few exclusive skins, gliders, and other cosmetic items— and eventually, unique items like pets and weapon skin wraps.
Apex Legends needs to offer items that are exclusive to the Battle Pass and offer cosmetics that people actually want or care about. So much of the Battle Pass hype in Fortnite came from what you’d unlock at tier level 100, which was often an ultra-rare customizable skin. It was a status symbol, one that brought with it an automatic fear when encountered on the battlefield, because you knew the player was likely very skilled. (I still have flashbacks of John Wick skins building an entire wooden fortress in a matter of seconds…)
Many games have implemented a similar “Battle Pass” including PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Call of Duty 4’s Blackout mode, but neither of them have even come close to reaching Fortnite’s level of success or popularity in that regard. Apex Legends is in the unique position of being able to dictate where the market goes since they have so much mindshare from the gaming community right now. Respawn has successfully iterated on a genre, adding individual characters with abilities, as well as a revolutionary ping system, and they need to continue that innovation with their version of the Battle Pass.
When Respawn revealed Apex Legends to the world, they announced that seasons would be coming to the game in the future, with the first season beginning sometime in March alongside the Battle Pass. This is another critical area that will help them retain their rapidly-growing player base and help differentiate them further from other Battle Royale games.
Fortnite has completed seven seasons in just two years, with each bringing changes to the existing map as well as adding new (albeit temporary) features, such as the recent addition of planes and sky combat. Each season, offers a completely different feel, with new points of interest and new mechanics introduced, and effectively offers a new experience for players every few months. Just as you may start to feel burnt out, they add something new into the game to keep you engaged.
Apex Legends needs to find its own way to continually evolve every season, be it adding new weapons, new Legends, or potentially even new maps. Creating limited-time modes encourage players to remain active within the game, while offering varied gameplay to the traditional Battle Royale-style combat. Themed seasons have been successful within Fortnite, creating miniature story arcs players can follow along with that pan out over the duration of ten weeks. Apex Legends could iterate on this formula by dedicating each season to uncovering a given Legend’s backstory to give players some lore context.
Add Additional Maps
As it stands now, the game has a single map, King’s Canyon – but, you may have noticed that when loading into a match it displays the name of the map in the top left corner. Also, when displaying your friends’ activity, it shows that they are “currently in a match on King’s Canyon” which leads me to believe there will be additional maps in the future.
This wouldn’t be the first Battle Royale with multiple play areas, however, as PUBG has introduced three new maps in addition to the original Erangel. The issue that the game currently faces is that when beginning a match, they have you select which map you’d prefer to play on, which splits the potential player base, thus creating an issue where queue times may be longer if fewer people are playing the map you’ve chosen. This is most apparent when a new map is introduced, as players tend to skew towards the newer maps, thus creating longer queue times for older maps.
If Apex Legends introduces new maps, they shouldn’t let the players choose the map they prefer, instead opting for a single queue that randomly places players into a random map. In a game like Overwatch, for instance, matches aren’t hard to come by because everybody is queuing into the same set of maps. This would be the ideal way to add additional content to the game, while keeping queue times as short as possible. This also allows Respawn to explore more of the Titanfall universe with a variety of different locations.
Balance is Everything
The key to success for any multiplayer-focused game is balance, and while it’s still too early to tell if any one character or weapon is truly overpowered (though we can all agree the Mozambique needs a buff), there are definitely some that are better than others. For example, the Peacekeeper, a pump-style shotgun, seems to have incredible range for a gun that should excel in close-quarter combat. Epic Games has made weapon adjustments on an almost weekly basis since the launch of Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode, and their development team has kept their ear to the ground for community feedback on weapon power levels. Respawn’s team needs to monitor weapon power levels on a consistent basis—and in a timely matter—in order to retain the trust of their player base.
Another area that Respawn must pay close attention to is the power level of Legend abilities. These diverse abilities are one of the most unique aspects of this game, and as new characters are introduced in the future, they must be very careful with the balance of power between Legends.
Currently, there are a number of items that can be unlocked through Apex Packs. These include legend skins, weapon skins, finishing moves, and a whole bunch of other cosmetics that have no practical effect on gameplay other than allowing you to show off to other players. Unfortunately, many of these seem more like simple palette swaps, especially when compared to contemporaries like Fortnite or Overwatch, which often offer entirely new character models for their legendary-tier skins. It also seems that Legendary-tier items are much rarer finds than in other loot box unlocks, as well. If Apex is going to be a financial success for Respawn (and EA), then they need to have more compelling cosmetic upgrades with a more lenient drop rate for rarer items.
Respawn Need to Remain Transparent
Respawn has been very active with the Apex Legends community, and this transparency has definitely paid off with the players. In this day and age, good developer communication is critical to a games-as-a-service title like Apex Legends.
Recently, the developers have begun offering players daily updates on the /r/ApexLegends subreddit. They have committed to addressing known bugs and community concerns within each update. User Jayfresh_Respawn, the Community Manager at Respawn, also mentioned that they are currently working on developer livestreams for the community, with the first one debuting around the launch of Season 1. He also mentioned he will be providing troubleshooting tips for players that are currently experiencing issues within the game itself.
Respawn definitely has something special with Apex Legends finding success in a very crowded genre thanks to a unique blend of tried-and-true mechanics and some excellent additions of their own. Whether they remain at the top of the leaderboards remains to be seen, but at the very least it’s clear that their foot is very firmly planted in the door. For more on Apex Legends, check out our ranking of all eight Legends, or our key tips on how to survive and become champions yourselves.
Matthew Adler is a freelance video game journalist and Host of In Your Element—A Gaming Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewadler.