**The following post is an example of a design analysis and teardown written by me and does not reflect the opinions of my employer. It was written just after the release of the game.
• WHY WE CHOSE: Seemingly out of nowhere, Titanfall studio Respawn released Apex Legends, set in the Titanfall Universe, but not the expected Titanfall 3. Apex Legends adds a new dimension for Respawn’s bread and butter franchise, smartly using the studio’s expertise in AAA Multiplayer FPS games for their first foray into Free to Play games.
• GAMEPLAY: In Apex Legends, players join a team of 3 in a 60 player Battle Royale mode. Apex Legends evolves the sub-genre through the introduction of highly specialized character classes that turn a standard BR game into a completely new experience that mixes the best of Overwatch with the mainstream accessibility of Fortnite. The game’s unflinching dedication to teamplay is evident in a variety of mechanics from the drop-in to respawning.
10m players within 72 hours
1m concurrent players within 72 hours
25m downloads in first week
2m concurrent players in first weekend
PUBLISHER: EA – Respawn Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: 2/4/19
FAMILIAR, BUT DIFFERENT: Apex Legends keeps enough of the pacing and familiar mechanics of Battle Royale and traditional FPS games that players immediately know how to play.
MATURE: While Fortnite can sometimes feel like playing a game for kids, Apex Legend feels more suited to adults. The game has a sarcastic, but serious tone, allowing for some of the whimsy of Fortnite, without the ridiculous of Fortnite, making the game more appealing for the core FPS demographic.
EXTENDING THE TITANFALL IP: Overall, Apex Legends’ lasting legacy will be to the Titanfall franchise, no longer just a world of giant mechs fighting each other for some reason, now the IP feels like a rich world with interesting personalities, opening a variety of game options and merchandising for the franchise.
FORTNITE: Epic’s ability to quickly implement systems, features, and game modes can steal some the magic that has been created by Apex Legends, overall improving the fidelity of Fortnite. Additionally, Fortnite is willing to take the game to unexplored areas in competitive gaming, like the introduction UGC into their main map. Fortnite feels like anything could happen, because Epic have not seemed to follow “the rules” of competitive gaming, whereas Respawn’s history with Titanfall would indicate a willingness to innovate and explore, but within the proven constructs of the competitive FPS genre. Defining Apex Legends as Overwatch meets Battle Royale is accurate, whereas Fortnite has no similar mash-up description.
LACK OF LONG-TERM PROGRESSION: The seasonal battle pass paradigm is too young to know for sure, but it would seem the lack of long-term goals will reduce the total number of players who come back to the game when they feel they have gone as far as they are willing to in a single season. Time is precious and gaining skill in a competitive game is extremely time-consuming. Giving players goals that are less skill-centric, instead focusing on repetition to fill a bar, would engage lower skill players through incentivizing “just playing” without a focus on winning or losing.
LOW ROI MONETIZATION: Apex’s monetization relies on customizations that have a subjective value and variable price sensitivity for consumers, regardless of the development cost to create each look. Additionally, individual characters can be purchased, which are one of the most costly aspects to create in both time and resources.
What makes Apex Legends a great game is its clear dedication to Team Play. All design decisions, from the obvious social options to having a class system to the classes abilities to the map mechanics, fundamentally revolve around creating opportunities for team play. This is Apex Legend’s true evolution of the Battle Royale sub-genre.
CHARACTERS: Each time you play Apex Legends you choose to play as a character. Each character has a unique set of abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. This is its biggest strength for the following reasons:
VARIETY: 10 years and 143 champions later, League of Legends has proven that making new characters can be achieved indefinitely, with the addition of each character changing the entire dynamic of a play session
TACTICAL AND STRATEGIC MASTERY: Each character has unique traits that affect not only the moment to moment tactics of play, but also the overall strategy of match based on team composition, extending the skill ceiling as each new character is added
TEAM PLAY & SUPPORT ROLES: Each character synergizes with and/or counters the other characters in the game. Unlike every other Battle Royale game, where the main skills tested are situational awareness and aiming, Apex Legends challenges players to use their abilities to support and enhance one-another. Because of characters who focus on scouting, team traversal, healing, traps, and tanking players don’t have to be good at just shooting, they can work together to create winning situations.
OBVIOUS VALUE: Like League of Legends, characters in Apex Legends are fundamental to gameplay variety, making the purchase of a character the most obvious, highest value unlock in the game
CHARACTERS = ATTACHMENT: The strong personality of each character allows players to identify with and live a specific power fantasy, driving player attachment and making character-based marketing possible and merchandise valuable to players
SOCIAL MECHANICS: Apex Legends’ biggest surprise is their complete dedication to team play through a series of innovative new social mechanics that set the bar for ease of social interaction in multiplayer games.
AUTO-VO CALLOUTS: Like AAA single-player games, the characters narrate what they are experiencing. This is heard by both the player and their team, providing both with essential feedback to create an incredibly intuitive teamwork experience.
AUTO-FOLLOW DROP IN’S: The first barrier to team play, keeping a team together, has been completely negated by the default auto-follow that takes over when a team’s leader sends the team dropping into the map. This completely removes the need to guess when it’s time to jump and where your team will meet up and makes non-premade teams more successful.
PINGING: Players can ping almost anything in the game, showing their team a minimap icon, playing a VO callout, highlighting in the world, and creating the simplest, the most useful UX improvement to moment-to-moment social interaction added in a multiplayer game in years.
MATCH MECHANICS: While Fortnite added building to the world of Battle Royale games, Apex Legends focused on adding new strategical choices.
RESPAWNING: Dead is not quite dead in Apex Legends. If a player dies, their teammates can carry their banner to a respawn beacon to bring that teammate back into the match. More than anything, this mechanic creates drama that is exciting to watch, both as a teammate and a livestream viewer. A single player, holding the fate of his or her whole team, creates amazing star moments.
SHIELDS: When a player is downed in Apex Legends, they must be finished to prevent a teammate from reviving them at the location. In addition to being able to crawl around, a downed player can activate a shield, allowing them to not only have hope, but be strategic in death creating situations that can be capitalized on with smart teamplay.
TEAM REDROP: Map movement is a huge strategic element in Apex Legends and is supported by the ability to allow teams to redrop by using zip lines placed around the map. Not only can players escape gas and find more favorable locations, but the Battle Royale metagame found in most iterations of the mode (PUBG, H1Z1, Call of Duty) of circling the gas edge to get kills is negated.
Apex Legends stays relatively safe in its monetization, not pushing any boundaries or innovating. Sticking to the common wisdom of avoiding power sales in competitive games, all purchases in the game are cosmetic only.
The game monetizes in three ways:
BATTLE PASS: Similar setup to Fortnite
LOOT BOXES: This is a surprising risk for an EA studio, but loot boxes like those in Overwatch are available for purchase. The “Apex Packs” will not drop duplicate items and have “bad luck protection”, ensuring a player receives a legendary item drop within 30 pulls. Additionally, crafting materials are earned through opening packs and can be used to craft cosmetic items.
CHARACTERS: Like League of Legends, players start with a group of free to play characters and can use earned or paid currency to unlock additional characters
The store paradigm in Apex Legends is also like Fortnite, with rotating cosmetic stock on individual timers per item.
Besides the obvious -- new map types, changes to maps, new classes, new weapons, and maybe even vehicles -- where will Apex Legends go?
E-SPORTS: Of all Battle Royale games released to date, Apex Legends has the most potential for E-Sports success because it features the core elements common to popular E-Sport games:
CHARACTERS: Like Overwatch, League of Legends, and Street Fighter, Apex Legends has characters with personality that players can love and hate, and more importantly “main”, making a win with that character a win for their fans.
HIGH MASTERY TEAMPLAY: The difference between a team that works well together with proven tactics based on situational awareness and varying strategies based on game state gives room for obvious differences between amateur gamers and professional gamers. A player in PUBG can get lucky and win, but the dynamics and synergies between players and the unique respawn mechanics in Apex Legends, luck will lose to skill.
ACTION! The game is fast paced and exciting to watch. It is well-paced for viewing, having up’s and down’s during a match that maximize the drama. There is also the potential for come from behind wins and surprising outcomes.
LONG-TERM PROGRESSION SYSTEMS: As novelty wears off and players cap on their personal skill mastery, there must be something to drive them back into the game over and over. A Battle Pass achieves this on a quarterly, seasonal scale, but currently the game lacks systems that focus longer term and provide persistent bragging rights. The trend in FPS games to add RPG mechanics seems to indicate that the developers are seeing less long-term engagement, overall. Games like League of Legends have also been chasing long-term progression systems with features like Champion Mastery. I believe Apex Legends will follow the model of League of Legends and create a Legend mastery system.
MATCH TYPES & MAPS: One place the game could go sideways is by introducing too many different match types and maps. While appealing from a variety perspective, each match type and map added reduces accessibility (players must learn the rules and layouts), stratifies the population (spreads people out, increasing queue times), creates balance disparities (making tuning for each character and weapon variable), creates faster player burn-out for new players (due to feeling overwhelmed by how much there is learn), and reduces the E-Sports appeal (viewer has to understand too many things). This has been proven when comparing Heroes of the Storm’s lack of major success vs. League of Legends’ domination.
At its base gameplay components, Apex Legends stands up to any other modern AAA shooter on the market.
Apex Legends is well positioned to be the next big E-Sport, with a high skill bar, engaging matches for viewers, and deep teamplay the appeal to professional teams and viewers is obvious.
Apex Legends has set the bar for social UX moving forward in multiplayer games.
Tried and true game mechanics presented with a twist and a clear, simple vision can create exciting new experiences.
Keeping the release of the game a surprise gave it more impact and reduced the window for consumers to spread negativity, instead challenging players to jump in immediately and experience it.
Giving players a variety of roles in a competitive game provides larger mass appeal.