'Apex Legends' Fixes Every 'Fortnite' Problem by Embracing Its Own Identity

Finally, a battle royale set in a genuinely interesting universe.

Fortnite is the undisputed king of battle royale video games, but the newly released Apex Legends from the makers of the Titanfall series has emerged as a surprise contender that manages to beat Fortnite at its own game.

Apex Legends couldn’t be more different from Fortnite, and that’s absolutely the best thing it has going for it. Virtually any complaint someone might have about Fortnite’s shallow story, shameless amount of weekly challenges, goofy mechanics, or cartoonish graphics simply isn’t an issue. Not only does Apex Legends look and feel amazing, it has more personality and panache than Fortnite could ever dream of.

Respawn Entertainment surprise-released Apex Legends on Monday, and after getting some time with the game, I can confidently say this is a battle royale experience I’d return to time and again. Perhaps the most novel thing Apex Games does is to deliver a genuinely interesting hook for its world — something Fortnite has never done.

Apex Legends review
Each character has their own style of play.

Apex Legends differentiates from other battle royales in its unique futuristic style set firmly within the Titanfall universe, 30 years after the events of Titanfall 2. There are no Titans, which feels like a fair sacrifice. This experience instead focuses on a Hunger Games-type dystopian competition called Apex where various combatants — the titular “Legends” — compete for glory.

All of this is properly conveyed in an opening cinematic and the tutorial. For the first time ever, we finally know why the battle royale is happening. (Every other battle royale game, please take notes.)

This isn’t to say that Apex Legends is a completely unique experience. For the most part, the battle royale combat feels remarkably similar to Call of Duty: Blackout, aiming for a hyper-realistic first-person shooter. Even the way players scavenge for equipment and upgrade their weapons feels identical to Blackout.

Each Legend — or character — comes with their own style and abilities, including Ultimate Abilities. Wraith can fade into parallel dimensions, disappearing from sight like Tracer or Moira in Overwatch. She can also summon two connected portals a la Symmetra … also from Overwatch.

'Apex Legends' review
'Apex Legends'

This, coupled with mandatory team-based combat in Apex Legends, draws the inevitable comparisons to Overwatch. “Apex Packs” that are rewarded to players resemble Overwatch Loot Boxes in every sense, gifting various weapon skins and other cosmetic items.

But where Overwatch comes off as cartoonish in its overall style, Apex Legends feels closer to gritty sci-fi. So even when it resembles something else, Apex Legends still finds its own path by embracing the Titanfall universe in pretty cool ways.

That includes character abilities. Sure, there might be some overlap between the two games, but Overwatch, Blizzard’s team-based shooter, doesn’t have a cheery robot with a grappling hook or a hawkmaster guy that can literally track opponents’ footsteps.

Before players ever step foot in an actual match of Apex Legends, it’s already infinitely more interesting than Fortnite because Respawn invested so much in expanding on an existing franchise with new, interesting characters.

If Fortnite feels totally shallow by comparison, that’s because it is.

Apex Legends Bloodhound
Bloodhound is a master tracker with abilities that all focus on that aspect of character.

Like any battle royale gaming experience, launching out of the dropship and rocketing down to the ground in Apex Legends is overwhelming the first time. The loading screens before the match unfold like a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) or, again, like Overwatch, which is itself MOBA-adjacent.

Each member of the three-person squad gets to choose their character with the order randomly determined. So there’s no obsessing over only a couple characters for anyone. When things get started, a single person is crowned Jumpmaster, controlling all three players as they rocket down to the ground in a perfectly synchronized dive. Anyone is free to dive on their own and/or go AWOL after landing, but it’s always best to stick together.

Once the match begins, Apex Legends also sets itself apart with a clever communication system. Even without voice chat, easy-to-execute waypoints allow players to highlight specific items for your teammates, making a character shout, “THERE’S A HELMET OVER HERE!” It can be used to tag anything, even a generic destination or building. “HEY LET’S CHECK OUT THAT PLACE!” It’s a great feature you’ll wish was in every online game.

Between the excellent graphics, thrilling musical score, and flashy future-tech that allows anybody to stomp on the ground with the help of small reverse thrusters, Apex Legends feels so much cooler than most of its competition. As the circular play area closes in (thankfully, it’s not yet another storm), you hear announcements about the new kill leader as a huge leaderboard updates on the edge of the map. It’s Hunger Games, but way less morose.

For now, the only limiting thing about Apex Legends is the team configuration, which limits you to teams of three in a 60-person game (so 20 teams fighting to survive). By comparison, Fortnite features a carousel of ever-changing modes, from standard squads and solo to massive 50-vs-50 battles and other fun gimmicks.

But Respawn is committed to making Apex Legends a “proper live service game” just like Fortnite, which means ongoing updates and patches with gameplay seasons that last three months at a time. Like with Fortnite, that means new modes could be coming in the future.

Apex Legends’s legacy is only just beginning, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. I just hope players stick around long enough for the game to really come into its own.

Apex Legends is available now for PC via Origin, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.*

Media via Respawn Entertainment