500 hours of Apex Legends

Finally. Over 500 hours of Apex Legends. The online multiplayer shooter from Respawn Entertainment has been my obsession all year, beating even Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

It's unremarkable to a casual viewer. Set in Respawn's Titanfall universe, it's another battle royale game like Fortnite, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, and Call of Duty: Warzone. You and two teammates land in a high-tech future world and search for weaponry as 19 other teams try to kill you. Survivors win.

Respawn is one of the best fast-paced shooter game designers. Apex Legends was created by the creative directors of Call of Duty, Jason West and Vince Zampella, and much of the technical and design personnel from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

The interaction between flow and friction is a crucial game design aspect. Apex Legends is often smooth. You can travel freely across the terrain and tap a button to slide, giving you a temporary speed boost on level ground and allowing you to sledge swiftly down hills. It's rapid, satisfying, and if you're sliding toward an item, you can use the leap button to prevent a collision. The two Apex Legends maps we've seen so far include tons of slopes and valleys to explore.

Buildings and cliffs keep players moving. Whenever you approach a tall item, there's usually a nice hold point a few meters higher than your character. When you jump at a vertical surface, you scramble up, adding height and bringing the grip point closer. This scramble animation gives you a sense of accomplishment despite raised platforms being easily accessible. You're winning.

“When a player isn't sure whether they can go somewhere but tries anyway, 90% of the time they succeed,” says Four Circle director and Respawn fan Dan Pearce. Everything in Apex is balanced as Halo bullets bend slightly to reach their target or Mario gets a half-second to jump after running off a surface.

Dan and I both favor the decision to use three-player squads instead of Fortnite's or Call of Duty's four-player squads. Everyone must work together and be a part of any strategy. “Three players means it's easier to set up a balanced rock/paper/scissors-style team,” adds Pearce. If you were in the zone, three players could take out a complete squad single-handedly.

The game's ping system lets players mark map areas, helpful goods, and enemy locations without speaking. Together with a discussion wheel supplying tactical phrases, this allows you to play with people without using your voice, which might be scary and lead to abuse or unwanted noise. Pearce: "It's a blessing for gaming culture." "I may never again have to uncomfortably describe an enemy's location while being shot at"

Having spent a lot of time on King's Canyon and World's Edge, I've noticed how the architecture and topography work together to create entertaining playgrounds, choke places, and risk centers. The Epicenter's cold slides, the Dome's lava-covered pathways, and Capitol City's spacious, overlooking avenues. In a game with so many weapons and special powers, each location must have clear roles. Respawn's staging is theatrical.

Pearce says the designs are minimal. "Almost nothing is cool just because. Every Respawn game I've played could be played with blocky prototype graphics and still be engaging, because every piece is fundamentally necessary. This planned puzzle-box design is harder to find in larger games. Remedy's Control felt comparable, but it's rare in the triple-A space.

Apex Legends' unfettered movement is my favorite part. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow, a highly focused mental state in which actions become habitual, interests many game designers. Assisting flow is one of the most underestimated design features. It can be found in the way a game illuminates particular sections to advise the player where to go (Dead Space does this beautifully) or the use of rumble feedback to indicate the limits of a road in a racing game. Apex Legends reduces friction so players feel skilled.

Pearce said this is why Apex is so popular, even among gamers who don't like battle royale games. Respawn adjusts everything to make players feel 20% more competent and cognizant than they are.

The game I've played the most this year is geared to compliment me. I don't care after 500 hours.