They Killed the Mechs so that the Pilots Might Live

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  • The Titanfall subreddit has been suffering some whiplash over the past couple of weeks. This isn’t a terrible surprise, as Apex Legends dropped the Monday after an abysmal superbowl with no preamble, leaving core Titanfall and Titanfall 2 diehards in the lurch about the perceived corruption of their favorite franchise. Gone are the titular mechs plunging from the sky, replacing them are colorful and robust pilots skulking and sliding around another enormous map. It’s a travesty, an abomination, a pool full of drowned puppies, or so one might believe at first blush.

    A few days after that reveal though the tide shifted. It’s impossible to say that this was predictable, as much of the turnaround has depended on the quality of the game which most internet corners agree is admirable. But longtime pilots can’t help but feel a sting when they’re squadding up with friends and randos who can’t help but proclaim “dang I should have tried Titanfall back in the day.” Yes, you should have.

    Because Apex Legends is not Titanfall, for a host of reasons, most notably that there are no Titans, there’s no wallrunning, and it’s a bit slower paced. But fretting about what Apex Legends is not will still leave one sorely wanting, or as my dad likes to say, “you can hope into one hand and shit into the other and see which one piles up faster.” Shitting on Apex Legends won’t bring Titanfall 3 down to earth any sooner, and there’s even some speculation that the positive reaction and potential monetary success of the game may fuel TF3’s development (that is, if it is in development, which it was, then wasn’t, and now is again, maybe). Given that the subreddit for Apex Legends already surpasses that of Titanfall, the potential for that success seems quite potent.

    And rightly so. Battle Royale games are certainly the bee’s knees nowadays, with the Fortnite dominating the time of your nephews and nieces, PUBG grinding along for the “hardcore,” and Call of Duty splitting their own version off for those tired of Overwatch. It’s a crowded arena, but never underestimate the power of “free” (as in “the first taste is always”) mixed with a genuinely nuanced take on the formula. Because the Respawn team didn’t just make a couple of fantastic mecha games, but they nailed a very particular spread of firearms in the Titanfall games which is lovingly (and randomly) laid out in Apex Legends for all to enjoy now. My precious Hemlok burst-fire rifle, the longbow DMR, R-99 SMG and more are all here and easily surpass the feel of Fortnite’s Nerf armory and PUBG’s shed-buried scrap. Even if the armor and lowered damage has noticeably reduced the average time per kill, AL’s guns shine because of the years of polish put in on Titanfall.

    Beyond pistols and peashooters, Apex Legends has further innovated an in-game communication system through their “ping” setup. Voice is often key to a well-oiled squad but sometimes, when we are so focused on our flying fingers and harried moments, translating that visual information into language that is meant to be properly understood and redeployed on-screen is a tongue-twisting nightmare. Overwatch often leaves me stuttering and forgetful of words, worried that the big stroke has finally landed just because I can never remember which alley is the “main” one or even what right and left mean anymore. The ping system easily directs the team’s attention, whether it’s towards useful loot, enemy positions, or the next point we’re posting up at. When things are quiet, words usually reign supreme, but spotting a surprise combatant is often tougher to explain out loud before losing sight of them than leaving a persistent visual identifier. And let’s be honest, this system really shines when you’re not trying to meet faceless players from across the globe who are more likely than not to spew some real vile invective.

    Some parts of the internet have unleashed that acid against the game for having eight playable archetypes, each with distinct abilities and adjustments, and the majority of which are persons of color (with two black women!). The best part of this diversity is that Respawn just went and did it, and as it turns out, you just fucking can like it’s no big deal because it isn’t. Who knows how the roster will grow and change, but at this point Apex Legends already better represents the variety of humanity that our lone Earth offers than most other FPS titles, let alone a fictional universe full of planets. Some games with near 30 heroes still can’t touch that percentage, and can only stutter a mealy “no comment” or “we’re working on it” when asked why they haven’t added even a single black woman to their choosable team. I for one am very excited for a whole range of players to find characters that reflect themselves more closely in this game, and the ease of which it was presented perhaps paving the way for developers (and more importantly the cowardly boards they are forced to answer to) in the future.

    All of these elements melt down into a powerful experience that doesn’t reinvent the relatively young Battle Royale genre, but refines it into something more immersive than its peers. To this point those others could hardly hold my attention, whether it was the burrs of early access rubbing me raw or the Saturday Morning cartoon construction gimmicks and rubbery firefights. Apex Legends is still fresh from the wrapper, but the squad communication, weapons, and range of tactical options already serve up a delectable sushi of hide-and-seek with bullets. If you’ve already sworn off battle royale games, maybe give this one a last chance. Especially if you loved Titanfall before, a series that was woefully under-appreciated in its time. You can always boast that you knew the band of mech-jockeys before they got big.

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