Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends reached more than a million players in the first eight hours of availability for the free-to-play battle royale shooter game set in the Titanfall universe.
Vince Zampella, CEO of Respawn, tweeted the number and thanked fans for their support. The game became available today on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC.
I’m so overwhelmed right now, @PlayApex broke a million unique players in under 8 hours. ❤️❤️❤️
— Vince Zampella (@VinceZampella) February 5, 2019
I was one of those that logged into EA’s Origin service played this on the PC today. It’s fun, thanks to some key design choices that the Respawn team made.
I think it’s going to be very well received, even though it’s coming very late in the battle royale market dominated by Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Call of Duty: Blackout, and other titles. It’s the first game that Respawn is releasing since EA bought the Los Angeles studio for $455 million in 2017. And it looks like EA may get its money’s worth.
Because it’s so different from the first two Titanfalls, which were shooters with big mechs, the team decided to brand the game with a different kind of name, Apex Legends.
“While it is in the Titanfall universe, it’s something new and unique,” said Zampella in an interview with GamesBeat. “We want people to know that and understand that. Someone might have heard that Titanfall is such a hardcore game, so maybe if this one is branded that way, they don’t want to try it. This is something new. Come and give it a fair chance.”
The secrecy and speed with which Respawn made this game are surprising. While the team toyed with survival-game designs before, it began working on what would become Apex Legends in spring 2017. At that time, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds blew up into a viral hit, catching the company’s attention, said Respawn design director Mackey McCandlish in an interview with GamesBeat.
They did a lot of iteration, trying out ideas like putting Titans, the hallmark of the previous two Titanfall games, in the battle royale game. But Zampella and the rest of the team learned that it didn’t make sense for balance reasons. The Legends characters, however, have a lot of additional capabilities that normal ground troops wouldn’t have.
“Once you play it, you don’t even think about that. It has to be fun,” Zampella said. “You could force something in for the sake of a name or an identity, but this is part of the Titanfall universe. It’s not just about having giant Titans. It’s about the characters, having more identifiable characters and less generic sci-fi pilots.”
What’s interesting is that EA has more big games coming soon. BioWare’s Anthem is launching soon, and the DICE studio in Sweden is reportedly working on a battle royale mode for Battlefield V.
Apex Legends adopts some design conventions of other battle royale games: the ever-shrinking circle on the battlefield, an aerial launch into a single large map, and landing on the ground having to scrounge for weapons. It has a wide variety of loot items, with three classes of weapons, some special gear, and items that will keep you alive like medkits and shields. You have to find loot, compete with others in a Hunger Games-style arena, and only one team is left standing at the end.
But the game is also designed for collaboration, with three players teaming up in a squad. Only 60 players, instead of 100, are on the Kings Canyon map, which is smaller than other battle royale maps. When you launch, only one player controls the squad and picks where the team will land. You can communicate via voice with the team but also mark spots on the map like locations of good weapons.
“It’s that whole theory of, we’re not just chasing a number. We’re chasing fun,” Zampella said. “We tried bigger. We tried smaller. And again, some of that will probably change over time. We’ll probably release other maps that are bigger if we decide they’re fun. This was just the — as we started playing and growing and shrinking, this number felt right. The 60 players in squads of three is the most fun we had.”
And if one player gets shot, others can heal that player. And if the player is killed, you can pick up the player’s tag, or banner card, and take it to a respawn point on the map to revive the player, who respawns without loot. The map has areas, such as high loot or medium loot, that are marked.
The user interface is fairly clean. You can see in the upper right-hand corner how many of the 20 squads remain in the action.