- Developer: Panic Button
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Release date: 10/3/2021
- Price: Free to Play – UK Store / US Store
- Review code provided by Electronic Arts
Introducing: Apex Legends Nintendo Switch Review
It’s finally here, after what seems like a year of waiting: Apex Legends has released on the Nintendo Switch. It’s an exciting prospect, having a AAA free-to-play Shooter on a portable console. Sure, we’ve had the likes of Fortnite, but given a mobile port exists, that doesn’t feel quite as special. The big question, then, was always going to be: how does it hold up? With Panic Button at the helm, it always seemed a sure shot that Apex on Switch would run well. Unfortunately it seems for the first time that Panic Button’s magic can only go so far!
The Story So Far
Apex has been out on PC and the big boy consoles since February 2019. The developers, Respawn, were responsible for the Titanfall series. The studio’s founders came from Infinity Ward. They had a significant hand in Call of Duty Modern Warfare and its sequel. That’s some serious FPS lineage right there, so you know the mechanics are going to be spot on.
For those that have been living under a rock for the last two-and-a-bit years, Apex Legends is a first-person battle royale shooter. The game has some lore to set the scene. Which really acts as window dressing to the chaos that every game descends into.
The game takes place at the end of the Frontier War. This is apparently the conflict Titanfall and its sequel portrayed. Following the war, a shady corporation set up the Apex Games to pit the best fighters from across the land against each other in a battle to the death.
The titular legends are made up of a motley crew of characters. From Mercenaries who served in the Frontier War, to hackers who have been drawn into the games in an attempt to take down the shadowy Syndicate responsible for the them. Each of the legends has their own theme and range of passive and active abilities which give them a unique gameplay style.
I found myself drawn to Caustic, a demented scientist who looks like Heisenberg after he has been getting high on his own supply for too long. Caustic uses gas mines and grenades to control the battlefield. His gas both damages opponents and marks their location to allow for easier tracking. I also found myself getting a lot of use from Horizon, possibly because she is Scottish and has good banter. She has the ability to drop launch pads, allowing her to quickly scale the terrain to get an advantage during battles. I had a lot of fun launching up onto roofs and hitting enemies from unexpected angles.
The legends all have unique gameplay styles which makes the game stand out when compared to its main competitors, Fortnite and Call of Duty Warzone. They all have bags of character and add an extra layer of fun, in stark comparison to the brown drudgery of Warzone!
Apex for dummies
As is tradition for battle royale games these days, 60 players fly into the area aboard a plane. Split into squads of two or three, the squad leader is tasked with dropping in. Then leading the crew to a location to set up for battle. Start finding weapons and loot to aid them to victory.
Apex really stood out when it launched. It offered a few quality of life features which were missing from its competitors. Having been inevitably copied since its original launch, some of these ideas are less novel by the time this Switch port comes around. But the overall implementation is head and shoulders above the competition.
Apex incudes a ‘ping’ system whereby RB will ping whatever you are looking at. The game intuitively modifies the notification and audio lines as well as on-screen markers to differentiate between enemies, weapons, open doors and so on. This really helps encourage team play and communication without the need for voice chat, making partnering up with randoms much less painful. This is especially important in Apex as the game doesn’t include a solos mode. Also because cross platform voice chat suffers from a bug which leads to robotic and incomprehensible sounding audio.
Reach the Apex
Battles in the game follow the traditional royale format of an enclosing ring area, ensuring players are forced together as time goes on. Apex is currently in Season 8, with an event ongoing at the time of the Switch launch known as Mayhem. The current live event sees ring flares, smaller versions of the ring which surrounds the map, popping up randomly across the arena. These begin fairly small but quickly grow, forcing you to adopt your tactics on the fly. You can end up hemmed in suddenly with very little room during a firefight. The event helps keep the gameplay fresh and can lead to some amusing scenarios.
Apex has cemented itself as my favourite battle-royale at the moment. I’ve played a lot of Fortnite and Warzone during lockdown, but the tight gunplay and the variation offered by the different legends in Apex offer a more interesting proposition compared to the other big names. It also helps that the map is well designed and offers some interesting scenery. In comparison, Warzone’s map is brown and mostly empty (although this seems subject to change soon), whilst Fortnite’s map is very bright and cheery but fairly dull in terms of the geometry.
My love for Apex has grown despite some real shortcomings, particularly on the Switch port, which need to be addressed.
Has the Switch reached the Apex of its abilities?
It needs to be said bluntly, the Switch really struggles with Apex as it stands. Panic Button have been able to pull off some amazing ports of the last two Doom games and also Warframe, which is a pretty large-scale, taxing next-gen game. With Apex, however, it seems like even Panic Button have hit the limitations of the Switch.
The game looks like it is made out of play-doh, with resolution in docked hitting 720p whilst handheld hits a measly 576p. In practice this leads to a muddy image and some difficulty in identifying targets. This combined with a 30FPS frame rate leads to a pronounced disadvantage when playing cross platform. There is an option to turn off cross-platform play, but I found matchmaking took a ridiculous amount of time without enabling this feature.
Whilst cross play is possible, there doesn’t seem to be any ability to take advantage of cross progression, meaning those with lots of cosmetics unlocked on other platforms have to start from scratch. Cross play could have offered the ability to supplement the smoother experience on other platforms with the ability to play handheld when required, so this is a real miss.
Apex Legends is generally a smooth and good-looking game on other platforms. The art style pops with character and colour, but the limitations of the Switch really don’t allow it to shine. It feels like we have finally reached the point where a Switch Pro would be a real boost to something like Apex. The issues aren’t just limited to frame rate and resolution, as I often found sharp turns would lead to me watching my teammates moving through the environment as a gun hovering in mid-air before the character model would load. This was the same with some of the environmental features. It’s pretty jarring to suddenly have a 200 foot dinosaur appear in front of you as the asset loads in!
I’m hopeful that Panic Button continue to support the game and perhaps manage to eke out some additional performance gains. There have been some amazing improvements to other games over the years on Switch, most notably to the Witcher 3, so it’s possible we could see some increase in clarity.
Free to play?
Apex is a free to play game, and probably one of the more generous ones. From the start there are a good number of characters unlocked and the ability to buy more using in-game currency. Likewise, cosmetics such as character and weapon skins can be earned without too much effort via loot boxes and seasonal events. The option is there to pay for items, but it feels like you get a good stream of content during the normal flow of the game. The option is also there to purchase a battle pass for those that want to feel some more tangible and regular progress, but thankfully this doesn’t include anything too problematic, such as pay-to-win elements.
There’s no doubt that the Switch port of Apex Legends is pretty compromised. The muddy visuals and lower frame-rate makes the combat a little stuttery at times and makes identifying targets at range difficult. Despite this, I still had a lot of fun, as the core gameplay is so well balanced and the quality of life features encourage proper cooperation.
For those with the opportunity to play elsewhere, that will always be the more appealing option, but those who choose to play on Switch will find a lot of fun, albeit accompanied with a bit of frustration at times.
- Handheld Apex, even with limitations, is great fun
- Pairing up with friends on other platforms is easy
- 30 free battle pass levels for Switch players
- Performance is poor, making long-range combat difficult
- Cross platform voice chat stutters
- Motion control implemented poorly