In July of 2017, Epic Games unleashed Fortnite upon the unsuspecting world. At the time of release, the game included two modes; the PVE ‘Save the World’ and the PVP ‘Battle Royale’ (it now also includes a third mode, ‘Fortnite Creative’). The free-to-play Battle Royale became almost an instant hit, and nearly two years, numerous updates, and millions of players later, Fortnite is only getting bigger. This is one of those rare games that seems to have escaped beyond the gaming community and has become entrenched in popular culture. Whether it’s memes, cringe-worthy dances, or just the usual moral panic from mainstream media regarding violence in videogames – for better or worse, Fortnite is out there, and for the past two years it has essentially reigned supreme over the Battle Royale genre.
At least, it had until early February of this year when, seemingly from nowhere, a game came at last to challenge Fortnite’s throne. Developed by Respawn Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts, one of the latest games to join the Battle Royale genre, Apex Legends, seems to be succeeding where others have failed. Right off the bat, Apex seemed to be focused on gamer experience. The game – like Fortnite: Battle Royale – is free and it has, like Fortnite, gained a large following in a very short amount of time.
To compare the two seems a bit like comparing Apples and Windows (yes, this is a joke); though at their core they’re the same kind of game (a Battle Royale) the way they approach things couldn’t be more different. Fortnite is back to basics; it is goofy, and ridiculous, and it aims to be – more than anything – fun. Graphics wise, the 3D animation is cartoonish, the colours are bold, the character skins available for purchase or to earn are varied and wacky. Is it any wonder that the game has – stereotypically speaking – appealed to younger gamers? Movement – even sprinting – is comparatively slow paced (unless of course you have a hoverboard or other travel item) and each update brings more items and weapons to be used for memes and scrims alike (though personally, I think Epic may have peaked with the Hamster ball). The thing that sets Fortnite apart from other Battle Royales is, of course, the ability to build, which allows for a new skill not found in most competitive games, or even most shooters. Some have labelled Fortnite ‘Minecraft with guns’ because of the building, but it remains a key aspect of the game even eight seasons later.
Apex Legends, on the other hand, seems to be more about flexibility. Rather than having characters where the only difference is the aesethic ‘skin’, Apex instead started with a cast of playable characters (called ‘Legends’) that have their own abilities and loosely defined roles when in game. Six of these characters are available as free to play options, while three more need to be purchased. Where Fortnite is cartoonish, Apex is realistic. Where Fortnite is cartoonish and wacky, Apex is wasteland grunge and sheer competition. Movement in Apex is fast, it is agile, and – thanks to the no fall damage – it is a hell of a lot of fun. Jumping from ridiculous heights to land on top of your enemy and take them by surprise (while not always effective) is just so very enjoyable. Combined with the unique abilities of some of the legends, movement and game play in Apex is quick and satisfying, and when you somehow manage to pull off a frankly stupid move that realistically shouldn’t have worked – well, in those moments you really do feel like a legend.
I’m not going to go much into the specific weaponry used in Fortnite and Apex, for one simple reason: Fortnite has been out a lot longer, and so it has had time to create a wide array of weapons ranging from the brutal to the ludicrous. I believe that Apex will follow a similar (if perhaps slightly less ridiculous) path when it comes to their assortment of weapons – they’ve already started strong with a decent variety of guns and grenades, and I don’t doubt that the weapons in Apex will only get better, more varied and more balanced as time goes on. I think as well that the two different POVs when in game – third person in Fortnite and first person in Apex – has a big influence on how combat in these games feels to play. If you prefer one point of view over another, I think that this might well be a defining factor in which one of these games you favour.
Other than the building, what truly makes Fortnite stand out has got to be the sheer amount of content within the game. There seems to be at least one major in-game ‘event’ each season. From rockets blasting off to an actual in-game music concert: one thing we’ve consistently seen is that the Epic Games team know how to put on a show, and each season seems to bring something bigger, better and more epic than the one before. But alongside the major events are the weekly updates, which often bring a new kind of weapon or item, as well as the ‘limited time modes’ that often feature specific weapon types, different game mechanics and even special and vaulted weapons. While many people complain about constantly having to update the game, I personally think this is the reason Fortnite has been so popular – because there is always something new to see, do, and use. If other games that are often said to be ‘dying’ (*cough*OVERWATCH*cough*) did half as much as Fortnite does, they’d no doubt be doing a hell of a lot better. Though it’s early days yet for Apex Legends, they seem to be slowly drifting down a similar (if toned down) path, with updates and a Season One Battle pass rolled out not long after the game dropped. I suppose we can only hope that Respawn Entertainment take note and, like Epic Games, keep their focus on creating a great gaming experience for the players.
As for the Battle Passes for both Fortnite and Apex Legends, I have to say that Fortnite once again smashes it out of the park with varied and exciting prizes. Though perhaps not as chock-full as some of their previous seasons’ battle passes, the Season 8 pass still manages to include some excellent items; some that are cute, some that are awesome and some that are straight up ridiculous. I mean, honestly; a Banana skin, I ask you? What exactly are the Epic Games crew smoking?! The skins in Fortnite continue to improve with each new season, not only looking better designed in general but now also including customisable styles on a handful of the more popular skins for that personal touch. Between the weapon and vehicle skins, the backpacks, the gliders, the contrails, the pets, and – of course – the dances and emotes, Fortnite’s season eight battle pass allows for a level of personalisation in game that while not necessarily a unique feature is still quite frankly impressive. It not only works in that it brings in revenue for Epic Games, it also enables those who play Fortnite to set goals for themselves as over the course of the season they try to earn that one particular item that really stands out for them. The consistently great content keeps players coming back for more.
Unfortunately, Apex Legends’ first Battle Pass is not quite as exciting. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare the two – Fortnite has had eight seasons and two years of practice to come out with the content filled pass currently available. Apex’s first Battle Pass on the other hand feels rather rushed, as though they didn’t quite expect their game to be quite so popular and the demand for a battle pass to be quite as high as it was prior to the start of Season one. No doubt, if you’ve already been playing Apex and want something to work towards, the pass is likely worth the money; Apex allow back-dated earning, meaning you could be level thirty something when you buy the battle pass, and you’d get all the items you would have earned as you levelled. This is, quite frankly, an excellent move in terms of gamer experience and looking after the Apex community. But the items available throughout the Battle Pass just don’t pack the punch that I was wanting. With over a hundred prizes to earn, items range from skins for weapons and for Legends, voice lines, banner frames, badges, apex loot packs, trackers (showing how many wins, kills, etc you have as a character), and more. If a lot of that seems like filler to you, then I’m glad I’m not the only one. Despite the sheer volume of items available, it unfortunately doesn’t feel like I’m getting many items that I actually want, and a lot of it seems like it’s just one step away from being duplicates. For example, all of the Legends had a voice-line that commented on the new opening season; these quips honestly felt rather like a first-year university essay – it was almost the exact same line with the slightest of variations repeated over and over again. The only differences seemed to be in the (admittedly very good) voice acting. The weapon and character skins (likely the most sought-after items) could also do with a bit more oomph; though there was the odd standouts (such as the legendary tier weapon skins for the Havoc rifle), the majority simply don’t look very well designed and absolutely pale in comparison with the excellent base character looks and the in-game world.
As I have mentioned, there was a lot of interest in Apex very quickly, so perhaps the Respawn team thought they would have more time to work on the Season One pass before release. As it is, I’m hoping that they are taking note of the mixed reception that this battle pass has received and are already working on something great for the second season. Respawn Entertainment have released a brilliant game; I think it’s only fitting that the battle pass content within the game is equally brilliant. Personally, I also think that they shouldn’t be afraid to stray from the wasteland grunge aesthetic they’ve currently got going on; while it’s a great way to set the atmosphere of the game, the style itself doesn’t lend itself to interesting skins (too much brown and grey), which is something I think they would be smart to focus on. I think that it’s important that Apex steps up and really works on the pass prizes for next season, bringing more variety and better designed items for players to earn. I think that we have seen that a good Battle Pass in Royale style games is vital to the success of the game; unless there is a variety of game modes available to keep things interesting, the rinse and repeat style gameplay can tend to run dry if the players don’t have something worthwhile to work towards. A good Battle Pass assists with player retention and can help to create a sense of progression in a game with no linear plot.
All up, picking which is the better game between Fortnite and Apex Legends is a bit like standing on the middle of a seesaw. On one hand, Fortnite consistently provides new, interesting content – the seesaw dips. On the other hand, Apex’s gameplay is fast paced and satisfying as hell – the seesaw rises again. My opinion, with each consideration, is swayed. They’re both fun, they both look great (though in very different ways), they both have active communities, and – perhaps most importantly, on my student budget – they’re both very accessible games: by which I mean not only that the mechanics of each are easy to learn (but hard to master), but also – the base game is free. And you can’t really complain there, can you?
When it came right down to it though, however much I enjoy the sheer insanity that is Fortnite, and despite the fact that it still clearly conquers in terms of content and player numbers… I’m just honestly more excited about Apex Legends. The different Legends allow for different play styles, and I appreciate having some variety (and some diversity!) within a game. As someone who finds character connection in media important, I really appreciate that we get a bit more of a sense of who these Legends are through their design and their voice-lines. Visually, Apex Legends looks great, the gameplay is rapid and enjoyable, and honestly, I just tend to prefer first person shooters over third person. While I think that Epic Games has pretty much perfected how to keep a gaming community entertained with consistently good content, I’m hoping that Respawn Entertainment will take notes and will keep the updates and their focus on gamer experience coming. They’ve started strong – let’s see if they can keep it up.