We’ll start with a little bit of a timeline. Apex Legends came out on February 4 as part of a coordinated influencer campaign with a bit of a trick play, when everyone thought for a second that this game would debut with a Super Bowl commercial. The influencer campaign–combined with the fast-paced, tight shooter controls that developer Respawn is known for–was a massive success, propelling Respawn’s new battle royale game to the millions. Within a month it was at 50 million players, far outpacing what competitor Fortnite managed for its launch. Then, fatigue set in: Fortnite was still churning out content at an insane pace while Apex Legends went weeks without adding anything new, particularly as the developers worked to handle the massive influx of players. This came to a head with the launch of Season 1 on March 19th, which was widely considered to be a little anemic and underwhelming, especially when compared to Fortnite. The official start to Season 1 started a kind of hibernation period, but now we’ve got Season 2. And things are looking a little bit better.
To start with, the central element of any Season in a game like this is a battle pass, and Apex delivered much better cosmetics this time around. If people are going to grind 100 tiers of cosmetics, they need to be worth earning. Season 1 just didn’t cut it, but Season 2 has some actually cool stuff in there, even if it’s not quite still on the level of a Fortnite season. We also got some daily and weekly challenges to help us unlock tiers: they’re not the most elaborate things on the planet, but even asking someone to play as a specific character for a few matches offers a structure to a game mode that can wind up feeling repetitive otherwise. We also got a new legend, Wattson, who strikes a fine balance of being easy to understand and difficult to master. Ditto for a new weapon.
But that’s not it. The Season also brought dinosaur-like creatures into the Arena, adding some of those much-praised battle royale map changes in a way that feels at least as dynamic than what Fortnite offers with new seasons. We also got a ranked mode, which helps augment what the game is now developing as a more hardcore reputation within the battle royale space. It all adds up to excitement, something the game has been missing for a long time. The thing about Apex is that new content is formed around a solid and engaging core: it’s a battle royale game with Respawn’s unmatched mastery of simple shooter mechanics, and so we don’t necessarily need a new weapon every week to get people hooked. We just need enough structure to make sure people don’t burn out on the same game mode over and over again.
Apex Legends is never going to be as big as Fortnite. It doesn’t have Fortnite’s focus on non-combat objectives, its cartoonish style, dancing-friendly third-person perspective or its straightforward premise, and that means it’s just always going to have a more limited reach than Fortnite. It’s more of a hardcore game at the end of the day, rewarding players for twitch controls hones through years of shooters as well as the ability to coordinate different legends and their unique abilities. That doesn’t mean it isn’t great.
Season 2 for Apex Legends gives me hope for the future. In a simple way, it shows that we can get a new influx of content capable of getting the player base excited. But it also feels manageable in a way that Fortnite’s waterfall of content doesn’t always: this isn’t four new legends in a season, new vehicles that completely shift gameplay or a litany of limited time modes and one-time-events. That stuff is fine for Fortnite, but Apex is at its best when its a more tight and controlled experience, and this Season fits well into that idea.