If you cast your mind back to January of this year, Apex Legends hadn’t even been announced. Titanfall 2, Respawn’s previous title, had been a commercial flop - despite being one of this generation’s finest shooters. Within a month of launch, the game hit 50 million players - drawing them in with it’s unique squad-based mechanics and buttery smooth gunplay ripped almost entirely from Titanfall 2.
There have been wobbles, of course - Season One’s battle pass notably felt like a box tick exercise rather than offering worthwhile content, but Apex Legends has remained almost top of the pile since launch. In fact, back in July it was reported that 8 - 10 million players still jump in every week.
We say almost, because Fortnite has been top dog since displacing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds all the way back in 2017. Epic’s free-to-play experiment certainly paid off, with the game reaching almost 11 million concurrent players during the Marshmello concert in February of this year (Apex Legends’ release month), but it’s now totally eclipsed that number with the launch of Chapter 2.
That launch saw the game go offline for 48 hours, with 42.8 million viewers logging in to Twitch to find out what on earth was going on - and that isn’t including YouTube streams or those on Microsoft’s Mixer platform. This was a cultural phenomenon taking things to the next level.
With the new seasons of each game syncing up, you have to wonder - what’s next? The commonality here is in the way both games have jettisoned their original maps. Fortnite has long remixed its battlefield over the course of multiple seasons, with meteors destroying parts of it, ice covering areas and plenty more besides - but this is the first time the game has finally let go.
Apex Legends on the other hand hasn’t been around as long, but because its map isn’t as malleable as Fortnite’s, it almost feels like a bigger deal. Structures aren’t knocked down to be rebuilt in Apex Legends, so players have learned how to engage opponents in these small vignettes - something they’ll need to re-learn when they land on new map World’s Edge.
Welcome to World's Edge. Season 3 – Meltdown is now live. 🔥❄ pic.twitter.com/RBxxNaaTJB— Apex Legends (@PlayApex) October 1, 2019
Where Fortnite Chapter 2 surprised many is in the addition of entirely new mechanics within the game. Being able to swim isn’t the most game-changing addition, but being able to fish for health, jump into haystacks and dumpsters to surprise opponents, or use a new vehicle type (boats) in combat and traversal feels like a healthy tweak to the existing meta.
Meanwhile, Apex Legends remains uncompromising in its vision for Battle Royale - of course, there are always new weapons and balancing tweaks going on, but for the most part players still have access to the same toolbox of guns, grenades, and fluid mobility.
Both seasons will likely finish by the end of 2019, so what then? The narrative around Apex Legends’ new map has been that it’s a temporary change (even in the game’s lore) - presumably so players can return to (a hopefully different version of) King’s Canyon in the future. However, with the game only ten months old - it feels a little early to be aiming at nostalgia.
We could be wrong, of course, but short of new legends, weapons, and limited-time modes, it feels like Apex Legends could be forced to play things somewhat safe. We’re not saying it needs the ability to fish, but it does feel like it could eventually need something fresh mechanics-wise to keep players coming back. We’d imagine it was a rough day at EA when Fortnite began stealing the collective consciousness of the gaming industry and mainstream press around the same time that Apex Legends began season three.
On the other hand, the last two years have shown Epic isn’t afraid to take risks with its cartoony Battle Royale. From planes, to mechs, and now to a whole spate of surprising new game mechanics, Fortnite is the closest anyone has come to a game that gives players a reason to return week on week, with some of the longer-lasting mysteries unfolding over months (think of the meteor and how we were SO sure it was going to hit Tilted Towers - RIP).
One thing is for sure - with both games costing absolutely zero to be able to jump in and try, it’s the gamers that are the real winners here. Both offer unique experiences that cater to different fanbases, and we can’t wait to see what the battle has in store for us next.