Every few months, Respawn Entertainment claims that Apex Legends is getting its biggest update yet. It’s usually not an exaggeration; the battle royale game continues to grow with each passing season. However, it’s hard not to roll one’s eyes when the studio starts hyping up its next chapter as a game-changer.
This time around, Respawn isn’t lying. Apex Legends is receiving its most significant evolution to date for its ninth season, titled Legacy. In addition to a new jetpack-wielding character and the game’s first bow weapon, the multiplayer shooter is getting a new permanent mode called Arenas. It’s a complete change from the base game we’ve known for years. Arenas isn’t a battle royale mode at all; it’s a team-based elimination mode that looks a lot like Counter Strike: Global Offensive or Valorant.
After some hands-on time with the new update, it’s clear that Apex Legends is ready to grow past the trend that spawned it. The Arenas mode might just transform it from “one of the best battle royale games” to “one of the best shooters,” period.
Apex Legends’ new Arenas mode is quite different from the normal battle royale experience, but it will be familiar for many shooter fans. Rather than throwing 100 players onto a huge map, it’s a team-based three-versus-three elimination mode with short rounds. The goal is to be the first team to win three rounds. Sound familiar? Just wait for this next bit.
Each round, players get a certain amount of in-game currency to spend on weapons, abilities, and items. Players can buy up to two weapons each round and upgrade them with the kind of mods that one would usually have to scavenge for. Saving some money one round means that they’ll bank some extra cash for the next. By round three or four, players will be able to go all-out with a full arsenal if they’ve managed their credits well.
Yep, it’s Counter Strike.
The obvious similarities might elicit some early giggles from the jaded genre faithful early on, but Arenas is no joke. It’s a much faster take on other games in the genre that puts Apex Legends’ best mechanics to good use. Respawn Entertainment sees Apex as a shooting game above all else and Arenas emphasizes just how great the core mechanics of the game are when divorced from the battle royale structure.
There’s one element that does carry over from the main game. Rounds aren’t timed, but they do feature a closing circle that shrinks the battlefield every minute or so. That keeps games moving very quickly and encourages players to take full advantage of Apex’s excellent mobility. Rather than waiting around to scout out our adversaries, my teammates and I would literally slide into firefights with guns blazing.
Character abilities are also fair game in this mode, though players will have to buy their ultimate or individual powers each round like they would a weapon. It’s a great fit for the “economy” shooter model. When the odds start to stack up against one team, they can go all-in on abilities to get the upper hand.
It helps that Respawn has done great work over the years when it comes to creating diverse skills for each character. In my first round, a teammate immediately dropped Horizon’s launchpad next to a tall building. That allowed all three of us to jump on top and spot our enemies on the ground below. The next round, I knew to buy a sniper instead of a shotgun so I could make the most of our character loadout.
What’s most notable here is that this isn’t a brand new game. Arenas exists within the standard Apex Legends launcher. Respawn could have released this as an entirely new, stand-alone product as it plans to do with its upcoming mobile game. Instead, it’s turning Apex Legends into a one-stop shop for competitive shooting fans. The expansion past battle royale sets the game up for success. Even if Fortnite-style shooters fall out of fashion in the next few years, Apex Legends could very well survive thanks to clean pivots like this. It might just be the last one standing when the trend finally fades.
As someone who’s always been intimidated by the skill ceiling of games like Counter Strike, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed what Arenas offers already. It feels a little easier to pick up, or at least more immediately fun to tool around with. The bottom line is that both moving and shooting have always felt great in Apex Legends. The battle royale structure has always been an excuse to spend time with some genuinely pleasurable mechanics. With Arenas, I get to spend less time hunting for weapons and more time actually firing them.
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