Apex Legends Mobile review – battle royale sticks the landing on phones
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You know the feeling, right? It’s like when the US makes a facsimile of your favourite UK show, or your most cherished childhood book gets the Hollywood treatment. You’re excited, because getting more of something you love can never be a bad thing. But you’re nervous, too, because the reason why you love it may be different to the reason others do. I get that same sense of uneasy delight each time I find out a game I love gets a port or a remaster. I’m at once both giddy and a touch apprehensive, and I’ve learned – mostly the hard way – to hold my giddiness firmly in check when a favourite franchise gets the mobile treatment.
In Respawn’s defence, Apex Legends Mobile isn’t a port. Built from the ground up for mobile, Respawn takes all I love about its irrepressible battle royale – its striking style, excellent sound design, fabulous cast, and delightful gunplay – and wraps it up in flashy new threads designed specifically for mobile devices. Not all of it lands – particularly its cluttered UI and complex progression and currency systems; more on those later – but there’s a lot to enjoy here, even if you’re new to playing shooters on mobile.
For those unfamiliar with Apex Legends, it’s an enjoyable twist on the team-based battle royale formula, offering the usual scramble for weapons, a shrinking ring, and battle to the death, albeit with a charming roster of characters – Legends – that each sport their own special abilities. The majority of them are well-balanced and bring something different to the battlefield, depending upon your comfort zone and gunplay preferences.
In the mobile version, we get the standard battle royale mode alongside a ranked variation, Arenas, and Team Deathmatch, and you play on slightly-trimmed versions of the excellent maps you may already be familiar with. Ten Legends – most of whom hail from the game’s OG lineup – are up for grabs: Bangalore, Bloodhound, Caustic, Gibraltar, Lifeline, Mirage, Octane, Pathfinder, and Wraith.
The tenth is Fade and, as a mobile exclusive, is undoubtedly the biggest draw for Apex fans. Sporting a Flash Back tactical – something not dissimilar to Wraith’s interdimensional Void or Tracer’s ability in Overwatch – he can zip back in time to a previous location to escape sticky situations, whilst his Passive speeds up that all-important slide. His Ultimate is particularly intriguing, though, given it enables him to chuck a throwable that gives his squadmates brief invulnerability and temporarily prevents opponents from dealing damage, too.
The modes are all pretty standard fare, particularly if you play a lot of shooters, but I’ve always thought Apex’s biggest draw is its main battle royale mode, and Mobile doesn’t change my mind. They quite sensibly unlock as you work your way through the ranks, enabling you to get used to the speed and scope of one match type before letting you attempt another. There’s no crossplay, but I’m not going to complain about that – if there had been, my screenshots would be nowt but death throes.
While the game looks surprisingly similar to the version I enjoy on console, the control scheme is definitely not. There is an effective and comprehensive tutorial when you first jump in – Mirage takes you through all the basics with his usual dollop of charisma – and while it would be unfair to drop my issues squarely at the developer’s feet, I don’t think all my mistakes were purely user-error, either. Even though early lobbies are stuffed with plentiful bots to give you a head start whilst you get accustomed to the controls and gameplay, no amount of forgiving AI can counter the frustration of bumping the wrong button, firing a stray shot, and accidentally revealing my location to nearby opponents.
For that very reason, I never did fully acclimate to Apex Legends Mobile’s on-screen control scheme, not even with several matches under my belt. Maybe the real estate on my iPhone 13 is just too dinky – I had more luck on my (much older) iPad – but with so much information squeezed into so tight a space, commands you’d usually trigger via your controller or mouse/keyboard – crouch, jump, punch and so on – are vying for space alongside your mini-map, special ability statuses, and kill feed, etc.
That said, the screen controls are fully customisable – never a bad thing – which means you can reposition pretty much anything you want to streamline the UI to your precise configuration, but even that wasn’t quite enough to cancel out finger fumbles and button mis-hits.
Thankfully, bluetoothing your choice of controller – in my case, it was a DualSense – mitigated most of these frustrations, even though controller support isn’t quite fully there just yet. It still resulted in a few annoyances – I could only use my controller in matches and not, say, on the home screen – but even choppy controller use is better than none.
There are a couple of mobile-only features, too, to make it more forgiving on smaller screens, particularly if you’re transitioning from the original game. These include a visual indicator when you’re getting shot – a fab innovation, especially if you’re playing someplace noisy or have forgotten your headphones – and a default command to automatically collate loot, which is as cool as it sounds, not least because the backpacks in Apex Legends Mobile are roomier than those found in the main game and you can carry more ammo. You’ll also find you can switch between first- and third-person perspectives, too, which is an interesting if puzzling addition, because I don’t know why someone wouldn’t use the added visibility of third-person POV in a shooter if it’s available.
Though Apex has always shirked hyper-realism for a bright, cartoony aesthetic, I’m impressed at how faithfully the Legends’ world has been adapted to fit the small screen.
Perhaps most notably of all, though, there’s now a perk system for your Legends, and I suspect this’ll be of particular interest to existing fans. I’ve been playing Apex Legends Mobile for a few weeks now, though, and I’m still really conflicted about it. Although Apex has never been a completely level playing field – players that brilliantly utilise the Legends’ skills often get the better of me no matter what crapola weapon they’re wielding – Mobile offers Mastery Points through which you can unlock and equip new perks, such as enabling Lifeline to restore an additional 25 Health for both her and her fallen comrade once revived.
While you can do this without spending a penny and you can only simultaneously equip three, it does feel as though it’ll give time-rich players more advantages on the battlefield, and that kind of thing always makes me uncomfortable. Your ability to win a match should come down to skill and RNG looting luck and not because you’ve had the time to binge-unlock all of your favourite character’s perks.
Talking of uncomfortable: the challenges, currency, and progression menus are incredibly overwhelming here, and dangerously close to off-putting. There’s just so much of it, everywhere, all the time, as well as the obligatory battle pass, loot box-esque mechanics, and a confusing smorgasbord of currencies – monetary or otherwise – for you to disentangle.
Yes, all the rewards are cosmetic and nothing (besides the perk system, anyway) gives you an advantage in-game. But with not one but two premium battle passes and numerous other time-limited challenges endlessly competing for your attention, it’s just an ugly extension bolted on to an otherwise clean and polished experience.
In a lot of ways, I suspect Apex Legends Mobile will be what many had hoped the Switch port would be. I experienced very little in the way of bugs, glitches or slowdowns once the game moved out of testing providing I had a reasonable signal and/or wifi connection, and though Apex has always shirked hyper-realism for a bright, cartoony aesthetic, I’m impressed at how faithfully the Legends’ world has been adapted to fit the small screen. And while I can’t say I have any compulsion to go back to playing with on-screen buttons – it’s controllers all the way for me now – I’m delighted that Apex Legends Mobile dropped, shocked and rocked me in all the right ways.