Just when I thought I was out, Apex Legends Mobile pulls me back in

Apex Legends Mobile impressions

Apex Legends Mobile impressions

I’m old enough and self-aware enough to know that I probably shouldn’t play competitive online shooters anymore. And it’s not because they can be insidious with their FOMO skins and seasons. I shouldn’t play them anymore because I have an addictive personality when it comes to the genre. If any of these types of games find their way onto my consoles — be it Fortnite or Overwatch or Splatoon — I risk losing myself and my free time to feed the insatiable obsession that arises after just one match. I will seriously spend an entire weekend planted in front of my television playing these games like I’m a zombie who feeds on headshots if left to my own devices.

The only place I should experience these types of games is on mobile. Because while mobile shooters can be excellent in their design and execution, I generally don’t have it in me to devote more than an hour at a time to any one of them. My phone gets hot, my hands get cramped, and I really start to long for the 4K clarity of my big screen after staring at my phone for an inordinate amount of time. If anything, mobile shooters have been something of a nicotine patch for my competitive shooter addiction, something to feed the need without pulling me back into a wholly unhealthy habit.

Unfortunately, Apex Legends Mobile is not a nicotine patch. Nor is it nicotine gum, a lozenge, or that spray that I occasionally see at drug stores. Nope, this is the good shit my body craves, and if I don’t delete it off my phone soon, I’m going to fall right back into my pack-a-day habit.

Apex Legends Mobile is the work of Respawn and Lightspeed Studios, a Chinese outfit under the Tencent umbrella that struck gold when it developed PUBG Mobile, the most played mobile game ever. The craftsmanship Lightspeed brought to that shooter is in abundance here as the core of the Apex Legends formula has been carefully recreated for mobile devices. It’s important to know this isn’t the full experience of what’s available right now on console and PC. Players have access to only a handful of the original legends — Bloodhound, Gibraltar, Lifeline, Pathfinder, Wraith, Bangalore, Mirage, Octane, Caustic — as well as the newcomer Fade, who is exclusive to the mobile version and also looks like he flunked out of the Cyber Lin Kuei.

As this is a free-to-play game, you’re going to have to do some unlocking before you get access to all the characters. The more you level up your player profile, the more legends you’ll add to your roster. There are several you can unlock more quickly by completing menial tasks, like linking your profile and the sort. Because Apex Legends Mobile is a separate game from what’s found on console and PC, don’t expect to see any of your unlocks here. Everyone is starting from the ground floor. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, well, Newcastle was just added to the flagship version of the game and he looks like a badass RoboCop. If you are willing to start at the bottom, there is a damn great game waiting for you.

Apex Legends Mobile

Familiar fun found on your phone

Respawn and Lightspeed have done Apex Legends justice with this mobile conversion, bringing along most of the elements we associate with the title to very small screens, including arena mode and two flavors of team deathmatch: base respawn and random respawn. The main draw, however, is still the battle royale where you’re hopping out in teams of three to the World’s Edge map (Kings Canyon will be added at a later date) to gun down enemies and search supply boxes that’ll turn your legend into a killing machine. The heavily lauded “ping system” is present, though, with touchscreen controls, it’s not quite as accurate as it is in the flagship version.

Thankfully, the developers have designed the touchscreen controls with a slew of customization options. You can change icon size and position, alter how the camera operates, and individualize the firing style for different weapon types. There are so many options to play with that I’ve actually modified my hud every day I’ve played the game, slowly tweaking it as I search for that optimal layout. The game also has native controller support with its own dedicated set of options.

I imagine a lot of people are wondering how this runs on mobile given the state of Apex Legends when it launched on Switch. I can’t speak for that version because, again, I have no self-control when it comes to these types of games, but Apex Legends Mobile runs exceptionally well on my Google Pixel 6. With the normal graphics setting, you will have to contend with some low-resolution assets and rendering objects in the distance. Beyond that, it still looks pretty good. If you have a powerful enough device, there are UltraHD and ExtremeHD graphics options that clean everything up, but don’t be surprised if your phone heats up to Las Vegas temperatures with those settings. At the other end of the spectrum is the Smooth graphics option. This makes the game look like it’s running on a Dell as old as the first Obama administration, but it’s still perfectly playable. Enemy combatants are highlighted in bright neon orange, so even when they are at a great distance, you’ll still be able to see and shoot at them.

Apex Legends Mobile

And really, that shooting feels so damn good in this game. Shots fired out of nearly every gun pack a punch, and those that manage to hit your opponents are damn satisfying. A few of the gun types, like shotguns and sniper rifles, required some adjustments in the control options before they became viable in play. There are some guns I still don’t like — I’m looking at you, Mozambique — but I’ve found my go-to firearms for the console version of Apex Legends are still my go-to firearms here.

Let’s talk money

In terms of monetization, it’s your standard mobile shooter marketplace. There is a monthly paid Premium Pass that costs 799 pieces of Syndicate Gold, which will set you back about $8. If you drop 1599 gold pieces, you can get even more rewards with Premium Pass Plus. Some skins can be purchased directly with Syndicate Gold while others are subject to Apex Pack gacha pulls. Right now, there is a Midnight Red skin for Wraith that costs 390 gold pieces, which would require a $5 purchase of the currency. As for the Apex Packs, a 10-pull costs 1400 gold pieces, so expect to pay about $15 for it. You can earn common Apex Packs with the free battle pass as well as seasonal currency that can be used to buy limited-time items. Finally, Flux you find on the battlefield can be used to craft news skins and other unlockables. When Apex Legends first launched, one of the most disappointing aspects of it was its collection of weak character skins. I’ll admit, this first season in Mobile is not that impressive, but if history is any indication, the skins will get better over time.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a free-to-play mobile shooter if there wasn’t some bullshit to contend with. And, like many of its competitors, the biggest source of frustration with Apex Legends Mobile lies with its menus and use of bots. Mobile has one of the most frustratingly obtuse menu systems in recent memory, and with so many events happening right now, I’m wasting a lot of time clicking on tiny icons just trying to unlock whatever the hell the little red dots are indicating I’ve unlocked. I have to imagine, with so many mobile games employing this perplexing style of menu design, that this is intentional; that some asshole in Silicon Valley once gave a speech encouraging everyone to make their menus as confusing as possible to increase player engagement. I won’t say it doesn’t work, but I am sick of it.

The second issue, bots in a competitive multiplayer mobile shooter, is pretty ubiquitous in the genre. Even a few years after its launch and overwhelming success, I still see complaints about bots in Call of Duty: Mobile. With Apex Legends Mobile, it’s pretty obvious my first several matches in any of its modes were against bots. And, while I’m sure there are those out there who are bowled over when they keep landing dubs in every match they play, I got bored with all that winning. It wasn’t until I started seeing real players out there in World’s Edge with their ridiculous accuracy and slightly racist usernames that I started to have fun with it. And once that fun started, it didn’t stop.

Apex Legends Mobile

Of all the battle royales on the market, there is none I took a liking to more than Apex Legends. Every design decision Respawn made with its flagship shooter spoke to the type of gamer I am. That’s why I had to delete it off my PS4. I just couldn’t live with myself if I spent another three-day holiday weekend sitting in front of my television reminding teammates that this is a team shooter and they should probably stop breaking away from the group the first chance they get.

I imagine that is why I’ve taken so strongly to its mobile counterpart, more so than any other mobile shooter I’ve played in the past year. This is, dare I say, the best smartphone shooter since TiMi Studio Group knocked it out of the park with Call of Duty: Mobile. It’s so good that, despite the responsible part of my brain telling me to delete it right now and move on, I think I’ll keep Apex Legends Mobile around for a bit. Is that a smart decision? Absolutely not. But hey, what’s the harm in indulging your addictions every once in a while?

CJ Andriessen
Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games.