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Apex Legends: Launch of Call of Duty: Warzone raises the stakes

Published: 22:32, 28 March 2020
Updated: 16:27, 29 March 2020
Respawn
Hammond Robotics drilling into World's Edge in Apex Legends.
Nothing says environmental safety like a giant laser.

Having been criticised over lack of content in seasons past, Apex Legends' dev team started 2020 with a bang, going from experimental to innovative sometimes in a matter of days. But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked.

Just kidding, we're not saying Infinity Ward are the Fire Nation, even if they are on fire at the moment. Interestingly, both were founded by Vince Zampella, whose not-so-amicable split with Activision worked out for everyone, especially players.

Back to the matter at hand - exploding onto the market with a combination of a familiar battle royale formula and innovative team-based mechanics, Apex Legends quickly found itself punching way above its weight.

Once the honeymoon phase wore off, though, the Apex Legends community quickly produced the first edition of the main contention points, quite a few of which are yet to be addressed.

The recurring concerns tend to feature skill-based matchmaking (SBMM), Peacekeeper, muzzle flash, Wraith, Peacekeeper, Wraith with a Peacekeeper, Wraith without a Peacekeeper, R-301, Wingman, Kings Canyon, netcode and the list goes on.

Just a few weeks into the launch and Warzone's content updates are already used along with superior server performance as final nails in the Apex Legends coffin. 

So, how much of a threat does Call of Duty: Warzone pose to Apex Legends? Is it even fair to compare Respawn's youthful battle royale to an iconic FPS franchise, which is solely responsible for 80 per cent of the US' Top 10 Best-Belling Games of the Decade? It's probably not, but we will anyway.

Respawn Entertainment Apex Legends - Octane Edition skin Apex Legends - Octane Edition skin

Going from rags to riches was not without its drawbacks for Apex Legends, most notably the incessant nagging at what many a player saw as Respawn's unwillingness to emulate Fortnite's content development schedule. 

Epic's three decades of experience and at least three times the manpower is rarely brought up, but it's important to look at the bright side. Being compared to Infinity Ward is a direct upgrade - only 200 people more? Easy!

It's certainly too early to be comparing content, but a mere look at the manpower and it's safe to assume that Call of Duty: Warzone would win in the output department. Superior numbers usually mean more raw content. 

In terms of gameplay, Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone and Apex Legends are the battle royales at the moment, each with a uniquely distinct flavour. Crudely reducing them to construction systems, realistic warfare and synergistic teamwork does well to highlight each team's specific focus and direction - these are distinctly different markets.

Respawn artwork showing the original Apex Legends characters The original Apex Legends characters

With a clear accent on teamplay, Apex Legends is distinct without even trying. If there's one thing where Respawn are head and shoulders above the competition it has to be the abundance of character. Name me a battle royale with a memorable cast? Heck, they could give RPGs a run for their money.

Apex innovated a lot in this direction, from jump masters to risking life and limb to recover and respawn complete strangers, creating a unique experience of battle royale and class-based shooters like Overwatch and Team Fortress 2.

For all the pointing at Warzone's Apex-killing modes, Respawn's unwillingness to add Duos and Solos is a creative direction that sets the game apart from the rest.

Fans keep reminding that Infinity Ward won't use SBMM, but attempts at discussing it in Apex Legends have mostly been pointless. Respawn did say that the system has been in place for longer than the players seem to think, but they've been quite reluctant from discussing it further.

EA Apex Legends map, Capitol City Apex Legends, the new and divided Capitol City

Much has been said about Apex's servers, so we'll take a quick look at how the two compare. Apex Legends runs at 20Hz tick rates, whereas Call of Duty: Warzone runs at merely 12Hz, i.e. 20 vs. 12 server updates per second. Note that this severely oversimplifies the concept of netcode, but it's enough of an indicator of how accurate the servers should be. 

Unfortunately, Apex Legends' numerical advantage doesn't translate to performance, as its server hiccups often drop players and leave you battling 3-person teams in forced Duos mode. Matchmaking with friends can be glitchy, especially if they're prone to crashing out to desktop.

In our personal experience, Call of Duty: Warzone's lower tick rates have been surprisingly solid and stable. Had there not been for a single high-ping scenario - this would've been a clean sheet.

The resulting performance depends on many more variables mind you, be it frames per second of your machine or connection quality. Both games most likely feature specialised netcode tweaks and optimisations, which renders any comparisons useless at best.

In other words, the answer is not simply cranking a server dial to 60Hz and calling it a day, but rather testing and iterating. We don't see Respawn doing this anytime soon, but it's pretty clear that their server performance is holding the game back at the moment.

It's a bit ironic that both of the games suffer from occasionally missing footsteps, audio glitches and poor directional cues, although it's not nearly as severe as some claim. Nevertheless, both are miles away from Overwatch for instance, whose audio doubles up as radar, sonar and Spider-sense.

EA Apex Legends, Octane's knife heirloom Apex Legends, Octane's heirloom

Overall, there's no doubt that the launch of Call of Duty: Warzone has shrunk the battle royale pie somewhat, but Apex Legends players have very little to worry about. Respawn's innovative approach has made the game a giant in the genre, with enough of an original twist to make it a distinct experience worth coming back for.

While it's pretty easy to assume that implementing popular modes of the moment is the best way forward, it's also a sure way towards becoming a clone. Apex Legends has many qualities worth retaining, and it's actually refreshing seeing them stick to their guns.

If there's anything worth highlighting, though, it's that Apex Legends is due for some server work. It currently stands out as its main contention point at the moment, and that's not great exactly great news if they're to pit their wits against the Warzone team.

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A man with an axe running through a forest in SCUM
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