Apex Legends' Season 2 provides an almost perfect refresh
Stuff of Legends.
I've never cowered behind a dinosaur leg before.
I'm not convinced that's what these gigantic, groaning beasts are designed for, but - as is often the case when it comes to battle royales - I'll take what I can get. The buildings I knew so well here are gone, trampled by this beast and its clumsy footwork. Whereas I'd usually duck immediately behind, or into, a building for cover, much of Cascade's been flattened, so I'm forced to use the gargantuan leg of a nearby Leviathan for cover instead. It doesn't end well for me - that's also often the case - but at least my untimely death was at the hands of a warring Legend and not the feet of an angry dinosaur.
I'm not sure what I was expecting from Apex Legends' Season 2, but the arrival of these groaning beasts and their flying kin - called Flyers, somewhat unimaginatively - wasn't it. They've stood at the periphery of Apex Legends since the game dropped earlier this year, only back then they were little more than curious background animations chiefly only noticeable when you leapt from the plane, your puffs of neon dust streaming behind you. Fast forward six months, however, and these behemoths are now staggering across King's Canyon and devastating the landscape in their wake.
The cinematic introduction offers a glimpse into the catalyst behind King's Canyon's catastrophe. A mysterious individual - widely speculated to be the yet-to-be-released Legend, Crypto - deactivated the forcefield that safeguarded King's Canyon from the beasties around it.
This place was ready for change, though. There's no doubt your success in Apex is intrinsically tied to how well you know your surroundings - when every second counts, a single zip wire can be the dividing line between life and death - but the single map with its recycled hot spots and snipe shots had certainly begun to feel a little stale. Whilst sometimes it feels like you could trek for days in PUBG's inaugural Erangel map and not bump into another soul, Apex Legends' tighter, denser King's Canyon packs more action into a smaller space, inevitably leading to quicker matches and significantly more combat owing to its smaller lobby. But rather than ape PUBG's approach of dropping new maps into rotation, Respawn took a leaf from Epic's book and simply made some creative changes to the current world instead.
The charred, decimated forest is now flourishing with lush, green life. Settlements have been destroyed and rebuilt. Devastated bridges lie in splinters at the bottom of canyons. It's everything we know, but it's paradoxically different, too.
Sadly, beyond howling at the sky - usually when I'm trying to determine what direction enemy footfalls are coming from - and acting as impromptu cover, the Leviathans don't bring very much to the game. You can't land on them nor be easily squished - although I have seen it happen! - and right now they seem rooted to the same areas (but will possibly relocate with subsequent updates, perhaps?). If you're very lucky, you might occasionally find high tier loot hidden underfoot. Literally.
The flying variant, however, offer small tactical advantages for those of you brave enough to give away your position and shoot a loot box from their talons. They'd begun sweeping across the map a few days before Season 2 officially rolled out, their spoils carried in crates seemingly - and a little inexplicably - donated by a pal from either your or one of your squaddies' Friend Lists.
There are also other Flyers secreted around the map, too. Trapped in crates, they'll become highly agitated should you approach them, slamming their wings against the walls of their cage and screaming if you get too close - something to be avoided if there are enemies skulking nearby. Right now it's unclear if these captives will ever get to stretch their wings again - or if we'll discover who captured them and why - but despite our best efforts to free them, they remain locked up tight.
Also new to Apex is its menu of daily and weekly challenges. I usually default, somewhat lazily, to Lifeline - chiefly because there was previously no way to showcase your combined lifetime stats - but these challenges encourage meaningful experimentation, and offer XP boosts and rewards for changing it up with different characters, weapons, and even areas of the map, ranging from things like "Deal 200 Damage in Bunker" to "Play 1 game as Lifeline". Weekly quests, on the other hand, are a little meatier, and may take several matches to complete.
The problem is, it's not a particularly collegial way to play - a strange advent given the collaborative focus so necessary for other aspects of the game. With three different players all looking to satisfy a smorgasbord of different challenges that routinely change as your play session progresses, it makes deciding where to land - or camp or fight - tricky, particularly if you're playing with random teammates... a fact you simply can't avoid if you don't have a full squad of two pals to play with.
While there's not been much change to Apex's weaponry - recent tweaks have mostly already rolled out with season one - there is a boost in the number and scope of the mods and attachments you'll find scattered about. New light machine gun, L-Star, also makes its debut, a hot little supply-drop-only number that fires rounds large enough to punch open doors. Trigger-spamming will cause it to overheat, though, and a lack of refillable ammo - like the Mastiff and co, you only get what's in the clip - can feel too big a gamble with just two holsters at your disposal.
That's not all that's new, either. Season 2 hails Apex's first ranked mode - something I'm resolutely steering clear of right now, even though I'm delighted we finally have penalties for early/rage-quitters - and a refreshed Battle Pass that promises to make good the lacklustre offerings of its predecessor. You'll also find that whilst it's easier to outrun Apex's ever-decreasing containment ring, the damage you'll get from mooching around beyond its walls has been significantly boosted, so be careful if you're hanging back on a loot hunt. There's also an all-new - and desperately needed - lifetime stats screen which helpfully (if incorrectly at the moment?) collates the wins, kills, and achievements of all your characters on one handy screen.
It's to Respawn's credit that each character brings a little something different to the game, with each class carefully balanced to ensure no one set of abilities dominates the combat. Wattson - Apex Legends' latest recruit - certainly seems no exception.
Story lore intimates she's the daughter of Apex Games' lead electrical engineer, and was originally tasked to develop the Apex Games' Modified Containment Ring - the orange storm that chases players into ever-smaller circles as the match progresses. Her tactical ability, Perimeter Security, enables you to create electrified fences that can be used to fortify your environments, whilst her passive skill sees ultimate accelerants fully charge her Ultimate, an electrified pylon that destroys incoming projectiles as well as repairs the damaged shields of both her and her squadmates.
The downside is that - much like Caustic - Wattson isn't much cop if you're approaching the end-game and the circle has finished up outdoors. Find yourself in a shrunken circle and inside a building, however, and her perimeters can be incredibly useful, with some particularly devilish players already deploying them as barriers to prevent teammates from swooping in and reviving fallen Legends.
It's not been a wholly trouble-free roll-out, though. The chief casualty of Season 2's new content thus far seems to be stability, at least on PlayStation 4. Though rock steady at launch the game's become increasingly wobbly as the months, and Seasons, have progressed, and right now we're experiencing frequent disconnections in a single session, with all squad members affected by the crashes.
When you do manage to successfully connect, however, Season 2 is shaping up nicely. Poised almost equidistant between Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Apex Legends undoubtedly hit the ground running. Yet despite blending the best aspects of each of those battle royale titans - Fortnite's humour, for instance, and PUBG's grittier tactics - Respawn has created a BR clone with a personality and class all of its own. Providing Respawn can steady the ship and curb those frustrating disconnections, Season 2 looks set to capitalise on an already impressive foundation.