Apex Legends proves it’s more than just a battle royale with its new 3v3 Arenas mode

Apex Legends: Legacy, the ninth season of the popular free-to-play shooter, is easily the biggest update for the game yet. Sure, we’ve had new characters released in the past, we’ve had whole new maps and new twists on the battle royale formula, but we’ve never had something that isn’t actually a battle royale…. until now.

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The new permanent Arenas mode is shaking things up by being not a battle royale. You don’t drop into a huge arena, you don’t have a gruelling fight to be the last team of three standing, this is a tight, small-scale competitive multiplayer mode designed to showcase the game’s gunplay and Legend abilities in the purest of settings.

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The set up is simple and familiar. Arenas pits two teams of three against one another in a round-based elimination mode, with the simple goal of wiping out the other team in order to take a round. While not as universal as a straight-up Team Deathmatch, it’s a mode that you’ll know from Valorant, CS:GO, and others.

Further Reading: Apex Legends: Legacy – Valkyrie, Bocek bow, Olympus changes and Arenas mode revealed

However, just as Apex Legends was a careful consideration of the genre up until that point, innovating in how it put squads first and foremost, introduced characters with abilities and pioneering the context-sensitive ping system for wordless communication, Arenas does the same for this style of competitive shooter. The emphasis throughout is on keeping each match feeling as close as possible, making sure that it always feels like there’s a chance to make a comeback and win.

For one thing, Arenas is smaller scale than Valorant or CS:GO, with just three players on each side keeping the same team dynamic that Apex has been built on from day one, and retaining the ability to revive a downed teammate. Then there’s the overall win conditions, where it’s the first team to three with a two-round lead that takes the match, and a 4-4 tie leading to a sudden death final round. It’s a relatively simple tweak but means that a dominant team will win quickly, while a team that’s behind can always turn things around with one or two round wins. No more suffering through a 5 round stomping.

Between each round, you have a buy phase, where you take a bundle of cash and pick out the guns and equipment you want for the next round. It’s a simplified, but more accessible system where, once again, the emphasis is on keeping a level playing field. Weapons aren’t carried over between rounds, but each round does provide more and more cash to spend on guns, upgrades and items, so by the end of a match you will be much more heavily kitted out than you were at the start. The only advantage you can gain and take from one round to the next is in grabbing some of the $200 supply points on the map to fill your wallet.

Through all of that, it means that the emphasis is really on the core gameplay of Apex Legends. Respawn has put the focus on trying to outfight the other team and not playing a metagame of cash management. It’s an idealised window into how team battles happen in the battle royale, with both teams fully aware that there’s an opponent, both having equal opportunities for loot, and starting on opposite sides of symmetrical arenas.

That immediately makes it a more cautious affair, starting with long-range poke damage from snipers, potential rotations around the map and sparing ability use as you try to take the enemy out. Abilities, by the way, are slightly more limited in Arenas. You have the same character picking screen at the start of a match, and will stick with those characters throughout. Instead of having abilities on a timer, however, you have limited uses through the match, additional charges and a character’s ultimate being purchased in the shop – you’ll have to choose between them and enhanced weapons.

For the launch of Arenas, Respawn has created a set of maps that either repurpose some of the more popular points of interest from the trio of maps found in the battle royale mode, or have created new maps in a similar vein. Artillery from the Kings Canyon map is an ideal symmetrical map with high ground, plenty of cover, ziplines and more, while the Party Crasher map is set in Olympus’ more opulent level design.

To say that Arenas shakes things up for Apex Legends is to put it mildly. It sees them step into another completely different first-person shooter subgenre, putting their own considered approach to game design into effect as they do so. The battle royale side to the game isn’t going away, with Season 9 introducing Valkyrie the new jet-pack equipped hero, a bow, and making big changes to the Olympus map, but if that genre really isn’t your bag as an FPS player, Arenas might be just what Apex Legends needs to lure in the next 100 million players.

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