Video game diversity: Apex Legends makes great strides forward
By ETHAN RATLIFF
Apex Legends shouldn’t be one of the most popular games in the world. The battle royale genre is already saturated with Fortnite clones, so a month-old game has no right to steal away 50 million players. Gameplay-wise it’s innovative, but that didn’t save Titanfall 2, the last game by Apex’s developer Respawn Games. EA, the parent company of Respawn made the game’s premier even harder by releasing Anthem – a hyped up AAA game announced a year ago- the same week as Apex, which had no ad campaign and was announced on release.
“I hear about it all the time on Twitch. It’s crazy popular,” said Alfredo Soto senior communications major. Twitch is a live video streaming platform for gamers.
Apex Legends is a battle royale game with the features of a hero shooter game. Players choose a character with preset abilities, and team up with two other players to form a squad of three. These squads are then dropped into a large map with 19 other squads where they fight to the death as the map slow shrinks. Guns, ammo, healing supplies and weapon upgrades are scattered randomly across the map for teams to search for, encouraging exploration and hunting down other teams to steal their loot.
Major changes that make Apex stand out from other battle royales are the respawn system, allowing dead players to be brought back in, and the ping system, which predicts what you are trying to communicate with your teammates.
An important part of the game is the character roster, a staple it takes from games like Overwatch. Each character has a passive ability, standard ability and ultimate ability, which can change the way players approach fights or move across the map. A passive ability is usually something minor that happens without activation, like health regeneration or increased speed while in combat. Standard abilities are activated with a button press with a short cooldown and change a combat situation like a deployable shield or gas trap. Finally, ultimates are permanent or high damage dealing abilities with a long cooldown. Deployable zip lines and air strikes are ultimate abilities.
The cherry on top is the diversity of Apex’s playable characters, which surprisingly, has been embraced by the gaming community. Yes, the same community that exploded when a woman appeared in a Battlefield 5 trailer and created #GamerGate which harassed hundreds of female figures in gaming.
At launch, the game roster included Bangalore a black female marine, Bloodhound a non-binary Icelandic hunter, Gibraltar a gay Samoan rescue worker, Pathfinder a robot scout, Lifeline a black female medic, and Wraith a female psionic. Only by paying or earning experience can you unlock Mirage and Caustic, a Latino trickster and white male scientist respectively. The recently released season one update also came with a new character to unlock, Octane a Hispanic daredevil.
“Growing up with games I didn’t see many characters that looked like me. I think it’s great that Apex is coming out of the gate with these diverse characters. I hope that more games do this in the future,” said Zoey Simms a senior theatre major.
These characters are packages of abilities mechanically, but their personalities constantly influence gameplay. Each character speaks almost constantly in the game, commenting on fights and calling out actions. Their customizable banners and outfits reflect their personalities and inject character and humor into the game like Lifeline calling out that she’s “Delivering a birthday present” before calling in a care package drop, or Gibraltar performing the haka as he executes an enemy.
With so many other games trying to push for diversity and showcasing the steps they are taking to be inclusive, resulting in loss of sales, Apex has done something right by not running an ad campaign and releasing in a saturated environment. It’s release allowed it to be taken as just a game, without the criticism that might have developed if multiple trailers with the diverse cast had been released ahead of time.
“It came out without hyping up the diversity, there was no pandering. The characters are just there, without [Respawn Games] pointing out how inclusive they were being. That’s what games need to do,” said Mia Allen, a junior German major.
Apex Legends is a good game that shows a step towards a more open future in media- where diversity isn’t something that needs to be pushed. It just is, without preamble.