After the wild success of Fortnite in 2018, it didn’t take long for other battle royale offerings to hit the market. Even the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2 joined the fray with a battle royale mode within Red Dead Online. But Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s Blackout mode was a wholly different beast that changed the landscape of the battle royale format. Call of Duty, a series not known for large multiplayer maps, delivered a solid, well-oiled offering to battle royale and Call of Duty fans alike.
Now, just a few months later Respawn Entertainment has surprised the whole of the gaming community by releasing a free-to-play battle royale game called Apex Legends. Respawn was founded by and also staffed by the same people who founded and worked at Infinity Ward, and Infinity Ward of course was the original creator of Call of Duty. So in other words, Blackout is a Call of Duty battle royale, but Apex Legends is a battle royale made by the creators of Call of Duty! And just in its first week, Apex has made quite the splash, with players turning out in droves to check out this new, exciting effort from Respawn. Like Blackout, it, too, is a first-person spin on the battle royale mode. But how does this stack up to Blackout?
For starters, Apex Legends focuses on squad play. If you’re looking for a solo experience, Apex is currently not the title for you. However, what it does with squad play is phenomenal. In our review of the game, we highlighted some of the improvements to the squad-based battle royale mode. Namely, the jumpmaster system of keeping the squad together does wonders for players who may not have mics for a coordinated effort. It’s important to stay together. Furthermore, the pinging system also contributes to this area. Whether teams are using mics or not, the ease of highlighting enemies, locations, weapons, armor, and other supplies vastly improves the experience from a competitive perspective.
Black Ops 4‘s Blackout mode doesn’t offer much in the way of squad-based interaction like Apex does. However, Blackout does have a solo mode available for those who prefer it, which is something Apex is lacking. But the mere idea that Apex focused on squad-based play is the reason why, I think, that we received the aforementioned squad-based innovations. Focusing on the squad-based version of battle royale enabled them to refine the process.
Map traversal is something that is executed in two entirely different ways between the two games. The Apex map has balloons dotting the map that players can use to achieve a boost high enough to whip back into skydiving mode. This boost is rather significant and can speed up the travel process immensely if players are, say, about to get engulfed by the shrinking ring of fire. Zip lines also line the compounds within the map at times, making it easier to traverse certain areas.
Blackout certainly doesn’t have anything that resembles either of these mechanics within Apex. One might argue that the grapple gun could be akin to the use of zip lines. However, the grapple gun is spread too thin to be something truly accessible as a traversal method, and its range isn’t as wide as some of these zip lines. Blackout does, however, have a big advantage over Apex: vehicles. Vehicles not only offer a mode of traversal but also a means of attack and ambush. Blackout’s vehicles, if coordinated properly, can be a huge advantage to any squad. Seeing some of the interesting vehicles, like tanks, appearing on the Apex map was a little underwhelming when I first realized they were merely set pieces and not for use.
In battle royale, death is typically the end. The moment a player is downed beyond revival, it’s time to back out of the game and start a fresh one because that’s it. That’s the end. Apex Legends took a look at that one frustrating aspect of battle royale and said, “No way. Death doesn’t have to be the end if you have great teammates.” That’s right — for a limited time, team members can bring a dearly departed mate back from the grave. What they must do is play a little game of “capture the flag — or banner.” Snag your downed mate’s banner and rush him to one of the designated respawn points to call in a fresh soldier ready for action.
The downside to this is that this function can be exploited by enemy teams as a method of baiting you into a trap. If they’ve killed one of your squad, they can hide out with eyes on the downed combatant’s banner, lying in wait for an unsuspecting teammate to rush and grab it. That doesn’t always occur, of course. But there’s potential.
Blackout, like every other battle royale version out there, has nothing on Apex Legends in this arena. Once you’re dead (beyond revival), that’s it. You might as well pack up and start over.
Apex also injected the hero shooter scene within its battle royale offering. It’s genius, right? Take the two most popular competitive game modes of the last couple years, hero shooters and battle royale, and combine them into one package. Each legend comes with their own set of unique abilities that have their advantages on the battlefield. Wraith, a personal favorite, can traverse the map for a limited time in “the void” where she is essentially unseen. It’s helpful for getting out of tight positions or when I’m near death. If the ability is available, I’m using it. She can also summon portals between two points. Again, this can be used by the entire team for a strategic incursion or a quick getaway. These abilities vastly alter the gameplay experience of battle royale for the better.
Blackout offers no such function. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 did attempt a combination of the hero shooter and battle royale in one sweet package, but only as separate entities. Traditional PvP multiplayer provides the selection of various mercs with abilities for combat. While the skins of those mercs can be used in battle royale, no one ever enters the map with their own unique abilities.
Alright, I know this one isn’t entirely fair as zombies is Call of Duty’s thing. But after the last two arguments in Apex‘s favor, I felt Blackout could use a win here. The addition of zombies for unique gear from the mystery box always piqued my interest in Blackout mode. Frequently, if I was anywhere near a mystery box, I’d go attempt to destroy the zombies and claim its content for myself. This can become a hairy situation as other players might be drawn to the same location for the same reasons. Or maybe they don’t want the loot, but just want an opportunity to flank any unsuspecting enemy who is attempting to collect.
However, you spin it, the addition of zombies was always a cool idea in my book. It was the first time a battle royale mode injected danger from NPCs (non-player characters) on the map. I hope they continue to toy with that idea to add more challenge to Blackout in the future.
While there are pros and cons of each offering, both offer stellar first-person experiences in the battle royale scene. Two top-notch Call of Duty devs came up with, in my mind, the best of the battle royale market. But maybe I’m just partial to FPS titles. When it comes down to it, Blackout is clearly your battle royale of choice for solo mode. However, I think Apex Legends now has the edge on the squad variant of the mode with its improvements to the way teams can cooperate with one another.
Nonetheless, competition fuels innovation. Both of these games could look very different a year from now.
Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night. Somewhere in between all of that, I’m a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too. If a game is all about action, there’s a safe bet I’m playing it. I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin’ on the ol’ Atari and haven’t stopped since.