Solo queueing without a microphone in a competitive online game can feel like playing with a disadvantage. Communication is often essential in these games, but I don’t always have the option to hook up a mic — nor do I always want to. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like talking to strangers when I’m playing games to relax. But I can’t call out when danger is approaching or help organize strategies without being able to verbally communicate with teammates.
Apex Legends, the new battle royale game from Respawn Entertainment, thankfully lets me have it both ways. The game helps me play with strangers without uttering a word by implementing several features, like a robust ping system that lets me mark areas of interest or threats with a single button. Not only that, but characters in-game will also mention essential information automatically, alerting everyone to key events. Other tweaks round out the experience, making Apex Legends one of the few battle royale games I can play without a microphone and still have a fighting chance.
THE PING SYSTEM
The ping system is easily my favorite feature of Apex Legends. I can share a wealth of information to my teammates with a single button press that I would otherwise have to communicate verbally or quickly type out in team chat. All I need to do is highlight the object I want to ping, and my character will call out whether it sees an enemy, a supply crate, or an area worth looting.
Fun fact: We playtested for a month with voice comms off and fake names to simulate playing with random people, and that allowed us to feel things out in an authentic way. Awesome to see folks using and enjoying Smart Comms! https://t.co/biRUBQ1l3o— Apex Legends (@PlayApex) February 6, 2019
Other functions are available when I want to send more precise messages. When I hold down a button, a wheel appears and lets me choose several key details I may need to communicate to my team. There are straightforward commands, like telling my team where I plan to loot, whether an area looks like an enemy has passed through it, or where I plan to set up during an upcoming firefight. This feature goes a long way in helping bridge the information gap between three separate players.
I especially like how the ping system deals with tagging enemies. Typically, in other battle royale games, I’d have to be on-mic to shout the cardinal direction of enemy fire. This often leads to confusion or miscommunication in scenarios that demand split-second decision making. In Apex Legends, a simple ping highlights enemy positions and tags that area for my entire team. Instead of verbally telling my teammates where to look, my ping on the map leaves a clear marker for enemy locations.
Another touch I appreciate is how in-depth the in-game characters respond when I set pings for my teammates. For instance, when I tag a piece of armor, not only will my character say what kind of armor it is, but what level of protection it offers. Its location also shows up on the map for other players to see.
In other battle royale games, I often have to ask everyone if they need armor, which prompts a teammate to ask what level the armor is first. Then I have to reply with a detailed description of the armor’s level and location. All that necessary info can be sent with a single button press in Apex Legends.
Even better: Contextual information is routinely provided by myself and my team without any necessary input. It’s hard to tell when it’s safe to loot after a skirmish breaks out between teams in other battle royale games. Apex Legends shares that information with the entire team through the contextual dialogue, which means that even players without microphones will be effectively communicating with their team.
Polygon’s own Samit Sarkar single-handedly takes out an entire squad in the example below. He might never know if the coast is clear in other battle royale games, but Apex Legends rewards his hard work by revealing that he’s free to loot the area. Not only does his character share this information with him, but his teammates also will hear a similar line of dialogue on their end.
"Defeated the whole squad."— Samit Sarkar (@SamitSarkar) February 7, 2019
Apex Legends is...Very Good. (look, I'm not usually this good at video games) #PS4share pic.twitter.com/fDx0hrylev
Contextual dialogue kicks in during other useful moments in each round as well. Characters discuss where they are in relation to the closing circle of death that’s in every battle royale game, letting me know whether my team is in danger from the environment. I never have to guess how far away I have to run to safety since my character is always quick to point out what I need to know before I even think to check.
This information saves me so much time and mental calculation about how quickly I need to get to safety that I spend more time on the fun parts: Hunting down enemy players. I still have to think about, and account for, the environment, but the data I require to do so is communicated quickly and efficiently through the in-game dialogue.
THE JUMPMASTER SYSTEM
Apex Legends also improves how my team plans for battle during the early moments in each match. While other battle royale games allow me to put down a marker that shows where I’d like to land, I still have to discuss my choice with my team, either verbally or by typing it out. Apex Legends fixes this with the designation of a “jumpmaster.”
Players are put in random order before choosing their characters at the start. The third person in line assumes the role of jumpmaster. That player has the responsibility of choosing where their entire team will land. Wherever the jumpmaster deploys, the other two members of the team will follow. The chosen player even controls the flight path of the entire squad as they fall to the ground.
Players still have the option to disengage and land wherever they please, but the jumpmaster system makes it much easier for teams to stay together, should they choose to do so. And, again, all that organization doesn’t require any kind of voice chat or typed commands.
Apex Legends’ color coding system is another very welcome addition. Each weapon shares the same color as the ammunition it fires. Shotguns are red, so the big boxes of red ammo will keep a shotgun firing. I no longer have to memorize which guns use which ammo, or become vulnerable while checking to make sure I have enough ammo for a particular gun in my inventory.
Defeated enemies also drop large loot chests, which glow with the color of the rarest item inside. I can ignore chests with common items, although chests that glow with the color of rare items could draw out other players I’d then need to fight off.
Apex Legends is filled with smart choices that keep my attention on the enjoyable parts of the game, while relaying information about the more granular aspects quickly and efficiently. The game is only a week old, but it’s already pushed battle royale design ahead in several key ways.