The battle royale genre is going strong with almost four years since the debut of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in 2017. Multiple franchises now fight for dominance in this arena much like the no-holds-barred, last-man-standing gameplay that they prominently feature. Apex Legends from Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment is one of the main contenders with clients available on PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and now the Nintendo Switch.
Comfortably sitting in the top 5 games played on Steam with concurrent numbers well into the 200k range and at least that many across other platforms, the Titanfall-universe spinoff is more popular than ever and the release for the Switch will add another huge potential user base. We spent some time with the recent port. Here are our impressions with the live service game so far.
Where’s my stuff?
Cross-play and cross-progression is an undeniable selling point for any live service game that is played across different devices. What Fortnite and Rocket League got right with the cross-progression available, Apex Legends, unfortunately, falls short. After linking my EA and Nintendo accounts, I had hoped to have the Legends and cosmetics I had earned in the PC version of the game available but I found a completely bare inventory. My overall player level was reset to “1” as well as any Battle Pass progression. Thankfully, the Switch launch event grants players a free Pathfinder skin, 30 Battle Pass levels, and a few Apex packs to get you started on your new collection. Hopefully, cross-progression is being worked on as a future update.
Cross-play is available from the very start and it definitely needs to be. Matchmaking with Switch-only players is nigh impossible, I sat in a queue that fluctuated between 10-20 players for about 10 minutes before giving up. What’s odd is that the cross-play matchmaking seems to fill with Switch players first when you play on the hybrid console. Every match I’ve played so far has been full of Nintendo Switch owners, evidenced by the previous winning team being announced before each game featuring only Joy-con or handheld controller logos next to their usernames. One other benefit to linking your accounts is the ability to see your friends list from your EA account in-game, making cross-play parties a little easier to manage.
Wizards of the port
Panic Button has rightly earned themselves the reputation of masters of the Switch port. Games like Rocket League, Doom Eternal, and Wolfenstein II were once thought to be impossible for the now four year old power-restrained system. Apex Legends joins their impressive catalog of ports with mixed results. With games like the Witcher 3 running on the Switch, how long are we going to keep saying that just seeing the game in handheld mode is a miracle? We all know the system shouldn’t be able to play these games but upon seeing their availability, I don’t know if instant praise is now due.
Plainly stated, Apex Legends does not run well on the Nintendo Switch. The internal resolution is so poor that long distance detail and players will undoubtedly go unnoticed. Tracking players across the map is a thing of the past if you plan on playing the game solely on the Switch from now on. The resolution and overall detail were most likely sacrificed in order to keep the framerate at a playable level and Panic Button just about pulls it off but further optimization is needed. The battle royale genre is typically fast and frantic, and a rock-solid 60 frames per second (or at least a locked 30) is imperative for skilled play. Apex Legends might not hit a locked refresh rate of 30 frames per second or more, I would need more testing to say with certainty, but the performance is very close to acceptable. I’ve played dozens of games so far in both docked and handheld mode and the most important thing I noticed was that I was still having fun.
The important part
When getting a feel for any game, port, or conversion; the most important question I find myself asking is always, “Is it fun?”. As a fan of the game since its initial release in February 2019, I knew the answer to this question already, but I wasn’t sure if it would hold true on such a limited console as the Switch. I can say without hesitation now that the game is, in fact, a lot of fun. If you are familiar with Apex Legends and are looking for a way to play it on the go, Panic Button has absolutely delivered in that aspect. The UI, menus, and overall feel are exactly the same as other platforms. After finishing a match, the “one more round” bug managed to bite me every single time. If the game manages to see further optimizations to resolution and frame rate, I could see myself playing on the Switch from the comfort of my bed just as much as I play it sitting at my computer desk, especially with the new control options.
The gyroscopes are put to good use if you don’t mind a little motion control to help line up your shots. Coming from Splatoon, manipulating the Switch in 3D space feels natural to me for greater accuracy in aiming. The gyro control options are more fine-grain than Splatoon however, so expect to be dialing in your settings for a few matches until you find a balance that feels good for your style of play. Of course, any motion control is completely optional and standard gamepad input is available and fully customizable. The only thing I would like to see added is the ability to use the Switch touchscreen to manage the cluttered main menu interface. I’m not a fan of red glowing notifications all over the place and clearing them out is cumbersome with analog sticks and buttons.
The final ring closes
Apex Legends on the Nintendo Switch is a bit of a mixed bag. To call it unplayable would be complete hyperbole, but to call it a miracle would also be the same. Seeing a live service game get ported to the Switch is exciting as portability adds a ton of appeal to a game that you normally would have to play tethered to a desk or couch. However, I wouldn’t recommend the game to players who only play on a Switch and only when docked. As a compliment to other systems, I think Apex Legends could work fantastically, especially if and when cross-progression is added. With a little more optimization, Panic Button could have yet another miracle for the Nintendo Switch.
These impressions are based on the release version of Apex Legends for Nintendo Switch. In-game currency was provided by the publisher for review coverage.
Bryan Lefler posted a new article, Apex Legends for Nintendo Switch impressions: Panic Button narrowly misses the mark