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Apex Legends' 3v3 Arenas is its first step beyond battle royale, and it's already my favourite mode

We've heard whispers that Respawn has been working on something "beyond battle royale" for a while, and after a cheeky tease in Apex Legends' Firing Range, last week's launch trailer finally confirmed that Arenas is a real mode, and it's coming this season. After spending three hours duking it out on its tiny maps, I'm absolutely hooked and ready to take a vacation from the standard battle royale mode.

Arenas is a new permanent mode that gives us our first taste of a life away from the regular battle royale setting with the lovable roster of Outlands legends. These 3v3 matches are hosted by Titanfall 2's Ash, and they challenge us to carefully spend crafting materials on weapons, items, and charges for our legends' abilities before each round. This all sounds very similar to games like Valorant and CS:GO, and that's why it's so easy to hop into. You kick off each round in the buy menu and spend your  materials on items you think you'll use, then it's time to hunt down your opponents and put your resources to the test.

You start with a set amount of crafting materials, but you can collect more for the following round by performing well, and racing to the material stations dotted around the maps. There are also a few supply bins, usually filled with shields and phoenix kits. Your inventory is wiped at the beginning of each round, so you lose your weapons and attachments, but your armour upgrades automatically as the game progresses. Weapons are crafted on a tiered basis, so if you choose an R-301, and then pay to upgrade it immediately, it'll come with all level one items the first time, then you can upgrade again for levels two and three (again, this resets every round)—thankfully you can swap the optics once you unlock them, though.

(Image credit: Respawn Entertainment)

In Counter-Strike, if one team manages to get ahead by winning the early rounds, it can be tricky for the other side to find their footing. This isn't an issue in Arenas, however, since you start each round from scratch, with the exception of your abilities. While coming back from a duff opening with an impressive eco makes these games more exciting, I'm glad that Respawn hasn't left much room for this kind of disparity in Arenas. You can earn more materials to spend, but as everyone has to buy a fresh weapon each round, the playing field feels much fairer. As the rounds roll on, you have enough in the bank to splash the cash on better upgrades anyway, so the late-game still feels tense.

To ensure victories feel truly earned, Arenas also uses win-by-two rule. This means that if a match is close and you've only got a one-victory lead, you'll need additional rounds and potentially even a sudden death tie-breaker to seal the deal. The shortest a match can be is just three rounds, but this can stretch as far as nine if the teams are well-matched. During my hands-on I found that my early matches were just three rounds long, with one team dominating the arena. However, as time went on, some of my games felt far more competitive as each team traded rounds until we reached sudden death. It feels great when you manage to conclude a game with a clean record, but I was surprised that even after a 25-minute long struggle, losing doesn't feel anywhere near as frustrating as I expected.

Compared to the lengthy games competitive shooters can tangle you up in, capping Arenas to fewer than ten rounds makes them feel snappy enough that it's easy to just queue straight into another match and try again. There's little time to dwell over a lost round because they're over so quickly, and you should be spending any spare time strategising with your team. Maybe I'll feel differently when the upcoming Ranked mode launches and the pressure's really on.

(Image credit: Respawn Entertainment)

The best thing about Arenas is that it feels like a fast-paced, yet familiar version of the ideal battle royale situation—and by that I mean no third parties and very little downtime while hunting for squads in a huge map. Not only are we using legends that we've already spent countless hours with, it's nice to completely focus on an enemy trio without having to check over our shoulders for squads bursting out the woodwork closeby. It's possible to resurrect downed allies, if you can find the time, but there are no respawn beacons to bring your pals back if they get caught in the crossfire. However, this is a neat little slice of a battle royale match after all, so we still have things like care packages and the encroaching ring to contend with, even though the maps are much smaller than the likes of Olympus and Kings Canyon.

Speaking of which, Arenas will launch with two custom maps along with some isolated POIs lifted from existing maps. As for the new zones, Party Crasher is a swanky downtown plaza filled with small buildings on one side, bookended by the crash site of the Mirage Voyage. This map is quite open, which encourages us to climb onto roofs to snipe the other team, but its clusters of tiny buildings are also perfect for chasing and cornering enemies with an assault rifle.

Next is Phase Runner, named after the teleporting device we see on Olympus. In Arenas it's actually a secret base tucked away in the mountains. Unlike Party Crasher, rounds tend to feel a bit slower on this map as the two main structures are far apart. They also feature plenty of towering walls and stairs to offer more cover, which makes it much easier to slink away to safety during a fight. The middle section of the map is large, but it's dotted with fir trees and rocks which are a godsend when your HP is low and you desperately need to pop a Phoenix Kit.

(Image credit: Respawn Entertainment)

These small zones are also the perfect place to improve your skills and cut your teeth on new firearms and legends. Legacy introduces the Bocek Bow, a weapon that performs well at medium ranges, with powerful hop-ups that make it lethal in both battle royale and Arenas modes. Having tried both modes at the event, I found that Arenas offered far more opportunities for me to train my terrible sniper aim, which helped when I returned to Olympus. 

Season 9 newcomer Valkyrie is also a powerful recon character that you'll want to invest time learning before jumping straight into a battle royale match. Her ability to fly makes her valuable for scouting the surrounding area, but she's also vulnerable while airborne and can be shot out of the sky in an instant. As this mode forces you to use your abilities sparingly, it feels much better than the static Firing Range as you're essentially training against real opponents and engaging in firefights in quick succession. As Arenas has Apex's mechanics at its core, all the skills you sharpen here will be transferable to the larger battle royale maps, and vice versa.

If you've spent hundreds of hours in Apex's battle royale mode, it won't take you long to find your rhythm in Arenas. I quickly worked out which sections of the map to speed to first, where my opponents were most likely to be lurking, and when it's best to dash into the open to loot a Care Package. That said, I still needed to make a few swift adjustments to settle in properly.

One thing that ramped up the challenge in this mode was not having my tactical ability to hand when I needed it. You're afforded limited charges of your tactical by default, depending on the character you choose. So, unless you go out of your way to stack more, you need to save it for the opportune moment. Ultimates also have individual costs, but you won't get one for free each round. I found Bloodhound's Eye of the Allfather to be especially valuable once I had a rough idea of the enemy squads' whereabouts, but our team needed to close in quickly afterwards to make the most of the extra info. Respawn is currently unsure whether legends will need balancing based on both active modes, but from what I've seen so far, I'm also expecting legends like Valkyrie, Bloodhound, Horizon, Lifeline, and Gibraltar to be especially useful.

There's lots to look forward to in Apex Legends Legacy, including a map update, a new weapon, and legend, but I'm most excited for Arenas. It's everything that I'd want from its first battle royale-adjacent mode, and I think introducing a Ranked mode afterwards will secure its longevity. Apex has been killing it with content in Season 8 and Respawn has managed to keep us occupied with lots of LTMs and Collection Events this year. It's impressive to see it maintain this momentum and release a permanent new mode alongside the routine seasonal refresh. If you're feeling fatigued by the lengthy matches in Apex's 60-player servers, prepare for a serious change of pace in Arenas' lively, intense 3v3s on May 4.

As PC Gamer's guides writer, Emma is usually juggling several games at once. She loves competitive first-person shooters like CS:GO and Call of Duty, but she always has time for a few rounds of Hearthstone. She's happiest when she's rescuing pugs in Spelunky 2.