Apex Legends' first battle pass shows how badly it needs better cosmetics

Patchwork, a rare-tier seasonal skin for the Hemlock.

Patchwork, a rare-tier seasonal skin for the Hemlock.

The first Apex Legends battle pass went live today, kicking off the battle royale game’s first season—Wild Frontier. Battle passes like this are familiar territory for “live” battle royale games like Fortnite and PUBG. You're basically buying a 90-day progress bar, and along with it some tangible goals and rewards. While there are tons of players who would play Apex Legends or the like without an added incentive, it’s an extra push for players interested in cosmetic updates and new loot. 

The only problem is that some players aren’t all too excited for the rewards offered up by Respawn. “So yall tellin me I waited a month and two weeks for a battle pass that gives me a havoc skin at level 100,” TSM Apex Legends player Taylor “THump” Humphries wrote on Twitter. “Homie what @PlayApex.”

Players on Reddit have likened the feature to the “battle pass equivalent of the Mozambique”—a reference to memes about Apex Legends’ worst gun. There’s a lot of stuff in the battle pass, but much of it doesn’t stand out. Whereas Fortnite offers legendary, over-the-top skins that tie into the game’s lore, most of the Apex Legends’ season one loot looks like recolorings. Too many of the rewards are stuff that players just won’t care about, like badges that broadcast what level’s been reached. Having a visual indication of rank can be a cool status symbol, but an earned badge is rendered useless once you’ve leveled up to the next one. A great skin or a dance emote is a much more enticing reward.

The problem is that Respawn isn’t iterating on the structure to create something truly special.

Part of the community's argument is that the battle pass isn't as flashy as Fortnite’s. Each season of Fortnite’s battle pass offers one obviously legendary skin for those that reach level 100. But the pathway there isn’t painful, either—there are a ton of fun and exciting skins and emotes to unlock on the way. And to get them, Fortnite has silly little challenges. Dancing in a certain location on the map or dropping into a certain area are incentives to experiment and explore Fortnite's ever-changing map. They’re little details that don’t overtly change gameplay, but do impact how games play out, giving players small new challenges to deal with, like an increased number of players in a certain part of the map.

The problem with Apex Legends' battle pass isn’t that it’s not like Fortnite’s—the wacky challenges and cartoony loot would probably feel out of place in Apex. Instead, the problem is that Respawn isn’t iterating on the structure to create something truly special, a practice we're already coming to expect from the studio after smart changes like the Jumpmaster feature or Apex's ping system

Though the battle pass is a good bargain, it doesn’t have rewards that will draw me into Apex Legends. I'm not hitting the panic button, though—at this point, Apex Legends isn’t in a dire need of keeping players engaged. It’s just over a month since its release, folks are still flocking to the game after Apex notched 50 million players. Beyond the game still being relatively new, the new hero Octane—who arrives with the battle pass but isn't included in it—is enough to keep players engaged for now.

And yet, the battle pass’ middling reception still matters. Not helped by weeks of leaks, the release of the battle pass doesn't mirror Apex's surprise launch and surprise success. Even if things change in season two, which is months away, it’ll have been long enough to turn some players away. But some of Apex Legends’ highest-profile players are already feeling bored, like Dr Disrespect. “There’s not much to the game right now,” he said on stream. “I’m just a little burnt out.” For players that feel similarly, a few new skins aren’t going to do much.

A day before its release, Respawn was already addressing criticism in a blog post that outlines its philosophy for the first Battle Pass. “Season one is about keeping it focused and allowing players to earn rewards at a great value,” Apex Legends lead product manager Lee Horn wrote. “We’ll begin adding more and more innovations each season, as we evolve the Battle Pass.”

Horn is right that the battle pass is a good deal that offers a “strong base of weapon and character cosmetics.” After all you can earn back the cost of the battle pass by reaching level 97. There are some cool elements to it, too. Namely, the evolving legendary weapon skin that’s unlockable at level 100. But for casual players who might have no intention of getting there, it does little to encourage progression. Challenges and quests—things that can change the way players are encouraged to interact with the game—can do that. Apex Legends doesn’t need to do exactly what Fortnite does, but some innovation on that format would make gameplay a bit more exciting for both new and returning players. The closest that season one comes to this is a feature that incentivizes you to try out new characters—battle pass points are awarded based on survival time while playing different Legends.

The good news is that Respawn seems to think this, too. The developer said it wants season one to focus on getting players used to the game, and that it’s open to switching things up in the future. “While we think there’s really cool design space in quests and challenges for future battle passes, we wanted the initial version to allow players to just play and learn the game,” Horn wrote.

It’s disappointing that there’s not a bold new idea or gorgeous skins sitting at the center of this battle pass. But for now, Respawn isn’t desperate to bring in new players or rock the boat—it can keep things safe, which is exactly what this battle pass is.