Hey fellow Call of Duty: Warzone aficionados, have you checked in with Apex Legends recently? I have for the first time in over a year and, let me tell you, the vibes are good. Respawn just kicked off its biggest season ever last week and added all this good stuff:
- New legend: Valkyrie, the jetpacking missile baron
- New weapon: The Bocek, Apex's first bow
- Arenas, a permanent 3v3 round-based elimination mode with a buy menu
- Map changes to Olympus
Despite some balancing woes with the bow that were addressed earlier this week, players seem pretty happy with where the game is heading, and I can see why. Coming from a surprisingly bland Warzone Season 3 update and the disappointing new Verdansk map, Apex feels like the cool battle royale on the block right now. That's not just my feeling, either—the free battle royale has enjoyed a surge in players thanks to Season 9 and an explosion in popularity in Japan (thanks in large part to vtubers embracing the game).
My return to Apex has mostly been fueled by the 3v3 Arenas mode. It's pretty wild to take Apex's guns and throw them into a CS:GO-style buy menu. You're definitely encouraged to save early on by sticking to the free P2020 pistol and lower-tier SMGs, but the game isn't as stingy with currency as Valorant or Counter-Strike. I like that the match automatically ramps up each round by upgrading armor and giving more starting money to everyone.
Even if my team starts out on the back foot, it's neat that we can reliably bring competitive guns into the next round. The other team will still have a slight edge with more cash for grenades or medkits, but it's a more even playing field than Valorant's discouraging save rounds that you're basically destined to lose.
You know what also rules? Olympus, Apex's third map added back in Season 7. I'd seen the pretty sights in screenshots, but I couldn't appreciate how dang gorgeous it is until I played it myself. Its architecture is equal parts perplexing and breathtaking. I love how some areas of the map just throw logic in the bin and say, "This is a space utopia, who cares if this grass patch curves up into the sky like a gigantic skateboard ramp?" It looks sick and it's super fun to slide down. The color palette is also so instantly attractive—Olympus is easily the best looking battle royale map in the brief history of the genre.
Maybe the bright colors are hitting a bit harder coming from Warzone's Verdansk, a notoriously gloomy region where the most colorful things around are a few patches of dark green grass. Apex players probably had a good chuckle when Activision billed the new Verdansk '84 map as a "brighter, more vibrant'' take on Warzone by slapping some red on a few buildings.
Call of Duty has always skewed toward a gritty look, but that's also its only look. Apex, on the other hand, has three full-sized maps with distinct styles. I was a little skeptical when Respawn first rolled out the map cycling, but the strategy has worked out pretty well. The active map rotates often enough that the current one rarely feels stale. I thought Activision would take a similar route when rumors of Warzone's next map first emerged, especially after a full year on a map that never changed in meaningful ways. (Remember those subway stations? Me neither.) Instead, the old Verdansk simply got nuked and replaced with mostly the same thing.
Another strength of Apex is its consistent drip feed of new heroes and weapons that have the potential to shift the meta. The newest character, Valkyrie, is the first with the ability to freely fly through the air. Warzone gets new guns on a seasonal basis, though I haven't been excited about them in a long time. Since the integration of Cold War, guns and attachments have been noticeably less adventurous. It's hard to imagine we'll ever see a gun as weird as the FiNN LMG's chainsaw configuration again, for instance. Meanwhile, Apex just got a compound bow that can be upgraded with scattershot arrows that let me pretend I'm pre-2018 Hanzo.
Warzone is intentionally simpler than Apex and has a flatter loot curve. Players express themselves by crafting loadouts from a bottomless pile of guns and attachments. I usually love how uncomplicated it is to hop into a match and buy into the custom-tailored rifle of my dreams, but it's hard to enjoy that freedom when a single assault rifle or DMR is so dominant that I feel like I have to play into a rigid meta to stay competitive. Raven's recent efforts to curb the strength of burst-fire guns have promoted more diversity in loadouts, so at least things are looking up.
It helps that Respawn hasn't hesitated to make sweeping changes to Apex when a cool idea comes along. Features now standard to the game like evo shields, Duos mode, crafting, heat shields, and starter kits didn't exist at launch. Most of them would have never made it into the game if Respawn hadn't tested them out in experimental limited-time modes.
It'd be great to see that same flexibility from Raven Software and co. Warzone has had its own share of experimental modes, like the popular Resurgence variant that adds automatic respawns into the mix of Battle Royale, but Warzone is allergic to permanent playlist updates. One week Resurgence is here, then it's gone, then it's only for three players, then four, then it's on Verdansk but not Rebirth Island, etc. It's a bit of a mess if you don't follow weekly updates closely.
More than a few guns every few months and uneventful map mixups, I want to see Warzone really swing for the fences. If Resurgence is popular, maybe that should be the default mode? What about a complete rethink of loadouts and armor? Or new perks? If Apex Season 9 has shown us anything, it's that nothing should be considered too precious.