February marks Apex Legends' second birthday, and over the past couple of the weeks it's been celebrating in style with the Anniversary Collection Event. Alongside the absurdly expensive anniversary skins, and a separate rewards track filled with Apex Packs and cosmetics, we've also taken a break from Apex's regular duos and trios modes. Instead, the standard playlist has been replaced with the Locked and Loaded Takeover, a limited-time mode that I wish Respawn would implement as a permanent change.
The Locked and Loaded takeover kits out every player with a full loadout of level one gear, a Mozambique shotgun, and a stash of healing items before their feet even touch ground. Usually, you'd spawn without a weapon and these basic supplies (bar an Evo-Shield). Apex's opening moments have always been a clumsy fight to just find something, anything, that can spit enough bullets to survive the first few seconds.
Handing a weapon fitted with common attachments and low-tier gear to every player in the server has created an even playing field from the get go, and I think it's a far better way to kick off a match. While the Mozambique is hardly a weapon worth raving about, immediately being able to take a few shots feels more proactive than a melee attack. Introducing this as Apex's starter weapon still keeps first blood strictly close quarters, but there's room for a little more damage, and slightly more space as you hunt for a better weapon.
Locked and Loaded's opening moments feel fairer, as everyone starts with the same loadout. But this doesn't stifle the rush of scrambling for a decent weapon at the start of the game, either. It's still possible to scoop up an R-99 seconds after landing, and down an enemy in one clip. Equally, you're not missing out on that familiar sinking feeling when a lucky enemy Wraith nabs a purple Evo-Shield seconds before you. It's a small adjustment, but a positive one, overall.
Though I don’t play Apex as much as Emma, I’ve found the last fortnight a bit too repetitive in terms of combat.
Starting with a weapon is a big plus, but on the loot side of things, it feels like a forgone conclusion that you will get a great gun sooner than later… Luck has been removed from the equation and the result is less interesting, as each round plays out pretty much the same way. They may as well give you the gun of your choice from the start with the amount of great gear that’s just lying around.
Skill is important in earning those victories, but it’s the almost total uncertainty of what could happen in Apex that appeals to me. Yes, Tier 1 loot needs a rethink, but distilling the loot pool too much oversimplifies the experience —Graeme Meredith, Video Producer
Landing with a barebones loadout balances the opening of a match just enough to make me feel like I didn't get completely screwed over when landing next to an enemy team. While I still need to prove my competence in a firefight, at least I have a basic tool to work with on the occasions where I'm not lucky enough to snatch a good gun first. It's not like this is a new concept either, Warzone sends everyone into Verdansk with an X16 pistol in their hand, and that system works well.
Most importantly, the takeover mode also removes all level one (common) attachments from the loot pool, excluding scopes. Trying to find the balance for distributing the loot in battle royales is always tricky, and this is something that each of the most popular games currently tackles differently. Fortnite keeps things simple, avoiding individual attachments and sticking to different weapon rarities. Warzone takes a similar approach, but it sneakily introduces permanent attachments through blueprints and loadouts. Then there's PUBG, which feels like a clunky old dinosaur littered with countless compensators, extended mags, and specialised mods.
While I respect Respawn's decision to hover in the middle ground by splitting its attachments by weapon class in Apex Legends, I think it's time to drop the level one variants for good. There are three other rarity tiers, and with the recent addition of gold magazines, now feels like the perfect time to thin out the loot pool. Common attachments often offer negligible upgrades to the base versions of weapons, with some extended magazines only increasing their capacity by as few as two bullets.
In the past, I've found myself still using white attachments well into the game's final rounds, despite going out of my way to comb every building and supply bin on the way. I'm a huge fan of how quickly games conclude in Apex, but the gap between level one and three attachments is substantial, and if you're heading into the final circle with commons, that's a huge problem. What's interesting is that the absence of level one equipment has highlighted just how unevenly skewed the loot pool felt before. If anything, Locked and Loaded has highlighted how unnecessary that first tier is, and it's going to feel bad when it returns to the standard mode.
I really hope that the Locked and Loaded mode is a cheeky test to see how players react to these adjustments. Honestly, I've got my fingers crossed that Respawn will consider adding them permanently in the future. Firefights feel fairer, and rely on skill a little more than before. With fewer attachments in the game, there's also less of an emphasis on looting, and more of a focus on defeating other squads. Apex Legends has introduced several interesting concepts to the battle royale genre. But it's two years old now, and I'm eager to see how Respawn can continue to build on the genre while streamlining its worst bits.