Nine seasons in, it feels like Apex Legends is in the best spot it's ever been. Over the past two years, Respawn has refined its update schedule to consistently deliver new characters, map adjustments, and engaging events that have bolstered its reputation versus its big competitors, Warzone and Fortnite. However, 2021 has pushed its calendar into overdrive.
Season 8 was packed with a busy schedule of Collection Events and LTMs (opens in new tab). And this season's offerings have even been enticing enough to coax our Warzone expert, Morgan, to take a vacation (opens in new tab) from Verdansk '84 and wander the lush green stretches of Olympus. Season 9 is undoubtedly its most ambitious season to date, but like a spoiled child I'm already asking for more. After two weeks of finding my feet in Arenas, I'm already craving its upcoming Ranked mode.
Apex Legends' 3v3 Arenas (opens in new tab) is its first step beyond Battle Royale, and it's already my favourite mode. If you haven't had a chance to try it yet, think of it as a harmonious mix of the best bits of Apex concentrated into a CS:GO-style match. You buy weapons and abilities each round, then you're let loose on a small map to hunt down your opposition. The ring still shrinks over time, but there are no respawn beacons in this mode, so it feels like there's more to lose.
Arenas encourages everyone to play tactically yet aggressively, so making tiny mistakes can cost your squad rounds. It's utter bliss having the opportunity to test each legends' skills in tight spaces, without needing to worry about third parties wrecking the balance. Matches can also be over in just three short rounds, making the temptation to quickly queue into another strong. Unfortunately, just like the shooters this mode is influenced by, Casual mode just doesn't feel quite competitive enough.
I almost exclusively play duos in Apex's Battle Royale mode, and making the switch to trios in Arenas has felt quite comfortable, even though our squad is always paired with a stranger. I'm surprised to see that unlike CS:GO's casual mode— where no one plays properly—it feels like most people genuinely want to win these matches. Our extra teammate will usually try to stick around and at least attempt a comeback when we're behind, rather than rage quit as soon as they're downed like many would in Battle Royale matches. The only times we've felt out of our depth is when we suspect we're playing against a premade—in which case, the clan tags usually give us a hint that it'll be a tough game.
It's refreshing to see that most players have a healthy, team-oriented mentality in Arenas. But, the more time I invest, the more I can feel similarities (and frustrations) from other competitive shooters begin to creep in. Match lengths varied wildly when Arenas launched, but I've found that I rarely encounter games that stretch into overtime and sudden death now. The few that do stand out as really competitive and enjoyable experiences, but they're few and far between.
This mode operates under the 'win by two' rule, but I've found that a lot of my recent matches have ended quickly. Victories can start to feel a bit hollow and boring when you stomp on the other team every round, and it feels much worse when you're on the receiving end of that. When teams are mismatched, it's not all that fun for anyone. I can only imagine that it's much worse for the most skilled players, too. Over the weekend Twitch streamer Timmy “iiTzTimmy” An concluded his 24-hour broadcast (opens in new tab) with 137 Arenas wins, and he's confident he could get 100 win streak off stream.
Now that we're all settled, it feels like the perfect time to claw our way through the ranks to find worthy opponents every game. The main reason why I'm itching for Ranked in Arenas is because playing against others in my skill group should result in longer, more challenging matches. Not only will this require solid teamwork and strategy to win, it'll also push us to actually improve. This also means that there'll be no excuse to feel cheated by a nasty loss, even if you usually play solo. More than anything, I just want a more consistent experience in matchmaking.
The other major gripe that I'm hoping will be addressed soon is Arenas' map rotation. The new mode launched with two custom maps, Party Crasher and Phase Runner, along with POIs from existing Battle Royale maps. There's no way to queue for your preferred map (which is standard in Apex), but the maps don't appear to be on an even cycle either. I've spent the majority of my Arenas playtime in Artillery, a Kings Canyon spot that I'm all too familiar with. Party Crasher crops up now and again, usually in two or three back-to-back blocks, but the Phase Runner map still feels like a rare treat. Even if Respawn isn't planning to add separate playlists for each Arenas map, it would be nice to prioritise the new maps over old POIs. We're also waiting for Thermal Station (World's Edge) and Gardens (Olympus) to be swapped in some time soon to freshen things up.
Respawn has already confirmed that Ranked mode is in the works for Arenas, although there's no date to mark in our diaries just yet. Considering that the Season just started, it's understandable that these opening few weeks are intended to provide the dev team with valuable data and feedback that'll help them tweak the new mode. That said, I'm hoping that we won't have to wait for too long.
Apex Legends' Battle Royale Ranked Leagues didn't launch until Season 2, almost a full five months after its release. However, I imagine that Arenas will adopt a similar structure which I imagine will shave down our wait time. Arenas also launched in really good shape, so it doesn't feel like there are many glaring issues that need to be addressed before Respawn turns up the heat and welcomes in competitive play. Overall, I can't help but feel a little bit cheeky calling for Ranked mode so quickly after launch, but Arenas is solid and it would be great to see Respawn maintain their momentum by releasing it in the next few weeks.