I didn’t expect Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends to succeed to the point of being ported to Nintendo Switch. Around the time of its launch, it seemed like the battle royale genre was starting to lose its luster. Among Fortnite, PUBG, and Radical Heights (RIP), it didn’t feel like people had the energy to invest in another battle royale franchise. Fast forward to 2021 and Apex Legends has kicked off its eighth season called “Mayhem” and is available on just about every platform, now finally including Switch, owing to a port from Panic Button.
Being that Apex Legends is a game I play just about every day, I was heavily looking forward to launching ziplines with Pathfinder while laying on the couch or getting the final kill and being crowned champion portably while relaxing in bed. However, now that I’ve invested enough time for some wins — and many losses — I’m saddened that the experience isn’t fit for combat on Switch.
Apex Legends breakdown
A friend of mine recently started to venture into Apex Legends. As we queued up for our matches, I was attempting to explain everything he needed to know in-match: things like how your Evo Shield evolves to take more damage the more damage you deal and the fact that enemy Caustics don’t get damaged by your own Nox Gas traps. There was a lot to explain, but things started to click more as each match went on.
There are a few things in Apex Legends that set it apart from other battle royale games. For one, your body shield can be recharged. A shield battery is a borrowed concept from Respawn’s successful Titanfall franchise, as it should be being that Apex Legends takes place in the Titanfall universe. Health can be refilled with medical syringes or medkits. When your health is gone, you’ll need a teammate to pick you up. This is where ultimate abilities come into play and can buy you some time in order to do so.
Each character in Apex Legends has an ultimate ability similar to the gameplay in Overwatch. Unlike in Overwatch, you aren’t stuck with one weapon. Instead, you’ll loot and find new guns and attachments along the way. There are submachine guns like the R-99 that can dump a full clip in seconds, as well as others like the new 30-30 Repeater Rifle that can fling charged shots from a distance. The guns are unique to the universe, yet handle with a certain sense of familiarity to them. That’s especially the case if you’ve played Titanfall 1 or 2.
Much like in other battle royale games, you must fight to stay in the circle in order to stay alive. However, being caught outside the circle isn’t the end of the world. Where other games deploy vehicles to help you sprint to stay in-circle, most of the fast traveling in Apex Legends is done by running or by taking a short flight by launching from a jump tower. There are also environmental modifiers, like activating giant lifts or using your Legend’s ability to locate the next circle.
With all its quirks and quirky characters, it’s no wonder that Apex Legends became one of my favorite time-wasters. Each character has a variety of skins with seasonal events bringing in more loot and modes. The gameplay is frenetic, fun, and most of all fast. One moment you could be looting the Caustic Treatment Facility without a care in the world, and the next you’re frantically trying to find an ounce of ammo in a three-team firefight. A win sometimes comes from dumb luck, strategy, or a mix of both. I have a lot of praise for Apex Legends on how it executes core mechanics, visual presentation, and replayability. However, I feel like just about all of that is lost when it comes to the Apex Legends Nintendo Switch port.
The future is blurry on Switch
The first realization that something was very wrong was upon first boot. The Legend or character select screen seemed a little off, and the game struggled to maintain a decent frame rate even at the title screen. I thought, “Okay, let’s just see what the rest of the game has in store.” And sadly, things did not get much better from that point on.
The biggest gripes I have with Apex Legends are its frame rate, resolution, and textures. With a game like The Witcher 3, it’s possible for a game to play mechanically well while skimping in the visual production department. However, in Apex Legends, speed is pretty much life. When the struggling frame rate is visually below 30 FPS, the overall gameplay is impacted. That has been the case since booting up the training and first match.
There were many times during a match where shots were missed due to skips in frames, leaving me to guess where my opponent would be. I will at least say that the motion controls in the game play extremely well. They also have a few sliders and options to fine-tune this control scheme if you choose to use it. The motion controls can be turned off on the fly.
Despite having a day-one patch, there hasn’t been much promise of visual improvements.
Apex Legends implemented cross-platform play back on Oct. 6, 2020. This meant PlayStation, Xbox, and PC players could all queue up for matches. As well, Steam was also added to the mix, growing the player pool once more. Matches often connect in seconds rather than the minutes it could take prior to these network updates. Cross-play gives a slight advantage to other platform players given the current state of the port.
I had come across an article directing players to close cross-platform play in order to have a better experience on Switch. That would be all well and dandy if the player pool weren’t so small. At one point, I did just that, leaving about three people to matchmake — and in turn leaving me to turn cross-platform queues back on. Even so, I still found myself paired into trios with only two teammates or having my third teammate disconnect altogether.
Outside of the connectivity with Apex Legends on Switch, there are some problems with items during matches. On more than a few occasions, the item wheel for shield batteries and syringes wasn’t showing the actual items. I know where these are by heart being that I’ve played so much of it. These flickered off and on no matter which Legend was chosen or the point in the match I was in. This also made it difficult to make split decisions on what items to loot on the move, once again adding to the disruption of the overall gameplay flow.
Apex Legends cannot keep it together on Nintendo Switch
I was more than excited for all of the quips and quickness of Apex Legends to land on my Nintendo Switch. I was looking forward to playing the battle royale comfortably in bed or docking it for more traditional play. However, the visual downgrade, frame rate issues, and overall presentation leave it feeling like the port that never should have been.
I understand that many people only have a Nintendo Switch as a primary console, and I’m saddened that this version of the game will be their first introduction to what is hands down one of my favorites to play. The poor performance and visuals make it almost unplayable and detract from its overall quality. It almost spoils the essence that is Apex Legends. It’s a buggy mess of a shooter that I’m surprised was ported given its current condition on Nintendo Switch.
A review code was provided by the publisher.