Sentence about the Switch Pro.
Apex Legends by Respawn Entertainment is a known quantity at this point. Even Switch owners who haven’t had the chance to play the game before now have likely heard of it. It released a little over two years ago to critical acclaim and massive player numbers. The game has only gotten bigger since and recently broke the previous record for highest player counts this year.
All the praise and popularity is worth it. Apex Legends is a unique take on the battle royale formula while also innovating it in ways that are being adopted in games outside of the genre. Built off the back of Respawn’s other phenomenal game, Titanfall 2, the movement and guns are as fun to use as they were there. Battle royales are traditionally solo affairs of one person trying to scrounge for supplies and live longer than everyone else who dropped onto an island. Apex Legends is a team-based version of that. To facilitate players working together, Respawn included a way to revive fallen teammates by placing respawn beacons around the map and developed a ping system to allow players to communicate when voice chat isn’t an option. It’s the ping system that is the most revolutionary implementation. A player can get across essentially everything there is to communicate with a teammate by pinging. Enemy locations, where to move next, unopened item crates, opened item crates, equipment that your teammates need and more can all be announced with one contextual button press. Apex Legends is a great game on PC, Xbox and Playstation.
Then there is the Switch version. I was so excited when Apex Legends was announced for Switch. This being a handheld console, I knew that it wouldn’t be as pretty as other versions or run at the same frame rate as other versions. I’m not a big graphics or frame rate person, so I wasn’t too bothered by the announced resolutions and frame rate before launch. My expectations were already that the game would be 30 frames-per-second, and while 540p in handheld mode isn’t ideal, it’s workable. The fact that all my skins and characters were locked on PC is annoying but not a deal breaker. Nearly all the skins in the game look bad anyway. If I could just unlock Rampart quickly, I was fine. I like playing her the most and the starting roster has enough characters that I think are fun. My problems with the Switch port aren’t due to my expectations being too high. I had already accepted all the caveats that should have come with a handheld Apex Legends port.
Unfortunately, the performance of the game is even worse than my adjusted expectations. I still think that 30fps would be fine, but the time Apex Legends spends at 30fps is minimal. Too many characters appearing on screen will cause frame drops. Shooting a gun will cause more frame drops. These two occurrences happen quite often. The resolution also isn’t the only problem with visuals on Switch. Frequently textures won’t load into the game. Seeing a textureless Pathfinder perform a finishing move once is kind of funny, but texture loss happens all the time. Opening menus will see sections of those menus disappear. I’ve opened the healing item wheel to switch to a Med Kit, but the wedge of the wheel that shows Med Kits didn’t appear. Apex also includes in-game voice chat to communicate with friends and other players, but it doesn’t work. Whenever my friend tried to use their voice system it came through with a lot of cutting out between syllables.
The worst part of the Switch version of Apex is the draw distance. How far away you can see enemies is much lower in the Switch version. Where in the PC version it’s possible to see enemies across the river canyon near Caves, this is impossible on Switch. Such problems are wildly exacerbated playing portably. I was constantly moving the console closer and closer to my face to try and see who was shooting at me. It’s this difference that makes me think crossplay being on by default is a mistake. I never would have guessed that tweaking the effective visible distance would make it feel like an entirely different game, but I do now. Playing against other players with a functional ability to track at distance feels like playing an unfair version of two different games that happen to have crossplay. Strategies that are possible on PC and other consoles simply aren’t on Switch.
Not everything about the port of Apex is doom and gloom. Gyro aiming is in the game; I even think it works well. It’s not perfect since it doesn’t include the option to recenter the cursor by pressing a button like Splatoon, but it works. The entire control scheme took a second to figure out how I wanted it configured since there are a large number of settings options. After getting that settled, aiming feels good. Gyro aiming allows me to control the recoil patterns that I would have with the standard control options on other consoles. Tilting the controller down to account for recoil is a much more natural reaction for me than pulling the analog stick down.
The Nintendo Switch version of Apex Legends is the most disappointed I’ve ever been in a port. I was so excited to play it. Playing a lower resolution, lower frame rate version of the game was something I would have been fine with. It isn’t just a lower resolution and frame rate version, though. Apex Legends on Switch drops frames at the first sight of game play, and it’s an uphill battle, to say the least, when trying to play against other versions that have definite advantages. Even if this was the only version of Apex to exist, it would still be a bad game from a performance perspective. If you do only have a Switch, download it to see what all the hype is about. The game is free, and maybe the performance issues aren’t a big deal to other people. Whatever you do, make sure to turn cross play off.