At first, Apex Legends Mobile seems like an ill-proposed idea. After all, Apex on the Nintendo Switch didn’t work out as well as we’d all hoped, and it’s a struggle to properly experience the best parts of Respawn’s battle royale on that platform due to the lack of horsepower. However, Apex Legends Mobile is not a direct port of Apex Legends; instead, it is its own standalone experience that is extremely polished and well optimized for iOS and Android. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying my time playing on my tiny screens — and that’s coming from someone who is not usually a mobile-first gamer. In fact, in some ways I found myself liking Apex Mobile more than I do the PC and console version, given the current state they’re in.
Apex Mobile isn’t cross-platform compatible with its sibling but it’s not a big departure, either: it uses the same basic formula of playing in teams of three, and of the 10 Legends available at launch, nine are the originals from Apex Legends’ launch: Bangalore, Bloodhound, Caustic, Gibraltar, Lifeline, Mirage, Octane, Pathfinder, Wraith. Having the original group available feels fine, especially since these Legends are still highly viable in the original game – and they’re even more so here without the additional Legends who were dropped in the PC/console version after launch.
The 10th is a first: a platform exclusive named Fade, who is pretty reminiscent of Ovewatch’s Tracer in that he comes with a recall ability that blips him back to where he was a few seconds ago. He makes a great solo-player Legend because his kit is built to really benefit his own survivability and maneuverability. While his ultimate throws nearby enemies into a void where they can’t take or receive damage, if you’re in trouble you can also step into the ult’s radius to enter the void and become invulnerable yourself. So Fade’s entire kit can really serve to keep him surviving as long as possible on his own.
Releasing Fade as a mobile-only Legend is an interesting decision since I could see his movement abilities being used in creative ways on console and PC. There haven’t been any platform-specific Legends before, and while I understand wanting to entice established Apex players to try out Mobile, it feels a bit odd and unfair to the community that’s made this game as successful as it is. In any case, the collection of the 10 Legends in mobile are more than enough to pick from, especially since in this version of Apex the abilities don’t seem to matter as much as basic gunplay and outshooting your enemies. And the less clutter you have with different Legend abilities on smaller mobile screens the better, so this roster feels appropriate for what Apex Mobile is right now. But this also makes Fade being a mobile-only Legend feel like a bit of a waste.
The main limitation at the moment is the fact that Apex Mobile doesn’t currently have full controller support (I was able to connect PlayStation and Xbox controllers via Bluetooth and they did work at times, but not consistently) so you have to play using the touchscreen of your phone or tablet. I played on an iPhone 12 Pro Max, which is now a year and a half old, and the performance was smooth – I rarely got any stutters and the environments loaded in quickly with barely any texture pops. I only had one experience of lagging with too many effects in one of the busiest areas in World’s Edge (in the location Fragment) in my few hours of playtime.
At the same time, textures look detailed, and I’m able to make out what items are on the ground without zooming in. In fact, it looks how I expected Apex Legends on the Switch to look, and honestly Respawn might’ve done better to release this version on the Switch instead of overextending the console version. The maps have been adjusted slightly to fit the environment of mobile and keep the rotations through their locations feeling natural. The UI looks a lot like the PC and console version, just fitted to a smaller screen with minor tweaks, so it’s very easy to look at and understand what’s happening. The menus are easy to navigate and you can collect all of your completed daily and weekly challenge rewards with one click of a button.
While adjusting to playing with touch controls isn’t awful, it definitely feels a bit cramped and difficult to use the full potential of Apex’s movement. You can rearrange your screen controls as you want, setting your virtual thumbsticks, crouch, jump, fire, and ADS buttons however you like. This setup is pretty nice, but because Apex is so much about movement mechanics, all of your buttons need to be kind of close together so you can quickly press one after the other for the proper combos. Because of this, I found myself accidentally firing or punching the air way too frequently while running or trying to loot or move quickly out of fights.
Apex Mobile does use the core Apex movement really well, including its standout signature run-and-slide move that gives you a slight speed boost, and the movement combos are all there… just a bit harder to hit. But all things considered it feels pretty good, and it’s as close to the non-mobile game as could be reasonably expected.
To make up for the fact that Apex’s interface can feel a bit crowded on a phone screen, a third-person perspective is available that you can switch in and out of at any time. It took a bit for me to get used to but it feels pretty smooth in this mode. (Not that I want it on other platforms – it would feel out of place.) There definitely is an advantage to playing in third-person in that you can see way more of your surroundings and peek around corners to spot enemies who can’t see you. That advantage is so impactful that playing in first-person almost always feels like you’re doing yourself a disservice. However, you can choose to play in locked first-person or third person before you queue in, so it is separated in the same way that PUBG separated its lobbies on PC by perspective – you’re never forced to play against people who can do something you can’t.
Aiming weapons on the smaller screen is a bit harder as well and again, I found myself accidentally firing earlier than intended due to the cluster of virtual buttons on my right side. The best way I found to deal with that was to just aim and fire as I directed my aim to enemies and let the auto-reload hit as I kept my aim focused on them. Probably related is the fact that the time-to-kill is a bit faster on Mobile, which honestly felt fine since it takes a bit longer to fully line up a shot with these controls.
One of the nice things Apex Mobile does is automatically pick up loot and open doors so you’re not constantly having to move your fingers around the screen while trying to move forward and around. However, it doesn’t just pick up everything around you, only the same ammo type that you’re using at the time. Once you equip a weapon, it’ll auto-pick-up that ammo and healing items until it fills the amount of slots it takes up in your inventory.
Not everything works so smoothly on a small screen, though. Shield Swapping (grabbing a dead enemy’s shield in the middle of a fight to restore your protection) has become a fundamental tactic in Apex, and while you can do that in Apex Mobile, it is a bit slower since you have to scroll the inventory wheel to find the shield you’re after.
On the plus side, a change that feels really good is that the backpack system in Apex Mobile is expanded from the PC/console version, which compensates for the fact that aiming is a bit difficult and you’re bound to miss a lot. The ammo system allows you to carry stacks of 90 in each slot (as opposed to 60), so you can carry way more ammo in a level-one backpack. I was surprised by how much space I had even while carrying 240 ammo for two assault rifles and four stacks of healing items. However, there’s so much space in a level-one backpack that I often didn’t even need to pick up a bigger one, which makes that system feel moot. Surely there’s a happy medium that can be struck between the two extremes?
I also noticed that the audio in Apex Mobile is a bit easier to pick up directionally than it is on Apex Legends, where directional audio has been faulty for quite some time. Your screen even shows audio indicators in a visual form, directing you to where shots are coming from, which helps immensely when you’re not wearing headphones. (This is something that Fortnite uses that I’ve been actually wishing Apex would adapt.)
For modes, Apex Mobile has the standard battle royale mode plus team deathmatch, ranked battle royale, and limited-time modes that unlock every so often. Battle royale features the World’s Edge map (Kings Canyon will come later), while team deathmatch has maps based on both Kings Canyon and World’s Edge. These maps have been slightly altered for mobile, just adding a few more loot box options throughout the maps and small changes to points of interests, but the maps were essentially the same as the PC/console versions. The maps didn’t feel too big for mobile and World’s Edge felt really fun to explore since a lot of the POIs in mobile aren’t on the PC/console version anymore. So it was very nice seeing a mix of new POIs and older ones and not feeling the quality of the map’s loot and locations drop at all. More importantly, the pacing in battle royale matches felt pretty decent, longer games lasting about 20 to 25 minutes if you’re lasting into the final three squads.
Team deathmatch has two teams of six in a small section (known as a point of interest, or POI) taken from the map World’s Edge or Kings Canyon, in which you pick out your loadout from any weaponry you want at the start of each match. So, for example, I played a game of team deathmatch in a small POI called Market which is a very small indoor market building that’s located in the map Kings Canyon. It’s a very fast-paced mode that has you constantly fighting, and it rarely slows down because you regenerate health and shields even if you run out of healing items. It’s a fun way to play because you can jump in and out of matches and just fight without having to loot and run a full game of battle royale — especially since Mobile is meant to be played anywhere and maybe you just want to get a quick round in before your next meeting.
However, I was a little disappointed to notice that in playing Apex Mobile, whether on team deathmatch or battle royale, using your Legend’s abilities is less of a focus, making it feel like less of a team-based game. On PC/console you definitely want to be using every bit of your Legend’s kit to your advantage and work on the synergies you can have with your team. But in Apex Mobile, it’s more about the Legend combinations and teamwork; even in battle royale, it just felt like a longer game of team deathmatch and solo play since most of my teammates opted to simply run into fights on their own and not combine abilities or support. That’s probably because it’s much easier to drop into battle royale in Apex Mobile and survive on your own than on PC/console, in part due to there being bots in the servers and also having more ammo in your inventory means you can survive longer in fights without having to stop to loot. I still enjoyed playing and winning matches whether my team was with me or not, of course.