Apex has always sat nicely in my gaming diet as a secondary live-service game that I can play with friends. It’s only been my ‘main’ game a couple of times, but it largely sits as the game I boot up to play a few days a week, acting as a support for whatever else I’m currently sucked into. It was a nice arrangement.
I really loved playing ranked in Apex Legends, too. As a player of Valorant and Overwatch, having a central number go up or down is a great motivator to play more and improve. That’s why I was excited to jump into Season 13 this week and start seeing what was new.
However, what I was met with was a brutal experience of mismatched squads and scant rewards. See, Respawn has decided to rework ranked, a great decision as it hadn’t seen much change since Season 2 when it debuted. However, some of the choices they’ve made, while not awful on their own, compound into a dreary experience.
It’s important to note, I understand the logic of these changes. In a blog post (opens in new tab) going over the ranked rework, Respawn explained pretty plainly: “In a battle royale, placing worse than the bottom half of the lobby is losing.” It’s a clear and understandable position. To support this, they’ve reduced the value of kills in the early game. This is to discourage you from dropping in a busy area, killing a bunch of people, but then burning out fast. Instead, Respawn says, “Survival is the primary objective.” Again, a perfectly reasonable idea on paper, as it encourages you to try to get into the last squads and prioritise teamwork above all else.
In practice, it’s very harsh and can make good plays feel unrewarded. For an in-match example, a friend and I dropped near another team. I went down but she cleaned up and secured three kills, wiping out the other squad. However, as often happens in Apex, a third party came over and took us out as we were getting back on our feet. She lost rank on that game despite having multiple kills, in a situation where it felt like we never really had a chance.
With third-partying so frequent in Apex, these harsh kill penalties leave you feeling like you are walking away empty-handed. Promoting team-play is a great design goal, but it’s also at odds with a huge number of solo players, who can’t, or prefer not to, use active voice chat.
Bronze's event horizon
Adding to this, the Bronze tier now has a cost to play. Ranked has always had a system where you’d win ‘RP’ for good placement and kills, before facing rising negative RP costs as you advance through the competitive tiers. However, Bronze was always free, and acted as a nice introduction to the Ranked season. A place to get your feet underneath you and allow you to start building to your ceiling. Now, it feels like a struggle to rise out of the game’s lowest tier thanks to the RP reward changes.
Being in Bronze never feels good, and other than the new Rookie tier for burgeoning players, it’s the lowest you can rank in the game. I’m not an amazing Apex player, but I am decent, and losing RP despite getting kills in the early game at lower tiers just feels bad.
This is complicated further by there being a hard stop to how low your rank can drop. In Overwatch, you can freefall forever until you find players on your level. Apex has a floor though, and it’s pushing so many players of varying skill levels to the bottom of the pile. That’s creating an awful vacuum at the lower tiers of the ranked experience.
Compounding this further, players that were in higher tiers in previous splits have been pushed down into Bronze with the refresh of the season. In every game, there are squads who should be in higher tiers, just rolling lower-level players. If you happened to land near them, it doesn’t matter if you have a few kills, you’re not going to be making very many gains. This will ease with time, but right now, it just feels bad.
Now, again, these changes all make sense, and I suspect they feel excellent for those at the top end of the skill table. For players who grind the game day after day, who have been wanting teams to play smarter and with more considered strategies, this is a dream come true.
That said, at the bottom of the pile, it feels like trying to get out of a black hole’s event horizon. Apex has had a consistent place on my schedule since it launched. You could log on, play some ranked, and generally, you’d have a feeling of progress or forward momentum at the end of the night. Now though, Apex feels like it’s lost a sense of attainability for a player who plays a couple of days a week.
Of course, Apex has an unranked mode, and the moment to moment of the game is great as ever. However, as a numbers-motivated player, it’s hard for that to remain compelling with no sense of progression. There was a ranked experience for players not mainlining Apex all day, but that feels like it evaporated overnight. From word of mouth, it seems those on the top of the skill tree are having a great time and that experience should definitely be preserved. However, as a player in the lower ranks, it’s a demoralizing system that is killing my passion for a game I’ve spent so long in.