In April 2021, I had a modest 70 hours in Apex Legends. My most-played legends maybe had about as many kills, and while I'd been playing since day one, it's a game I'd loved from a distance—taking frequent breaks and forgetting about the game for entire seasons at a time.
In December 2021, at time of writing, I have well over 700 hours in Apex Legends. I've over 3,000 kills as Horizon alone, and fought my bitter way up the ranks to reach Diamond. I'm obsessively checking (very selective) leaderboards to see if I'm in the top 100 this week, and diving into the spiciest drops for a shot at finally snagging those elusive 20 Kills / 4,000 Damage badges.
In a bizarre year that saw me briefly become a competitive Splatoon 2 tournament player, Apex still managed to be not just the multiplayer shooter, but the singular game that absolutely defined my entire year.
I've always been fond of Apex Legends. Since day one I've been obsessed with its slippery buttslides and more frenetic take on the traditionally sluggish battle royale format. But Apex is a bloody hard game and, initially, I never put in the time to grok its gunplay—which, despite the fast pace of play, still requires you to understand bullet drop and recoil patterns.
Early Apex also seemed like its world hadn't really found its footing. Still tied to the Blomkamp-esque military sci-fi of Titanfall, the game had a sort of muddy feel across its setting and characters. The launch legends were fun, but not fully fleshed out into the weird and wild characters they could be. And while King's Canyon was a fantastic first step for this newer, faster battle royale, it could be awful boring to look at sometimes.
Still, I popped in every other season, each time proclaiming this was the multiplayer shooter I'd been waiting to be hooked by since Hawken's untimely demise. World's Edge brought an explosion of colour and public transport to the game (before Respawn tragically blew it up). Olympus went even further, taking the game to a pristine floating city—a beautiful, willfully artificial arena so vibrant as to rival the game's own launch cinematics.
But there was still something keeping me at arm's length. For all its improvements, I was yet to discover the most important element of any hero-driven shooter in Apex. I still hadn't found my main.
In hindsight, it's kinda bizarre that it took me so long to latch onto Apex Legends' resident astrophysicist, Dr Mary “Horizon” Somers. I absolutely wrote news posts about her arrival last November for this very site, not once making the connection that, as a dorky, neurodivergent Scottish lass with flawless red hair and a penchant for space nonsense, Respawn had basically gone and put me in their wildly popular battle royale—and it wasn't until a few ex-RPS pals asked me to join their stream back in May that everything finally clicked.
There are mechanical reasons I adore playing as her, mind. Her toolkit plays perfectly into everything I love about Respawn shooters—a passive that lets her ignore fall stagger and move with increased air control, making traversing maps a joy. Going back to other characters (even movement-centric legends like Octane) feels sluggish when space mom's gravity-defying moves let you bound across even the largest map with effortless whimsy.
But Apex does a phenomenally good job of helping you “embody” the character you're playing. It's not just abilities—everything from where the camera sits and shakes to first person animations, voice barks and interactions with other characters sells the idea that you're playing a person, not a loadout. When that character so happens to be an idealised version of yourself, the pull is impossible to ignore.
To get a wee bit personal for a moment—as a trans person with (probably) ADHD myself, I often find I have a very loose sense of self. Because of that, I hyperfixate hard on characters that show parts of myself I recognise, or aspire to. With Horizon that's everything, from an absolute thicket of red hair to her anxious, fidgety idle animations.
I'm well aware that I'm not, actually, a fictional astrophysicist. I've no desire to be a mother, and any possibility of me going into the sciences was extinguished back in high school. But in trying to be just a tad more Horizon, I've discovered parts of myself I've learned to love more. That I like the sound of my voice more when I lean into the (somewhat latent) Scottish-ness of it. That my hair looks straight-up incredible with it cut in the same top-heavy weight. That in exercising more often to fit a costume I'm commissioning (at a frankly irresponsible cost), I've become much more comfortable in my own body.
It's ultimately not that bold of Apex to put a middle-aged white woman in a game. There are broader discussions around where Respawn continues to succeed and fail in representing different cultures, races, and genders (though I do largely feel it succeeds). But on a gut level, I find value in seeing that Respawn felt a character that looks, sounds and acts like me would be a worthwhile addition to its roster.
It's not just yer space maw I fell in love with this year. Apex Legends' storytelling has been in overdrive the past few seasons. There's now a reason to care about the characters, in a way that was never present at the game's launch.
Over time, characters have developed rivalries, friendships, romances and fallouts, laid out in cinematics and playing out through a growing web of interpersonal voice lines. Your squadmates aren't just friendly guns, they're people who bicker and flirt and hold bitter grudges against each other.
But so much more character has been given to this cast by the community—an effort that Respawn hasn't just tolerated, but actively encouraged. Fan-made comics, artwork and animated shorts have been made canon, and while Respawn still ultimately has control over canonical works, the number of voices that have helped shape the Apex universe is staggering.
These stories might have larger-than-life stakes and sci-fi nonsense, but more than anything they exist to humanise a cast of remarkably grounded murderbuds. The Apex roster may consist of nefarious scientists, Mad Max pit fighters, cyberpunk hackers and literal skeletons, but these shorts and comics reveal much of these to be wrestling-style facades. Extravagant personas that mask a cast of deeply flawed, familiar human beings.
(And, err, three robots).
The Apex Games might be a bloodsport, but increasingly they are a vessel for a group of queer disasters, burnt-out fighters and delusional simulacra to air out their grievances on a bloody stage.
But none of this, not the cast nor the world nor my floaty doppelganger, would work if Apex wasn't just an absolute blast to play. It is still a joy, a perfect balance between Titanfall's immediately frenetic gunfights and the tense downtime and scavenging of a battle royale, played out in delightfully paced 20-minute chunks.
In the past year, it's only gotten bigger and better. The big new addition is Arenas, a sort of Valorant-like 3v3 mode that sees teams face off in elimination rounds, buying weapons with a light economy system that pushes you to claim riskier parts of the map for currency. It's a fantastic way to get straight into a fight with the guns you like and facilitates some brutally tense comebacks.
Every new season has added something new to the pool. Olympus established itself as the game's best map by far, one that only needed slight changes in Season 9. That season's new legend, Valkyrie, was a fast favourite with her instant-use jetpacks and unashamedly lesbian flirting. Even Season 10, the low-point of the year, still made some much-needed changes to World's Edge—though sadly didn't go so far as to blow up Fragment.
Underperforming legends like Rampart and Wattson have gotten some much needed love this year, too. And while it took a minute to grow on me, the vast jungle island of Storm Point is coming up rapidly on Olympus as my favourite map, having helped carry me to Diamond this ranked season. With every passing month, the community also finds new ways to wrangle extra speed out of the game's engine. You've heard of tap-strafing, but did you know the hot new movement technique is simply to punch the ground?
See, I'm constantly on the lookout for a new shooter to take over my life. For years, Apex Legends was almost that game, but it wasn't quite ready to bring me all the way on board. Since those May streams, however, barely an evening has passed where I haven't stepped off the dropship for another round of the Outlands' favourite bloodsport—and with every session's improvement, I find more joy in the sheer act of running and gunning (and occasionally floating) across Apex's battlegrounds.
2021 was packed with games I adored. Gorgeous, inventive, heartfelt games like Sable, Townscaper and Exo One, games that'll stick with me for a long time yet. But if I'm truly honest with myself, Apex Legends is the game that defined my 2021—embodying an idealised version of myself, sliding down hills at supersonic speeds, climbing the ranks by steadily improving my aim and occasionally hurling my singularity-spewin' robot son at baddies.
At this pace, Apex Legends will probably be my defining game of 2022, too. Catch you when I reach Apex Predator, aye?