Respawn's battle royale is more than just a fun shooter—it's got a fantastic and diverse starting lineup
Last week’s launch of Apex Legends was a big enough surprise itself. The fact that it’s easily the best battle royale game on an increasingly crowded market was even more surprising. The most unexpected surprise, however, is just how diverse the cast of playable characters is. The base set of six “legends” features characters of varying ethnicities, genders and sexualities. In fact, the only white character is one of the premium unlockables, and he’s quite literally toxic.
The in-game lore is light, and character dialogue rarely extends beyond gameplay-related callouts, so it’s unlikely that you’d notice just by playing—but the fact that Respawn put this much thought into their ragtag bunch of killers is quite something. It’s a far cry from the colourless worlds of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Ring of Elysium and goes a long way toward making it feel like part of a fleshed-out sci-fi universe. In the absence of more direct ties to the Titanfall series, Apex Legends carves out its own unique identity off the back of its characters. It’s not perfect—one character still falls into the generic non-binary trope of their gender being listed as a faux-mystery “unknown”—but what a start.
And this kind of inclusive representation is important, even if it isn’t immediately recognisable. The entertainment we consume should reflect the diversity of the society it’s formed in, and while the game development community has a long way to go, making changes in the final product will have the knock-on effect of inspiring more young creators to really push into the field. By challenging the view that developers must be white and straight and wealthy enough to relocate into cities, games like Apex can make real, tangible change.
It also helps that Apex got a lot of eyes on it in a very short space of time. EA and Respawn’s plan of announcing and launching the game in one swoop paid off in spectacular fashion, hitting 25 million players in one week. More people are playing and discussing Apex Legends than just about any other game right now and, given the quality of the gameplay, it’s unlikely that’ll change any time soon. It’s a case of breaking the cycle that has been engendered in game development; the more people see of themselves in the games they play, the more likely they are to get into development. As it stands, the status quo appears to be LGBTQ+ developers (as well as developers of colour and other marginalised communities) working in the indie space.
Apex Legends isn’t really the start of something, and neither is it a particularly massive leap forward for the whole industry, but it feels like a positive marker for where parts of the AAA development scene are at. The fact that the biggest game on the planet right now is as inclusive as it is shows that the right changes can be made, and that shifting the industry’s direction is a constant work-in-progress.