First-person shooters have transformed before, and it’s often the smallest and most seemingly no-brainer tweaks that do it.
In the late ’90s, games like Descent and Duke Nukem 3D unlocked Y-axis aiming while Doom and Wolfenstein 3D were still left-and-right only. Halo 2 helped to popularize the idea of ditching health power-ups in favor of regenerating health. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare showed how sticky online play could become when you add in unlocks and level progression.
Now, we have Apex Legends and its brilliant ping system delivering a simple yet effective way for teams to coordinate without having to rely on voice chat.
First, it’s important to understand what kind of game we’re dealing with here. Apex Legends is a battle royale, a buzzy genre that’s been popularized in recent years by the likes of Fortnite and PUBG.
A typical match pits 20 three-player squads against one another on a massive map. You start with nothing but have the ability to land virtually anywhere on the map when a match begins. So working with you’re squad, you’ve got to procure some gear — weapons, ammo, healing items, and the like — and stay alive longer than anyone else, all while the boundaries of the map get smaller every few minutes.
To really excel and work as a team in a game like this, you’d normally need to use voice communications. But the ping system in Apex Legends allows you to put your crosshairs over anything — a map location, an enemy, a desirable piece of gear — and mark it so your two squaddies can see it.
It’s more than just a visual cue. Your character verbally identifies whatever it is you’ve pinged. And the icon that pops up in each squadmate’s heads-up display carries a similar level of detail. You can tell if an enemy is marked, or just evidence of an enemy footprint. You know how far away it is. If it’s a piece of gear, you know its level of rarity.
The amount of information is hardly overwhelming; a glance is all you need to know what’s been pinged, where it is, and whether or not it’s worth attending to. But even that small amount of info is so much more than a context-free checkpoint marker in your HUD would normally provide.
It’s a literal game-changer for someone like me who tends to avoid using a mic unless I’m playing with friends. And I’m sure it’s an even bigger game-changer for people who are unable, for whatever reason, to use voice chat. In one of my first matches, I directed my squad to a large cache of rare armor and then guided us into a tactically advantageous position, all without uttering a single word.
Plenty of games give players the ability to mark targets in a way that teammates can see. The Battlefield series has done this particularly well, allowing designated squad leaders to communicate which positions to attack or defend using nothing more than a button press. Apex Legends just does it better.
You can mark a wider range of things, and with a greater degree of specificity. For non-verbal players — whether the lack of voice comms is a choice or a necessity — it’s more than enough to convey intel, share discoveries, and even take the lead. And even if you’re using a mic, pings still make it easier to direct your squad’s attention toward nearby enemies and gear finds.
It’s still early days for Apex Legends, of course. We don’t know how much of an impact the game’s genre twists will have in the long run. But Respawn essentially reinvented the wheel here, creating a system of communication that effectively negates the need for verbal comms. Competing shooters would do well to take note.