Apex Legends Nintendo Switch Review

  • First Released Feb 4, 2019
  • NS

Apex Legends continues to be a superb battle royale game, but you do not want to play it on Switch unless that's your only option.

In a sense, Apex Legends is not the same game that we reviewed back in February 2019--the roster of playable characters has doubled to 16, three full maps are in rotation, and several different modes (including ranked) are included. There's also a story that's delivered weekly via map changes and comics that have built the game's lore. Additional features have been implemented, like clubs for players to join, cross-play support, and limited-time events. On top of all that, seasonal content introduces substantial meta changes, daily/weekly challenges, and rewarding battle passes, transforming Apex Legends into something greater.

And yet, despite these adjustments, the core of Apex Legends remains intact. It's still a squad-based battle royale that encourages teamwork with an excellent ping system, where you begin each match picking from a roster of hero characters that possess unique abilities in order to fulfill different roles in battle. The core principles that made Apex Legends work so well back when it first launched haven't changed over two years later.

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All of which is to say, Apex Legends is still really fun and worth jumping into if you haven't yet. And now you're able to do so on Nintendo Switch. But just because you can play Apex Legends on Switch does not mean you should. This port works, but only in the loosest sense of the term; this is the worst way to play Apex Legends.

To the credit of developer Panic Button (a studio responsible for a dozen Switch ports, including Rocket League, Doom, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus), I'm amazed Apex Legends works on Switch at all. This is an online multiplayer game that hosts up to 60 players in a match, each of which take place on some pretty large maps. I've only had one crash in my five hours with the port; it was during the character selection process, and the Switch managed to reboot the game fast enough for me to rejoin my squad just as we touched down on the ground. And if I can humble brag for a second, we still went on to win that match.

None of that changes the fact that it feels like the Switch is barely making it work. On Switch, Apex Legends targets 720p resolution while docked and 576p in handheld--numbers that closely resemble the resolutions on baseline Xbox One, which also targets 720p but can fall short. However, it's not the same, as the Switch port seemingly manages to reach those resolutions only by compromising on graphical detail, draw distance, and the speed at which assets are loaded. So on Switch, you might see a building in the distance, but it won't have nearly the same level of graphical detail as it would in the other versions of the game. And on top of that, though the Switch port targets 30 frames per second, you can tell that it dips below that.

That's all a very technical, gobbledygook way of saying that Apex Legends looks muddied on Switch, whether docked or in handheld, especially in comparison to playing it on Xbox One X, PS4 Pro, Xbox Series X|S, PS5, or PC.

Now, on a surface level, this just means the Switch port is less pretty, which has no gameplay ramifications (but still makes me sad). When first turning on the game and looking down at Kings Canyon, I couldn't help but mutter, "Look how they massacred my boy." But in a more substantial way, these drawbacks in resolution and frame rate put you at a disadvantage when you're fighting against someone who's playing on any other system--because, on Switch, it's harder to see people from farther away and it's more difficult to discern individual bullets. In a fast-paced battle royale like Apex Legends, knowledge is power and the ability to make split-second decisions with the information you have can be paramount for success--and that's just harder to do on Switch, which can lead to frustrating losses when you're put into a match with Xbox, PlayStation, or PC players.

As an example, let's look at guns. In Apex Legends, guns that typically pack the most punch are the ones with semi-automatic fire. You're getting a slower fire rate in exchange for increased firepower, encouraging you to take your time with aiming instead of just squeezing the trigger. This gives you options: If, say, you're carrying heavy ammo, do you want to use the M600 Spitfire and rush enemies with a flurry of bullets or rely on the 30-30 Repeater where each individual bullet can be charged if you wait a breath between shots. But on Switch, where the frame rate regularly fluctuates below 30fps, it can prove difficult to land shots with something like the 30-30 Repeater that relies on precision, because your image isn't keeping pace to accurately track their movement and animations, making it more difficult to line up shots. This is less of a problem at close range where pinpoint precision matters less and tracking targets is easier. But at that range, automatic weapons like the Spitfire typically excel over the 30-30.

And granted, as Phil Hornshaw points out in GameSpot's original Apex Legends review, this game's meta does naturally skew toward close-range weapons like shotguns, so you'll probably be regularly fighting up close anyway. But there are situations where a mid- to long-range semi-automatic weapon is preferable. On Switch, where I'm not really afforded that option, it seems like there's an unfair advantage to anyone else in the match who's playing on Xbox, PlayStation, or PC.

Thankfully, you can disable cross-play, but that does limit you. The pool of players you'll be able to match with will be significantly smaller, increasing the likelihood that the game may struggle to connect you to similarly skilled players. This could mean that every so often you'll either have a longer wait time to get into a game or you'll quickly get matched up with players who either won't put up a fulfilling challenge or prove to be too frustratingly good for you to take on. And of course, if your friends are already playing on other platforms, turning off cross-play means you can't team up with them. So although disabling cross-play is an option, it isn't a satisfying solution to the overarching problem: that the Switch just isn't the ideal way to play Apex Legends.

You ever play with an Octane who role plays just a little too much and aggressively jump pads towards two squads that are fighting each other when it would be way smarter to just calmly wait for an ideal opening? It's me. I'm that Octane.
You ever play with an Octane who role plays just a little too much and aggressively jump pads towards two squads that are fighting each other when it would be way smarter to just calmly wait for an ideal opening? It's me. I'm that Octane.

Given the fast-paced nature of Apex Legends' fights, it can also be a bit of a struggle to play with the Switch's Joy-Con controllers. Thankfully, I don't have too much drift on my pair, but the analog sticks still proved to be a frustrating hassle for the game's competitive demands, especially in handheld mode, which feels like a very unnatural way to play a first-person shooter. Motion control (which is enabled by default) does not help--in fact, it's worse. You can't achieve the level of precision you need for a competitive first-person shooter like Apex Legends by using your Switch or controller to move the camera. My enjoyment of the Switch port improved immensely once I started using a proper gamepad/controller (a PowerA Enhanced Wireless Controller in my case).

And on that note, I did have moments of fun playing Apex Legends on Switch. Panic Button has managed to take a game that I love and make it work just well enough on Nintendo's hybrid console. I don't want to keep playing it on Switch with its many technical concessions (nor do I want new players to be introduced to Apex Legends this way), but this port is--in its current state--a decent last resort. If your only way to play Apex Legends is on Switch, then you now have that option. Just know that you're signing up for something less than ideal.

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The Good

  • This game is still a superb battle royale with smart improvements to the genre's formula, such as intuitive looting mechanics and an informative ping system

The Bad

  • Resolution and frame rate limitations can negatively impact your ability to execute on in-match strategies, effectively use certain firearms, and stay competitive
  • You're at a disadvantage with cross-play enabled, but disabling it can cause matchmaking issues

About the Author

Jordan has put 860 hours into Apex Legends on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. He played the game on Switch for another five hours for this review, using a code provided by PR to unlock 11,500 Apex Coins.