Apex Legends Mobile for iOS review: Tension both in the match and in your hands

Apex Legends Mobile Home Screen Hero
(Image: © Carli Velocci / iMore)

iMore Verdict

Bottom line: Apex Legends Mobile is able to differentiate itself enough from its original version to make it worth checking out for both fans and newcomers. However, its restricted movement and touchscreen controls might make it offputting for those not comfortable with mobile shooters.

Pros

  • +

    Different enough from main game

  • +

    Mobile exclusive hero is great

  • +

    A lot of rewards, even for free-to-play players

  • +

    Streamlined looting and interaction system goes a long way

Cons

  • -

    High learning curve, even for fans

  • -

    Some guns are impossible to use

  • -

    No controller support... yet

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I've put over 200 hours into Apex Legends, but that number is on the low end compared to some of my friends who have clocked in thousands of hours. The character-driven battle royale from Respawn Entertainment has been a pretty big hit since its launch in 2019 and can be quite addictive. Not only has the studio done a great job with frequent updates, but its format allows each match to be different. You can switch out characters, who each have their own abilities, and play on different maps. Apex Legends encourages players to get better and to explore, which has always been a huge factor in its favor compared to other battle royale shooters.

With Electronic Arts' recent announcement that 70% of its revenue has come from live service titles, including Apex Legends — which has raked in over $2 billion since launch — it only makes sense that the company is looking to expand the game's reach. Enter Apex Legends Mobile, a version of the game built from the ground up specifically for mobile platforms. Like other mobile ports of popular live service titles, it manages to maintain the basics of what makes Apex Legends great but offers new features, an exclusive champion, new modes, and a lot of unique microtransactions that have become common on mobile.

What is most striking about Apex Legends Mobile is how separate it is from the main game. There isn't any cross-play or cross-progression, and there are wholly unique cosmetics exclusive to mobile. Most importantly, the game just plays differently. Thanks to mobile just being an entirely separate beast from PC or console, Apex Legends Mobile almost requires a completely new skillset. Those coming from the main game who want to check out the mobile version will be met with a high learning curve, although those who've played other mobile shooters or multiplayer games for iPhone will fit right in.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a code provided by Electronic Arts. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.

Apex Legends Mobile: What I liked

Apex Legends Mobile Level Rewards

Apex Legends Mobile Level Rewards (Image credit: iMore)

The first thing I thought when I opened up Apex Legends Mobile for the first time was how very… mobile-y it is; how much like an iPhone game it is. Apex Legends has a lot in common with other battle royale shooters, including both a free and premium battle pass and unlockable cosmetics, but Apex Legends Mobile really looks like other mobile live-service titles. It has a lot in common with the regular version of the game, but contains different animations and a ton of other reward tracks beyond just the basic battle pass. I unlocked both the free and premium versions of that track, but there were also Rookie awards to unlock, including a log-in bonus and a special mission track, and level rewards for just leveling up your character.

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CategoryGameNameXXX
TitleApex Legends Mobile
DeveloperRespawn Entertainment
PublisherElectronic Arts
GenreBattle royale
Minimum RequirementsiPhone 6S or later
OS version: 11.0 or late
CPU: A9
At least 2GB RAM
Game SizeAt least 4GB storage space
PlayersMultiplayer
Device usediPhone XS
Launch PriceFree w/IAPs

The UI has gotten a sizeable overhaul for mobile. Instead of having multiple tabs, most of what you need is listed at the bottom of the screen. You have the big "Play" button alongside map and mode choice next to sections where you can customize your legends and weaponry. In the top right you have the battle pass and underneath you have the seasonal events. If you have something new to check out, a small red circle will appear as a notification. There are a few areas that are hidden and new for mobile (specifically, Apex Packs you can open are hidden under the "More" tab instead of just being visible on the home screen), but it's all noticeably cleaned up and easy to click around.

After choosing my first Legend and finishing the tutorial mission (who had to be Bloodhound), I hopped into my first proper game. My hands did have to adjust to playing this fast-paced shooter on a touchscreen, but my brain also had to adjust for generally much slower gameplay. This might change once people become more adept at the game, but because of the limited range of movement with using a touchscreen joystick and the lack of visibility due to the much smaller screen, I couldn't move nearly as fast as I was used to with a mouse and keyboard. That meant I walked a bunch when my sprint input didn't go through or I had to turn around to make sure I picked up the items I required.

The pace of the game might be different, but the idea is still the same, and it carries over in the best way it can.

Speaking of looting, it's been streamlined here to the benefit of mobile players. You can set the game to automatically pick up loot you find on the ground if you need it. For example, if you have an open gun slot it'll just pick up a weapon nearby and subsequent ammo. If there's a part that'll fit with your gun, it'll attach it. It's not all easy though. For example, the game doesn't easily allow you to switch out weapon mods, specifically scopes. If you see a mod on the ground you want to pick up, but already have those slots on your gun filled up, you have to click on tiny hand icon that appears when you can loot. Then, you have to click on the item. A pop-up will appear that allows you to choose to attach it to a weapon or put it in a backpack. This is fine if you're alone and looting, but can be a pain if you're in a rush.

You can also set the game to automatically open doors or chests, which is a great way to streamline the looting and shooting process. You can even change your preferences in the middle of a match if you want with just a click of the "auto" button that appears.

There are a few new features that are exclusively available to mobile, and one of the biggest is the addition of Tokens. These are character specific and allow you to unlock perks and ability boosts for each Legend. Going into the Legends screens, you see something that looks like a skill tree. The more Tokens you unlock, the more perks you can equip —things like allowing ultimates to last longer or being able to gain shield health back after kills. This is a new way to encourage more play, since users can get these Tokens for free, but I wonder if it's too much of a boost that it'll impact longterm play and put new players at a disadvantage.

Overall, it doesn't always work, but Apex Legends Mobile is surprisingly functional, even in this semi-early state. It's not as quick as many players might like, and the touchscreen controls take some getting used to, but it does present a challenging shooter where positioning, movement, and teamwork are key to succeeding. You can even switch between first-person and third-person view if you need more visibility. I found my thumb sometimes not hitting the right inputs, especially during the middle of the flight, but my iPhone XS has a 5.85-inch screen, which runs much smaller than a lot of modern smartphones these days. The main buttons are spaced out enough and are sized properly to make using abilities and sliding not that difficult after a trial period. One button allows you to aim down sights and another shoots and that's it — pretty simple!

Also, do you know how old the iPhone XS is? It's nearly four generations old, yet the game runs smoothly. There are moments where I can tell the phone is struggling, like in loading textures and graphics looked a bit muddy, but I had no problems completing a match or moving across the map. I've run into more issues playing on PC than I did on mobile.

The most important things remain. When the shots landed and I was able to pull off a more complicated maneuver, it felt very satisfying. The pace of the game might be different, but the idea is still the same, and it carries over in the best way it can.

Hands-on with Apex Legend Mobile's exclusive champion Fade

Apex Legends Mobile Fade

Apex Legends Mobile Fade (Image credit: iMore)

The biggest news coming out of Apex Legends Mobile is undoubtedly the inclusion of Fade, a mobile-exclusive hero. There aren't any plans at this time to have him available for PC and console players, which makes sense considering he was built specifically for mobile. Play him or two minutes and you'll see how.

Even when I had all the other characters unlocked, I found myself returning to Fade time and time again.

It comes down to his abilities, which prioritize movement and positioning over damage or crowd control. His passive gives you a short boost after knee sliding, which is one of the key ways players move around in Apex Legends, and it greatly increases his speed compared to other champions. Like Wraith, he can also phase-shift, although he does it just a bit differently. Instead of running through an alternate dimension to escape gunfire, Fade flashes back to his previous location (about 60 meters). His ultimate is called Phase Chamber, which phases anybody in its radius out of the battle for a few seconds. This can be used defensively or offensively, whether you want to remove your team for a quick respite or temporarily remove an enemy team for a daring escape.

Because Fade has such a movement-focused skillset, he fits in quite well on mobile. He's not too difficult to use and his abilities don't involve setting up traps and other more complicated strategies. He's just hit and run. This might sound simple, but other champions are frankly more restricted in their movements on mobile due to the decreased field of view. This gives him a huge edge in fights, especially if he's taking on a squad solo. Even when I had all the other characters unlocked, I found myself returning to Fade time and time again.

Apex Legends Mobile: What I didn't like

Apex Legends Mobile Rookie Challenges

Apex Legends Mobile Rookie Challenges (Image credit: iMore)

Apex Legends Mobile ends up acting like a lot of mobile shooters or live service games. This is at once a good thing because everything mostly works as it should, but it also means it doesn't reinvent the wheel or make itself stand out in other meaningful ways beyond combat.

The most conentious aspect of Apex Legends Mobile will be the touchscreen controls.

Let's start with what will likely be the most contentious aspect of Apex Legends Mobile: the touchscreen controls. Depending on the size of your phone and how accustomed you are to playing on a touchscreen, the game could be too challenging, or even physically painful. I don't play a ton on mobile, but I have in the past, and found it wasn't for me because my hands would cramp up after a couple of rounds. The same occurred here, especially since I put a lot of tension in my hands when I'm in a heated match. As I mentioned earlier, touchscreen controls leave more room for error, although you can customize placement if you so choose.

The fact you need two buttons to aim and shoot, combined with the rigidity of movement, makes using some guns easy but, sniping was impossible. Unless you know the maps super well (and they are slightly different here than in the main game), it's tough to find a place to build a sniper's nest. While I'm a sniper rifle fan in Apex Legends, I found myself using more assault rifles and SMGs in Apex Legends Mobile, just because movement restrictions made it too difficult.

Apex Legends Mobile Combat

Apex Legends Mobile Combat (Image credit: iMore)

It's worth noting that you can use a game controller, but it hasn't been optimized, so Respawn discouraged use during the review period. I did pair up my Xbox controller with my iPhone though just to see how it worked, and found it to be serviceable. I'm not a console Apex Legends player though, so I'm not sure it would be a permanent switch for me, even if the feature was optimized.

Apex Legends Mobile doesn't make any huge innovations when it comes to mobile microtransactions, and seems to lean on them a lot more than the regular game does. First off, you have to play the game in order to unlock the base-level champions. You start off with just Bloodhound, but as you level up you unlock Pathfinder, Bangalore, Mirage, and the other launch-era Legends. (Fade can only be unlocked with premium currency.) While it's fairly easy to level up and unlock all of the characters, keeping them behind the early parts of the track means it takes longer to get to cosmetics and some of the many, many other unlockables.

There are so many different types of things you can unlock in both the basic level track and the battle pass that it's tough to keep track of them. For example, I kept forgetting I had passes for double XP in a match that I could use, or that I had Tokens to use. It wasn't so bad in the end, though, because it mean there was always something to click on.

Apex Legends Mobile: Should you play?

Apex Legends Mobile Champion

Apex Legends Mobile Champion (Image credit: iMore)

Respawn did something very interesting here. Apex Legends Mobile is both a port of the regular game and its own entity. It's the same base gameplay, but due to the nature of the mobile platform, it plays differently. Even if you've clocked 2,000+ hours into Apex Legends, you might have whole new experience playing on mobile. In a pre-release Q&A, Respawn developers noted how they wanted this game to be different from the PC and console version, and to that end, they succeeded.

How the game works for you will depend on how well you can handle touchscreen controls and if you're willing to wait for optimized game controller integration. It's also a matter of how much you want a mobile battle royale shooter. This is a big business these days thanks to the success of Fortnite and Call of Duty: Mobile, so it makes sense that other AAA companies are trying to get mobile versions out on the market. Microtransactions are a huge generator of revenue, whether the player want them or not.

Apex Legends Mobile is a very good version of this type of game, but whether it'll attract other Apex Legends players or if it'll build its own player base remains to be seen. However, if you want to just pop it open while you're sitting on your couch for a match or two (and have a battery pack nearby), you could have a decent time.