How Apex Legends plays on Nintendo Switch

Apex Legends Bloodhound
Apex Legends Bloodhound (Image credit: Electronic Arts)

It's no secret that the Nintendo Switch hardware pales in comparison to the Xbox One or the Playstation 4, even more so when compared to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. This makes the "impossible" ports on the Nintendo Switch even more impressive. Games like the Witcher 3, Doom Eternal, Crysis Remastered, and even Ori and the Blind Forest running on Nintendo's hybrid console is a technical feat, despite their obvious visual and performance downgrades. They might not be the prettiest games on the system, but more importantly, they're playable, in both docked mode and handheld mode, where I imagine is how many Nintendo Switch owners spend their time.

The latest "impossible" port to come to the Nintendo Switch is Apex Legends, the incredibly popular free-to-play battle royal from Respawn Entertainment, the same studio that brought us the criminally underrated Titanfall games, with assistance from Panic Button, the developers responsible for porting graphically demanding games like Doom, Doom Eternal, Rocket League, Wolfenstein 2, and Warframe to the Switch.

Going into this, we can already see that there have been necessary cuts to make the online shooter work on the Nintendo Switch, but what exactly was changed? What makes the Switch version unique? And is it playable? Overall, Apex Legends on the Switch is a mixed bag. It's noticeably rough, but it's also playable — just barely.

Apex Legends on Switch: Not winning any beauty contest

Apex Legends Scoreboard (Image credit: iMore)

Right away, players downloading Apex Legends on their Switch will notice a downgrade to the visuals. The Nintendo Switch version tops out at 720p docked and runs at 30 FPS, which is half the frame rate of its console counterparts. Everything from character models to guns look like they've been smeared with Vaseline. Unfortunately, Apex Legends art style betrays it in this regard. Unlike Fortnite, whose cartoon-like art style doesn't look too bad despite suffering the same visual hit on the Switch, Apex becomes quite ugly on the system, which is a shame because the roster is full of colorful characters, but they're just set against muted, blurry backgrounds.

Handheld mode drops the game's already muddy visuals down to sub-720 levels, though, like most Switch games, it benefits from the smaller screen. Also, I felt that the performance was more solid in Handheld mode, though the Joy-Cons are not shooter friendly. If you want to play this game, the only way to go is with the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller.

Apex Legends Fire Ring (Image credit: iMore)

Textures load in right before your eyes, and pop in is frequent. It's incredibly apparent when you're diving in with your team from the dropship and you get a complete view of the map. The geometry of the battlefield is still the same, but it looks very muddy and blurry until you're close enough for textures to start loading in. It gives the game the feeling that it's just barely being held together, and that might actually be true. In my playtime, I did experience a few crashes as well as some visual glitches. At one point during training, my gun disappeared though my character held their arms out as if they were still holding it.

Playing the game is a similar story, though, in my opinion, it doesn't suffer as badly. The half framerate is noticeable at first, but it's something that can be dealt with. However, Intense firefights did make the framerate shake to sub-30 levels. Still, it holds together surprisingly well for the most part, and I didn't experience any lag at all while playing online. Loading times are also surprisingly fast, and it didn't take much time at all jumping back to the lobby to search for another match.

Apex Legends on Switch: Taking the fight online

Apex Legends Elimination (Image credit: iMore)

Apex Legends is a multiplayer game and a cross-play one at that, which means Nintendo Switch players can join in on the action with their PC and console counterparts. I'm not as crazy about first-person shooters as I was when I was younger, but stepping into the cross-play arena was a sharp reminder that I was playing on inferior hardware, and don't even think about trying to keep up with cross-platform players in handheld mode.

I found that playing among other Switch players, however, wasn't as hectic and was actually a lot more slower-paced. While cross-play is a fun option, Apex is just too fast of a game to be enjoyed properly on the Switch when other players are moving twice as fast, even if you make use of the gyro function available exclusively in this version of the game.

Apex Legends Switch Special Pathfinder Skin (Image credit: iMore)

To celebrate the launch of the Switch version, Respawn is offering 30 free battle pass levels to bring Switch players up to speed with everything going on in Season 8. There's also double XP for the two weeks and a exclusive skin for Pathfinder.

All these are nice additions to get players invested in the Switch version, but note that there's no cross-progression across platforms, a huge omission that makes the Switch version unappealing to everyone outside of those who own a Switch as their primary console.

Apex Legends on Switch: Is it worth the download?

Apex Legends Jumpmaster Switch (Image credit: iMore)

At 25 GB, Apex Legends isn't too huge of a download, and it's free-to-play but not pay-to-win. It's a competitive game that's a delight to play with friends, and the Switch version, albeit the worst version of the game, is still playable, and that's the most important thing here. I know I sound harsh in my criticism of the Switch version, but I realize that the team at Panic Button had to make the cuts necessary to make the game work on Switch at all. The Switch has a small but robust collection of great first-person shooters, and Apex Legends is another feather in the system's cap. It's a miracle that the game as well as it is on Nintendo's hybrid handheld.

If the Nintendo Switch is your primary console of choice, then this version of Apex Legends is uniquely tailored to you.

If the Nintendo Switch is your primary console of choice, then this version of Apex Legends is uniquely tailored to you. You'll get plenty of bonuses to start your Apex career as well as the ability to join in on cross-platform skirmishes.

However, if you play Apex on another platform, there's really no reason to check for the Switch version. The lack of cross-progression means that players won't have access to any of their unlocked cosmetics, while the graphical and performance hit make this game hard to turn to when you've seen it fully realized at higher resolutions.

As the Switch begins its fourth year on the market, it's starting to become apparent that the Nintendo Switch is in desperate need of a revision if Nintendo wants to continue receiving third-party support. Even recent first-party titles like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity brought the Switch to its knees, and I could practically feel my Switch wheezing while I was playing Apex Legends. I hope that I can return to Apex Legends on the new Switch, rumored to release at the end of this year, but until then, I'm sticking to other versions of the game.

Zackery Cuevas

Zackery Cuevas is a writer for Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore. He likes playing video games, talking about video games, writing about video games, and most importantly, complaining about video games. If you're cool, you can follow me on Twitter @Zackzackzackery.