Apex Legends is the latest major cross-platform Switch port. After years of availability on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC, EA has finally brought the battle royale shooter to Nintendo’s handheld console, adding a fresh wave of players to the mix and a new, on-the-go option for existing Apex Legends fans. But there’s a glaring issue with the Switch port: right now, there’s no cross-progression, making the Switch port effectively a nonstarter for dedicated players.
At launch, the new Nintendo Switch version of Apex Legends offers cross-platform gameplay — meaning that you can play with and against players on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC in addition to other Switch players. But any progress or purchases that players have made on those other platforms won’t carry over. Effectively, Apex Legends players on the Switch are starting from scratch.
Despite the “Season 8” branding that covers Apex Legends, there’s no continuity for players on the Switch version — so much so, that players have to replay the tutorial before they’ll actually be able to drop into a full match.
In an interview with Nintendo Life, Chad Grenier (Respawn’s game director for Apex Legends) said that cross-progression is planned for the future, but with the caveat that “we’re a ways out from being able to offer that.”
Grenier explains that there are a mix of issues preventing Respawn from offering cross-progression, with contractual, legal, and technical problems that need to be sorted out. “It’s a complex challenge of multiple accounts existing for various users that we have to resolve or merge, there are legal and contractual things to navigate with purchasing on other platforms and having those carryover and also some technical challenges.”
Apex Legends is by no means the first mainstream game to run into this issue. Unfortunately, the lack of cross-progression is more common than not for most cross-platform games, both on the Switch and on other platforms.
Overwatch, for example, has been struggling with the lack of cross-platform progression and gameplay for years, despite the emphasis that Blizzard puts on cosmetic content unlocks.
Control has been ported to plenty of platforms since its launch, including Amazon’s Luna, a cloud-based version for the Nintendo Switch, and a next-gen version for PS5 and Xbox One. But there’s no crossover for saves between those titles — if you started Control on a PS4, then that’s where your save is stuck forever, even if you want to try streaming it from an internet service or playing with fancier graphics on a next-gen console.
Obviously, there are real technical and legal issues here. Overwatch’s skins are heavily tied to its loot box economy, which are all purchased through the platform-specific stores, which can complicate things. Control’s lack of next-gen saves are tied to updates to the game engine that prevented Remedy from offering continuity for existing players.
But there’s also a wealth of games in 2021 that show that a better way is possible. Fortnite and Rocket League are the gold standard here: simply log into Epic’s free-to-play games on your platform of choice, and all your stuff is there waiting for you. You can play with friends on any platform (well, except iOS), from any platform, with all of your skins, emotes, items, and unlocks.
And even recent Ubisoft games have added cross-play and cross-progression through Ubisoft Connect, letting players start playing sprawling RPGs like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on one system and continue on another.
In 2021, offering cross-progression and cross-play is increasingly becoming table stakes for major games. With massive titles that can take dozens, if not hundreds of hours of players’ time, locking down progression to a single console or platform just doesn’t make sense.
And that’s doubly true for free-to-play games like Apex Legends, which live or die on the strength and size of their multiplayer community and the money that they can make off selling cosmetic items. When your game is free to download on any platform, it’s critical that the time and money that players invest into getting those digital rewards be consistent across those platforms, because the collection of those items is the main reward structure of those games.
Bungie figured that out a while ago, back when it transitioned Destiny 2 to a free-to-play title — it now allows players to sync their in-game items to whatever platform they’re playing on (even if Bungie is still working out cross-platform gameplay).
The whole point of putting a game like Apex Legends on the Switch is to offer players another avenue to play the game. Sure, it may attract some new players, but for many others it’s a way to spend even more time with a game they already love. But by locking things like hero characters or items that players have painstakingly unlocked through time or money to a single platform, the game is still stuck in an outdated model of game design.
Players have a finite amount of time. And why would you open up Apex Legends to unlock all your old gear again when you pick up your Switch when you could make progress on your Fortnite battle pass — a far more substantial unlock that isn’t tethered to a single system — instead?