I jump off a floating platform adorned with a sole, lonely Christmas tree and plummet towards the snowy mountains of World’s Edge. So far, much the same as any Apex Legends match (barring the Christmas tree). But we’re all headed for a train, three squads of three converging on the same point. It’s like a snapshot of the past, a time before this iconic vehicle was torn from our collective grasp and left in pieces, strewn across the world of Talos.
Once we land on the train, all hell breaks loose. My teammate, Fuse, fires his Knuckle Cluster and tiny explosions pepper the carriage, singeing the festive wallpaper. An enemy Wraith is trying to hide behind a Christmas tree as she heals. There are opponents on the roof, more flying into the opposite carriage, and someone’s let off a Nox Gas Grenade that envelops the whole train in green gas like the Grinch who stole anthrax. All the while we’re hurtling along the tracks, snowy landscapes glimpsed out of the window or felt hitting you hard in the face when you’re forced into a hasty retreat.
There are two ways to win Winter Express: eliminate the two other squads, or capture the train for yourselves. It’s a simple premise, but that simplicity makes it shine. You don’t even need to loot as you pick from five preset loadouts before you jump into battle. It’s just fly, fight, heal, fight, die, fly, fight, win. Even healing is twice as fast as in regular gameplay, and you’re granted unlimited healing items – if you ever get a chance to use them. Fights are so frenetic and third parties such a core part of the gameplay that you rarely have a chance to properly reset without disembarking the train and leaving yourself stranded and far away from either of your win conditions.
It’s no surprise to hear that Apex players love jumping into the fun of Winter Express, but there’s another non-battle royale game mode in Apex Legends that is significantly less loved. Listen, there’s a lot to think about in Arenas. It’s just a 3v3 fight, granted, but there are Supply Bins and Loadout Drops, you have to think about your economy and how many materials you’re going to spend per round. You’ve got to push as a team and have good communication in order to take the win.
Communication is key in Winter Express, too, but random teammates are less likely to push random fights. It’s easier to communicate “enemy behind” as Ash teleports into the back of your cabin than attempt to lay out a full strategy for an Arenas round that is constantly shifting – and that goes double if you’re only using pings and opting out of voice comms.
But the star of the Winter Express is the titular train. It was great fun to drop in hot when it was hurtling around World’s Edge all those seasons ago, and it’s great fun now – arguably more fun. Back in the day, you’d have to rely on RNG as to whether you picked up a decent weapon (or any weapon at all) and would often end up facing an opponent with superior shields and a golden R-301 when you had meagre white armour and a P2020 pistol.
Such mismatches are gone in Winter Express, and it’s better for it. Now it’s a test of skill – albeit a fun test – as to who can shimmy around the sides of the carriage quickest or get the most effective angle from the roof. Just yesterday I was beaming opponents from the perfect rooftop spot, damage stacking up and enemies dropping. It was all fun and games until the third squad – I’d forgotten about Rust Team since they were eliminated earlier – respawned and landed right on my head. I’m no Hardecki, so the 1v3 was too much for me and I succumbed to the wrath of three shotguns. But I didn’t care.
We didn’t even win that match, but I had the most fun I’ve had in Apex Legends for a long time. Winter Express is about embracing the chaos and never overthinking – the opposite of Arenas. Arenas is tactical and technical, and unfortunately this makes it a little bit boring. I’m sorry, but someone had to say it!
I feel like a kid wishing it could be Christmas every day, but I’d love for Winter Express to be a permanent game mode, even over Arenas. We could have seasonal versions, with the train hurtling around Storm Point in summertime – the practicalities don’t matter, lore-wise this mode must be set in a parallel universe in the past or something. I don’t care how it happens, I just want it to happen. All I want for Christmas is Winter Express as a permanent game mode.
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