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Apex Legends’ fantastic new Control mode has one killer problem

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Here’s the deal: I absolutely adore Apex Legends’ new 9v9 Control limited-time mode. In the week-plus-change since it was released, everything I said in my preview holds true: it’s the chill, low-stakes casual shootout Apex always needed, and has comfortably fit into my rotation as a warm-up before I plunge into ranked lobbies. It is at long last a mode I can jump into with pals who haven’t played the game in months without them being miserably outclassed.

But almost immediately on its arrival, after I stopped playing with invite-only streamers and started playing with the rest of you on Season 12’s launch, it became clear Control had one, big, unavoidable problem.

You people just can’t seem to stop quitting mid-game.

Since launch, Control has been just as fun as I experienced in those closed previews. Matches are chaotic, fast, and surprisingly tense. Comebacks are frequent, and victory often comes down to a fraction of a percent. But where preview players were hardly gonna dip out of an extremely limited early access event, it turns out regular players are more than happy to bounce from a match that isn’t going their way.

The problem is, Apex has no method for backfilling teams once people quit—and as soon as one person decides they’ve had enough, and the match starts skewing too heavily in one direction, the losing team will gradually trickle away until only a player or two remain. In Halo Infinite, an imbalanced match will fill with bots until new players can be roped in. In Team Fortress 2, the game will swap over some players on the winning team to even the playing field. 

Apex doesn’t have any of those systems. And adding them isn’t an easy fix, either. As a battle royale, Apex is fundamentally built around the idea that once a game starts, nobody else is getting in. The mode itself already has to hack together nine-person teams out of a hard limit on three-person squads—an act that brings its own tiny frustrations. Team-wide communication is limited, assists on kills made outside your trio don’t count, and the fact that Apex is fundamentally built around the idea of the trio means we’ll likely never get to queue as a full nine-stack.

Adding backfill would be a monumental effort, but perhaps an easier one to justify if Control wasn’t currently such a fleeting thing. Right now, the mode is a novelty—a shockingly well-built and extremely fun novelty, sure, one Imogen and I played over on the PC Gamer Twitch channel last week. But a distraction nonetheless, one that’ll only be around the first three weeks of the season.

Did you know the PC Gamer team streams now?Imogen: I’m really bad at Apex LegendsAlso Imogen: pic.twitter.com/08UC0wIvz9February 11, 2022

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In that press preview, Respawn told us it wanted to test the waters, given how much of a jump Control is from the traditional Apex experience. But the fact that Control isn’t a permanent fixture means the resources likely haven’t been allocated to fix its most fundamental problems. Why go to the trouble of completely overhauling the game’s matchmaking systems, after all, if you’re worried Control might never return after February?

Respawn has noted that Control may make a return, whether in future stints as an LTM or as a permanent mode alongside Battle Royale and Arenas. I’m hopeful for the latter, but I’m also okay for Control to take a bit of time off the rotation to get a real overhaul once this three-week trial is up.

As an experimental new mode, Control is a wonderful addition to the Apex line-up. But it deserves a little more love to make it the truly outstanding alternative it could be—one with better team-wide communication, more locations to brawl over, and most importantly, a mode I can play without fear of being stranded by my lonesome.

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