You have to steal a train.
As part of the map changes that mark a new season of Apex Legends, the train that used to travel around World’s Edge was pulled from its rails and scattered around the map back at the beginning of Season 6. Luckily, the Winter Express game mode is back for another run around the track until January 4, 2021, and your mission is simple – kick everybody else off the train.
In Winter Express, you’re tasked with capturing the train three times as it tours from station to station around the map. You can only capture the train when it’s parked at a station, and if there are any other squads on the train your progress will be frozen while the train is contested. Luckily, there aren’t 19 other squads in this game mode – just your squad of 3 players and two other trios. The first team to capture the train three times wins.
Winter Express changes up huge chunks of the design philosophy that make Apex great, but it manages to stick the landing. Every character has their own equipment loadout that only changes every 24 hours, and there isn’t any loot on the map. If you’re knocked to zero HP, you don’t get to crawl around with a knockdown shield like you do in the Battle Royale modes – you’re simply eliminated for the rest of the round. You do, however, get infinite health and shield restoration items, so if you can find a moment of peace in the middle of your train heist, you should be able to heal yourself back up.
Certain characters really excel at Winter Express, but the rotating equipment kits keep your choices interesting – do you really want to play a legend with a good Winter Express kit if their guns are garbage for the next 24 hours? Unfortunately, Lifeline and Loba are easy to rule out entirely – Lifeline can’t use her powerful revive to save her teammates, and Loba’s passive and ultimate don’t do her any good as there’s no loot to go looking for.
On the other hand, Rampart, Bloodhound, and Caustic dominate in this mode. I was playing Caustic in this powerful trio and the ability to lock an area using Rampart’s walls, Caustic’s gas traps, and Bloodhound’s wall-hack vision is unmatched. If that team can stake any claim inside the train itself, the other two squads can expect a long fight ahead if they’re hoping to wrest control of the train for themselves. Aside from the mentioned outliers, the mobility Legends excel, as usual – as long as your whole team is operating on the same strategy of being the last team standing.
Winter Express originally debuted last year, and there have been some great changes for the 2020 iteration. The main one is the addition of the hovertanks, which normally appear on the currently off-rotation Kings Canyon. These hovertanks are the spawn point for any squads who were killed in the previous round, and they float around the map following the train until it reaches the next station. This keeps the action tighter by reducing respawn time, as last year you had to skydive all the way from the top of the map to the station if you were respawning.
That flow of action feels truly distinct from the pace of fighting in the regular Battle Royale gameplay of Apex. In most early and midgame fights in the BR mode, you can try to retreat while the squads around you fight each other. You’ll also probably have fewer resources than you do in Winter Express, which creates additional pressure and an upper limit on how long you can stay in the fight. But in Winter Express, you start the game with well-equipped guns and a backpack full of ammo, and the aforementioned infinite healing items. If you retreat, you’ll give up your angle on the train – and if you lose the train point without dying, you won’t get respawned with more ammo. Winter Express encourages last-ditch blazes of glory in a way the BR mode never will, and it’s a great highlight of the variety in each Legend’s kit and the way they respond to different situations.
Apex players regularly praise the developers for the ingenuity behind these limited-time game modes, and beg for them to be added to the game full time. I doubt we’ll be granted that Christmas wish anytime soon, so hop aboard the Winter Express while you can – until January 4, 2021.