Available On: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Fortnite exists in that odd space between a public beta test and a full release. Epic Games’ online tower-defense, third-person action hybrid can be purchased right now; but it’s actually launching as a free-to-play title next year. The closest equivalent is a Steam Early Access game. An Early Access purchase grants access to the live game right now, as well as some extra loot.
Fortnite’s laborious focus on grinding and digging through random loot mars an otherwise fun experience of scavenging, leveling, shooting, building, and defending with friends.
Riding the Storm Out
Fortnite’s colorful world is youthful and vibrant, and its heroes wonderfully diverse. The promising story kicks off with an inept but earnest robot trying to establish an outpost against the world-ending threat of The Storm. The storm periodically spawns zombie-like enemies in a horde format: perfect for the tower defense portion to kick in as your hero rushes to save a fort using traps and weapons.
Alas the story quickly fades away when the lengthy series of tutorial missions kick in. The story takes a firm backseat to the gameplay.
Fortnite intuitively combines tower defense building with third person action, evolving from past hybrid games like Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die. With the push of a button your hero can switch between a familiar weapon-toting badass to a builder.
As a builder you can cycle between floors/ceilings, walls, stairs, and roofs to quickly – or carefully, construct whatever you need. You can throw up a single wall to help against ranged attacks, build a flight of stairs to reach higher ground, or construct an entire fortress from the ground up. An easy system lets you add/subtract pieces of walls and floors to create windows, doors, arches, or ramparts. Even with a controller building was a breeze.
Everything you create requires supplies. When you start a mission you’ll want to explore the randomly generated world to scavenge. Building materials are used to create traps, walls, weapons and ammo, and you’ll need plenty to keep up with the action.
Thankfully exploring is fun, even on emptier, easier missions. The ability to tear down walls and cars with your pickaxe and build stairs to reach higher places makes you feel like a superhero living in a world of LEGOs. The randomly generated maps create lots of fun mini-events like collecting Blue-gel, rescuing survivors, and finding treasure chests.
The inventory screen is a bit of a mess, however. Trying to scroll through all your schematics to build a new weapon after your beloved shotgun breaks mid-fight is frustrating.
Most missions end with a survival objective, where you and up to three others must hold out against enemy forces. Here the tower defense portion shines as you work together to build defenses, traps, and supplies.
Missions are fun but eventually grow repetitive due to the incredibly slow leveling progression. You end up repeating the same few missions over and over.
Everything you acquire can be leveled up: weapons, traps, heroes, survivors; and you have multiple skill trees to fill out. While it’s nice to always be working towards unlocking something, it takes forever to reach the next power level tier to unlock new missions, and gain new heroes and abilities. You can earn big loot drops in the form of piñatas, but what you get is completely random, like a card pack. The entire experience feels like a grind that’s meant to support the game’s free-to-play model.
As I was writing this preview, Fortnite added an all-new multiplayer mode called Battle Royale. And yes, it’s exactly like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. And I mean exactly: you and up to 99 others parachute drop from a fly-over island. From there you quickly grab supplies and try to survive until the end on one life.
It’s fun and frantic, with a few rules tweaks to the formula. Everyone starts the same, which eliminates hero abilities, and weapons are found instead of crafted. That dumbs down the already simple gameplay quite a bit, but the ability to build fortifications remains, giving Fortnite Battle Royale an interesting quirk. I never experienced any lag or connection issues, and the solid gunplay and tight controls served the action very well.
It’s not going to replace PUBG any time soon, but could serve as a fun alternative – particularly for younger gamers wanting to experience Battle Royale gameplay (Fortnite is T for Teen versus PUBG’s M for Mature).
There are many free-to-play games that I wish I could just plunk down a set amount of money and purchase normally. Fortnite is very much in that category. Its entire system is built around grinding levels and hoping for good loot to support its free-to-play model. It’s a shame because the world is lovely and the gameplay feels tight and satisfying, whether you’re setting up a gauntlet of traps, sniping enemies from a custom-built perch, or finding treasure in a far-flung corner of the map.
I can see myself continuing to enjoy Fortnite, but I hope Epic Games tweaks the progression to make it more user-friendly and less of a slog.