Fortnite is the eagerly awaited, co-operative scavenging survival tower defence game from the good people at Epic Games and People Can Fly. Over five years in the making, it has finally come out of its beta stage and stepped into the light.. Released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One under the cover of Early Access, Fortnite has an interesting business model, one which warrants further detail, more on that later.
Game-wise, Fortnite, as you can tell from the earlier introduction has got an awful lot going on, making it really difficult to describe. Arguably the best way to think of it is that it mashes together Minecraft (scavenging and base building), Orcs Must Die (tower defence), Sunset Overdrive (third-person shooter with a bright art style) along with the additions of class-based systems, co-op gameplay (4 players), a metric tonne of loot and of course zombies. There is a real argument to be made that there is actually too much going on here and the danger when people attempt this sort of ‘box ticking’ game that you end up with a series of interesting parts which don’t necessarily mash together too well, leaving the player feeling a little flat.
The Minecraft element is best described as solid, the controls feels easy to use with the placement of walls, floors, ceilings and so on to secure your precious base, and even in our time with the game we saw some fantastic concoctions. Early on in the game there is little need to bother though, as the enemies are so weak in the first area that players will just grab a rifle, craft some bullets and mow everything down. That’s a false economy however as the skills you will have learnt in these early stages will very much be required as you progress. Every mission begins with a scavenging phase and everything, note everything, needs to be built from your resource pool; weapons, traps, the floor, the bullets in your gun, absolutely everything. As a result some missions can take time and shouldn't be rushed, particularly as you progress. It’s worth noting also that even though you have a central base which is yours and needs to be protected as well as expanded over the course of campaign, quite a lot of the actual smaller missions follow a similar path. Each has a multitude of objectives but most, particularly early on, focus on resource gathering, mini base building and defending. Minor variety as well as a wealth of random smaller objectives populate lots of the missions and grant resources and loot but the premise remains and takes advantage of all of the elements Fortnite has to offer.
The core of the game is a campaign which spans across multiple missions within multiple territories - we haven’t seen everything the game has to offer as it has an MMO-like structure / feel to it so we would fully expect (as it’s early access) for content to change, evolve in time and also be added as revenue streams pick up. The campaign ‘story’ isn’t much to write home about; there is a storm shield which needs to be increased in power throughout the life of the campaign and you build your base around it and associated amplifiers. The storm contains zombie hordes, obviously, and you undertake a variety of missions to loot and shoot accordingly.
The actual third-person shooter element of Fortnite is really fun, visually it looks fantastic and seeing a horde of zombies charging at you and your teammates can provide some genuinely hairy moments later on. Guns act with the solidity and variation we’ve come to expect from a shooter and the variety of both melee and ranged weapons is excellent. It is, however, a bit of a pain that every single solitary thing you use has to be crafted and degradation is a thing. As a result that legendary sniper rifle which you used to boss your way through the last few missions, you know the one that took you multiple mission replays to acquire the resources to craft...yeah, that’s going to break after a while.
The campaign starts to come a cropper towards the end of the first area and we start to see some of the more MMO-style, grind-based missions which highlight that the game isn’t taking you on the linear path it first makes out. Repeating missions begins to become normal and you find yourself entering every mission with not only different objectives from the core mission itself but also from the other team members (if through matchmaking). Playing the game solo is completely doable but keep in mind that you might not have the same core objectives going into a generic mission that everyone else has and this can cause issues. It’s also a bit of a shock when you reach the second main area, a whopping twenty or so hours into the game and realise that entire first area and the myriad of missions therein were in fact a giant overly long tutorial.
The core pillars of Fortnite are solid, but to date we’ve played enough to see some of the more glaring issues and this is where things get messy. Creating and defending a base with up to three friends is genuinely fun but Fortnite seems to have decided to absolutely bog itself down in MMO / F2P style mechanics which only serve to reduce amount of time within that game where you are having fun (building or shooting stuff). The UI is straight from PC and doesn’t really lend itself particularly well to console (we played on PS4) - you could quite conceivably cope with this if there wasn’t so much damn stuff you needed to manage and navigate all the time outside of actual missions. Let’s try and break this down quickly - Heroes, Defenders, Squads, Squad Members, Survivors, Hero XP, Survivor XP, Schematic XP, Transformation, Expeditions, A Collection Book, Schematics, Crafting Materials, Inventory, Storage, a gigantic Skills Tree, Research tree, Skill Points, Loot Llama’s and Mini Loot Llama’s...as you can see, it gets messy, fast.
Layered over the top of some fun gameplay elements are a plethora of individual in-game currencies, everything seems to have its own levelling system, the majority of which are poorly explained and it’s very much on the player to figure out the benefits of all these things and why to bother. As it transpires, Defenders, for example, are used to pop into any missions which involve you defending your base, so that’s helpful particularly if solo. Squad members can be added to buff your character and multiple squads are built up over time to provide further passive boosts to things like health and shield. A further squad can be used, in time, to perform resource fetch quests for you, again, really helpful but barely detailed.
Putting these two things together, poor UI and a bloated mess of grind-based mechanics, then sadly you realise that you are spending more time learning and wrestling all the games systems than you do actually shooting zombies in the face. This right now seems to be the biggest issue with Fortnite in its current state: bloat. It currently feels like a whiteboard session happened and a follow up session to whittle the feature set down to something more manageable and fun never happened.
With so many systems, so many things working together and with poor explanations across the board, Fortnite is really doing way too much at once. Built from the ground up to be free-to-play, which it will be in a year or so, Fortnite is a game which acts so incredibly free-to-play it may irk someone to become an early adopter, buy that founder pack with real life money and jump in now.
The core gameplay elements of Fortnite are really fun; building, crafting and shooting mix together well and facing off against massive hordes of zombies with your friends is a riot. Everything sadly is simply covered in a wealth of mess right now to the point where it’s a bit too easy to lose interest - with a bit of streamlining and some UI work there is definately a good game here waiting to get out.