After a battle with my wallet, I got my hands on Fortnite, a game that I thought was lost in Epic Games’ development hell where Unreal Tournament has been residing for many years. Epic Games are clearly not rushing into making new games, but probably doesn’t have to with all those royalties from Unreal Engine 4. Six years have passed since the reveal and while that’s more than enough time to make six Call of Duty games, it isn’t enough to make one Fortnite (or write an ASoIaF book). Another testing phase stands in the way towards release, a paid testing phase to be more precise. That’s right, Fortnite is going through the stage invented by Valve, by now infamously known as Early Access (thanks Valve!), but ironically not launching using Steam’s services. So, let’s find out what is Fortnite and what it has to show for after six long years.
Fortnite is an online co-op game born out of a mixture of genres and ideas borrowed from multiple popular games like Minecraft, Plants vs Zombies, Orcs Must Die! and whatnot. But it’s a good mixture, taking just the right amount of ingredients to create a stew that won’t lose its taste after several reheats (but what do I know? I’m level 21). That’s quite an achievement, because in case you didn’t know, Fortnite is a pretty repetitive and grindy game. You get to be one of humanity’s last survivors which, assisted by a bunch of handholding clumsy robots, commands a series of eccentric heroes in a battle against the colorful and not at all scary storm-born zombies. Apparently the world’s over the top militaries, which includes thousands of nuclear weapons, can’t stand against the threat of comically looking zombies. As the world is engulfed into the menacing purple mist, the heroes have to find a way to stop the storm while saving a survivor or two (if not out of human decency then maybe for the rewards).
Players get to choose between the available heroes from a diverse roster whose size varies pretty much based on the amount paid for the game (sketchy, right?). Get your pickaxe, a common American gun and get picking and killing left and right. Scavenging is a big component and flattening abandoned cities for resources is a big part of the gameplay. When you are not tearing down the work of our society you might want to do some constructive work and I mean that as literally as possible. Building structures is important and not all that difficult. You can get creative and raise artistically looking structures with just a few clicks. But keep in mind that all that time and effort might go down the drain when waves of mindless art-hating zombies will come to destroy your creation.
A mission of Fortnite is like playing a different genre with each stage. It starts with the survival-like mode that includes exploration to find treasures, complete random missions and scavenge for goodies. This pretty much translates into being a looter with a complete disregard for those that vanished or as the game puts it, you are humanity’s last hope (paraphrasing of course)! The second stage is getting all minecrafty but with more dangerous tools like half-deadly traps which require a series of upgrades to become deadly. The last stage is a mindless horde shooter, but the addictive kind, with surprisingly solid shooting mechanics, plenty of guns to choose form and a progression system that hardly makes any sense (six years and you choose size over substance?!).
When all the mission fun is over and the rewards are collected for a job successfully done, the game is set on ruining the fun experience with a maze of menus filled with the most dull progression system possible. It’s like a collecting game within the actual game, which sounds like a meta changing inception, but quite disappointing for a Nolan fan. You get to treat survivors like objects and fill album-like pages with your highly rated personnel in order to boost your heroes’ stats, because reasons. And this wild party doesn’t stop as the mobile/Facebook waiting games are crawling deeper into the PC market with their latest victim being Fortnite (who the hell thought that was a good idea?!). I’m scratching my brain for a compliment for this menus mess but the only good thing I found were the play or quit buttons.
For all the loot shooter elements and the many available progression systems, Fortnite does a pretty bad job at providing any loot. Sure, those of us who paid 40+ bucks upfront (this sounds dirty) get an advantage in the form of substantial llamas, which are piñatas filled with tiered loot (something quite normal for a zombie apocalypse). The llamas contain everything you need to actually progress through the game’s many repetitive tiers and the easiest way to get them is with your wallet. Which begs the question of where this game is heading when its free to play model will kick in sometimes in 2018 (in before getting stuck in Early Access hell).
For all its pros and cons, Fortnite’s in-game production value screams AAA. There is a plethora of splendid colors put together in a comedic fashion suiting for a game that’s not meant to be taken so seriously. The overused zombie apocalypse has been approached in a comedic way through a hilariously beautiful artistic direction but backed by powerful tech. It is a pleasure to pick your way through the bouncy walls of a house, watch the animation of bricks coming together to form a wall or shoot your way through a sea of zombies as sound and visuals come together in a feast for the senses.
Fortnite has found a way to put together many beloved gameplay elements in a working and financially rewarding way. It’s a praise worthy accomplishment when a game that follows similar patterns for every mission remains enticing and entertaining. The melting rainbow visuals, the fun gameplay and the comedic factors have the unreal power of carrying the missions past the monotony caused by the repetitive objective design. But at the end, there is always that reality check of the cheap progression system and a questionable business model and Fortnite must use its Early Access immunity to find an answer to these problems.