Fortnite is a strange game to try to explain in a single sentence. It’s a base building, objective defending, team based craft and shooter with strategy elements. I think. It’s been out in alpha and beta form on the PC for a couple of years, and now it’s the turn of Xbox One players to get involved, thanks to its introduction as a Game Preview title.
Coming from Epic Games and People Can Fly, the game has been described by the makers as “Minecraft meets Left 4 Dead”, which is a pretty fair description of the game. The world has been destroyed by a mysterious storm, wiping out most of the population and unleashing the Husks – a zombie like horde that just want to destroy the few remaining people that somehow survived. In order to survive, your character must gather resources, build a base and then defend it from the waves of the undead… or transformed… or whatever they are!
As the game opens, there appears to be a rescue centre that is run by a bunch of robotic helpers. These guys have distinct personalities, and their leader, RaY, has a very amusing American accent that really fits in with the lines that have been written for her. Coming from Epic Games, we’ve seen this kind of characterisation in their games before, and they certainly seem to have a knack of matching a character with a voice, I mean who can forget Marcus Fenix’s gravelly growl? Anyway, once RaY has found you, she decides that you are the perfect fit for the recently vacated role of Commander, so before you can say “How’s Cliffy B these days?” you’re whisked into the shoes of the first of Fortnite’s several classes, the Soldier.
This acts as the tutorial mission for the game, and introduces you to resource gathering and crafting. Resource gathering is a fairly simple affair – simply hold ‘Y’ and your weapon is replaced with an enormous pickaxe, which you can then apply to various things in the world to gather the relevant resources. So hit a rock and you’ll get stone, a tree and you’ll get wood (no sniggering please) and hit a car and you’ll get metal and nuts and bolts and stuff. Your pockets are capacious, and hold a staggering amount of resources without spoiling the cut of your suit, so that’s a sartorial win.
Once the resources are gathered, it’s time to craft. Now here there is a touch of genius, as the crafting interface for building structures is very easy to use. With a simple hold of the ‘B’ button, the crafting interface opens in front of your very eyes, and a world of walls, floors, ceilings and ramps is revealed to you. In the places that structures can be placed, the ghostly outline appears in the world, and is placed with a tap of ‘RT’. Soon you’ll be building floors, placing walls around a perimeter and dropping traps to help you kill the Husks. With a bit of planning, it’s possible to funnel the majority of the Husks into a heavily trapped area, which makes disposing of them an efficient procedure. Add to this the ability to edit existing structures and the possibilities feel endless. Imagine you’ve built a wall but can’t then see what’s happening on the other side… it’s possible to edit the wall and remove a couple of the 9 blocks each structure is made off, leaving a window to fire through. Or you could remove the top six blocks and leave a low wall that you can take cover behind as you defend the base.
Mentioning the traps, and there’s a lot of variety in those as well. They can be floor, wall or ceiling mounted, and come in electric, spike and launcher varieties. At least those are the ones I’ve seen so far! Again, a building strategy is helpful here, as launchers can fire Husks off cliff edges for an easy vanquish, for instance. Different trap schematics can be discovered in the Lloot Lllamas (yes, really) that are earned in the aftermath of missions, or that can be purchased with either in-game or real currency. Yes, micro transactions are alive and well in Fortnite. I’ve not yet had to resort to buying my way to victory with IRL currency, but it’s comforting to know that if I was suddenly afflicted with more money than sense, the option is there.
The missions can be undertaken either solo, or with friends or strangers via the medium of Xbox Live. The matchmaking works well, and the drop in/drop out aspect of co-op play is working perfectly, with random players joining and leaving the missions as the fancy takes them. Map exploration is a group venture, and as your compatriots find things or rescue stranded survivors, rewards for each player are placed on the map. In a nice touch, each reward package is tied to a particular player, so it isn’t just the guy who happened to be closest gets all the good loot, everyone has an equal chance to get the goodies.
Once the mission point is discovered, the base must be constructed around it, and then when the base is built to everyone’s satisfaction, waves of Husks will appear from the storm and attempt to stop whatever it is you are trying to achieve. There are a few different flavours of husk to defeat too, ranging from simple zombies who lurch up and either attempt to hit you, or apply their fists to the walls of your building. Other types include a baseball husk, who pitches bones at you, a husk with a beehive on his head who can use AoE attacks, and even a husk that can fling skulls over walls to damage your objective (remember to build that roof, guys!). Teamwork here is very important, with shoot outs to where the Husks are massing very helpful to keep your mission on track.
It’s in the middle of a firefight that another ingenious crafting part is revealed. Going full rock and roll with automatic weapons will drain your ammo reserve in no time, so Epic Games’ answer to this to hold your finger on ‘X’, the reload button. As long as you have the correct materials, your character will craft the correct ammo type for the weapon that you have equipped. This has saved my bacon on more than one occasion, as the Husks crept closer and the structure was being damaged…
The release model for this game is somewhat interesting as well. It is in the Game Preview program at the moment, and if you pay you can gain access to the “Founders Pack” that allows you play the game right now and grants some extra loot. If you don’t want to pay, then Fortnite is set to be a free to play offering sometime in 2018. The good news is that this game doesn’t play like anything else on the market, but the bad news is that the missions are somewhat samey – Go to a location, explore until you find the point you need to defend, build a structure, defend said structure until the time runs down, home in time for tea and crumpets. Rinse and repeat.
All in all, Fortnite is shaping up to be a very interesting proposition indeed. The blend of crafting, strategy, teamwork and Horde mode from the Gears of War games is a compelling one, and the “just one more go” draw is very strong indeed. With tweaks to mission structure and more variety, and with more exposition of how and why you are doing things (it’s a little sparse at the moment), then this could well be one to keep an eye on.