[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
As far as genre mash-ups go, Fortnite stretches the limits of imagination by cramming themes and mechanics from an astonishing array of other games into a single package. Mowing down zombies in Fortnite reminds me of playing Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, not just because it has a similar cooperative zombie killing theme, but also because it has an almost identical graphical style. Meanwhile, the mining and resource gathering elements in Fortnite work just like a stripped down version of Minecraft, or every other mining game if I’m totally honest. Base building is like Fallout 4 but more refined, whilst the character progression elements are a much more confusing version of Battlefield. State of Decay and Timesplitters are in there too, as is the weapon-craziness of Borderlands. There are just too many influences to name!
Some of these familiar features really worked for me, and there is a sense that Fortnite does a decent job of bringing the best bits of a lot of other games together into a single, relatively cohesive unit. This is especially true of the real meat of Fortnite, which is the story-themed, cooperative levels in which teams of players collect resources, build a base and then activate an objective before defending it against the horde. It is much less successful at presenting character, team and home base development, which took me a long time to come to terms with, despite a drip-feed of mini tutorials.
I’ll start with the less positive elements, just to get them out of the way. Fortnite packs a lot of complex ideas into the progression features of the game, and it is very confusing to begin with. This probably isn’t helped by the fact that the Founders Edition packs in so much loot that it is the only reason why I appended (Founders Edition) onto the title. The game presents loot in both chests (for doing well in a mission) and through Llama Pinatas, which are awarded for various milestones, or because you bought the Founders Edition, or because you paid for them with real money. I’m probably exaggerating, but my Founders Edition came with something like 25 of these Pinatas, and I’m not kidding, I probably spent about half an hour just opening them and holding the fast-forward button as tons and tons of loot cards spilled out.
Free stuff is not wholly bad – in fact it’s not bad at all – but what is less than ideal, is not knowing what to do with it. Pinatas contain new hero and survivor cards who become part of your team, and I then spent a frustrating five minutes wondering why I couldn’t select my new “Elite” hero. The reason was because I hadn’t yet been introduced to the concept of the unplayable teams of survivors that players can create and upgrade to achieve various benefits. My Pinatas also contained countless schematics, and many, many weapons.
The next time I looked at the inventory screens, it was no longer clear what I was holding, what I could craft and what I couldn’t, because whilst I had all this “stuff” I was missing a tiny collectible resource icon, barely visible on the schematic of the thing I really want. There are countless screens I haven’t described here as well, including leveling characters up, adding points into a vast skill tree that will make no sense at all to begin with, and much more. Did I mention the collection book? What about research? What about upgrading schematics and recycling stuff you don’t want (including characters) for resources?
I’m being a little bit harsh here because these negative experiences only reflect my first three or four hours with Fortnite, but it’s not as if the game becomes drastically simpler after you come to terms with them, it simply becomes more manageable as you get used to it. What the game is much better at, is the actual game play, which is currently a little bit lacking in challenge, but works really well in concept, and provides a good foundation for the kind of future improvements that these kind of games always seem to get over their lifetime.
Even though Fortnite contains a myriad of recycled elements from a large number of other games, it actually feels like something quite new and interesting to me – perhaps because it kind of matches the blueprint of a zombie killing, base building type of game that I feel like I’ve been missing for years. I really like that the developers have attempted to create a sense of purpose to a large number of the levels, rather than simply using a basic “zombies are attacking your house” template. It’s fun to explore forest, canyons and suburbs for resources during the first few minutes of each level, then activating the objective and building a base around it before attempting to hold it.
The exploration and mining element is perhaps one of the most fun things in Fortnite, and it’s fun to watch the players dash off to find the resources that they feel will help them create the optimal base for each given level. This is usually metal where there are cars to scrap, but stone does a decent job, and for those who have access to more powerful schematics, nuts and bolts and similar, more complex resources are a must. After this, usually as the result of an objective trigger being activated, players will build. Structures in Fortnite are rarely complex (because they don’t need to be) but even a team of survivors that don’t know each other will usually manage a four walled, two storied structure with steps, floors, traps and advanced stuff like healing pads. The promotional artwork shows towering great structures, but I’ve never been on a team that managed to build such a thing yet.
This might be partly because the level of challenge in Fortnite just isn’t there yet. Zombies rarely manage to reach the walls of any structure, and when they do, the chance of them getting through them and onto the objective is close to nil. I’m not saying I’ve never seen it, but where the game is best – in the missions – the game seems to be determined to give players the slowest possible ramp up to any kind of challenge. I wish they had reserved that level of cotton wool wrapping for the bonkers development aspect of the game, and just given me both barrels in the missions, however I guess that’s a bit of a harsh thing to criticise considering it might really appeal to some people.
All said, Fortnite has a lot of potential, and as a template for future enhancements I really like it. It looks great, it sounds good and it has a really fun feel to it that I guess would be much harder to patch in later than say, a higher level of challenge, or improvements to the progression screens. The bulk of the third person mining, crafting, building and shooting is all fine, and really all it lacks is a bit more impetus and a bit more challenge. Give players less time to mine, less time to prepare, and harder enemies and Fortnite would feel like a desperate fight for survival. Right now, it feels as if players (especially with the Founders Edition arsenal) are able to fend off the zombies without any real problem.
With all this said, I would recommend that interested players keep an eye out for Fortnite and how it develops. You may wish to get involved now for some of the early benefits, but if you have any doubts about what I’ve said, you should:
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