Preview: Fortnite is a fun base defense game that is overflowing with loot but struggles with its co-op design
Get ready for loot. Lots and lots of loot.
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developers: Epic Games, People Can Fly
Publisher: Epic Games
MSRP: Starts at $39.99 and goes up to $149.99
Fortnite is a game I thought was never going to see the light of day. After being announced all the way back in 2011, with more than a fair share of silence during that time, it would not have been unusual for the game to be canned at some point. But you have to give Epic Games some credit for sticking with it, and finally getting Fortnite into the hands of players. That said, I can’t help but think that it’s extended development period has forced Epic to take on an alternate approach in how the game is monetized.
In terms of how it actually plays, Fortnite is a bit more...fractured than I was expecting. When the game was first announced, Minecraft was just getting started on its Mega hype train, and Fortnite sounded like the first real alternative offering to what Mojang had built. The ideas that it pitched; that you could customize your own fortress, with other players, and defend it from waves of baddies at night. It had a familiar pattern, but the idea of injecting a bit more action into the equation was certainly tantalizing at the time.
In the technical sense, Fortnite does do those things, but it lacks the attachment and permanence of the creations you can make in Minecraft. Couple in the fact that the game throws an almost literal mountain of crap at you, in the beginning, intending to be rewards for actions you don’t fully understand, and you’ll find that there’s a certain level of patience required as you sift through all the stuff and make sense of the game.
Here’s what you need to know about Fortnite.
Not everyone is going to be a fan about how Fornite monetizes itself.
I’m talking of course about microtransactions. Yes, Fortnite, despite costing at least $39.99 for entry into this Early Access version of the game, packs in an assortment of microtransactions on top of that. All of the microtransactions involve purchasing in-game currency which can, in turn, be used to buy the game’s version of loot boxes, Llamas. The microtransactions are, of course, optional, and merely provide a way to unlock Fortnite’s many bundles of stuff that much quicker. There’s no argument to be made for any unfair advantage either since the game is purely a co-op experience.
That said, what is curious about this pricing strategy is that it smells like Epic is trying to recoup a significant portion of its development costs right away. Normally, I’d be all for it, as I’m typically the type to forgo the “corporate evil” schtick, but this feels different. Fortnite intends to go fully free-to-play on its full release next year and purchasing this Early Access version grants you the title of Founder as if it’s something with a significant quantifiable value. It’s not.
Founders coins allow you to purchase “Launch Event Llamas,” which are look boxes with chances for earlier access to better characters, items, etc. So essentially, paying for the game is a microtransaction in and of itself, as the payoff is unlocking in-game items at a faster rate as well as being able to play the game before everyone else. This is all a matter of opinion, of course, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are the type who is bothered by microtransactions.
In terms, of how it plays, Fortnite feels good, but its mission design quickly becomes predictable, and the co-op rules can’t quite keep it together.
From a technical standpoint, Fortnite checks all of the right boxes. The game is incredibly smooth with nary a drop in frames, the gunplay has the right amount of zoom, and enemies seem to have just the right amount of health to fall quickly, while still feeling like a threat thanks to sheer numbers. There’s nothing about the gunplay that you haven’t seen before, but it feels like Epic has effectively channeled their 3rd-Person Shooter expertise into Fortnite, and it shows.
That said, the game can miss the mark at times when it comes to being a co-op game, particularly at the outset of a “campaign mission.” Fortnite breaks itself up into a series of missions to tackle to unlock stuff, and each mission boils down to pretty much the same premise. Scour the environment for resources, survivors, and hidden goodies before building a fort around the primary objective and defend it from the horde.
This is all well and good, but the problem comes, particularly when playing with randoms, when everyone goes off and does their own thing during the Scour Phase. Part of the reason this happens is that certain campaign objectives that you’ll come across require you to Lone Wolf it for a while until you find what you are looking for. Even after everyone comes back together to build the base, I’ve discovered that not everyone is willing to part with their resources to build the base.
This is where Fortnite begins to come apart at the seams, as the game seems to encourage a sense of “every player for themselves inadvertently.” Your resource pool carries over from main missions to building up a Home Base that is all your own and one that you have to keep coming back to defend (not to mention being the only structure of any real permanence in Fortnite). So it becomes a question of “why bother to invest in a fort with a bunch of randoms that’s just going to disappear the second the mission ends?” It’s just more beneficial to you and logical to keep building your base against the increasingly difficult waves of enemies you’ll face in the main game.
For a game that prides itself on being a co-op experience, Fortnite doesn’t always do a great job of encouraging that sort of play. It’d be one thing if the game required you to look out for yourself and help others only as much as it benefits you and your base’s survival (which would be kind of cool). But it doesn’t, and as a result, the co-op can feel half-baked outside of the parts when you’re shooting Zombies.
Fortnite will constantly throw loot your way, even if much of it doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Between weapon schematics, Trap schematics, Survivors, Defenders, playable characters and whatever else I’m forgetting, it’s just a lot easier to refer to all of Fortnite’s different types of loot as “stuff,” so that’s what I’m going to do. There’s a lot of stuff in Fortnite, as making literally any progress, no matter how small will toss you an unlock of some kind with even more stuff. This can be especially overwhelming at the outset, as I recall spending a good five or ten minutes just whacking loot Llamas over and over again.
Fortnite’s intention is to make you feel rewarded for accomplishing a task, but I felt like I was being rewarded for reasons I didn’t fully understand, so the luster of the reward was immediately lost. That said, a little time and patience to go through Fortnite’s many Menu tabs gradually brings the bigger picture into focus, and once you start “retiring” the stuff that’s useless to you for added XP to the stuff you do use, you can see where players will become addicted.
The verdict so far.
I’ve been so back and forth on Fortnite since I started playing, so it’s hard to definitively put my finger on it one way or the other. The game does a lot of things well, like base building, 3rd-person shooting, and looting, but it’s not a master of any one of those things. What the game needs to do is decide if it wants to be a true co-op experience, and if it does, it really needs to tighten up its mission design and diversify it.
Right now, its missions lean on repetition and some occasional funny writing in a world you don’t get to explore fully. There’s a distinct barrier between the player and the world that Fortnite tries to present you, so whatever attachment it wants you to feel doesn’t come to pass. It also doesn’t help that the only thing of permanence that players have is their base which right now is the only thing worth investing heavily in.
I will say that if you are a Loot hound, there’s no doubt that you will find a lot to invest yourself in with Fortnite, as the game has it in spades. If you’ve got some like-minded friends to play with, that will also help a ton, so if you can check off those two things, Fortnite is worth your time.
It’s also worth noting once again that Fortnite will eventually turn free-to-play and what you’re paying for right now isn’t the final version of the game. It’s difficult to project what non-paying players will get in the future, but that is something to consider. Fortnite is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.