What is a Fortnite?
[Sorry for the lack of images…I absolutely suck at remembering to take screenshots, so enjoy the stock footage included in this post]
The name Fortnite is a play on words: A “fortnight” is two weeks, but a “fortnite” is a game about building a “fort” in preparation for the “night”-time onslaught of a band of monsters that have appeared across the planet after the arrival of a mysterious storm.
After some 90%+ of the world’s population mysteriously vanishes in the wake of this mega-storm, those left behind can be assigned to one of two categories. There are the survivors who find themselves stranded in the middle of the maelstrom, and then there are the defenders who find their way to a bunker run by a floating droid named Ray whose organization may or may not be accidentally responsible for the storm. Technically, Ray and her bots were set up to prevent the storm, but something bad (and unknown at the start of the game) happened and things went to hell quickly. So with Ray as the dispatcher, the players assume the role of one of the elite agents who deploy technology to push back the storm while also rescuing survivors. This is accomplished in three phases.
The first is the gathering phase. A team of four players is placed into an open zone which might be a town or a forest (in the initial rounds). During the first phase, players must destroy trees, rocks, buildings, cars, and an amazing array of pretty much anything in a bid to collect building materials (wood, stone, and metal). Along the way players might uncover crafting materials, ammo, or special unlocks by searching shrubs, bookcases, and bunkers.
Once the players have located their objective, they need to “activate” it in some way, depending on the story of the round. At this point, they need to build a defendable fortress around the objective, made up of walls, floors, and traps. The building can be as simple or as elaborate as the players see fit (although there are sometimes requirements of the mission to build a certain amount, less than a certain amount, or in a certain direction).
The final phase is when the monsters show up. They appear where the storm-born lightning strikes and amble in towards the fort. It’s up to the players to actively attack the monsters, but also to use their structure to keep the hoards from plowing through the fort and destroying the objective. Monsters come in different forms, starting in the early rounds with your standard shambling zombie-esque creatures. Then there are the tanking monsters who are harder to kill, and even monsters dressed as baseball players who throw electrified shin-bones at you from a distance.
The game is very reminiscent of Orcs Must Die with the addition of the free-roaming collection phase. You have control over how much material you gather to build walls, floors, and ceilings, so it always behooves players to spend time exploring the map. Players can also uncover survivors being swarmed by monsters ahead of the main event, and helping these NPCs provides rewards. Building is advertised as being easy, and it’s no lie: you decide what you want to build (wall, floor/ceiling, or roof) and the material (wood, brick, or metal) and you just place it where the glowing outline allows. Because the monsters will attack your fort, you have to be able to repair it in the heat of battle, which only requires the right material in inventory and the press of the “F” key as you are running past the damaged structure.
Combat is fairly standard. There are ranged and melee characters, although it seems that (at least with primarily ranged characters) anyone can equip both. Rounds that I have played so far are mostly cases where everyone is on the roof mowing down the waves of monsters. I suspect that as the game progresses and both the objectives and the terrain change over time, different structures and strategies will be needed. So far rounds have ranged from stupidly easy to frantic clusterfucks where the team was running around the perimeter to take on the waves and repair the fortification. I suspect that the former example is how the game was intended to be played.
Is the game fun? Yes. Yes, it is, although I suspect that there’s a narrow set of conditions under which this is true. For example, the initial collection and exploration phase can take as long as you like. I’ve already had fears that some rando on the team is going to get impatient and start the process while the rest of the team is spread out across the map and insufficiently packed for the next phase. I do prefer co-op games over competitive games, but some people still find ways to make things all about them. I’ve played about 50% of my rounds with all random teams and so far everyone has been either cool or just silent, focusing on the game the way I believe it was intended to be played, but we always remember the worst experience above all else, so I’m dreading the time I end up alongside one of those “blame everyone but themselves” type players. That said, playing the game with friends can be a blast. The game doesn’t come with voice comms, so a Discord setup (PC) is very much recommended.
My only complaint so far — which sounds generous until you understand that it covers everything that isn’t the act of collecting, building, and shooting — is that many pre/post round activities are horribly opaque. There are literally too many systems to enumerate here, and almost none of them are explained well enough in the game. For instance, you get “survivor cards” which can be used to build “teams”. You’re asked to slot some of these cards early on, but you can’t use those teams until you unlock certain nodes on your skill tree which, of course, aren’t nodes you unlock up front. You have two (at the start) avenues of advancement. Your research tree runs on credits earned simply through the passage of time, while skills level based on tokens you earn by completing rounds. Both weapons and playable characters can be assigned XP, but there’s no rhyme or reason to how: should we stockpile XP and test drive characters? Is the XP drop rate such that we can spend with wild abandon? And then there’s the blueprint and inventory system, which you can’t actually use until you are in a game.
We also had a bit of a hiccup in a friends-game where no one could build until I (the party leader and hence the map “owner”) gave the rest of the team permission through the shield generator control panel. I don’t remember that being explained at all, and that was an issue considering one goal of the mission was to expand the fort. I’ve also heard of issues where non-round owners couldn’t build or pick up items; I’m not sure if that’s related to the permission control panel, or just a really annoying bug.
Don’t let this dissuade you from considering the game, however. There is so much crap dropping that experimentation is easy and almost consequence-free. Between rounds, you can take as much time as you like to investigate the systems, although you might not be able to activate or use them early on. What I didn’t know was that Gearbox was involved in creating this game, which explains the game’s keyless lock box system of comically literal loot pinatas that you swing at to unleash a torrent of yet more stuff like XP boosters, blueprints, survivor cards, and materials. Like Borderlands, there’s no shortage of crap to fill up your inventory, and I say that in terms of it being a Good Thing(tm).
Fortnite is a fun group co-op game that’s certainly more enjoyable with friends who can work together and share the same pace. Early on the mechanics are interesting enough between rounds that can range from easy-going to head-on-fire crazy-time. I have no idea what the game will be like in later stages after several dozen rounds of collect-build-defend start to get stale. I do wish the out of round systems were better explained or weren’t accessible until the system was ready to devote time to explain them. There’s a lot going on, and being able to click on things not only raises more questions than they answer but makes me (at least) feel like I’m always only playing at a fraction of the potential I’m allowed simply because the ancillary systems are just a little too black box. Still, the gameplay is fun, the visuals have their own style that lends itself to the sometimes bonkers premise, and the game has enough going for it to be either a primary progression game, or a secondary party game.