It’s hard to believe that Fortnite was revealed in 2011.
Epic Games has changed a lot since then. A studio that was once synonymous with “FPS” is now branching out into competitive MOBAs, but they still have plenty of shooter DNA left. With Fortnite, the problem was that I was constantly forgetting that it existed. For many years it was kind of a distant thought, while other survival games popped up around it en masse. At one time it was poised to be a game-changer, but based on my Early Access tests it has some more work to do. For now, it’s mostly just plain fun to play—even if I’m not running out to tell anyone about it.
Fortnite‘s theme is a bit at odds with itself, but it somehow works when everything is Frankensteined together. 98% of the Earth’s population is gone in a bleak but silly world now festering with millions of goofy looking zombies. At some points, I’m okay with it all, but the garish art style really turns me off—it looks like Team Fortress 2 ran through a blender, with a weird purple filter. Cutscene transitions help make the whole setup a lot more likeable though, and it’s growing on me over time.
The entire idea is to build a fort and fend off enemies while you do it. It’s a common survival mechanic that was popularized by Minecraft‘s zombie hordes, but with a shooter twist. Pretty much everything in Fortnite goes big, including the HUD and the crafting system. Being able to craft ammo on the fly is great, as is the streamlined idea of putting up floors and ceilings. It’s not so esoteric that you can’t just pick it up on the fly, as you’ll be pickaxe-ing resources while cartoony bars of silver and gold pop out. Really, I don’t mind how the game looks and feels outside of the human character models.
I also dig that you can easily manipulate said structures with an easy click or button press. You can build doors, craft awnings and ceilings to put traps on, pickaxe random vehicles standing in your way, create your own guns, and so on. Once the trap element comes into play it becomes a hybrid of many other survival games and morphs into its own thing. I got lost in elaborate custom forts, and there are a decent amount of possibilities even in the early game.
Having primarily played its public build on PS4, keyboard support out of the gate deserves credit where credit is due. Visually though, there’s work to be done, because while the framerate is consistent, the animations take a massive hit (especially when enemies at range), and revert into almost pixelated monstrosities when there’s too much action on screen. This is on a PS4 Pro, but again, there’s room to grow.
The endgame seems to be like every other shooter these days, themed around lootbox chasing along with the conventional online trappings like dailies and bonuses to keep you playing. I’m not entirely sure how invested I’ll be when the final version rolls around because the concept of creating a perfect kill-machine building is much more enticing than a +5 strength roll or a slightly different shotgun blueprint.
In some ways I’m just as unsure coming out of Fortnite as I was going in. It’s a little late, but it’s already fairly polished and the framework for blasting away droves of creatures in style is there—in that sense, it’s Epic at work. That said, it’s weird seeing Epic Games with their hands in so many free-to-play titles when they were the king of premium, and I’m still getting used to it. Paragon is fine, and so is Fortnite.
While the early access model is very off-putting (especially since it’s becoming increasingly harder to convince friends to jump into it), I do see a lot of potential. Let’s just hope Fortnite adapts and doesn’t stay in that “early” limbo forever.